Chapter 26 ~ America Moves to the City ~ 1865 – 1900
I. The Urban Frontier
From 1870 to 1900, the American population doubled, and the population in the cities tripled.
Cities grew up and out, with such famed architects as Louis Sullivan working on and perfecting skyscrapers (first
appearing in Chicago in 1885).
The city grew from a small compact one that people could walk through to get around to a huge metropolis
that required commuting by electric trolleys.
Electricity, indoor plumbing, and telephones made city life more alluring.
Department stores like Macy’s (in New York) and Marshall Field’s (in Chicago) provided urban working-class
jobs and also attracted urban middle-class shoppers.
Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie told of a woman’s escapades in the big city and made cities dazzling and
However, the move to city produced lots of trash, because while farmers always reused everything or fed
“trash” to animals, city dwellers, with their mail-order houses like Sears and Montgomery Ward, which made
things cheap and easy to buy, could simply throw away the things that they didn’t like anymore.
In cities, criminals flourished, and impure water, uncollected garbage, unwashed bodies, and droppings made
cities smelly and unsanitary.
Worst of all were the slums, which were crammed with people.
The so-called “dumbbell tenements” (which gave a bit of fresh air down their airshaft) were the worst since
they were dark, cramped, and had little sanitation or ventilation.
To escape, the wealthy of the city-dwellers fled to suburbs.
II. The New Immigration
Until the 1880s, most of the immigrants had come from the British Isles and western Europe (Germany and
Scandinavia) and were quite literate and accustomed to some type of representative government. This was called
the “Old Immigration.” But by the 1880s and 1890s, this shifted to the Baltic and Slavic people of southeastern
Europe, who were basically the opposite, “New Immigration.”
While the southeastern Europeans accounted for only 19% of immigrants to the U.S. in 1880, by the early
1900s, they were over 60%!
III. Southern Europe Uprooted
Many Europeans came to America because there was no room in Europe, nor was there much employment, since
industrialization had eliminated many jobs.
America was also often praised to Europeans, as people boasted of eating everyday and having freedom and
Profit-seeking Americans also perhaps exaggerated the benefits of America to Europeans, so that they could
get cheap labor and more money.
However, it should be noted that many immigrants to America stayed for a short period of time and then returned
to America, and even those that remained (including persecuted Jews, who propagated in New York) tried very
hard to retain their own culture and customs.