Modern history

Conclusion: Industry in the Age of Organization

From 1877 to 1900, American businessmen demonstrated a zeal for organization. Prompted by new technology that opened up national markets of commerce and communication, business entrepreneurs created large-scale corporations that promoted industrial expansion. Borrowing from European investors and importing and improving on European technology, by 1900 U.S. industrialists had surpassed their overseas counterparts.

Capitalists made great fortunes and lived luxurious lifestyles, emulating the fashions of European elites. Most corporate leaders did not rise from poverty but instead came from the upper middle class and had access to education and connections. Those like Andrew Carnegie, who rose from rags to riches, were the exceptions. The wealthy explained their success as the result of individual effort and hard work. This idea was reinforced in schoolbooks such as the McGuffey Readers, the novels of Horatio Alger, and religious sermons, like those of Russell Conwell.

Although most working Americans did not achieve much wealth in the Age of Organization, they had faith in the possibility of improving their economic position. Members of the middle class lived less extravagantly than did the wealthy; nonetheless, they enjoyed the comforts of the growing consumer economy. Although Jim Crow restricted the black middle class and a heightened sense of masculinity inhibited opportunities available to white women, both groups managed to carve out ways to lift themselves economically and socially.

In gaining success, the wealthy exchanged individualism for organization, competition for consolidation, and laissez-faire for government support. Without pro-business policies from Washington lawmakers and favorable decisions from the Supreme Court, big business would not have developed as rapidly as it did in this era. To prosper, corporations needed sympathetic politicians—whether to furnish free land for railroad expansion, enact tariffs to protect manufacturers, or protect private property. Even when a public outcry led to the regulation of trusts, the pro-business senator John Sherman shaped the legislation so as to minimize damage to corporate interests. In general, national politicians avoided engaging in fierce ideological conflicts, but they, too, organized. The political parties they fashioned encouraged a high level of political participation among voters.

It remained for those who did not share in the glittering wealth of the Gilded Age to find ways to resist corporate domination. The next chapter explores the efforts of workers and farmers to remedy the economic, social, and political ills that accompanied industrialization.

Chapter Review


Identify and explain the significance of each term below.

New South (p. 408)

convict lease (p. 409)

vertical integration (p. 411)

horizontal integration (p. 411)

corporation (p. 412)

Sherman Antitrust Act (p. 413)

laissez-faire (p. 414)

“The Gospel of Wealth" (p. 415)

Gilded Age (p. 417)

white-collar workers (p. 418)

Jim Crow (p. 422)

Plessy v. Ferguson (p. 422)


Answer the focus questions from each section of the chapter.

1. what were the key factors behind the acceleration of industrial development in late-nineteenth-century America?

2. How did industrialization change the way American businessmen thought about their companies and the people who worked for them?

3. in the late nineteenth century, how did many Americans explain individual economic success and failure?

4. How did the business community view the role of government in the economy at the end of the nineteenth century?

5. what role did consumption play in the society and culture of the Gilded Age?

6. How did industrialization contribute to heightened anxieties about gender roles and race?

7. what accounted for the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the federal government in the late nineteenth century?

8. How would you explain the high rates of voter turnout and political participation in an era of uninspiring politicians and governmental inaction?



• Charles Darwin publishes On the Origin of Species

• Henry Bessemer improves steel production process


• U.S. gross domestic product quadruples


• Transatlantic telegraph cable completed


• Typewriter invented


• U.S. becomes a global industrial power


• Number of U.S. white-collar workers triples


• John D. Rockefeller takes control of oil refining business


• Montgomery Ward established


• Thomas Edison establishes research laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey


• James Garfield assassinated


• Civil Service Act passed


• 1,700 blacks lynched in the South


• Alexander Graham Bell founds American Telephone and Telegraph


U.S. railroads adopt standard gauge

Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company


• Andrew Carnegie publishes "The Gospel of Wealth"


• Sherman Antitrust Act passed


• African Americans disfranchised in the South


• Rural free delivery (RFD) begins


• United States v. E.C. Knight Company


• Plessy v. Ferguson


• United States Steel established

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