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Chapter 24: Industry Comes of Age (1865-1900)

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Chapter Outline

I. The Iron Colt Becomes an Iron Horse

  1. 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 determined which
      part of the land was the best to use for railroad building, all of the
      land was withheld from all other users.

      • Grover Cleveland stopped this in 1887.
  2. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

  1. 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.
  2. However, many pioneers over-invested on land, and the banks that
    supported them often failed and went bankrupt when the land
    wasn’t worth as much as initially thought.

IV. Railroad Consolidation and Mechanization

  1. Older eastern railroads, like the New York Central, headed by
    Cornelius Vanderbilt, often financed the successful western railroads.
  2. Advancements in railroads included the steel rail, which was
    stronger and more enduring than the iron rail, the Westinghouse air
    brake which increased safety, the Pullman Palace Cars which were
    luxurious passenger cars, and telegraphs, double-racking, and block

    • Nevertheless, train accidents were common, as well as death.

V. Revolution by Railways

  1. 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.
  2. Railroads helped people settle in the previously harsh Great Plains.
  3. 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).
  4. Railroads were also the makers of millionaires and the millionaire class.

VI. Wrongdoing in Railroading

  1. Railroads were not without corruption, as shown by the Credit Mobilier scandal.
  2. Jay Gould made millions embezzling stocks from the Erie, Kansas
    Pacific, the Union Pacific, and the Texas and Pacific railroad
  3. One method of cheap moneymaking was called “stock
    watering,” in which railroad companies grossly over-inflated the
    worth of their stock and sold them at huge profits.
  4. 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 the press.
  5. 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

  1. People were aware of such injustice, but were slow to combat it.
  2. The Grange was formed by farmers to combat such corruption, and
    many state efforts to stop the railroad monopoly occurred, but they
    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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

  1. 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 and perfected.

      • 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.
  2. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone and a new age was launched.
  3. 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

  1. 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 all
      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
      monopolize a given market.

      • He used this method to form Standard Oil and control the oil industry by forcing weaker competitors to go bankrupt.
  2. 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 reduce competition,
      a process called “interlocking directorates.”

X. The Supremacy of Steel

  1. In Lincoln’s day, steel was very scarce and expensive, but by
    1900, Americans produced as much steel as England and Germany combined.
  2. 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
    it first:

    • 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

  1. Andrew Carnegie started off as a poor boy in a bad job, but by
    working hard, assuming responsibility, and charming influential people,
    he worked his way up to wealth.
  2. 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 nation’s
    Bessemer steel, and getting $25 million a year.
  3. 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

  1. 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
  2. However, by 1885, 250,000 of Edison’s electric light bulbs
    were in use, and the electric industry soon rendered kerosene obsolete,
    just as kerosene had made whale oil obsolete.
  3. Oil, however, was just beginning with the gasoline-burning internal combustion engine.
  4. 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).
  5. Rockefeller crushed weaker competitors—part of the natural
    process according to him—but his company did produce superior oil
    at a cheaper price.
  6. Other trusts, which also generally made better products at cheaper
    prices, emerged, such as the meat industry of Gustavus F. Swift and
    Philip Armour.

XIII. The Gospel of Wealth

  1. 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
  2. “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.
  3. The Reverend Russell Conwell of Philadelphia became rich by
    delivering his lecture, “Acres of Diamonds” thousands of
    times, and in it he preached that poor people made themselves poor and
    rich people made themselves rich; everything was because of one’s
    actions only.
  4. 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

  1. In 1890, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act was signed into law; it forbade
    combinations (trusts, pools, interlocking directorates, holding
    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

  1. 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.
  2. Men like Henry W. Grady, editor of the Atlanta Constitution newspaper urged the South to industrialize.
  3. However, many northern companies set rates to keep the South from
    gaining any competitive edge whatsoever, with examples including the
    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.
  4. 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 Jeffersonian
      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 “Gibson
      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.
  5. 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.
  6. Strong pressures in foreign trade developed as the tireless industrial machine threatened to flood the domestic market.

XVI. In Unions There Is Strength

  1. 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.
  2. 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
    “ironclad oaths” or “yellow dog contracts”
    which banned them from joining unions.

    • Workers could be “blacklisted,” or put on a list and denied privileges elsewhere.
  3. The middle-class, annoyed by the recurrent strikes, grew deaf to the workers’ outcry.
  4. 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

  1. The Civil War put a premium on labor, which helped labor unions grow.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 and social
    • Led by Terence V. Powderly, the Knights won a number of strikes for
      the eight-hour day, and when they staged a successful strike against
      Jay Gould’s Wabash Railroad in 1885, membership mushroomed to 3/4
      of a million workers.

XVIII. Unhorsing the Knights of Labor

  1. However, the Knights became involved in a number of May Day strikes of which half failed.
  2. In Chicago, home to about 80,000 Knights and a few hundred
    anarchists that advocated a violent overthrow of the American
    government, tensions had been building, and on May 4, 1886, Chicago
    police were advancing on a meeting that had been called to protest
    brutalities 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 had preached
      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 after studying
      the case extensively.
    • He received violent verbal abuse for that and was defeated during re-election.
  3. This so-called Haymarket Square Bombing forever associated the
    Knights of Labor with anarchists and lowered their popularity and
    effectiveness; membership declined, and those that remained fused with
    other labor unions.

XIX. The AF of L to the Fore

  1. 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
  2. Gompers demanded a fairer share for labor.
    • He simply wanted “more,” and sought better wages, hours, and working conditions.
  3. 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 labor
  4. From 1881 to 1900, there were over 23,000 strikes involving
    6,610,000 workers with a total loss to both employers and employees of
    about $450 million.

    • Perhaps the greatest weakness of labor unions was that they only embraced a small minority—3%—of all workers.
  5. 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.
  6. A few owners were beginning to realize that losing money to fight
    labor strikes was useless, though most owners still dogmatically fought
    labor unions.
  7. If the age of big business had dawned, the age of big labor was still some distance over the horizon.


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