Railroads and Conflict in the West

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Explain four ways that the expansion of industry in the late 1800s affected industrial workers, and explain four reasons why big business was able to grow and dominate the US economy in the Industrial Age (1877–1900).

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The United States emerged as an industrial leader following the Civil War. Technology saw improvements in the production of existing products such as cotton and steel, as well as the introduction of new products. The industrial expansion also transformed the economy and people’s lifestyles. For instance,

1. Rising productivity created...

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The United States emerged as an industrial leader following the Civil War. Technology saw improvements in the production of existing products such as cotton and steel, as well as the introduction of new products. The industrial expansion also transformed the economy and people’s lifestyles. For instance,

1. Rising productivity created leisure time for a growing middle class. Industrial production meant that products that previously required hours of manual labor were now created much faster with the use of sewing machines and other mechanized tools. This, in turn, led to a growing class of merchants and middle-level bureaucrats, as well as some skilled workers who enjoyed both higher wages and more leisure time.

2. Growing economic disparity was another byproduct of rising industrialization. The concentration of wealth in the hands of a few industrialists, combined with the emergence of the above-noted middle class, contrasted sharply with a growing group of unskilled factory and mill workers and other laborers who did not participate in the economic boom. In fact, many unskilled laborers faced increasingly difficult economic and working conditions.

3. Economy shifted from agriculture to industry. Farmers that did not upgrade to machinery faced increasing competition and falling prices for farm produce, causing many young people to move to the city in search of jobs. Their lives changed from being based on daily routines governed by the sun and daylight hours to ones governed by the clock and the timestamp. Moreover, this also led to the urbanization of the country. According to History.com, "by 1900, about 40 percent of Americans lived in major cities."

4. Exploitation of immigrants, women, minorities, and children was prevalent. Growing numbers of migrants from rural areas and foreign immigrants seeking economic opportunities were vulnerable and easily taken advantage of by factory operators. Factories and rails often employed immigrants, women, minorities, and children because they could pay them less and demand longer working hours. Moreover, many unskilled and low level workers often were unemployed at times based on seasonal or cyclical demand.

5. The completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 made it easier to transport farm products and other goods over long distances and also made it easier for people to travel both for work and leisure. Porters who assisted people loading their luggage earned very low wages. Toward the end of the century and beginning of the next, many workers joined a growing number of labor unions.

The rails changed the nature of the economy, as noted, leading to large farms crowding out smaller ones and young people from rural areas migrating to cities. Rails and shipping also enabled big business to grow and dominate the US economy.

First, a handful of industrialists who controlled the railroads, textile mills and companies, shipyards, and banks created large corporations such as the Pullman company and JP Morgan bank, among several others. According to the Missouri State Parks website, "By 1870, there were more than 2,400 woolen mills, and hundreds of cotton mills all over the United States."

In addition, many of these companies consolidated their power base, and the people who worked for them had little to no negotiating leverage to improve their economic situations or working conditions.

Moreover, banks became increasingly more important as the cost of introducing mechanized machinery was high and usually had to be financed with the help of a bank. This created disparities between those people who were deemed credit-worthy and those who did not have access to credit to participate in the industrialization process.

It also led to the creation of large corporations that replaced many of the small mom and pops that had been the backbone of the economy before. For instance, with the factory process, Quaker Oats was founded in 1877.

In response to these changes, many workers went on strike to protest and obtain improvements. Moreover, people who championed workers' rights and advocated for better working conditions and the elimination of child labor helped create labor unions.

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