The Industrial Age (1865 1914) Chapter Summary

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The Industrial Age (1865 – 1914)

Chapter Summary

Section One – Railroads lead the Way
Railroad Expansion

  • After the Civil War, the railroad system grew quickly and drove economic growth in the U.S.

  • In 1860, we had 30,000 miles of track. By 1900, we had 193,000 miles of track

  • Works songs spring into popular culture – “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” and “John Henry”

  • Consolidation – many railroad companies were bought out or driven out of business by bigger ones, reducing competition

  • Railroad Barons – Powerful and wealthy railroad owners

  • Cornelius Vanderbilt – Owned most of railroads from NYC to Great Lakes. Very aggressive (unfair?) business tactics are not regulated by government.

Railroad Stimulate the Economy

  • Carried raw materials to factories, finished goods to markets

  • Drove up demand for steel for tracks, lumber for ties, coal for fuel

  • Provided work for thousands in construction and operations

  • Gauge (width of track) was standardized (made the same for all) at 4 feet, 8.5 inches wide. Now easier to ship goods because cars are all the same width.

  • New Technologies for Trains –

    • Air Brakes by Westinghouse

    • Janney car couplers

    • Refrigerated cars by Gustavus Swift

    • Pullman Sleeping cars by the George Pullman Company allowed for comfort on long trips

  • Competition among railroads was fierce.

    • Rebates – secret discounts given to important customers forced smaller railroads out of business

    • Pools – several railroad companies work together to set high rates and increase profits. These were illegal, but government did little to stop railroad barons

Section Two – Inventions


  • Telegraph – invented in 1844 and used wires to transmit electrical pulses in Morse Code

  • Transatlantic Cable (1866) – telegraph cable laid across the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, linking news from Europe and North America in a matter of seconds.

  • Telephone – Alexander Graham Bell invents the phone in 1876. Allows voice to travel via wires. Businesses were the first to use them and by 1890s, he had sold hundreds of thousands of phones. Homes would come soon after.

The Genius of Invention

  • Invention boom from 1860 to 1890 saw 400,000 new patents

  • Patent – government approval of a product that prohibits others from copying the item

  • Many new inventions help businesses first - Typewriter (1868) and Adding Machine (1888)

  • Kodak Camera (1888) by George Eastman of Rochester, NY allows regular people to take pictures

  • Vacuum Cleaner (1899) helps ease housework

  • Thomas Edison – called the Wizard of Menlo Park, he owned an invention factory in Menlo Park, NJ. His company created the phonograph (record player), motion picture projector, storage battery and the electric light bulb.

  • George Westinghouse – a competitor to Edison. Takes Edison’s light bulb further by creating alternating current (AC) in 1885. This allowed for electric power to travel safely over long distances, allowing for lighted buildings, trolleys, factories, and streetlamps.

A Changing Society

  • Karl Benz had invented the gasoline-powered automobile in Germany in 1888. Cars were only available to the very wealthy.

  • Henry Ford - seeks to make a car affordable for the masses. In 1908, he introduced the Model T, a car he’d continue to make for 18 years.

  • Assembly Line – To keep costs down, Ford created the assembly line. The parts moved past workers who would puts the pieces of the Model T together as it went by. This was boring, physically difficult work. Ford sold 15 million Model Ts in 18 years, all of which were black and identical.

  • Mass Production – producing identical items in large numbers to drive costs down for consumers.

  • Mail Order (1863) – Stores began to sell items via catalogues and mail items to homes across the U.S. Montgomery Ward, and Sears and Roebuck do this well.

  • Chain Stores – F.W. Woolworth’s and Kresge’s open 5 and 10 Cent stores across the U.S. selling cheap merchandize

Section Three – An Age of Big Business
Foundations For Growth

  • Oil becomes useful for powering machines and lubrication.

  • Oil well dug in Titusville, PA in 1859, leading to multimillion dollar industry

  • Economists say they are three things that must exist for production to occur. These are

    • Land – space and natural resources must be available. The U.S. has a wide variety of natural resources.

    • Labor – large numbers of workers are needed. The U.S. doubled in population from 1860 to 1900.

    • Capital – Money for investments must be present to buy machines, factories, and pay the labor force

  • Corporations – in an effort to raise money, companies began to sell stock, a share of the ownership of the company. These businesses are called corporations and are said to be public because anyone can buy stock.

  • Shareholders – owners of stock in a business

  • When the corporation makes a profit, more people want to buy the stock. This results in stock prices going up. When the corporation does poorly, people don’t want the stock, lowering its price.

The Oil Business

  • Oil Rush – many people rush to buy land in PA hoping to strike oil

  • John D. Rockefeller – creates the Standard Oil Company. This was on e of the most powerful companies in the world and used horizontal integration

  • Horizontal integration – combining competing companies into one organization. This creates a monopoly and results in high prices and huge profits.

  • Standard Oil Trust – Rockefeller drives out competition by lowering prices, pressuring customers to avoid his competition, and asking railroads for rebates. Other oil companies were forced to join the Standard Oil Trust to survive, creating a monopoly in the oil industry for Standard Oil.

The Steel Business –

  • Bessemer Process – new technique allows steel to be produced quicker and more cheaply.

  • Steel industry springs up around the sources of iron ore in western PA and eastern Ohio.

  • Pittsburgh becomes the Steel Capital of the U.S.

  • Andrew Carnegie – Son of a Scottish immigrant, he is a rags to riches story who invests in a steel plant near Pittsburgh. By 1890, he dominates the steel industry using vertical integration.

  • Vertical integration – owning all levels of production from the ground where ore exists to the transportation of the ore to the factories where steel is made to the warehouses where completed steel is stored before shipping.

  • By 1900, Carnegie Steel produced 1/3 of the U.S. steel.


  • Carnegie, Rockefeller and other industrial millionaires became interested in using their money to help society.

  • They created ad funded schools, libraries, museums and universities

  • Carnegie donates $350 million, including some to build Carnegie Hall.

Concerns about Big Business

  • Many Americans admired the business practices of the industrialists, but others thought trusts, rebates, and other ideas were unfair and helped to raise prices to consumers.

  • Robber Barons - Extremely wealthy business leaders are called “Robber Barons.” They are accused of mistreating workers, unfairly driving up prices, and taking advantage of their size, wealth and power to eliminate competition.

  • Sherman Anti-Trust Act (1890) – the U.S. government creates a law banning trusts and monopolies, but this law had very little power at first.

Section Four – Industrial Workers
Working Conditions

  • As mass production increased, companies grew larger and less personal

  • Industrial laborers worked 10 to 12 hour days, six days a week.

  • Workers could be fired at any time for any reason and often were replaced with immigrants who would work for lower pay.

  • Factories were uncomfortable, dark, dirty, and unsafe.

  • If you were hurt, you were fired. There were no insurance or unemployment benefits.

  • Sweatshops – crowded and dangerous businesses, usually in the garment industry

  • Women earned about half of what men made.

  • Child Labor - Hundreds of thousands of children under 16 worked in factories. Some states passed laws prohibiting children under 12 from working, but these laws were widely ignored by employers.

Growth of Labor Unions

  • Labor Unions - Workers began to get together to demand improved pay, hours, and conditions.

  • Knights of Labor – led by Terence Powderly, this national group sought unskilled workers and included women, African-Americans, and immigrants. It had 700,000 members by 1886. It lost power by the 1890s because of strikes and violence.

  • American Federation of Labor (AFL) – led by Samuel Gompers, this union was made up of skilled workers (workers who needed specific training like carpenters). The AFL survived a bad public image and by 1904 had 1.4 million members.

  • Mary Harris Jones – called “Mother Jones,” she supported women who were not allowed in some unions. Spent 50 fighting for workers rights.

  • Triangle Shirtwaist Fire (1911) – Fire broke out in a NYC sweatshop of immigrant, young women garment workers. 150 died, some when jumping out of high windows because windows on lower floors had bars on them to prevent workers from leaving. Doors were locked as well. Led to many changes in workplace rules.

Labor Unions Lose Support

  • Strikes – union action where workers refuse to work in hopes of getting improvements from the company. Sometimes turned violent.

  • Strikebreakers – scab workers or thugs hired to beat up striking workers

  • Haymarket Square Riot – workers for McCormick Harvester Company in Chicago held a rally. When police showed up, a bomb killed an officer. More were killed in the ensuing riot. Many Americans blamed the unions, who lost power.

  • Homestead Strike – Workers in Carnegie’s Homestead, PA plant went on strike. Carnegie hired strikebreakers to beat up workers and brought in scabs. 10 people were killed in the fighting.

  • Pullman Strike – The Pullman Railcar Company had a company town – the workers worked in the factory and lived in homes owned by the Pullman Company. The company cut wages but kept the rent the same. American railroad workers refused to work if a train had a Pullman car, bringing transportation to a standstill in the U.S. Union leader, Eugene Debs was sent to jail and still refused to end the strike. President Grover Cleveland sent federal troops to break up the strike, hurting the power of unions.

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