The Gilded Age is defined by the very rapid changes that were brought on by immigration, industrialization, and the challenges American society faced due to these developments. The quick advancements of the Industrial Revolution shook countless American homes, with new consumer products on the market and mechanical devices being made. This era was one in which wealth was made by some and aggressive poverty struck many others. It was an era that called for a revolution as the American people decided that these rapid changes needed to be slowed down a bit for these fast paced changes in their lives.
In many ways, the Gilded Age was the peak of the Industrial Revolution, when America shifted from an agricultural based society over to an industrial based one. Most of the major cities were than migrated to extremely fast, such as New York, Chicago, and Boston. Those that migrated were made up mostly of struggling farmers and immigrants looking for work. These cities were just plain unprepared for such rapid growth in population in such a short time. There wasn’t enough housing for all those who moved resulting in tenements popping up nationwide.
The conditions all around were poor or non existent. Medical care, sanitation, heating and housing were all poor and millions died from what have normally been preventable diseases. Out of the people who had migrated over, many had little to no skills, because of this they were willing to work long hours for little pay. The people that had wealth also had the most power in the Gilded Age, these people considered those with no skills ideal employees for their warehouses. Where the working conditions were very dangerous inside as well. With wage cuts, no benefits and long periods of unemployment on top of this, it was with no question the wealthy only had profit on their minds and very little else.
The first labor unions were established in the nineteenth century, but they really took off during the Gilded age. Unions are organizations that represented and protected workers. The primary reason they took off during the Gilded Age was the increased number unskilled and unhappy factory workers. Joining a union was incredibly risky, and some employers even hired spies to expose labor organizers, so they could fire them and put them on blacklists (16.3.3). Even though it was risky and dangerous, the reward outweighed the risk for those who joined. The benefits of having a team of people fighting with you and for you was enough for those who were brave enough to join.
Keene, Jennifer D., Cornell, Saul, and O’Donnell, Edward T. Visions of America: A History of the United States, Volume2, 3rded. 2019.