• The Gilded Age

    The Gilded Age

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ADA Text Version

The most remarkable transformation of the country in the late nineteenth century involved the change from a primarily agricultural to an industrial nation. American enterprise expanded to unprecedented levels of concentration and production. New heroes emerged as the "self-made" businessman replaced the "self-reliant" farmers as the ideal American.

The Rush of the Express

The landscape of America was conducive to large-scale economic development in the late nineteenth century. Expansion in the transportation industry, agricultural production, population growth, and other reasons for rapid and extensive industrialization during the Gilded Age are explained in this video.

Carnegie steel in Ead's Bridge. enlarge photoCarnegie Steel

Look for answers to these questions when watching the video:

  • How and why did railroads become America's first big business?
  • What roles did Jay Gould, James J. Hill, and Cornelius Vanderbilt play in developing the railroad industry? How did the railroads affect economic development? How were they connected to developments in communications? Why was there some public alarm about the railroad industry and railroad magnates?
  • How did agricultural production and natural resources affect industrialization? Why was population growth important in this process?
  • How and why did John D. Rockefeller become dominant in the oil industry? How did the trust and holding company help him achieve his objectives? Why and how did Ida Tarbell criticize Rockefeller?
  • How and why did the federal government, including the Supreme Court, help business during this era? What was meant by "laissez-faire" capitalism? Why was this a golden era of corruption?

Download the transcript of The Rush of the Express 

Luck and Pluck

The development of a consumer culture in the late nineteenth century depended on several factors, including the widespread availability of manufactured goods, advertising, and a change in how success was measured. Luck and Pluck analyzes the importance of these and other factors in creating a culture that celebrated wealth and big business.

Look for answers to these questions when watching the video:

  • Why were Horatio Alger's stories so popular in the late nineteenth century? Why did the stories create a myth? What was important about this myth?
  • What was the theory of social Darwinism? How did William Graham Sumner spread this theory? How and why did the theory glorify wealth and curb social reform?
  • What did Andrew Carnegie say in "The Gospel of Wealth"? How did Carnegie's advice and actions soften social Darwinism? How much influence did Carnegie's view of money have on other millionaires?
  • What does a "consumer culture" mean? How is it expressed in the late nineteenth century?

Download the transcript of Luck and Pluck


Additional Resources


On the Standard Oil Company
Excerpts from Ida M. Tarbell, "The History of the Standard Oil Company," John D. Rockefeller, "Random Reminiscences of Men and Events," and the U.S. Supreme Court decision against Standard Oil in 1911.

Dime Novels and Penny Dreadfuls
Dime novels were aimed at youthful, working-class audiences and distributed in massive editions at newsstands and dry goods stores. Stanford's Dime Novel and Story Paper Collection consists of over 8,000 individual items and includes long runs of the major dime novels.