The Gilded Age (1875-1900) was a crucial era of industrialization and political turmoil that set the United States on the path to becoming the most economically powerful country in the world. Railroad construction connected the continent, newly invented skyscrapers rose in rapidly growing American cities. Expansive new factories needed unskilled workers, who arrived during the largest wave of immigration in American history. As a plethora of new, affordable, mass-produced products went from factory to consumer, it was a heady time of profits and progress. But there were also problems.
Many enterprising Americans benefited from the economic disruption of the time. Others were left behind, ill-equipped to compete in the new economy. The wealth gap between the rich and the poor was astronomical as industrial tycoons like the Rockefellers and the Carnegies built business empires and then used their power to depress wages and shut down competition. They bought politicians, corruptly tilting politics and the economy in their favor. Strikes and labor violence, protests and counter-protests bloodied the streets. Anarchist terrorists both foreign and domestic spread fear across the nation with waves of violence the government seemed helpless to prevent. One proposal: a ban on certain “dangerous” immigrant groups.
Join Allen Pietrobon, an assistant professor of global affairs at Trinity Washington University and an award-winning historian, for a look back at the tumultuous Gilded Age, which doesn’t seem that long ago to many of us today.
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