Explain two ways in which workers were affected by the growth of large businesses from 1870–1890.

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With the arrival of the Second Industrial Revolution following the American Civil War, many changes came to American society. With technological improvements came the growth of manufacturing. This would lead into the Gilded Age. This time period was marked by the growth of big businesses, the excessive wealth of some...

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With the arrival of the Second Industrial Revolution following the American Civil War, many changes came to American society. With technological improvements came the growth of manufacturing. This would lead into the Gilded Age. This time period was marked by the growth of big businesses, the excessive wealth of some American industrialists, and a greater availability of goods in markets. It is also noted for rapid urbanization, poor work conditions, and the downfall of many small businesses and small business owners. Workers of this period were affected in many ways, some of which were positive, while others were not.

Many industrial workers of the Gilded Age were recent arrivals to the areas in which they worked. With agricultural technology improving and the price of agricultural goods falling, many small farmers quickly found themselves in a position where farming was no longer economically feasible. These farmers would leave the agricultural industry to begin working in manufacturing in urban areas.

In addition to the arrival of many rural Americans in cities, there was also the arrival of immigrants seeking opportunity in the United States. These immigrants were often unskilled laborers for whom the world of big business manufacturing offered opportunities. Many of these immigrants were willing to take low-paying factory jobs in poor conditions in order to escape issues like persecution, food shortages, political unrest, and warfare in their home countries.

Another group that faced a great deal of change in the Gilded Age was skilled craftsmen. People like shoemakers and tailors, who had developed their skill over years, struggled to compete with the mass production of similar goods in factories. Factories could produce similar goods, but could do so in far greater numbers and offer their products for much lower costs. In many cases, these small businessmen were forced out of business and oftentimes found themselves working as laborers in the factories of big businesses.

The growth of big business also led to a focus on profit. Poor working conditions, long working hours, and sometimes even physical abuse were all commonplace. In many cases, children were employed at factories where they worked long hours, suffered beatings, and voided the opportunity for education and future betterment. There were, at the time, few working regulations. Big businesses were not often concerned with good working conditions, because improving conditions would require investing money. This would then take away from overall profits.

As big businesses grew, it seemed that conditions for many workers worsened. The influence of big businesses extended all the way to the level of government. With corruption rampant, it was unlikely that changes would come easily for the workers. It was due to these conditions that the late 1800s saw a growth in membership of labor unions. Workers organized in an attempt to have certain, oftentimes basic, demands met. These demands included safer working conditions, fewer hours of work, and better pay. It was through the struggle of these unions that work conditions began to improve.

Big business also had an effect on all of society. Through increased mechanization in factories, goods could be produced quicker, cheaper, and in greater numbers than they had been by hand. With an increase in the supply of items like clothing and a reduction in the cost of production, prices began to drop. This would lead to an improved standard of living for some, as people were able to purchase goods in greater numbers.

As you can see, the growth of big business led to many changes in the nature of American society. Workers in almost all sectors were in some way affected by or connected to the growth of big business and manufacturing.

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