American historians refer to the years when the nation became a global economic power because it underwent rapid and large scale industrialization as the 'Gilded Age.'This term was adapted from the process of applying a gold coat on cheap metal products. The term was adapted to describe the period in American history when the foundations were built for the nation to be a global economic power because the United States may have become economically prosperous but there were negative consequences which came with it. This paper shall be limited to the negative consequences to ordinary people as the number of people in America's urban centers increased.
During the Gilded Age (1865-1900), America had a network of cities in the Great Lakes and North East where businesses had factories called the 'manufacturing belt' which needed labor(Berkin et al, 2015). Some cities like St.Louis had factories because they have ports from which American goods could be shipped to overseas markets. Other cities specialized on the manufacture of one product (Berkin et al, 2015: 434-437). For example, iron and steel factories were based in Pittsburgh while the clothing industry was located in New York. Chicago was famous for meatpacking. These cities in America's manufacturing belt attracted Americans to them as well as immigrants, especially from Europe. Apart from the presence of factories, rapid urbanization was caused by technological innovation (Berkin et al, 2015: 434-437). This is because it led to the mechanization of agriculture which in turn reduced the need for manual labor pushing thousands of farm workers to move to cities looking for work. Secondly, William LeBaron Jenny came up with the idea of steel framing buildings which allowed American cities to have multi-story buildings which allowed for an unlimited number of people to live in cities. Secondly, innovation in transport, starting with Frank Sprague's electric streetcar, allowed cities to grow outwards. For example, the city of Chicago expanded from 17 square miles to around 190 square miles over a forty-year span.
Unfortunately, this growth in size and population in America's cities in the manufacturing belt was unregulated (Berkin et al, 2015: 434-437). Local authorities left landowners and developers responsible for building housing alone to do as they pleased. In the absence of any oversight, it became very difficult for local authorities to deliver adequate municipal utilities such as adequate policing, education, medical, sanitation .etc. as the population in American cities expanded rapidly. For example, the quality of water delivery varied from one city to the next based on how much each municipal authority prioritized supplying residents with safe and adequate water.
The unparalleled growth in America's urban population during the Gilded Age (1865-1900) was not across the board. It was limited to American cities that had large-scale manufacturing industries. The population growth was driven primarily by the industrial revolution which America underwent during this period. This is because the factories in places like Chicago needed workers. Secondly, technological innovation led to the increase of people in America's cities this is because innovations in agriculture made manual labor redundant pushing farm workers to cities to look for work; steel frame buildings allowed multi-storeyed buildings to be built making cities capable of housing an unlimited number of residents; and innovations in transportation technology made cities expand in size. However, this growth was unregulated leading to negative consequences for urban dwellers.
Berkin, C., Miller, C., Cherny, R., Gormly, J., & Egerton, D. (2015). Making America: A History of the United States, Brief. (Vol 7) Nelson Education.
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