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Lecture Notes for Economic Transformation of America_1

Lecture Notes for Economic Transformation of America_1 -...

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1 Lecture Notes for the Economic Transformation of America, 1877-1887 Introduction Slide 2 The United States became a modern nation during the last quarter of the 19C. Vast reserves of coal, timber, and water helped fuel a growing industrial economy. Railroad lines criss-crossed the nation and knit together regional economies. Large numbers of immigrants, many from Eastern Europe arrived in the United States drawn by America’s rising standard of living, high demand for labor, and religious and political freedoms. To raise money needed to purchase expensive equipment and machinery, coal and oil producers and railroad owners formed modern corporations; businesses were owned by stockholders rather than individuals. The largest businesses sought to dominate the marketplace by eliminating its competitors. During the late 19C, the national economy began to shift to the production of consumer goods. New products gave Americans new ways to spend their money. Manufacturers of everything from toothpaste to bathtubs advertised their goods to a mass market. In cities department stores offered a dazzling array of goods. Even as the country was becoming more ethnically diverse, advertisers promoted a single standard of physical beauty and material well being (white, middle-class & Protestant). At the same time, some scholars and politicians seized on a revolutionary new theory of national history to argue for the superiority of white, middleclass Americans. Social Darwinism served as the intellectual justification for pure economic growth and for the subjugation of darker- skinned peoples, at home and abroad by Americans and Europeans. In this lecture I discuss standardizing the nation with innovation in technology, business, and the culture during the 1880s. Slide 3 The Mississippian Northwest was transformed after the 1830s with the relocation of Native Americans and the settling of the Great Plaines in the 1860s. At the same time, commercial agriculture helped knit the south to the wider world with inexpensive steam boat transportation that existed from the 1840s. But during the second half of the 19C, industrial centers grew in the North and West and by 1900 40% of westerners lived in cities working in lumber, steel, and mining industries using a flexible and mobile workforce that supported economic growth. In contrast to this pattern, the southern economy sputtered. Of all the nation’s agricultural regions, the South was the poorest. In 1880, southerners’ yearly earnings were only half the national average. The agricultural labor force was neither efficient, nor mobile, nor prosperous to invest in needed improvements. While some southerners dreamed of making the agricultural South rival the industrial North, their dreams were never realized. The region remained dependent on the North. And where industry did
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2 exist, Southern industrial workers were poorly paid, caught in dead-end jobs with little hope of advancement. The effort & enthusiasm to create a New South after the Civil
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