The Gilded Age in our country’s history lasted from approximately the 1870s to the early 1900s. During these years, the United States had a lot of problems under its surface. Everything appeared to be right as rain, with the economy building at a fast and furious pace, but this was simply a veneer masking the true economic and moral status of this historic time period.
In 1873, Mark Twain and his neighbor and co-writer Charles Dudley Warner coined the term for this era in their satirical novel, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, which puts a spotlight on the previously named ‘Golden Age’ of our country. This time period spans the last years and decades following the Reconstruction Era after the end of the Civil War. These decades were masked with the name the Golden Age at the time, due to the ending of the Reconstruction Era and the booming economic growth, but under the surface, if you looked close enough, everything was underscored by greed and corruption. There was still a lot of social unrest, especially in the South but rife everywhere, and the gap between the rich and the poor grew wider than ever. While the factory owners and politicians and wealthy families padded their pockets, more and more Americans reached poverty level without any real hope for change. This was especially true for families who had immigrated to America from other countries searching for the “American Dream.”
While the economic growth had some positive effects, such as an increase in annual income for some Americans, most were making less than what anyone could afford to live on. The news that some Americans were making almost 50 percent more than they had the previous year crossed the ocean, resulting in a flood of millions of immigrants coming to America to improve their lives. Child labor was very prevalent at this time, and as was normal for this time period, most families had several children. Once a child was old enough to work, they did so, many at factories and sweatshops, trying to help keep bread on the table and keep their families afloat.
In the North and the West, cities grew and expanded up and out. In 1869, the first transcontinental railroad had officially been completed, which played a huge part in the booming growth of factories and mines. But in the South, the economy was struggling. Farming had always been the main source of income in the southern states, and without free labor from slavery, even the large farms faced financial difficulties. The weather was a fickle friend to the farmers as well, and from this time until the start of the Great Depression in 1929, the South was already facing a depression. When Black Friday occurred, it wasn’t as big of a shock to the South as it was to the rest of the United States. Things were already bad. But during the next decade, from 1929 to 1939, things went from bad to much worse.