Driven by the North, which emerged from the Civil War an industrial powerhouse, the United States experienced a flurry of unprecedented growth and industrialization during the Gilded Age, with a continent full of seemingly unlimited natural resources and driven by millions of immigrants ready to work. In fact, some historians have referred to this era as America’s second Industrial Revolution, because it completely changed American society, politics, and the economy. Mechanization and marketing were the keys to success in this age: companies that could mass-produce products and convince people to buy them accumulated enormous amounts of wealth, while companies that could not were forced out of business by brutal competition. Railroads were the linchpin in the new industrialized economy. The railroad industry enabled raw materials, finished products, food, and people to travel cross-country in a matter of days, as opposed to the months or years that it took just prior to the Civil War. By the end of the war, the United States boasted some 35,000 miles of track, mostly in the industrialized North. By the turn of the century, that number had jumped to almost 200,000 miles, linking the North, South, and West. With these railroads making travel easier, millions of rural Americans flocked to the cities, and by 1900, nearly 40 percent of the population lived in urban areas. By the twentieth century, the rise of big business and the large migration of Americans from the countryside to the cities caused a shift in political awareness, as elected officials saw the need to address the growing economic and social problems that developed along with the urban boom. So started the Progressive movement. Progressives believed that the government needed to take a strong, proactive role in the economy, regulating big business, immigration, and urban growth. These middle-class reformers hoped ultimately to regain control of the government from special interests like the railroads and trusts and pass effective legislation to protect consumers, organized labor, and minorities.
Summary of Events Gilded Age Politics Politics in the Gilded Age were intense. In the years between 1877 and 1897, control of the House of Representatives repeatedly changed hands between the Democratic and Republican parties. Political infighting between the Stalwart and Half-Breed factions in the Republican Party prevented the passage of significant legislation. During this era, the political parties nominated presidential candidates that lacked strong opinions—possibly to avoid stirring up sectional tensions so soon after the Civil War. “The Forgotten Presidents” Some historians have dubbed Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes , James A. Garfield , Chester A. Arthur , Grover Cleveland , and Benjamin Harrison the “forgotten presidents.” Indeed, it might be argued that the most notable event that occurred during the Gilded Age was the assassination of President Garfield in 1881. His death prompted Congress to pass the Pendleton Act, which created the Civil Service Commission two years later. This commission reformed the