|Industrialization and Segregation
VUS.8 ~ How was the transformation (change) of the American economy from a primarily agrarian
(farming) to a modern industrial (factories) economy accomplished?
~ What were the major inventions that improved life in the United States?
~ In what forms did prejudice and discrimination take during this time period?
~ What do we emphasize “Jim Crow” and the responses of Booker T. Washington and
~ What were the causes and the impact of the Progressive Movement, include the excesses
of the Gilded Age, child labor and antitrust laws, the rise of labor unions, and the success
of the women’s suffrage movement?
During the period from the Civil War to World War I, the United States underwent an economic transformation (change) that involved a developing industrial (factory-based) economy, the expansion of big business, the growth of large-scale agriculture, and the rise of national labor unions and industrial conflict. Technological change spurred (encouraged) growth of industry primarily (mainly) in the northern cities. Both inventions and innovations (new ways of doing things) caused this technological change.
One major innovation was the development of the modern corporation. Corporations replaced family owned businesses as the main form of business organization in the United States. A corporation is a type of business that raises capital (money) through the sale of stock. Stock is shares of ownership in a corporation, and stockholders are part owners of the corporation. Two advantages of a corporation are its ability to raise large amounts of money through the sale of stock and limited liability. Limited liability (responsibility) means the corporation acts as an artificial legal person. It can sue and be sued, pay taxes, go into debt. Therefore, the corporation itself, rather than the individual stockholders, is responsible for the business’s actions. For example, cancer victims, who were smokers, have successfully sued tobacco companies for damages. However, only the tobacco corporation itself is liable; the individual stockholders are not personally responsible for causing the smokers to develop cancer.
Many inventions also stimulated (encouraged) the growth of industry in the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. First, the development of the Bessemer steel process made possible the large-scale production of steel. The Bessemer process was a cheap and practical method of making steel by forcing a blast of cold air through molten iron to clean it of impurities. Henry Bessemer, an Englishman, developed this process in 1857, while William Kelly of Kentucky claimed to have made the discovery before Bessemer. These two men’s rival patents were merged in the United States in 1866 and almost immediately American steel mills used the Bessemer process in steel production. Since steel is both lighter and stronger than the iron from which it is made, steel permitted the construction of skyscrapers in modern American cities. Second, Thomas Edison perfected the light bulb, making it financially practical for commercial and home use. Soon electricity became a major source of power and light. Third, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. Fourth, the Wright brothers flew the first successful airplane. Fifth, Henry Ford used the first conveyor belt assembly line in the manufacture of automobiles. The conveyor belt brought the cars to the workers, each of whom performed a specific task in the assembly process.
The expansion of big business in the late nineteenth century produced several extremely wealthy businessmen, or captains of industry. These included Andrew Carnegie in steel, J.P. Morgan in finance, John D. Rockefeller in oil, and Cornelius Vanderbilt in railroads.
Three reasons existed for the economic transformation of America. First, the federal government blended the policy of laissez faire capitalism with special considerations for some manufacturing and railroad corporations. (Capitalism is an economic system based on private ownership and free competition.) Under capitalism the goal of businesses is to make a profit. The Scottish philosopher Adam Smith had first introduced the policy of laissez faire in his 1776 book The Wealth of Nations. Laissez faire was the theory that government should not interfere in economic affairs. Government should leave business alone. It should neither help nor hinder business. Throughout the nineteenth century, the United States government followed laissez faire in that it never hindered business by government regulation. However, the federal government did give business special considerations through such practices as protective tariffs and land grants to railroad builders in the West. In short, the American government’s version of laissez faire did not regulate (make rules for) business, but it did help it. Second, the increasing labor supply, caused by both immigration and migration of Americans from the farms to the cities, caused the economic transformation of America. Third, America’s possession of a wealth of natural resources and navigable rivers also contributed to economic change in the United States.
Discrimination and segregation against African-Americans intensified (increased) and took new forms in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Racial segregation means separation of the races. After Reconstruction, Southern state governments passed “Jim Crow” laws, forcing separation of the races in public places. Different states passed these laws in different years, but by the early twentieth century all Southern states required racial segregation in public facilities and had denied most African-Americans the right to vote. These laws limited the freedoms of African-Americans who lived in the South. In addition, Southern whites directed intimidation and crimes against African-Americans. Lynching, hanging someone without a trial, became a major form of intimidation used by Southern whites against African-Americans. During the early 20th century, African-Americans began the “Great Migration” to Northern cities in search of jobs and to escape poverty and discrimination in the South. This black migration north speeded up during World War I, when the enlistment of thousands of white males in the U.S. Army opened up jobs for African-Americans.
Black Americans looked to the courts to safeguard their rights. They hoped the judicial branch would interpret the laws in a way that would honor the intent of both the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. However, in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson the Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” facilities did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. In other words, the Supreme Court said that Southern states could legally segregate whites and blacks, as long as the separate facilities were equal. By this ruling the Supreme Court upheld the “Jim Crow” laws of the Southern states. In practice the separate facilities, provided African-Americans by Southern states, were always separate, but seldom, if ever, equal.
African-American leaders disagreed about how to respond to the South’s Jim
Crow laws, as well as racial discrimination in the North. Booker T. Washington believed the way to equality was through vocational education and economic success. He accepted social separation of the races. In contrast, W.E.B. DuBois believed that education was meaningless without equality. He supported political equality for African-Americans by helping to form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909. The purpose of this organization was to secure the legal rights of black Americans. Ida B. Wells, who generally agreed with DuBois’ ideas, led an anti-lynching crusade and called on the federal government to take action.
The economic progress made by the United States between 1877 and 1920 came at a price. The period from Reconstruction through the early twentieth century was a time of contradictions for many Americans. Industrial development brought great fortunes to a few and raised the standard of living for millions of Americans. However, it also brought about the rise of national labor unions and clashes between industry and labor.
Industrialization created many social problems in American cities. These included dangerous working conditions for miners, railroad, and factory workers and the use and abuse of both child labor and women workers. Factory workers faced long hours, low wages, no job security, and no benefits. Employers often forced workers to live in company towns. Workers had to rent housing provided by the employer and were required to pay rent, even when the employer laid them off. In the late 1800s workers joined together to form labor unions. A union is an organization of workers, which tries to gain higher wages, improved working conditions, and better employee benefits. The first important union in American history was the Knights of Labor. The Knights of Labor grew very quickly, but was destroyed by the negative publicity that followed the Haymarket Square Riot. The Haymarket Square Riot was a violent confrontation between workers and police at Haymarket Square in Chicago in 1886. The American Federation of Labor grew more slowly than the Knights of Labor and also suffered many defeats at the hands of big business. For example, the Homestead Strike was an unsuccessful and bloody strike at the Carnegie Steel Company in 1892. However, under the leadership of its founder Samuel Gompers, the AF of L survived the anti-labor attitudes of both business and government. It continues to exist today as the AFL-CIO and is now the most powerful union in the United States. Eugene V. Debs led the American Railway Union. Like the Knights of Labor, it enjoyed short-term success. However, it was destroyed by the negative publicity that followed the Pullman Strike. The Pullman Strike was an 1894 strike by railroad employees against the Pullman Company, which made railroad sleeping cars. The International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union was an early attempt to organize women who worked in textile factories.
VA/US History Narrative 12