The golden age began at the end of the civil war. As railroads rushed to connect the country, robber barons amassed fortunes in unregulated industries like oil and steel. Mark Twain coined the term “Gilded Age” in a novel satirizing the corruption behind America’s new prosperity. The name stuck, but the good times didn’t: As Gilded Age mansions like the Breakers in Newport and the Biltmore in Asheville grew, so did discontent over rampant income inequality. The Golden Age collapsed with the Panic of 1893, which sparked an economic depression that ushered in the sweeping reforms of the Progressive Era. Here are five reasons why the Golden Age has come to an end:
1. The Panic of 1893
The Panic of 1893 was a depression triggered by the bankruptcy of two of the largest employers in the country: the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad and the National Cordage Company. The stock market fell as companies that had borrowed heavily to invest in railroads went bankrupt. Crop values in the southern and western United States have fallen. Unemployment rose to 19%. The crash has exposed the power of the rich – and the impotence of the workers -. “The panic of 1893 showed that this notion of a liberal, unregulated economy did not work. It never worked for the poor, but it took panic for the idea to hit the middle class, who had the most to lose,” says Nancy Unger, a history professor at Santa Clara University and President of the Society of Gilded Historians. Age and progressive era.
2. Muckrakers expose corruption
Muckrakers were journalists who exposed corrupt politicians and corporations. In some cases, their work has led to reforms. Ida Tarbell’s expose on John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company led to a case in the United States Supreme Court which found it violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. At Upton Sinclair’s The jungle, a novel revealing the rotten side of the meat industry in Chicago, led to the passage in 1906 of the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act. Political cartoons by artists like Thomas Nast skewered Tammany Hall, Credit Mobilier and the Whiskey Ring scandal surrounding President Ulysses S. Grant. UCLA.
3. Populism and the Silverites
Populists argued for shorter workdays, progressive income tax, and government ownership of commodities like railroads and telephones. They were largely farmers who were fed up with the government’s patronage of big business. “America in the Gilded Age was a very different nation from the rural, agricultural nation of before the Civil War,” says Unger. During the Second Industrial Revolution, inventions such as electricity and the rise of factories and railroads led to an unprecedented migration of goods and people to cities.
In 1900, 30% of the American population lived in urban areas. Farmers became dependent on the railroads to transport their goods, which meant that railroad rulers controlled both access to markets and prices. Many farmers wanted to increase the cost of their goods by basing American currency not only on gold, but also on silver, which was more abundant. Money mongering was a major topic in the 1896 election, when Republican William McKinley took on rising Democratic star William Jennings Bryan. Bryan, dubbed “The Great Commoner”, was catapulted into the spotlight after a speech at the Democratic Convention denouncing the gold standard as a “Golden Cross” that the worker was forced to wear. While Bryan lost, he gave voice to many who felt left out of Golden Age prosperity.
4. Progressive Era Reforms
PHOTOS: Shocking slum conditions in the late 1800s
Progressives believed that the task of righting the ills of society fell to government, not private citizens. “The rise of big business, their power and influence had never been seen before in our country or in the world,” says Waugh. “Progressive laws and social reform movements were part of creating a new language to understand and shape it.”
While industrial titans like Andrew Carnegie, JP Morgan and John D. Rockefeller made their fortunes, 40% of industrial workers in the 1880s had incomes below the poverty line. Progressives pushed for workers’ rights and housing and sanitation reforms. They supported expanding women’s suffrage and suffrage to limit the ability of corporations to buy power through kickbacks, kickbacks, and kickbacks.
READ MORE: How the Golden Age’s top 1% thrived on corruption
5. Theodore Roosevelt
“The real end of the Golden Age came with the assassination of William McKinley,” says Waugh. McKinley was a popular two-term president who had just won the Spanish–American War when he was assassinated in 1901. His vice president, Theodore Roosevelt, was a moderate when he took office, but is often remembered its progressive legislation and its reputation as a “trust breaker”. “People were criticizing progressives, portraying them as weak supporters of a nanny state. No one could ever accuse Roosevelt of being weak,” says Unger. Roosevelt cultivated a hyper-masculine image that helped him cross the political aisle. He met both big coalmen and laborers during the 1902 coal strike and oversaw progressive legislation such as the Pure Food and Drug Act and the creation of national parks.
The technology and wealth of the Gilded Age transformed America into a global power, but left wealth in the hands of a few. Progressive-era reforms expanded government to ensure, in Roosevelt’s words, a “square deal” for all.