During the three decades after the Civil War, the United States became the world’s leading
industrial power. A fortunate combination of sufficient raw materials, a large labor supply, an
astonishing list of technological accomplishments, the emergence of modern large-scale business
techniques (led by railroads), accessible nationwide markets, and supportive state and national
governments helped boost the United States past its international rivals. This rapid
transformation had a profound impact on the lives of millions. To consumers, mass production
offered a wide array of material essentials and comforts at increasingly affordable prices. For
workers, mass production resulted in more laborers surrendering their economic independence to
become unprotected wage earners, increasingly dependent and controlled by their employers. For
their part, many employers viewed their employees as an inexpensive and easily replaceable
element of their corporate structure. As many employers devised new methods to extract as much
labor from their workers as possible, a powerful new business philosophy developed that both
protected the inequalities of capitalism and offered hope to those who suffered the most from
these differences. The widespread belief in this “self-made man” theory of rugged individualism
would both mollify a good deal of labor discontent and help put off the development of public
welfare and occupational health and safety standards for generations.
Critics of business, of course, existed. The abuses of late-nineteenth-century American
capitalism inspired a growing cadre of reformers who were not workers to offer a series of
proposals, including the “single tax” on land. And not all workers accepted the notion that the
owners of capital—some of whom had come to monopolize their industries—were the most “fit”
to rule business. Some of them turned to socialism; others tried to build labor unions with at least
local, if not national, power. Nonetheless, reformers and union organizers faced many difficult
problems, not the least of which were divisions among workers and a powerful (and much more
united) group of employers. The result was a series of often violent strikes and little in the way of
sustained reform or great power in the hands of national unions.
A thorough study of Chapter 17 should enable the student to understand:
1. The reasons for the rapid industrial development of the United States in the late nineteenth
2. The array of new technology and its impact on industrial growth
3. The role of the individual entrepreneur in various American industries
4. The emergence and practices of large-scale American business organizations in the late
5. The various intellectual defenses of and justifications for the new industrial capitalism
6. The various criticisms of industrial capitalism and solutions proposed by its critics
7. The working conditions facing all those who toiled within the system of industrial capitalism,
particularly immigrants, women, and children
8. The rise of organized labor and the reasons it generally failed to achieve its major objectives
1. How various factors (including the availability of raw materials and labor, the development
of new technologies, the presence of growing markets, and friendly governments) combined
to make the United States a global industrial leader
2. How and why industrial capitalism came to be extolled for its accomplishments and attacked
for its excesses
3. How American workers both benefited from industrial capitalism and reacted to the physical
and psychological stresses of this new economic order
POINTS FOR DISCUSSION
1. How do you account for America’s impressive industrial growth in the late nineteenth
century? Why was this growth so much more rapid in America than in Europe?
2. Which inventions of the late nineteenth century had the greatest immediate impact on
American industry specifically and American society generally? Why did they have this
impact? Which inventions had the greatest long-term impact and why?
3. Horatio Alger and Edward Bellamy both produced best-selling books in the late nineteenth
century. Why did Americans want to read about both America’s greatness and America’s
great need to reform? Is there paradox here? How do the reform ideas of the late nineteenth
century compare with reformers earlier in the century?
4. Describe the evolution of the late-nineteenth-century corporation. What roles did government
play in this story? What roles did government not play (but might have played)?
5. Would you describe the entrepreneurs of the late nineteenth century as “robber barons” or
“captains of industry”? Why would you choose one term over the other? Did they really
believe in free enterprise? Why or why not?
6. What philosophies of the late nineteenth century helped industrialists rationalize their
methods and power? What elements in their philosophies would you agree with and what
would you disagree with? What factors were not considered in these ideas?
7. In what ways were John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie similar? In what ways were
they not necessarily similar?
8. Analyze the various criticisms of late-nineteenth-century American capitalism. Which
criticism was the most cogent and why? Which was the most practical and why? Which was
the least practical and why?
9. Describe the most important late-nineteenth-century changes in both the nature of the
American workforce and the conditions of the workplace. Why did most industrial workers
accept the difficult conditions of their work?
10. Describe and analyze the various efforts made during the late nineteenth century to create
national labor organizations. Which was the most successful and why? Which was the least
successful and why? What factors were most important in determining success or failure?
Why was organized labor not a stronger force in late-nineteenth-century America?
1. Identify the route of the first transcontinental railroad and the place where the two lines met.
2. Note the other major railroad lines.
3. Identify the area of the country best served by railroads as of 1870.
4. Note the areas of the country that experienced the most significant railroad development from
1870 to 1890.
INTERPRETATIVE QUESTIONS BASED ON MAPS AND TEXT
1. Aside from the sparsely populated areas of the West, what part of the country lagged in
railroad expansion? Why?
2. What geographic barriers and economic realities impeded railroad development in the West?
How were they overcome?
3. Why was the Pullman railroad strike in the Chicago area so disruptive of the national
4. What factors made the region from Pittsburgh to Chicago America’s industrial heartland?
These questions are based on the preceding map exercises. They are designed to test students’
knowledge of the geography of the area discussed in this chapter and of its historical
development. Careful reading of the text will help students answer these questions.
1. Explain the interplay among railroad development, raw materials, and industrial expansion.
What area of the country led in these areas? Why?
2. How did the railroad contribute to the creation of a truly national economy in the United
3. What impact did a lack of railroad facilities have on the areas least served by railroads?
Melvin Dubofsky, Industrialism and the American Worker, 1865-1920 (1975)
Elliott J. Gorn, Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America (2001)
Kevin Kenny, Making Sense of the Molly Maguires (1998)
Edward C. Kirkland, Dream and Thought in the Business Community, 1860-1900 (1956)
Norma R. Lamoreaux, The Great Merger Movement in American Business, 1895-1904 (1985)
Walter Licht, Industrializing America: the Nineteenth Century (1995)
Harold C. Livesay, Andrew Carnegie and the Rise of Big Business (1975)
David Montgomery, The Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, the State, and American
Labor Activism, 1865-1925 (1987)
David Noble, America by Design: Science, Technology, and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism
Glenn Porter, The Rise of Big Business, 1860-1910 (1973)
Leonard S. Reich, The Making of American Industrial Research: Science and Business at GE
and Bell, 1876-1926 (1985)
Nick Salvatore, Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist (1982)
John L. Thomas, Alternative America: Henry George, Edward Bellamy, Henry Demarest Lloyd,
and the Adversary Tradition (1983)
Robert Wiebe, The Search for Order, 1877-1920 (1968)
Oliver Zunz, Making America Corporate, 1870-1920 (1990)
For Internet resources, practice questions, references to additional books and films, and more, see
this book’s Online Learning Center at www.mhhe.com/unfinishednation4.