Key Concept 6.1: The rise of big business in the United States encouraged massive migrations and urbanization, sparked government and popular efforts to reshape the U.S. economy and environment, and renewed debates over U.S. national identity.
I. Large-scale production — accompanied by massive technological change, expanding international communication networks, and pro-growth government policies — fueled the development of a “Gilded Age” marked by an emphasis on consumption, marketing, and business consolidation. (WXT-3) (WXT-6) (WOR-3) (CUL-3) (CUL-5)
Following the Civil War, government subsidies for transportation and communication systems opened new markets in North America, while technological innovations and redesigned financial and management structures such as monopolies sought to maximize the exploitation of natural resources and a growing labor force.
Businesses and foreign policymakers increasingly looked outside U.S. borders in an effort to gain greater influence and control over markets and natural resources in the Pacific, Asia, and Latin America.
Business leaders consolidated corporations into trusts and holding companies and defended their resulting status and privilege through theories such as Social Darwinism.
• John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan
As cities grew substantially in both size and in number, some segments of American society enjoyed lives of extravagant “conspicuous consumption,” while many others lived in relative poverty.
II. As leaders of big business and their allies in government aimed to create a unified industrialized nation, they were challenged in different ways by demographic issues, regional differences, and labor movements. (WXT-5) (WXT-6) (WXT-7) (PEO-6) (ID-5)
The industrial workforce expanded through migration across national borders and internal migration, leading to a more diverse workforce, lower wages, and an increase in child labor.
Labor and management battled for control over wages and working conditions, with workers organizing local and national unions and/or directly confronting corporate power.
Despite the industrialization of some segments of the southern economy, a change promoted by southern leaders who called for a “New South,” agrarian sharecropping, and tenant farming systems continued to dominate the region.
III. Westward migration, new systems of farming and transportation, and economic instability led to political and popular conflicts. (ENV-5) (WXT-5) (WXT-7) (POL-3)(PEO-3) (PEO-5)
Government agencies and conservationist organizations contended with corporate interests about the extension of public control over natural resources, including land and water.
• U.S. Fish Commission, Sierra Club, Department of the Interior
Farmers adapted to the new realities of mechanized agriculture and dependence on the evolving railroad system by creating local and regional organizations that sought to resist corporate control of agricultural markets.
• the Grange, Las Gorras Blancas, Colored Farmers’ Alliance
The growth of corporate power in agriculture and economic instability in the farming sector inspired activists to create the People’s (Populist) Party, which called for political reform and a stronger governmental role in the American economic system.
Business interests battled conservationists as the latter sought to protect sections of unspoiled wilderness through the establishment of national parks and other conservationist and preservationist measures.