notes - How giant trusts such as those headed by John...

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How giant trusts such as those headed by John Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie originated their dominance in the American Economy? The late nineteenth and very early twentieth centuries in America are often referred to as the “Gilded Age.” The origin of this name is usually attributed to Mark Twain who co-authored a novel entitled The Gilded Age. The term is metaphoric on several levels. It can be taken to reference an obsession with appearances. Unlike “golden,” which has positive associations of beauty and value, the word “gilded” carries connotations of cheap commercialization, shoddiness, and fakery. Twain’s novel is about social climbers and get-rich-quick schemers who are all show and no substance, like a gold-painted trinket. “Gilded Age” also suggests a fascination with gold itself and with the wealth and power that gold symbolizes Concern with gold was certainly heightened by U.S. money being minted in scarce gold coins. In addition, gilding, in the sense of gold plating, is often done to make objects beautiful that must also be strong and durable, because gold itself is a soft metal. This might reflect an American sentiment of that era that their efforts toward culture and refinement were just a veneer over a strong but coarse base. All interpretations of the meaning of “Gilded Age” carry an element of irony, however. Perhaps this sense of the ironic is more insightful than any particular interpretation of the term in describing an age of such extremes of wealth and poverty, opportunity and disaster, high standards and low practices, advancement and decay. The population of post-Civil War America ballooned with a new tide of immigration. In spite of the terrible losses during the war, the census of 1870 reported a population of 39 million Americans, up over 25% from the decade before. The U.S. had become the third most populous nation in the Western world after Russia and France. While farmers struggled and barely maintained their numbers, business and
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notes - How giant trusts such as those headed by John...

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