• The Gilded Age

    The Gilded Age

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ADA Text Version

The culture celebrated great wealth, but the gilded layer of gold at the top of American society concealed some sordid conditions below the surface. How and why had this happened?

Costs and Benefits

One benefit of rapid industrialization in the late nineteenth century was the lower cost of producing goods and services, but there were also major consequences. What were the costs and benefits of this industrializing economy? How was America transformed during the Gilded Age?

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Factors of Industrialization

Technology, transportation, natural resources, and capital for investment were critical factors in the Industrial Revolution, but the human factor in managing these resources was also a key ingredient. With innovative thinking and entrepreneurship, the leaders of the Industrial Revolution forged an era that transformed America. This activity reviews prominent figures of the era and their influence on America during the process of industrialization.

A Business Culture

As America transitioned from an agrarian to an urban culture in the late 1800s, prominent businessmen and wealthy industrialists overtook the "happy yeoman" in the race to achieve happiness. Two social theories that helped define the new model of success were social Darwinism and the Horatio Alger myth. See how many characteristics of each you can identify in this activity.



Lesson Study Questions

To evaluate your understanding of the lesson topics and prepare for tests, consider how you would answer these questions:

  1. How and why did Cornelius Vanderbilt and his family represent the Gilded Age?
    • What personal qualities did the Commodore possess?
    • How did he take advantage of the opportunities he had?
    • How did he treat his adversaries? What was his attitude toward government?
    • How did he and his family flaunt their wealth?
  2. How and why did the federal government, including the Supreme Court, aid business in the late nineteenth century?
    • Consider how subsidies and tariffs helped business.
    • Why was there little regulation? Why were the regulations that existed hardly enforced?
    • How did the Supreme Court protect and enlarge the rights of business?
  3. Why was the theory of social Darwinism popular among the rich? How did this theory affect the poor?
    • What was the theory of social Darwinism? How did it flatter the rich?
    • Why did this theory support laissez-faire capitalism?
    • Why are people poor, according to social Darwinists? What can be done for them?
  4. Explain at least five reasons for the rapid industrialization of the United States in the late nineteenth century. How did the culture of the time support wealth and big business? How was America transformed during the Gilded Age? What was the legacy of this era of American history?
    • Consider natural resources, population growth/labor, capital, transportation/communications, marketing, technology, management/entrepreneurs, and the role of government.
    • Consider the effects of the Alger myth, social Darwinism, and consumer culture.
    • What were the big changes that took place in the nation?
    • What were the costs and benefits of industrialization?

Additional Resources


The Gilded and the Gritty
These primary resources are thematically organized with notes and discussion questions concerning America, 1870–1912.