American History: From the Expansion to Urbanization
Filled with rich changes and shifts in culture, American history is relatively young but fascinating. From the early dawn of the 19th century where areas west of the Mississippi River were being explored to the growing pains of industrialization, the country has faced extensive growth.
Setting off a series of eras in the United States during the 19th century, the time of Westward Expansion was spurred by many factors. Migrating westward to seek new opportunities and start new lives, many Americans tried to full the Manifest Destiny, the belief that American territory should span from the east to west coast. The oppressed individuals, such as blacks or women, also sought out their rights and freedoms by moving out west. Families left their homes to claim vast tracts of land in sections of 160 acres via the Homestead act. The land was flat and fertile, perfect for farming. Another element that drew settlers was the discovery of gold. Leading to the Gold Rush, the discovering of precious minerals caused people to migrate west, create boomtowns, followed by ghost towns. This ripple effect was widespread and had a substantial effect on the entire country. However, there were disadvantages to living out West. For example, there were very few trees, so sod homes were built out of mud. Also, there was a very low population density, so assistance during natural disasters or medical aid were usually unavailable. In addition to the hardships that those who already had settled suffered, the journey was a grueling 6-month ride in a wagon with limited supplies. Often, family members would get sick and die along the journey, and the conditions along the journey were harsh. Rough terrain, hot summers and frigid winters, and heavy floods were all environmental factors that were potentially deadly. Fortunately, the completion of the Transcontinental railroad at Promontory Point, Utah solved these issues, spurring westward migration even further. Completing the journey in only two weeks, taking the railroad was exponentially more efficient and cheap. Beginning the development of many industries and technological advances, the Westward Expansion paved the way for the Industrial Era to take place.
Marking a time of advancing technology and economic growth, the Era of Industrialization from the mid 19th to early 20th century was a period of time where industries rose, setting of a variety of effects. Accomplished by successful businessmen often via vertical or horizontal integration, monopolies formed. The Standard Oil trust made by J.D. Rockefeller was one of the most infamous monopolies to dominate an industry. It was known for its controversial ways of eliminating competition. However, Rockefeller argued that his business allowed for order in the oil industry, permitting millions of homes to be lighted with his company’s kerosene. The same could be said for most other monopolies. For example, Andrew Carnegie’s Steel trust was formed after the discovery of the Bessemer process, allowing for railroads to span across the country. Bridges were also made from steel, which could withstand more than iron. Another important aspect of the Industrial Era was the lives of the working class. Many families moved from rural areas to more densely populated areas, since factory jobs were available. With businesses growing more popular, employers tried to maximize their profits by neglecting their workers’ needs. Low wages, poor working conditions, and early or late hours commonly oppressed workers. Because wages were so low, desperate families sent their children to work to earn a small fraction of pay instead of receiving an education. Often, factories were dirty and had poor ventilation. Workers were usually injured during their jobs without compensation. One of the most tragic examples of this occurrence was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, where over 140 women and children were killed due to the neglect of factory managers. Fortunately, this soon led to the enforcement of laws regulating conditions in the workplace. Spurring growth in the country, the Era of Industrialization led to urbanization, and the prosperity would lead to more immigration, ultimately allowing for another era.
A time of enrichment and growth for the United States, the Era of Immigration and Urbanization from the late 19th to early 20th century was a time of many events. During this age, many parties were formed and came to contribute to the United States. Facing persecution, food shortages, and war in their home countries, many people emigrated from their homes due to these push factors and entered the United States via Ellis Island on the East Coast or Angel Island on the West Coast. These immigrants were pulled to the United States by the prospect of being able to start a new life, free from oppression. However, this was not always the case. Usually forced to perform long hours of cheap and unskilled labor, immigrants were often exploited. They also faced racism, where many Americans or other immigrants were prejudiced. Although at first the country’s immigration policies were open, nativist ideals began to grow. Strongly anti-immigration, the nativist sentiments grew, and soon, many restrictions were passed. The first was the Chinese Exclusion Act, and later the Immigration Act of 1917 prevented “undesirables” from entering. During this time, Immigrants were separated as “old” or “new”. “Old” immigrants arrived before the 1890’s and generally came from Northern or Western Europe, whereas “new” immigrants arrived after 1890 and generally came from Southern and Eastern Europe. The massive increase in immigration also set off urbanization, where population generally increased, and large cities boomed. New York City and Chicago were two major cities that grew majorly during this time. Unfortunately, with such huge growth, the gap between the upper and lower classes widened; the riches lived in mansions and were well-fed, but the poor lived in small tenements. A dangerous shelter, tenements were poorly lit ventilated, and had little running water and no electricity. Disease spread quickly with little waste disposal, and fires were always a hazard. Luckily, muckrakers, such as Jacob Riis, sought to change the conditions that many Americans lived in, spurring movements for change.