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America's History in the Making

Industrializing America

Unit Overview

A Visit from the Old Mistress. 1876. dup of 2141

The "second industrial revolution," which took place roughly between 1870 and 1920, brought many changes to the United States, including the mass production of consumer goods; large-scale migration from all parts of the world; and patterns of social change that reshaped workplace, family, and gender roles. Mass-produced goods rose in quantity and variety, and became cheaper to buy. To sell these goods, entrepreneurs developed vast communication and transportation networks that led to the creation of a nationwide market. The government supported these developments by making grants of land to railroad entrepreneurs and by legislating protective tariffs, a tax on foreign, imported goods.

Often recruited by employers, a labor force eager for economic opportunity migrated to cities from rural areas of the United States, and from Asia, Latin America, and Europe. Millions of immigrants from China, Mexico, Canada, southern and Eastern Europe, and Scandinavia entered all regions of the country, with the majority settling in the Northeast. Many of these immigrants hoped to obtain land, but—arriving penniless—often took the first industrial jobs they could find. At first, these workers might earn enough to support families left behind or bring the family members over to join them. When the economy slumped, however, business owners cut wages, increased work hours and responsibilities, or laid off workers. In response, workers formed unions to demand improved working conditions. Local and national strikes became increasingly frequent—even violent. Acting as concerned consumers, many middle-class women’s organizations pressed for reforms in labor-industrial relations.

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