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The Gilded Age

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The Gilded Age: This article contain brief, fast facts in a history timeline format about the era in United States history known as the Gilded Age.

Definition and Summary of the The Gilded Age
Summary and definition:
The era after Reconstruction and 1900 is often referred to as the 'Gilded Age'. The 'Gilded Age' was a sarcastic and derogatory term coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner to describe the time when many Industrialists acquired wealth and opulent lifestyles through bribery and corruption. These people lived a golden existence but it was merely a facade of gold paint (gild) that covered over a multitude of crime, fraud, bribery and corruption during the Urbanization in America.

The Gilded Age encompassed the effects of increasing Industrialization and the rise of Big Business and Corporations, headed by the wealthy, ruthless magnates referred to as the Robber Barons. The eight Gilded Age Presidents, often referred to as the "Forgettable Presidents", were Andrew Johnson, Ulysses Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley.

Gilded Age Dates: 1865 - 1900
When was the Gilded Age, when did it start and when did it end? The Gilded Age dates covered the era after the Civil War from the presidency of Andrew Johnson in 1865. The Gilded Age continued until 1900 and the start of the
Progressive Era during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt that led to political and social reforms in America.

Why was it called the Gilded Age?
The
'Gilded Age' was a sarcastic term coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner to describe the era when many ruthless Industrialists acquired wealth and opulent lifestyles through unethical business practices, bribery and corruption. These people lived a golden existence but it was merely a facade of gold paint (gild) that covered over a multitude of sins in the Gilded era including poverty, crime, fraud, bribery and corruption during the Urbanization of America.

What were the characteristics of the Gilded Age?
The characteristics of the Gilded Age were the excess and waste of the wealthy with their spectacular mansions and opulent lifestyles. But the 'golden facade' also spilled over into the lives of many ordinary people. The incredible Inventions of the era changed America and people were in awe of the power of electricity, the advances in transportation systems and the literal rise of the Skyscrapers with their amazing elevators. These astonishing inventions were showcased in expositions like the 1893 Chicago World's Fair that attracted over 27 million visitors.

The standard of living had increased in the Gilded era for many people, life was not dictated and restricted by the daily need for tending the land, and their was some time for leisure. The facade continued with the bright lights of the city and new forms of entertainment such as amusement parks, spectator sports such as baseball, saloons, vaudeville, P.T. Barnum's circus like that of  or Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. The Gilded Age was characterized by its shiny, glittering surface which masked the problems beneath.

Why was the Gilded Age a period of change?
The Gilded Age
was an era of massive economic growth in the United States and unprecedented social changes. The changes of the Gilded age are defined by the following events:

The inventions and new technologies of the Second Industrial Revolution in Steel, Oil and Electricity

The economy boomed in new areas, especially heavy industry like factories, railroads, and coal mining.

The Rise of Big Business and Corporations involving vast monopolies and trusts

The emergence of the 'Robber Barons' the ruthless and wealthy industrialists who monopolized the railroads, the steel industry, the oil industry and the powerful financiers who controlled the banks

The support Free Enterprise and 'laissez-faire' capitalism combined with political conservatism justified by the theory of Social Darwinism

The process of Industrialization in the United States that changed the lives of Americans forever, bringing about complex social and economic changes

The mechanization of industry, mass production and factories that transformed America from a rural, agricultural society to a city based industrial society

The ever increasing need for cheap labor was fed a surge in Immigration

The rapid Urbanization in America that resulted in squalid housing conditions for the poor and the rise of the corrupt Political Machines

The economic and social changes, great disparities in wealth between the rich and the poor and appalling working conditions led to riots, strikes and the emergence of the Labor Unions

Realism in Art and Literature

Who were the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age?
The Robber Barons of the Gilded Age were the wealthy men who monopolized the railroads, the steel industry, the tobacco industry, the oil industry and the financiers who controlled the banks.
The names of the Robber Barons included those such as Andrew Carnegie, Charles M. Schwab, James Fisk, Jay Gould, Franklin B. Gowen, George Pullman, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Leland Stanford, J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller. The Robber Barons kept wages at a minimum, cared little for the working conditions and safety banned their workers from joining labor unions and used bribery and corruption to gain support from politicians and government officials. Some Robber Barons manipulated the stock market, monopolized the major industries and made it impossible for competitors to survive.

Gilded Age for kids: The 'Gospel of Wealth
Other wealthy Industrialists of the Gilded Age were
philanthropists. Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie published his 1889 article called the 'Gospel of Wealth' in which he described the responsibility of philanthropy by the new upper class of self-made men to further social progress. Andrew Carnegie donated millions of dollars to charitable causes and perhaps should be referred to as one of the Captains of Industry rather than one of the Robber Barons.

Who were the Presidents of the Gilded Age?
The Presidents of the Gilded Age, frequently
referred to as the "Forgettable Presidents", were Andrew Johnson, Ulysses Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley. Their terms in office of some of these presidents led to accusations of political patronage and nepotism (favoritism) which was 'custom and practice' of presidential administrations and related to the Spoils System that had been favored by President Jackson.

  • President Andrew Johnson (1865-1869): Andrew Johnson interfered with Congress to such an extent that he was impeached

  • President Ulysses Grant (1869-1873) & (1873-1877): The scandals and corruption of politicians and government officials during his presidency led to the term 'Grantism'.

  • President Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881): Rutherford B. Hayes administration witnessed the first nationwide strike in the United States

  • President James Garfield (1881): James Garfield presidency only lasted for 100 days when he was assassinated by Charles Julius Guiteau

  • President Chester Arthur (1881-1885): Chester Arthur attempted to address the 'Spoils System' with the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act but his presidency was marred by the Star-Route Scandal involving bribery and corruption of Federal postal officials

  • President Grover Cleveland (1885-1889) and (1893-1897): Grover Cleveland's terms in office saw the Haymarket Riot, the Panic of 1893 and the Pullman Strike

  • President Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893): During the Benjamin Harrison administration the Dependent Pension Bill cost the government over a billion dollars.

  • President William McKinley (1897-1901): William McKinley saw the highest protective tariff in the history of the United States. Arbitration procedures were implemented to settle railway disputes. President William McKinley's term in office ended when he was assassinated by the anarchist Leon Frank Czolgosz

The Gilded Age for kids: Realism in Art and Literature
Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner coined the term 'Gilded Age' and along with other writers and artists attempted to balance the superficial nature of the era by balancing it with Realism. The new movement in art and literature, that became known as Realism, attempted to portray people realistically instead of idealizing them and portrayed the realities of urbanization and industrialization in their work.

  • Mark Twain, with Charles Dudley Warner, wrote The Gilded Age (1873) that satirized greed and political corruption

  • Mark Twain also went on to write novels like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn· that portrayed realistic descriptions of American life

  • Henry James wrote novels such as his humane masterpiece the Portrait of a Lady (1881)

  • William Dean Howells depicted realism in his 1885 novel The Rise of Silas Lapham

  • In 1890 Jacob Riis published 'How the Other Half Lives'

  • American artists also responded to the Gilded Age by adopting Realism. These famous artists included Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer and Mary Cassatt

Gilded Age Timeline and Facts for kids
Interesting facts about the era referred to as the Gilded Age detailed below. The history of the Gilded Age and era is told in a factual timeline sequence consisting of a series of interesting, short facts and dates providing a simple method of relating the
history of the Gilded Age for kids, schools and homework projects.

1865: Andrew Johnson (1865-1869) becomes President

1867: The Granger Movement was established to promote the social needs of farmers

1869: Ulysses Grant (1869-1873) & (1873-1877) becomes President

1869: The Union Pacific Transcontinental Railroad linked the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic

1869: The Knights of Labor was the first major American labor union to be established

1869: The Black Friday Scandal an attempt by two Wall Street speculators to corner the gold market

1870: John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company is incorporated

1872: The Credit Mobilier Scandal involving corruption by the Union Pacific Railroad and Credit Mobilier construction co

1873: The Panic of 1873, a serious economic crisis that led to riots, strikes and civil unrest

1873: Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner publish The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today

1874: Joseph Glidden invents barbed wire fencing changing farming and ranching in America that heralds the end of the Cowboys and the Wild West

1875: The Whiskey Ring Scandal, a conspiracy by distillers to avoid the excise taxes on liquor

1876 The Belknap Bribery Scandal in which the Secretary of War, William Belknap, received bribes

1876: National League baseball plays its first official game

1877: The Molly Maguires a secret society of Irish coal miners in Pennsylvania led the 'Long Strike of 1875' which resulted in 20 members being unjustly hanged for murder

1877: Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881) becomes President

1877: The Great Railroad Strike the first nationwide strike in the United States

1878: Thomas Edison establishes the Edison Electric Light Co

1880: The Rise in the power of Big Business and Corporations and the Robber Barons

1880: Andrew Carnegie gains a monopoly of the steel industry

1881: James Garfield (1881): becomes President but is assassinated by Charles Julius Guiteau who resented not receiving a government job under the Spoils System

Chester Arthur (1881-1885) becomes President

1882: The Star-Route Scandal involving bribery and corruption of Federal postal officials

1882: For the first time in US history Congress acts to restrict immigration on a selective basis

1883: Chester Arthur attempts to address the 'Spoils System' with the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act

1883: The Brooklyn Bridge is completed, the first steel-wire suspension bridge in the world

1884 The world's first true "skyscraper" is completed. A ten-story building called the Home Life Insurance in Chicago.

1885: First Grover Cleveland Presidency (1885-1889)

1886: The Haymarket Riot and the Haymarket Chicago bombing is perpetrated by anarchists

1886 The American Federation of Labor is organized by Samuel Gompers

1886: The Statue of Liberty is dedicated a symbol of America, the land of freedom and opportunity

1887: Congress passed the Interstate Commerce Act which created the Interstate Commerce Commission as a federal regulatory agency to address Shipping rates and Price discrimination

1889: Benjamin Harrison becomes President (1889-1893)

1889: The Dependent Pension Bill aka the Billion Dollar Congress cost the government over a billion dollars.

1890: Sherman Antitrust Act, 1890, first measure passed by the U.S. Congress to prohibit monopolies

1892: Ellis Island opens in Upper New York Bay as a federal immigration inspection station

1893: The Second Grover Cleveland Presidency (1893-1897)

1893: The Panic of 1893 led to a 4 year economic depression with 20% unemployment

1893: The wonders of the Chicago World's Fair that introduced the Ferris Wheel

1897: William McKinley becomes president (1897-1901)

1897: The Dingley Tariff is the highest protective tariff in the history of the United States - also refer to Protectionism

1898: The Erdman Railway Labor Act is passed, a law to settle railway disputes and set up arbitration procedures

1898:  The consolidation of the City of Greater New York

1900: The Galveston Hurricane. As a consequence of the tragedy Galveston introduced the commission system of government  replacing the mayor and city council. a major step to combat the Political Machines

1901: President McKinley is assassinated and Theodore Roosevelt assumes the presidency. President. President Theodore Roosevelt was a leader in the Conservation Movement fighting to end the waste of natural resources 

The presidency of Theodore Roosevelt heralds the Progressive Movement which led to political and social reforms in America detailed in the list of the Progressive Reforms made at city, state and federal level.

US American History
1866-1881: Reconstruction Era
Industrialization in America
Urbanization in America

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