The Glided Age and the Rise of Big Business

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 4, 2012

Time Line

1835-1838 Morse invents the telegraph and Morse code
1850-1900 Second Industrial Revolution
1850s Bessemer process of converting iron ore to steel
1853 Otis invents the passenger elevator
1876 Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone
1879-1882 Thomas Edison and Lewis Latimer invent and perfect the lightbulb
1882 Chinese Exclusion Act

Great Upheaval

Haymarket riot

American Federation of Labor

1890 Sherman Antitrust Act
1899 Thorstein Veblen publishes Theory of the Leisure Class


The Glided Age and the Rise of Big Business

While the issues of Reconstruction were dividing the nation, a tremendous economic boom was going on. The Second Industrial Revolution was a period of enormous change in American society. New inventions that would have seemed miraculous to a previous generation—instant long-distance written communication (the telegraph), the ability to speak to someone in another city (the telephone), a machine that could produce a perfectly printed letter (the typewriter)—became everyday and commonplace in the new world of the postwar nineteenth century.

The technological breakthroughs caused a boom in heavy industry. Since it was suddenly much easier and cheaper to convert iron ore to steel, there was a surplus of steel—which could be put to a variety of uses, such as building and bridge construction. Men at the heads of large corporations made fortunes. The workers to whose labor they owed those fortunes, on the other hand, eked out a miserable existence in poverty. Toward the end of the century, workers finally began to organize into unions and to strike for reasonable living wages and an eight-hour workday.

Hundreds of thousands of immigrants came to the United States in the last half of the century, principally from China and southern Europe. They created a lively and colorful presence in cities, where they gathered in small replicas of their old neighborhoods at home. The new industry also gave rise to a thriving middle class of professionals, highly trained workers, managers, and of course buyers of the mass-produced consumer goods that were becoming so common. The upper classes acquired three-quarters of all the wealth in the nation, thus giving rise to the era’s nickname—the “Gilded Age.”

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:

The Glided Age and the Rise of Big Business Practice Test

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