What were the positive and negative effects of industrialization and change during the period from 1877 to 1900?
With the end of Reconstruction in 1877, the United States entered what would come to be called the Age of Industrialization. There were many changes during this period. Many are considered positive, while others were clearly negative changes.
Some positive effects of industrialization include the spread of transportation and communications across the country. During this period, railroad construction boomed. Resources and workers were constantly being moved from one place to another with the aid of rail. With the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, industry grew exponentially. By 1880 there were about 40,000 active locomotives in the country, more than half of which carried passengers. This led to a period of mobility unlike anything ever seen before.
The process of industrialization also ushered in an overall increase in the standard of living for many Americans. More jobs outside of the agricultural sector led to more disposable income for many families. With the mass production of goods that the assembly line brought, more was available at affordable prices for the typical consumer as well.
Cities also grew at a rapid pace during this period. As workers clustered around factories, cities grew. By the end of the nineteenth century, more people lived in cities than ever had previously. This has been one of the most enduring effects of industrialization. In fact, many cities in the United States today started out as humble mill towns and grew to great sizes during industrialization.
There were many negative effects of industrialization as well. Working conditions for most were appalling, uncomfortable, and often dangerous. Until the widespread rise of workers' unions in the twentieth century and the passage of labor laws, a factory worker had few if any benefits and protections. Pay was generally very low, and mill workers often worked as many as ninety hours in a week.
Until the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, child labor was common. Children would often work long hours in factories for very little pay. As a result, they received no formal education and consequently no opportunity for upward mobility.
Slums and tenements also developed around the factories. Poor housing and sanitation, as well as pollution from the factories, meant that health problems were common in many urban areas. Many of these neighborhoods did not have access to clean drinking water or health services. As a result, outbreaks of otherwise preventable diseases were common.
The period of industrialization had many positive and negative effects. The sad outcome, however, is that these effects were not evenly distributed. Captains of industry, such as Cornelius Vanderbilt and John Rockefeller, became incredibly wealthy. However, the average worker experienced very poor conditions and saw little of the wealth that they helped to create. In fact, in 1900 the richest 1% of Americans had 51% percent of the nation's wealth, and the poorest 44% had just 1.1%. This is perhaps why Mark Twain dubbed this period the Gilded Age; America showed an outward appearance of wealth, while many on the inside never experienced it.