I. The Iron Colt Becomes an Iron Horse
- After the Civil War, railroad production grew enormously, from
35,000 mi. of track laid in 1865 to a whopping 192,556
mi. of track
laid in 1900.
- Congress gave land to railroad companies totally 155,504,994 acres.
- For railroad routes, companies were allowed alternate mile-square
sections in checkerboard fashion, but until companies
part of the land was the best to use for railroad building, all of the
land was withheld from all other
- Grover Cleveland stopped this in 1887.
- Railroads gave land their value; towns where railroads ran became
sprawling cities while those skipped by railroads
sank into ghost
towns, so, obviously, towns wanted railroads in them.
II. Spanning the Continent with Rails
- Deadlock over where to build a transcontinental railroad was broken
after the South seceded, and in 1862, Congress
commissioned the Union
Pacific Railroad to begin westward from Omaha, Nebraska, to gold-rich
- The company received huge sums of money and land to build its
tracks, but corruption also plagued it, as the insiders
of the Credit
Mobilier reaped $23 million in profits.
- Many Irishmen, who might lay as much as 10 miles a day, laid the tracks.
- When Indians attacked while trying to save their land, the Irish
dropped their picks and seized their rifles, and scores
of workers and
Indians died during construction.
- Over in California, the Central Pacific Railroad was in charge of
extending the railroad eastward, and it was backed
by the Big Four:
including Leland Stanford, the ex-governor of California who had useful
political connections, and
Collis P. Huntington, an adept lobbyist.
- The Central Pacific used Chinese workers, and received the same
incentives as the Union Pacific, but it had to drill
through the hard
rock of the Sierra Nevada.
- In 1869, the transcontinental rail line was completed at Promontory
Point near Ogden, Utah; in all, the Union Pacific
built 1,086 mi. of
track, compared to 689 mi. by the Central Pacific.
III. Binding the Country with Railroad Ties
- Before 1900, four other transcontinental railroads were built:
- The Northern Pacific Railroad stretched from Lake Superior to the Puget Sound and was finished in 1883.
- The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe stretched through the Southwest deserts and was completed the following year, in 1884.
- The Southern Pacific (completed in 1884) went from New Orleans to San Francisco.
- The Great Northern ran from Duluth to Seattle and was the creation
of James J. Hill, probably the greatest railroad
builder of all.
- However, many pioneers over-invested on land, and the banks that
supported them often failed and went bankrupt when
wasn’t worth as much as initially thought.
IV. Railroad Consolidation and Mechanization
- Older eastern railroads, like the New York Central, headed by
Cornelius Vanderbilt, often financed the successful western
- Advancements in railroads included the steel rail, which was
stronger and more enduring than the iron rail, the Westinghouse
brake which increased safety, the Pullman Palace Cars which were
luxurious passenger cars, and telegraphs, double-racking,
- Nevertheless, train accidents were common, as well as death.
V. Revolution by Railways
- Railroads stitched the nation together, generated a huge market and
lots of jobs, helped the rapid industrialization
of America, and
stimulated mining and agriculture in the West by bringing people and
supplies to and from the areas
where such work occurred.
- Railroads helped people settle in the previously harsh Great Plains.
- Due to railroads, the creation of four national time zones occurred
on November 18, 1883, instead of each city having
its own time zone
(that was confusing to railroad operators).
- Railroads were also the makers of millionaires and the millionaire class.
VI. Wrongdoing in Railroading
- Railroads were not without corruption, as shown by the Credit Mobilier scandal.
- Jay Gould made millions embezzling stocks from the Erie, Kansas
Pacific, the Union Pacific, and the Texas and Pacific
- One method of cheap moneymaking was called “stock
watering,” in which railroad companies grossly over-inflated
worth of their stock and sold them at huge profits.
- Railroad owners abused the public, bribed judges and legislatures,
employed arm-twisting lobbyists, elected their own
to political office,
gave rebates (which helped the wealthy but not the poor), and used free
passes to gain favor in
- As time passed, though, railroad giants entered into defensive
alliances to show profits, and began the first of what
would be called
trusts, although at that time they were called “pools.” A
pool (AKA, a “cartel”)
is a group of supposed competitors
who agree to work together, usually to set prices.
VII. Government Bridles the Iron Horse
- People were aware of such injustice, but were slow to combat it.
- The Grange was formed by farmers to combat such corruption, and
many state efforts to stop the railroad monopoly occurred,
were stopped when the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the Wabash
case, in which it ruled that states could
not regulate interstate
commerce, such as trains.
- The Interstate Commerce Act, passed in 1887, banned rebates and
pools and required the railroads to publish their rates
openly (so as
not to cheat customers), and also forbade unfair discrimination against
shippers and banned charging more
for a short haul than for a long one.
- It also set up the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to enforce this.
- The act was not a victory against corporate wealth, as people like
Richard Olney, a shrewd corporate lawyer, noted
that they could use the
act to their advantage, but it did represent the first attempt by
Congress to regulate businesses
for society’s interest.
VIII. Miracles of Mechanization
- In 1860, the U.S. was the 4th largest manufacturer in the world, but by 1894, it was #1, why?
- Now-abundant liquid capital.
- Fully exploited natural resources (like coal, oil, and iron, the
iron came from the Minnesota-Lake Superior region
which yielded the
rich iron deposits of the Mesabi Range).
- Massive immigration made labor cheap.
- American ingenuity played a vital role, as such inventions like
mass production (from Eli Whitney) were being refined
- Popular inventions included the cash register, the stock ticker,
the typewriter, the refrigerator car, the electric
dynamo, and the
electric railway, which displaced animal-drawn cars.
- In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone and a new age was launched.
- Thomas Edison, the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” was the most
versatile inventor, who, while best known for his
electric light bulb,
also cranked out scores of other inventions.
IX. The Trust Titan Emerges
- Industry giants used various ways to eliminate competition and maximize profits.
- Andrew Carnegie used a method called “vertical
integration,” which meant that he bought out and controlled
aspects of an industry (in his case, he mined the iron, transported it,
refined it, and turned it into steel, controlling
all parts of the
- John D. Rockefeller, master of “horizontal
integration,” simply allied with or bought out competitors to
a given market.
- He used this method to form Standard Oil and control the oil industry by forcing weaker competitors to go bankrupt.
- These men became known for their trusts, giant, monopolistic corporations.
- J.P. Morgan also placed his own men on the boards of directors of
other rival competitors to gain influence there and
a process called “interlocking directorates.”
X. The Supremacy of Steel
- In Lincoln’s day, steel was very scarce and expensive, but by
1900, Americans produced as much steel as England
and Germany combined.
- This was due to an invention that made steel-making cheaper and
much more effective: the Bessemer process, which was
named after an
English inventor even though an American, William Kelly, had discovered
- Cold air blown on red-hot iron burned carbon deposits and purified it.
- America was one of the few nations that had a lot of coal for fuel,
iron for smelting, and other essential ingredients
for steel making,
and thus, quickly became #1.
XI. Carnegie and Other Sultans of Steel
- Andrew Carnegie started off as a poor boy in a bad job, but by
working hard, assuming responsibility, and charming
he worked his way up to wealth.
- He started in the Pittsburgh area, but he was not a man who liked
trusts; still, by 1900, he was producing 1/4 of the
Bessemer steel, and getting $25 million a year.
- J. Pierpont Morgan, having already made a fortune in the banking
industry and in Wall Street, was ready to step into
the steel tubing
industry, but Carnegie threatened to ruin him, so after some tense
negotiation, Morgan bought Carnegie’s
entire business at $400
million (this was before income tax). But Carnegie, fearing ridicule
for possessing so much
money, spent the rest of his life donating $350
million of it to charity, pensions, and libraries.
- Meanwhile, Morgan took Carnegie’s holdings, added others, and
launched the United States Steel Corporation in
1901, a company that
became the world’s first billion-dollar corporation (it was
capitalized at $1.4 billion).
XII. Rockefeller Grows an American Beauty Rose
- In 1859, a man named Drake first used oil to get money, and by the
1870s, kerosene, a type of oil, was used to light
lamps all over the
- However, by 1885, 250,000 of Edison’s electric light bulbs
were in use, and the electric industry soon rendered
just as kerosene had made whale oil obsolete.
- Oil, however, was just beginning with the gasoline-burning internal combustion engine.
- John D. Rockefeller, ruthless and merciless, organized the Standard
Oil Company of Ohio in 1882 (five years earlier,
he had already
controlled 95% of all the oil refineries in the country).
- Rockefeller crushed weaker competitors—part of the natural
process according to him—but his company did
produce superior oil
at a cheaper price.
- Other trusts, which also generally made better products at cheaper
prices, emerged, such as the meat industry of Gustavus
F. Swift and
XIII. The Gospel of Wealth
- Many of the newly rich had worked from poverty to wealth, and thus
felt that some people in the world were destined
to become rich and
then help society with their money. This was the “Gospel of
- “Social Darwinism” applied Charles Darwin’s
survival-of-the-fittest theories to business. It said
the reason a
Carnegie was at the top of the steel industry was that he was most fit
to run such a business.
- The Reverend Russell Conwell of Philadelphia became rich by
delivering his lecture, “Acres of Diamonds”
times, and in it he preached that poor people made themselves poor and
rich people made themselves rich;
everything was because of one’s
- Corporate lawyers used the 14th Amendment to defend trusts, the
judges agreed, saying that corporations were legal
people and thus
entitled to their property, and plutocracy ruled.
XIV. Government Tackles the Trust Evil
- In 1890, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act was signed into law; it forbade
combinations (trusts, pools, interlocking directorates,
companies) in restraint of trade, without any distinction between
“good” and “bad” trusts.
- It proved ineffective, however, because it couldn’t be enforced.
- Not until 1914 was it properly enforced and those prosecuted for violating the law were actually punished.
XV. The South in the Age of Industry
- The South remained agrarian despite all the industrial advances,
though James Buchanan Duke developed a huge cigarette
industry in the
form of the American Tobacco Company and made many donations to what is
now Duke University.
- Men like Henry W. Grady, editor of the Atlanta Constitution newspaper urged the South to industrialize.
- However, many northern companies set rates to keep the South from
gaining any competitive edge whatsoever, with examples
rich deposits of iron and coal near Birmingham, Alabama, and the
textile mills of the South.
- However, cheap labor led to the creation of many jobs, and despite
poor wages, many white Southerners saw employment
as a blessing.
- The Impact of the New Industrial Revolution on America
- As the Industrial Revolution spread in America, the standard of
living rose, immigrants swarmed to the U.S., and early
ideals about the dominance of agriculture fell.
- Women, who had swarmed to factories and had been encouraged by
recent inventions, found new opportunities, and the
Girl,” created by Charles Dana Gibson, became the romantic ideal
of the age.
- The Gibson Girl was young, athletic, attractive, and outdoorsy (not the stay-at-home mom type).
- However, many women never achieved this, and instead toiled in hard work because they had to do so in order to earn money.
- A nation of farmers was becoming a nation of wage earners, but the
fear of unemployment was never far, and the illness
of a breadwinner
(the main wage owner) in a family was disastrous.
- Strong pressures in foreign trade developed as the tireless industrial machine threatened to flood the domestic market.
XVI. In Unions There Is Strength
- With the inflow of immigrants providing a labor force that would
work for low wages and in poor environments, the workers
who wanted to
improve their conditions found that they could not, since their bosses
could easily hire the unemployed
to take their places.
- Corporations had many weapons against strikers, such as hiring
strikebreakers or asking the courts to order strikers
to stop striking,
and if they continued, to bring in troops. Other methods included
hiring “scabs” or replacements
or “lockouts” to
starve strikers into submission, and often, workers had to sign
or “yellow dog contracts”
which banned them from joining unions.
- Workers could be “blacklisted,” or put on a list and denied privileges elsewhere.
- The middle-class, annoyed by the recurrent strikes, grew deaf to the workers’ outcry.
- The view was that people like Carnegie and Rockefeller had battled
and worked hard to get to the top, and workers could
do the same if
they “really” wanted to improve their situations.
XVII. Labor Limps Along
- The Civil War put a premium on labor, which helped labor unions grow.
- The National Labor Union, formed in 1866, represented a giant boot
stride by workers and attracted an impressive total
of 600,000 members,
but it only lasted six years.
- However, it excluded Chinese and didn’t really try to get Blacks and women to join.
- It worked for the arbitration of industrial disputes and the
eight-hour workday, and won the latter for government
workers, but the
depression of 1873 knocked it out.
- A new organization, the Knights of Labor, was begun in 1869 and
continued secretly until 1881. This organization was
similar to the
National Labor Union.
- It only barred liquor dealers, professional gamblers, lawyers,
bankers, and stockbrokers, and they campaigned for economic
- Led by Terence V. Powderly, the Knights won a number of strikes for
the eight-hour day, and when they staged a successful
Jay Gould’s Wabash Railroad in 1885, membership mushroomed to 3/4
of a million workers.
XVIII. Unhorsing the Knights of Labor
- However, the Knights became involved in a number of May Day strikes of which half failed.
- In Chicago, home to about 80,000 Knights and a few hundred
anarchists that advocated a violent overthrow of the American
tensions had been building, and on May 4, 1886, Chicago
police were advancing on a meeting that had been called to protest
by authorities when a dynamite bomb was thrown, killing or
injuring several dozen people.
- Eight anarchists were rounded up yet no one could prove that they
had any association with the bombing, but since they
incendiary doctrines, the jury sentenced five of them to death on
account of conspiracy and gave the other
three stiff prison terms.
- In 1892, John P. Altgeld, a German-born Democrat was elected
governor of Illinois and pardoned the three survivors
the case extensively.
- He received violent verbal abuse for that and was defeated during re-election.
- This so-called Haymarket Square Bombing forever associated the
Knights of Labor with anarchists and lowered their popularity
effectiveness; membership declined, and those that remained fused with
other labor unions.
XIX. The AF of L to the Fore
- In 1886, Samuel Gompers founded the American Federation of Labor.
- It consisted of an association of self-governing national unions,
each of which kept its independence, with the AF
of L unifying overall
- Gompers demanded a fairer share for labor.
- He simply wanted “more,” and sought better wages, hours, and working conditions.
- The AF of L established itself on solid but narrow foundations,
since it tried to speak for all workers but fell far
short of that.
- Composed of skilled laborers, it was willing to let unskilled
laborers fend for themselves. Critics called it “the
- From 1881 to 1900, there were over 23,000 strikes involving
6,610,000 workers with a total loss to both employers and
about $450 million.
- Perhaps the greatest weakness of labor unions was that they only embraced a small minority—3%—of all workers.
- However, by 1900, the public was starting to concede the rights of
workers and beginning to give them some or most
of what they wanted.
- In 1894, Labor Day was made a legal holiday.
- A few owners were beginning to realize that losing money to fight
labor strikes was useless, though most owners still
- If the age of big business had dawned, the age of big labor was still some distance over the horizon.
The History Database