The Second Industrial Revolution deeply altered the political, societal, and economic landscape of Western Europe and the United States. Focusing on the United States, the changes that occurred during the Industrial Revolution were astounding. The time period was characterized by a huge increase in industrialization and technological improvements that led to faster and more effective methods of production.
Economically speaking, the Second Industrial Revolution saw the ability to manufacture products faster and cheaper. The implementation of the assembly line, in which products were assembled in stages with each worker focusing on a specific part of the process, allowed for workers to become very good at their specific role. This led to increased production. Additionally, harnessing the power of electricity allowed for greater working hours and more efficient usage of machinery. The fact that products could be manufactured much faster and cheaper meant that prices decreased for those seeking to buy such products (increased supply and lower production cost). This meant a growth in consumer culture and an increased standard of living for many Americans.
The Second Industrial Revolution also led to the growth of very powerful and large corporations in the United States. These corporations offered opportunities for those who had the money to invest in them. Investing in stock in a growing company could lead to financial success for the investors if the company did well. Companies like The Standard Oil Company and Carnegie Steel amassed tremendous amounts of wealth.
On a national level, countries that experienced growth in industrialization, primarily in Europe and the United States, also experienced a large increase in national wealth and power. This would cement the status of these countries as the dominant countries on earth. They would not only have huge stores of wealth, but also the ability to quickly produce arms in case of conflict. It also solidified their desire to maintain overseas colonies. Overseas colonies would provide them with materials for production, as well as markets to sell the goods that they produced.
Socially, the United States saw a shift in demographics. Many Americans during the Second Industrial Revolution left the countryside for larger urban areas. This is called urbanization. In these cities they would have more opportunities to find factory jobs and would be closer to their jobs; however, the situation was not perfect. With so many people rushing to cities, the populations exploded, and the cities did not have the infrastructure to accommodate such a rapid shift in population. Cities experienced overcrowding, with people living in close quarters with many others. The United States also experienced an explosion in immigration from Europeans seeking greater opportunity in American cities. This only served to add to the struggles faced in American cities from this rapid urbanization. Problems associated with rapid urbanization included overcrowding, greater spreading of disease, increases in crime, and poor/filthy living conditions with few regulations. There was, however, the development of a larger middle class and working class. These were individuals who held jobs at the factories and would not be classified as wealthy, but they would also not be considered poor.
Politically there would also be changes in store. In the United States, the Gilded Age (1870s–1900) associated with the Second Industrial Revolution involved a "laissez-faire" mentality in which the government would not place many restrictions on businesses. There was a lack of safety regulations, no government standards regarding quality of products, no child labor laws, the development of exploitative monopolies, and a host of other problems. Additionally, many politicians were heavily influenced by the power of wealthy elite industrialists and were thus unlikely to pass legislation limiting their ability to profit. Corruption was rampant and a significant problem during the Second Industrial Revolution. The problems associated with this time period would eventually begin to be addressed during the Progressive Era of the 1890s–1920s. The problems of the Second Industrial Revolution would be documented by muckrakers and brought to national attention. Progressives would fight to organize workers, ensure that safety regulations and child labor laws would be put into place, and ensure a level of product quality in many industries. Some examples of progressives would include photographer Jacob Riis, who documented the lives of the poor in overcrowded cities, and Upton Sinclair, whose book The Jungle highlighted the filthy conditions and unclean practices of the Chicago meatpacking industry. The Progressive Era would eventually bring about changes to help solve some of the problems created during the Second Industrial Revolution.
Whether the Second Industrial Revolution led to more positive or more negative effects can certainly be debated, but what is not debatable is the huge and ranging impact it had across the Western world and ultimately the world as a whole.