If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:7:45

Video transcript

so what was a Gilded Age and why did it happen the Gilded Age is this fascinating period from about 1870 to 1908 s' a little bit but that's so we're talking post-civil war America becomes an industrial powerhouse the cities rise so in 1850 fewer people live in the cities than in the rural part of the country by 1900 more people in 1900 in the cities and basically you have the birth of the railroads the railroads get connected in 1869 going all the way Continental railroad going all the way across the country you have the rise of oil as and John Rockefeller and basically this period think of Rockefeller and Vanderbilt as and Carnegie and JP Morgan as powerful the way we think of presidents presidents during this period kind of work on the Descent but the but the magnets of industry railroad oil steel those were all banking those were the superheroes in America and they led to this amazing growth in industrialization but then also huge disparities no labor laws that we would be familiar with today so you had this industrialization with people working in the industries who had no protections child labor working 22 hours a day horrible health conditions so this gurgling booming America but where there's great disparities between who's doing well and and who's not and it's called gilded because those who were doing well were living very well right gilded as in a gilded frame covered with gold this came from a novel by by Mark Twain and that's right it takes on the cast of this extraordinary wealth Rockefeller was the first billionaire in America Vanderbilt built the biggest house still the biggest house in America during this period so the wealth was people would make eight to ten dollars in a week some of these tycoons were making eight to ten dollars in the minute and so that kind of vast wealth because you could you could only make so much wealth before this is just mountains of wealth and then also again this great disparity and it seems like it came from really technology technology allowed all of this practive 'ti the railroads steel etc etc and then of course Finance was able to to get in there and help move capital more efficiently what parallels do you see with our current age where technology seems to be doing something similar where we have all of these new industries and a new wealth but it but some fear that it might be causing some inequality you have you yes you have a couple of things you have innovation in these various different industries both innovation in the creation of things but then also innovations in the structures of business buying up small businesses creating big conglomerates then using that leverage and power to then crowd out competitors for sure but then also to raise prices because you're the only game in town and you also have business practices that are not the sort of the lays a fair economic belief said essentially that in the economy it was like in in the American system which was let it operate don't get in the way don't mess with it because when it operates it runs the most efficiently for America in the end markets can be messy but they're gonna have the best outcome that's right what is the argument behind lazy fair that's exactly right and it got this wonderful assist from Charles Darwin who said we can explain the growth of or you can explain the species and we can explain our natural world with these theory about the competition among the species and and this term survival of the fittest social Darwinism so survival of the fittest which some and I certainly thought might have come from Darwin didn't it came from Herbert Spencer who basically had an economic theory of survival of the fittest and it went this way some people have more talent than others and when they exercise their talent they do very well and that's the bet thing for society it believed that society was ever-increasing it didn't mean that every single person was increasing but that if you followed survival of the fittest and the best people did the best then ultimately society would always be on an evolutionary plane of moving upward and so that was the theory behind get out of the way of these big companies and these big tycoons and they will do the best for America and so the reason that was important was a it kept government out of the way B it kept religious it created a religion that it was a secular religion of course but it created a theory that said wow that looks like what you're doing is totally self-interested but there's this theory behind it and everybody will improve so okay go ahead yeah that was the beginning of Gordon Gekkos famous greed is good is good so the comparison to our current moment is you have huge disparity and and technologies that are to use a cliche of the day disruptive that are completely changing the way everybody does business changing the when we think about the way in which Americans behave that rapid sense of change it's changing culture rapidly and it's making big winners and losers and those big disparities are exist as well how did the Gilded Age play out where some of these forces moderated eventually maybe around 1900 and and do you think similar things might happen for us there were two big moderations in the in response to the Gilded Age you had government came back came awake again and you had and then you also had labor movements that came into into formation basically to slow down the the growth and the rapacious demands of the Gilded Age politics during that Gilded Age kind of went became an offshoot of the titans of industry if you look at the presidency between 1876 and 1892 there's they're all one-term presidents and none of them get more than 50% of the vote and basically what the president spent their time doing is you using the spoil system which is essentially putting people in jobs to pay off the local bosses who help them get elected so getting elected would became a job of staying elected and that meant doling out patronage basically giving people jobs who were your friends so that they would go and vote for you because these elections are all very close and that's not getting a lot of work done for the people some of them Rutherford B Hayes tried these little efforts at civil service reform which is essentially meant putting people in jobs who could monitor the factories make sure that people weren't getting abused or that health wasn't declining or that anything that a government might do that we think of today but his political patrons didn't want that so that was all very hard to do what happened in the on the workers end is they realized and the and the most famous moment was in nineteen eleven the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire where a number of women working in a garment factory are there's a fire and the bosses lock the doors and I think 40 some-odd women died mostly women and it highlighted the the labor issues but labor labor unions start to organize and there are huge clashes and strikes and consumer boycotts and those start to put some pressure on business to change their practices at least in terms of worker hours and and the kinds of things that we now would certainly take for granted it's an incredible period yeah