The American Journey Modern Times © 2009

Chapter 5: The Industrial Age

Chapter Overviews

Section 1: Railroads Lead the Way

After the Civil War, the railroad system expanded rapidly and improved with new technology. Meanwhile the industry consolidated, which left control of the nation’s rail traffic in the hands of a few powerful railroad barons. The growth of the nation’s rail system stimulated America’s steel industry. It also gave people more opportunities for work, and moved people and business into the West.

Section 2: Inventions

The many new inventions of the 1800s revolutionized communications. By 1866, the telegraph could transmit a message from the United States to Europe in seconds. A decade later, Alexander Graham Bell developed the telephone. Thomas Edison’s inventions, including the phonograph, motion picture projector and electric lightbulb, changed the way people lived.

When Henry Ford built an automobile many people could afford, the nation entered a new era of transportation. Ford’s innovative assembly line made possible mass production, which in turn lowered the price of goods. As Americans were able to buy more things, merchants tried new ways to sell goods, such as through mail order businesses and chain stores.

Section 3: An Age of Big Business

Increased production and a growing economy developed with new technology, transportation, and business methods. Growth was possible because the country had abundant resources of land, labor, and capital. To raise capital, companies became corporations and sold stock to investors. After Edwin L. Drake drilled and struck oil in 1859, the oil industry grew rapidly and many investors made great fortunes. John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company controlled the booming oil industry by lowering his prices and driving competitors out of business.

With new processes that made production more profitable, the steel industry became important as well. Millionaires such as John D. Rockefeller and the steel industry’s Andrew Carnegie used their huge fortunes to found civic institutions. In an effort to check the growth of corporate mergers and business monopolies, Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890.

Section 4: Industrial Workers

Although the growth of factories created more jobs, working conditions were harsh and dangerous. Women joined the workforce but earned less than men. Despite laws to protect children, many boys and girls worked in factories. To demand better pay and working conditions, workers organized labor unions. Women were excluded, however, and so formed their own unions. When companies fired workers or cut wages, unions supported strikes, some of which became violent. Although the federal government sided with the companies, workers continued to campaign for better conditions.

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