American History 1820 -1920

Paper #2

After the Civil War and well on into the twentieth century, the United States under went a major change in its industry. Also during this time, the number of people who immigrated to the United States greatly increased. This was a good thing for the U.S. because these people provided the workforce for industries. While this seemed all well and good on the surface, below the surface people were afraid of what was happening around them. Industry was rapidly changing America, and along with this change people were becoming increasingly worried and afraid of what laid ahead.

First, industry was undergoing a change like it had never seen before. The United States had primarily been an agricultural nation. During this period of time the United States was shifting away from being agriculturally centered to being more focused on industry. Now instead of people working on farms, we had people moving into the cities and going to work at factories, making products that would probably be exported out of the U.S.

Not long after this shift started, big business started to emerge. Smaller corporations were combining to become even bigger corporations. These corporations would eventually become so large that they basically monopolized the industry that they were in. For example “in 1901, J.P. Morgan . . . combined Carnegie Steel with other firms to form United States Steel, capitalized at over $1.4 billion.”[1] This was happening all over. Almost all of the industries were being taken over by larger ones. I say almost all because there were still a few industries where it was more profitable to stay as smaller single-owner ventures. These included such “fields as leather working, furniture making and lumber milling”.[2] But these fields were few and far between. The railroads, steel mills, meat packing and textiles industries were all being snatched up into big business.

People in America at the time could see the changes happening around them. For some it brought renewed hope in America. For others, however, it brought only fear. The most frightening thing for some people had to be the amount of people immigrating to the U.S. All of these immigrants “lowered the price of American labor. However, immigrants with a lower standard of living began to replace American laborers, and thus robbed them of their jobs.”[3] This lower standard of living led to crime waves, including one that lasted for almost thirty years. Also with this lower standard of living came disease. Diseases such as cholera and small pox began affect people in large numbers.

While many native born Americans were expressing their fears about immigration, the immigrants themselves were overwhelmed with the fact that they were in America. They were now a part of the American dream. They had come to America to seek a better life and now here it was, ready and waiting for them to take. They snatched up job opportunities and sought to become the model American citizen. Some even went through ridiculous company pageants to show off their new acquired skills. James R. Barrett describes a scene from one of these pageants.

All the men descended from the boat scene representing the vessel on which they came over; down the gangway representing the distance from the port at which they landed to the school, into a pot 15 feet in diameter and 7 ½ feet high, which represents the Ford English School. Six teachers . . . stir the pot with ten foot ladles . . . Into the pot 52 nationalities . . . go and out of the pot . . . come one nationality, viz, American.[4]

These people were so eager to take part in the American dream that they would allow themselves to be subjugated to this kind of ridiculousness.

In conclusion, this change in America was good for some, but bad for others. It all depended who you were at the time. It was especially good if you were say J.P. Morgan or Norman Rockefeller, at the top of the heap making all of the money. New business opened up new opportunities for some, especially the immigrant communities. But for others, it just threw them into a state of turmoil that would last well into