Born September 6, 1860 (Cedarville, Illinois)
Died May 21, 1935 (Chicago, Illinois)
Jane Addams founded the pioneering social settlement of Hull House in Chicago in 1889. It operated by the principle that only through living among the poor could aid workers truly understand their situation and provide help. She and her fellow workers were women from relatively wealthy and educated backgrounds who were determined to improve the dangerous and unhealthy living conditions in the city's poorer neighborhoods. Located in one such area, Addams's Hull House provided a variety of social services to the largely immigrant population, and it went on to become a model for many other settlement houses and community centers around the United States. Addams was widely known and honored during her lifetime, and in 1931 she became the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for peace.
Addams came from the town of Cedarville, Illinois. Her newlywed parents had arrived there not long after...
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Webster Schermerhorn Astor, Carolyn
Born September 22, 1830 (New York, New York)
Died October 30, 1908 (New York, New York)
Prior to the Gilded Age, the era of industrialization from the early 1860s to the turn of the century in which a few wealthy individuals gained tremendous power and influence, there was a limited number of very rich and privileged families in the United States. The rural nature of the country had long prevented a large wealthy class from rising, since farming did not usually generate huge profits. Similarly, few people could claim an elite ancestry, since most Americans were descended from farmers.
In 1845 there were only ten millionaires living in New York City. They generally kept to themselves and saw little need to show off their wealth. Starting in the late 1860s, however, the soaring profits of new industries created thousands of newly wealthy families, many of whom migrated to the city. The older families called the newcomers the "nouveaux riche," or new rich, an insulting term indicating a lack of tradition and refinement. The newcomers quickly began spending large amounts of their money in highly public ways. They...
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Bell, Alexander Graham
Born March 3, 1847 (Edinburgh, Scotland)
Died August 2, 1922 (Nova Scotia, Canada)
Alexander Graham Bell's most famous invention, the telephone, was the result of his primary career focus: teaching the deaf to speak. Bell had been successful in his work with the hearing-impaired and had instructed a generation of teachers in his methods. He sought to reproduce human speech by creating a machine with a wire that could be vibrated by the voice. Backed by a team of eager financial supporters, Bell and his assistant, Thomas Watson (1854–1934), perfected their speech-transmission device in March 1876. Their invention revolutionized communication and created an entirely new industry.
Bell family background
Bell was born on March 3, 1847, in Edinburgh, Scotland, and was the middle child of three sons. He shared the same given name as his well-known grandfather, who was a professor of elocution (the art of public speaking in which gesture, vocal production, and delivery were emphasized) in London, England, and the author of several books on speech impediments and pronunciation. Bell's father, Alexander Melville...
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Born November 25, 1835 (Dunfermline, Scotland)
Died August 11, 1919 (Lenox, Massachusetts)
During his lifetime Andrew Carnegie's name immediately brought forth thoughts of the immense wealth he made through the steel empire he created almost single-handedly. The Scottish-born businessman possessed tremendous foresight and sharp managerial skills, and the innovations he brought to American industry revolutionized it and helped make the country a global economic power in the years following his death. Carnegie's legacy, however, involved more than making money. Carnegie came from a humble background and gave generously in his lifetime. After nearly thirty years in the steel industry, Carnegie sold his company to Wall Street financial backer J. P. Morgan (1837–1913; see entry) in 1901, and the deal made him the richest man in the world. He used it to fund his philanthropic efforts (aid given to promote human welfare), which centered on public libraries and schools in the United States and England. At the time of his death in 1919, Carnegie had given away nearly 90 percent of his fortune....
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Chinese Transcontinental Railroad Workers
In the mid-nineteenth century, large numbers of Chinese men immigrated to the United States in search of better futures for themselves and the families they left behind. From 1864 to 1869, somewhere between ten thousand and twenty thousand of these immigrants were responsible for a major part of the western construction of the transcontinental railroad, which spanned the country from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast. These workers gained the respect of many who worked with them, but strong anti-Asian sentiments in the United States, due mainly to uninformed opinions, kept most of the Chinese on the outskirts of American society. Few records remained of the individual men who accomplished this overwhelming task through courage and discipline, and there were no known first-person accounts, such as memoirs or letters, left by the railroad workers.
Troubles in China: Why they came
China is one of the world's oldest cultures. For thousands of years, under a series of long-term ruling families, the Chinese developed a...
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Debs, Eugene Victor
Born November 5, 1855 (Terre Haute, Indiana)
Died October 20, 1926 (Elmhurst, Illinois)
By the late nineteenth century the industrial workforce in the United States had grown very large. Factory workers labored long hours at dull, repetitive, often dangerous jobs, yet many did not make enough money to provide food, clothing, and shelter for their families. The fear of losing their jobs prevented most people from speaking out against the unfair working conditions in the country's big industries, and there were few organizations or reformers willing to help. Labor leader Eugene Victor Debs was one man who devoted his life to providing a strong voice for the workers. He struggled tirelessly for twenty years to promote the labor union movement, which sought to protect the common interests of workers, particularly with respect to wages and working conditions. Debs believed that if they united, laborers could have more control over the workplace. When he felt the labor movement had failed, he attempted to lead an independent political party that would support American workers. Although in the early years of his fight for reform he was viewed as a radical and even a criminal by many Americans, by the end of his life Debs was almost universally
(The entire section is 3501 words.)
Born February 11, 1847 (Milan, Ohio)
Died October 18, 1931 (West Orange, New Jersey)
Thomas Edison was a legendary figure in his lifetime, and even decades after his death in 1931 he is considered one of history's most significant inventors. Edison's enduring achievement in this realm was tied to the incandescent light bulb, but he also came up with a safe, efficient way to deliver the power that lit those bulbs. It ushered in a new era, changing the way the modern world lived, worked, and played. He also made improvements to the telephone invented by Alexander Graham Bell (1847–1922; see entry), devised the first working phonograph, and made important scientific contributions to the early motionpicture industry. His accomplishments in the final two decades of the nineteenth century were so valuable that the period was once commonly called the "Age of Edison" in school history books for many years.
Thomas Alva Edison was born on February 11, 1847, in Milan, Ohio. His father, Samuel, was Canadian, but had fled Ontario after taking part in a rebellion against the...
(The entire section is 3272 words.)
Born January 21, 1743 (Windsor Township, Connecticut)
Died July 2, 1798 (Kentucky)
In 1787 American inventor John Fitch built the world's first working steamboat. He demonstrated the vessel on the Delaware River in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for a panel of prominent politicians who were meeting in the city to take part in the Constitutional Convention, the meeting of delegates to draft the U.S. Constitution. Fitch's boat was moved by steam-powered oars, and he became involved in a bitter rivalry with an inventor from Virginia who had also constructed a steam-propelled vessel around the same time. Neither boat was a financial success, however, and Fitch died in poverty. It took twenty years and the achievement of Robert Fulton (1765-1815) to launch the age of steam travel in America.
Early life and work
Fitch was born on January 21, 1743, in Windsor Township, Connecticut. He was descended from an old but unexceptional colonial...
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Born July 30, 1863 (Dearborn, Michigan)
Died April 7, 1947 (Dearborn, Michigan)
American automotive pioneer Henry Ford was one of twentieth-century industry's greatest innovators, and even during his lifetime he was proclaimed as the man who ushered in the modern age. Though he did not invent the gasoline-powered "horseless carriage," as the car was initially called, his inventive ideas about accelerating the manufacturing process made him one of the most important visionaries of the industrial age. Over a twenty-year period, his Ford Motor Company churned out some eleven million Model T cars, the first automobile to be mass-produced. The quick-moving assembly line at Ford's Detroit-area plant, where each worker was responsible for completing a single task, was a model of efficiency and became the standard for the modern factory floor. The concepts Ford first tested there would be widely copied by his competitors and applied to countless other manufacturing processes.
Ford often claimed that his ideas about efficient work habits were the result of his dislike of the farm chores he was forced...
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Gilbreth, Frank and Lillian
Frank B. Gilbreth
Born July 7, 1868 (Fairfield, Maine)
Died June 14, 1924 (New Jersey)
Lillian M. Gilbreth
Born May 24, 1878 (Oakland, California)
Died January 2, 1972 (Scottsdale, Arizona)
Industrial engineers Frank and Lillian Gilbreth were one of the most well-known working couples in the United States during the early years of the twentieth century. Corporations hired them for their pioneering work in scientific industrial management, while magazines profiled their smoothly run household and large family of eleven children. The Gilbreths were efficiency experts at both home and work, and they conducted motion studies, or the analysis of a specific job to determine the most efficient way to accomplish the task, and analyzed workforce behavior for dozens of industrial companies in the United States and Europe. By mid-century many of their ideas for streamlining work processes had been incorporated into the daily operations of the nation's factories. The Gilbreths authored numerous books and articles, both together and separately, and Lillian's works introduced psychology into the field of modern industrial management. Yet...
(The entire section is 2993 words.)
Born September 12, 1859 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Died February 17, 1932 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Florence Kelley was a passionate crusader for workers' rights in an era when there was almost no federal or state regulation to protect them. She carried out much of her most important work in Chicago, Illinois, and lived at the famous Hull House settlement founded by Jane Addams (1860–1935; see entry). Kelley was tireless in her efforts to end child labor and improve working conditions for the women who were employed in the light-industry factories that produced consumer goods before the rise of organized labor. She was the first official inspector of factories in the state of Illinois, and she fought for the establishment of the Children's Bureau to protect the health and safety of the underage.
Background and education
Kelley was born on September 12, 1859, into a prominent Philadelphia family. Her father, William Darrah Kelley, was a local judge. One of the founders of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania, he was elected to Congress...
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La Follette, Robert M.
Born June 14, 1855 (Primrose, Wisconsin)
Died June 18, 1925 (Washington, D.C.)
Robert M. La Follette served in the United States Senate for nearly twenty years, and was a key figure in the Progressive Era (the period of the Industrial Revolution that spanned roughly from the 1890s to about 1920, in which reformers worked together in the interest of distributing political power and wealth more equally). Before heading to Washington, La Follette spent five years as governor of his home state, Wisconsin. In both offices he championed some of the first laws in the country that placed government regulations on business and supported others that were aimed at helping average wage earners and farmers. La Follette was a well-known figure in his time and enjoyed immense popular support. When he ran for president as a third-party candidate in 1924, he won an impressive five million votes. That year he was the front-runner of the Progressive Party, which he had founded.
Background and early career
La Follette was born in June 1855, in his family's log cabin on a farm near Primrose, in...
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Lathrop, Julia C.
Born June 29, 1858 (Rockford, Illinois)
Died April 15, 1932 (Rockford, Illinois)
Julia Clifford Lathrop was an active member of Hull House, the settlement house founded in Chicago, Illinois, by Jane Addams (1860–1935; see entry) in 1889. Located in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods, Hull House was established to provide much-needed social services to Chicago's newly arrived immigrants. Lathrop was a key figure in its first forty years of existence, and her pioneering social work eventually took her to Washington, D.C. There she served as the first director of the newly created U.S. Children's Bureau from 1912 to 1921.
Lathrop was born in June 1858, in Rockford, Illinois. Her maternal grandparents had been one of the first families to settle in the town. Her ancestry on her father's side stretched back to the establishment of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 1600s. Her father, William, was a successful lawyer and one of the founders of the Republican Party in Illinois. He was already serving in the Illinois state legislature by the time Lathrop was...
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Latimer, Lewis H.
Born September 4, 1848 (Chelsea, Massachusetts)
Died December 11, 1928 (Flushing, New York)
Lewis H. Latimer had an honored career as an inventor, skilled mechanical draftsperson, and patent expert. Patents are legal documents giving an inventor the exclusive right to make, use, or sell an invention for a certain term of years. Latimer worked with Alexander Graham Bell (1847–1922; see entry) in preparing the drawings that were important to Bell's patent application for the telephone and spent much of his later career with the firm founded by Thomas Edison (1847–1931; see entry). Latimer's achievements were even more remarkable because he was an African American executive and technical expert in the United States before the civil rights movement, when minorities who attained such prominence were rare.
Son of escaped slaves
Latimer was born on September 4, 1848, in Chelsea, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. His parents, George and Rebecca,...
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Lease, Mary Elizabeth
Born September 11, 1853 (Ridgway, Pennsylvania)
Died October 29, 1933 (Callicoon, New York)
Mary Elizabeth Lease was a tough, outspoken woman in an era when women were expected to be subordinate and avoid conflict with men. Lease, however, was angry at the wrongs she saw in the world and refused to keep silent no matter how society perceived her. She gained national recognition during the crusade for reform in the 1890s due mainly to her powerful oratorical (speech-making) skills. With a quick mind, a powerful voice, a way with words, and a strong dislike for rich American industrialists, she stirred both anger and hope in farmers who were struggling to pay bills and feed their families. In hundreds of speeches made in just a few years she rallied crowds to fight for reform against the wealthy financial backers and industrialists.
Lease was born in Ridgway, Pennsylvania, in 1853. Her parents were immigrants from Ireland, forced to flee their native land because her father faced a possible death sentence for rebelling against the ruling English....
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Lowell, Francis Cabot
Born April 7, 1775 (Newburyport, Massachusetts)
Died August 10, 1817 (Boston, Massachusetts)
Francis Cabot Lowell played a key role in bringing the Industrial Revolution to the United States in the early nineteenth century. He introduced highly advanced technology to New England's growing textile industry and devised new methods of managing workers and the production process. Lowell's textile factories produced on a much larger scale than anything the United States had seen prior to that period. Lowell also established one of the earliest forms of the modern-day corporation, which prospered long after his death and was a model for all American business.
Early work in the shipping industry
Lowell was a member of a large aristocratic New England family. He grew up in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and was the son of prominent judge John Lowell (1743–1802) and Susanna Cabot...
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Born May 2, 1844 (Colchester, Ontario, Canada)
Died October 10, 1929 (Eloise, Michigan)
American inventor Elijah McCoy patented a lubricating (reducing friction between two solid objects) device for locomotive engines that was widely used in the railroad industry for more than forty years. McCoy's oil cup, which dripped a steady flow of oil into an engine while it was running, was a major time-saver for the train engineers of the era. Previously, they had to halt the train and manually oil the engine and its parts to keep it running smoothly. McCoy had once done that very job himself, and his idea came from that experience. He never earned much money from this or from any of his other inventions, however, and died penniless.
Educated in Scotland
McCoy was born in 1844, in Colchester, Ontario, in Canada. His parents were escaped slaves from a Kentucky plantation. They had made it to Canada, where slavery was illegal, by using the Underground Railroad, a secret network of safe houses that helped fugitive slaves reach freedom in the free states and Canada. He was one of twelve children in his family, and they
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Morgan, J. P.
Born April 17, 1837 (Hartford, Connecticut)
Died March 31, 1913 (Rome, Italy)
By 1900 John Pierpont (J. P.) Morgan had amassed one of the largest fortunes in the United States, and over the next decade his financial empire grew to rival the economies of large nations. His finance company was so well funded it was able to back new industries, buy railroads, and arrange mergers between giant corporations. The majority of the American public believed that Morgan's money and skill were advancing the rapid growth of American industry, but many nonetheless viewed the powerful Wall Street banker as a robber baron, a term sometimes used to refer to the ruthless and greedy industrialists of the latter half of the nineteenth century. In several ways Morgan had more influence over the American economy than the federal government, and some Americans were alarmed that one private citizen had obtained such power in a democratic nation. Morgan, however, believed he was working...
(The entire section is 4519 words.)
Washington Murray, George
Born September 24, 1853 (Sumpter County, South Carolina)
Died April 21, 1926 (Chicago, Illinois)
George Washington Murray was an inventor, educator, and politician in late nineteenth-century America. Born into slavery, he rose to prominence as one of the first African Americans to serve in Congress. He farmed for several years in South Carolina and invented a number of farm tools in the 1890s.
Patents and politics
Murray was born in September 1853, in Sumpter County, South Carolina. He spent his early years in slavery on a plantation in Rembert and was nine years old when the historic Emancipation Proclamation freed all slaves in the Southern states during the American Civil War (1861–65; a war between the Union [the North], who were opposed to slavery, and the Confederacy [the South], who were in favor of slavery). By then his parents had either been sold off to other owners or died, and he was an orphan. He had no formal schooling but entered South Carolina University in 1874. He studied there for two years until a new rule segregated the school and its black students were forced to leave.
Murray earned his undergraduate degree from the State Normal Institute in...
(The entire section is 1988 words.)
Randolph, A. Philip
Born April 15, 1889 (Crescent City, Florida)
Died May 16, 1979 (New York, New York)
Civil rights activist
American labor leader and civil rights crusader A. Philip Randolph was instrumental in shaping some of the first federal laws designed to give African Americans equal rights in the workplace. For several decades Randolph served as president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a union of black employees in the passenger rail service industry. He rose to national prominence as its leader and then turned his attention to the manufacturing industry when the factories were preparing for wartime production in the early 1940s. By warning U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45) that he planned to lead black workers in a civil rights march on Washington, Randolph convinced Roosevelt to sign an executive order that forced factories with government contracts to stop discriminating against African American workers. Many years later Randolph did lead a march on Washington when he was the behind-the-scenes organizer...
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Rockefeller, John D.
Born July 8, 1839 (Richford, New York)
Died May 23, 1937 (Ormond, Florida)
John D. Rockefeller was one of the most successful industrialists in the history of the United States. His creation of the powerful Standard Oil Trust in the late nineteenth century permanently changed the course of business in the country. Rockefeller was a disciplined, serious, and ambitious man, driven by a desire for order and efficiency. When the oil industry was new, he quickly saw that competition among small companies would lower profits for everyone, and he attempted to take over the entire business to keep this from occurring. To gain the monopoly, or the exclusive possession or right to produce a particular good or service, he evaded and broke laws and destroyed the careers of many rivals. In contrast to his less desirable actions, however, Rockefeller was also a great philanthropist who gave substantial amounts of money to help institutions and organizations. The American public was split in its opinion of the man. Some thought him an evil genius seeking to gain too much control over the economy, but he was viewed by others as a kind man who tried to help his fellow man. Regardless of how America saw him, Rockefeller always seemed sure of the rightness of his own path....
(The entire section is 4721 words.)
Born June 9, 1768 (Derbyshire, England)
Died April 21, 1835 (Webster, Rhode Island)
Samuel Slater was often called the founder of the American Industrial Revolution. In 1789 he arrived in the United States from his native England with the construction details of the power looms committed to memory. It was a time when the new American nation was eager to learn the secrets of England's thriving textile industry, but the sale of such information to the former colonies was prohibited by English law. Slater settled in Rhode Island, where he built machines that made cotton yarn and were the first such looms in the country. He went on to launch his own immensely successful textile company, and it made him one of the first industrial leaders in the United States. The Slater mills built along New England riverbanks helped bring an end to England's dominance in the textile industry, but they also forever changed the American economy. During Slater's lifetime America would emerge as a manufacturing powerhouse, and its textile mills were the first large-scale factories to fuel the new economy.
The new textile...
(The entire section is 2285 words.)
Starr, Ellen Gates
Born March 19, 1859 (Laona, Illinois)
Died February 10, 1940 (Suffern, New York)
Ellen Gates Starr did not achieve the same kind of fame enjoyed by her close colleague, Jane Addams (1860–1935; see entry), but Starr did play an important role in the founding of Hull House in Chicago, Illinois, in 1889. Starr and Addams established the pioneering settlement house in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods, where thousands lived in unhealthy, overcrowded conditions. Hull House was founded on the principle that to help the poor one must live among them, and the two single, well-educated women from wealthy families astonished many in the city by doing just that. Starr stayed with Hull House for much of her life and took an active role in Chicago's early labor union movement.
Starr was born in March 1859, in Laona, Illinois. She came from an old New England family, and legend held that her great-grandfather, who fought in the American Revolutionary War...
(The entire section is 2426 words.)
Tarbell, Ida M.
Born November 5, 1857 (Hatch Hollow, Pennsylvania)
Died January 6, 1944 (Bridgeport, Connecticut)
As a child Ida M. Tarbell watched her father, an independent oilman, struggle unsuccessfully to compete in a field dominated by John D. Rockefeller (1839–1937; see entry) and his massive Standard Oil Company. Rockefeller's attempts to gain complete control over the oil industry led to the destruction of many small oil refineries, such as the one owned by Tarbell's father, and she grew to despise the wealthy industrialist. Decades later Tarbell became a successful investigative journalist whose publications helped bring about the fall of the powerful oil company, forever linking her name with that of the man she held responsible for much of her family's early troubles.
An early introduction to the oil business
Tarbell was born on November 5, 1857, in a log cabin in the tiny village of Hatch Hollow in Erie County, Pennsylvania. Her parents, Franklin Sumner Tarbell and Elizabeth McCullough Tarbell, had...
(The entire section is 3477 words.)
Born May 27, 1794 (Port Richmond, New York)
Died January 4, 1877 (New York, New York)
When Cornelius Vanderbilt died in 1877, he left an estate valued at $100 million. Vanderbilt's astonishing fortune ranked him as the richest American in his lifetime, and his wealth had seemed to grow right along with the rapidly expanding new nation. Known as the "Commodore," he made his first fortune in shipping and went on to own a large section of the railroad tracks that connected the East Coast to Chicago, Illinois. Vanderbilt had a skill for recognizing coming changes and trends, and his talent for investment opportunities made him one of the American Industrial Revolution's leading figures. His estate also created one of the country's great family fortunes.
An early start in the shipping business
Born in May 1794 on Staten Island, New York, Vanderbilt came from a Dutch farming family who lived in Port Richmond, on the north shore of the island. His great-great-great-grand-father, Jan Aertson, came to...
(The entire section is 3040 words.)
Washington, Booker T.
Born April 5, 1856 (Franklin County, Virginia)
Died November 14, 1915 (Tuskegee, Alabama)
Booker T. Washington was the first national leader for millions of African Americans at the turn of the twentieth century. The founder of an all-black school in Alabama called the Tuskegee Institute, Washington urged the South's eight million freed slaves and their descendants to continue to farm and do manual labor. Through hard work, he believed, they would prosper and someday enjoy the same rights and privileges as white Americans. He cautioned blacks to avoid political and civil rights battles, but to work instead to become property owners and merchants, and to create their own thriving, self-sufficient communities.
As Washington recounted in his well-known autobiographies, Up from Slavery (1901) and The Story of My Life and Work (1901), he was born into slavery in 1856. He was not the property of a wealthy plantation owner but belonged instead to James Burroughs, who had a small farm near Hale's Ford, in Franklin County, Virginia....
(The entire section is 2855 words.)