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America grows after the Civil War

Between two great wars -- the Civil War and the First World War -- the United States of America came of age. In a period of less than 50 years it was transformed from a rural republic to an urban state. The frontier vanished.

Great factories and steel mills (right), transcontinental railroad lines, flourishing cities and vast agricultural holdings marked the land. With this economic growth and affluence came corresponding problems. Nationwide, businesses came to dominate whole industries, either independently or in combination with others.

Working conditions were often poor. Cities grew so quickly they could not properly house or govern their growing populations.

"The Civil War," says one writer, "cut a wide gash through the history of the country; it dramatized in a stroke the changes that had begun to take place during the preceding 20 or 30 years...." War needs had enormously stimulated manufacturing, speeding an economic process based on the exploitation of iron, steam and electric power, as well as the forward march of science and invention.

In the years before 1860, 36,000 patents were granted; in the next 30 years, 440,000 patents were issued, and in the first quarter of the 20th century, the number reached nearly a million.

As early as 1844, Samuel F. B. Morse had perfected electrical telegraphy, and soon afterward distant parts of the continent were linked by a network of poles and wires. In 1876 Alexander Graham Bell (right) exhibited a telephone instrument and, within half a century, 16 million telephones would quicken the social and economic life of the nation. The growth of business was speeded by the invention of the typewriter in 1867, the adding machine in 1888 and the cash register in 1897. The linotype composing machine, invented in 1886, and rotary press and paper-folding machinery made it possible to print 240,000 eight-page newspapers in an hour. Thomas Edison's incandescent lamp eventually lit millions of homes. The talking machine, or phonograph, too, was perfected by Edison, who, in conjunction with George Eastman, also helped develop the motion picture. These and many other applications of science and ingenuity resulted in a new level of productivity in almost every field.

Concurrently, the nation's basic industry -- iron and steel -- was forging ahead, protected by a high tariff. Previously concentrated in the Eastern states, the iron industry moved westward as geologists discovered new ore deposits, notably the great Mesabi iron range at the head of Lake Superior, which became one of the largest ore producers in the world.

The ore lay on the surface of the ground and was easy and cheap to mine. Remarkably free of chemical impurities, it could be processed into steel of superior quality at about one-tenth the previously prevailing cost.

Andrew Carnegie (right) was largely responsible for the great advances in steel production. Carnegie, who came to America from Scotland as a child of 12, progressed from bobbin boy in a cotton factory to a job in a telegraph office, then to one on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Before he was 30 years old he had made shrewd and farsighted investments, which by 1865 were concentrated in iron. Within a few years, he had organized or had stock in companies making iron bridges, rails and locomotives. Ten years later, the steel mill he built on the Monongahela River in Pennsylvania was the largest in the country.

Carnegie acquired commanding control not only of new mills, but also of coke and coal properties, iron ore from Lake Superior, a fleet of steamers on the Great Lakes, a port town on Lake Erie and a connecting railroad. His business, allied with a dozen others, could command favorable terms from railroads and shipping lines. Nothing comparable in industrial growth had ever been seen in America before.

Though Carnegie long dominated the industry, he never achieved a complete monopoly over the natural resources, transportation and industrial plants involved in the making of steel. In the 1890s, new companies challenged his preeminence, and at first, stung by competition, Carnegie threatened to build an even more powerful business complex. But now, a tired old man, he was persuaded to merge his holdings with an organization that eventually would embrace most of the important iron and steel properties in the nation.

The United States Steel Corporation, which resulted from this merger in 1901, illustrated a process under way for 30 years: the combination of independent industrial enterprises into federated or centralized companies.

Begun during the Civil War, the trend gathered momentum after the 1870s, as businessmen began to fear that overproduction would lead to declining prices and falling profits. They realized that if they could control both production and markets, they could bring competing firms into a single organization. The "corporation" and the "trust" were developed to achieve these ends. Corporations, making available a deep reservoir of capital and giving business enterprises permanent life and continuity of control, attracted investors both by the anticipated profits and by the limited liability in case of business failure.

In turn, the trusts, were in effect combinations of corporations whereby the stockholders of each placed stocks in the hands of trustees. Such trusts made possible large-scale combinations, centralized control and administration, and the pooling of patents. Their larger capital resources provided power to expand, to compete with foreign business organizations, and to drive hard bargains with labor, which was beginning to organize effectively. They could also exact favorable terms from railroads and exercise influence in politics.

The Standard Oil Company, founded by John D. Rockefeller (right), was one of the earliest and strongest corporations, and was followed rapidly by other combinations -- in cottonseed oil, lead, sugar, tobacco and rubber. Soon aggressive individual businessmen began to mark out industrial domains for themselves. Four great meat packers, chief among them Philip Armour and Gustavus Swift, established a beef trust. Cyrus McCormick achieved preeminence in the reaper business. A 1904 survey showed that more than 5,000 previously independent concerns had been consolidated into some 300 industrial trusts.

The trend toward amalgamation was manifest in other fields, particularly in transportation and communications. Western Union, earliest of the large communications combinations, was followed by the Bell Telephone System and eventually by the American Telephone and Telegraph Company. In the 1860s, Cornelius Vanderbilt consolidated some 13 separate railroads into a single line connecting New York City and Buffalo, about 800 kilometers away. During the next decade he acquired lines to Chicago, Illinois, and Detroit, Michigan -- and the New York Central Railroad System came into being. Other consolidations were already under way, and soon the major railroads of the nation were organized into trunk lines and systems directed by a handful of men.

In this new industrial order, the city was the nerve center, bringing to a focus all the nation's dynamic economic forces: vast accumulations of capital, business and financial institutions, spreading railroad yards, smoky factories, and armies of manual and clerical workers. Villages, attracting people from the countryside and from lands across the sea, grew into towns and towns into cities almost overnight.

In 1830 only one of every 15 persons lived in communities of 8,000 or more; in 1860 the ratio was nearly one in every six; and in 1890 three in every 10. No single city had as many as a million inhabitants in 1860; but 30 years later New York had a million and a half, and Chicago, Illinois, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, each had over a million. In these three decades, Philadelphia and Baltimore, Maryland, doubled in population, Kansas City, Missouri, and Detroit, Michigan, grew fourfold, Cleveland, Ohio, sixfold, Chicago tenfold. Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Omaha, Nebraska, and many communities like them -- hamlets when the Civil War began -- increased 50 times or more in population

Railroads became increasingly important to the expanding nation, and unfair railroad practices proliferated. Rail lines extended cheaper rates to large shippers by rebating a portion of the charge, operated to the disadvantage of small shippers. Also, some railroads charged arbitrarily higher rates to some shippers than to others between certain points, regardless of distance.

Moreover, while competition held down freight charges between cities with several rail connections, rates were excessive between points served by only one line. Thus it cost less to ship goods 1,280 kilometers from Chicago to New York than to places a few hundred kilometers from Chicago. And by joint action to avoid competition -- pooling -- rival companies divided the freight business according to a prearranged scheme that placed the total earnings in a common fund for distribution.

Popular resentment at these practices stimulated state efforts at regulation. These had some effect, but the problem was national in character and demanded congressional action. In 1887 President Grover Cleveland signed the Interstate Commerce Act, which forbade excessive charges, pools, rebates and rate discrimination, and created an Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to guard against violations of the act. In the first decades of its existence, however, the railroads used conservative Supreme Court decisions to thwart virtually all the ICC's efforts at regulation and rate reductions.

Cleveland was also active in combating the high tariff, which, adopted originally as an emergency war measure, had come to be accepted as permanent national policy under the Republican presidents who dominated the politics of the era. Cleveland, a Democrat, regarded excessive tariffs as responsible in large measure for a burdensome increase in the cost of living and for the rapid development of trusts. After many years, during which the tariff had not been a political issue, the Democrats in 1880 demanded a "tariff for revenue only," and soon the clamor for reform became insistent.

In his annual message to Congress in 1887, Cleveland (right), despite warnings to avoid the explosive subject, startled the nation by denouncing the extremes to which the principle of protecting American industry from foreign competition had been pushed.

The tariff became the main issue of the presidential election campaign in 1888, and Republican candidate Benjamin Harrison, a defender of protectionism, won in a close race. The Harrison administration, fulfilling its campaign promises, passed in 1890 the McKinley tariff bill, a measure designed to protect established industries as well as to foster so-called "infant industries." The new tariff's generally high rates contributed to high retail prices, triggering widespread dissatisfaction.

During this period, public antipathy toward the trusts increased. The nation's gigantic corporations, subjected to bitter attack through the 1880s by such reformers as Henry George and Edward Bellamy, became a hotly debated political issue. To break the monopolies, the Sherman Antitrust Act, passed in 1890, forbade all combinations in restraint of interstate trade and provided several methods of enforcement with severe penalties. Couched in vague generalities, the law itself accomplished little immediately after its passage. But a decade later, in the administration of Theodore Roosevelt, its effective application earned the president the nickname of "trust-buster."

Despite the great gains in industry, agriculture remained the nation's basic occupation. The revolution in agriculture -- paralleling that in manufacturing after the Civil War -- involved a shift from hand labor to machine farming, and from subsistence to commercial agriculture.

Between 1860 and 1910, the number of farms in the United States tripled, increasing from 2 million to 6 million, while the area farmed more than doubled from 160 million to 352 million hectares. Between 1860 and 1890, the production of such basic commodities as wheat, corn and cotton outstripped all previous figures in the United States.

In the same period, the nation's population more than doubled, with largest growth in the cities. But the American farmer grew enough grain and cotton, raised enough beef and pork, and clipped enough wool not only to supply American workers and their families but also to create ever-increasing surpluses.

Several factors accounted for this extraordinary achievement. One was the expansion into the West. Another was the application of machinery to farming. The farmer of 1800, using a hand sickle, could hope to cut 20 percent of a hectare of wheat a day. With the cradle, 30 years later, he might cut 80 percent of a hectare daily.

In 1840 Cyrus McCormick (right) performed a miracle by cutting from two to two-and-a-half hectares a day with the reaper, the curious machine he had been developing for nearly 10 years. Foreseeing the demand, he headed west to the young prairie town of Chicago, where he set up a factory -- and by 1860 sold a quarter of a million reapers. Other farm machines were developed in rapid succession: the automatic wire binder, the threshing machine and the reaper-thresher or combine. Mechanical planters, cutters, huskers and shellers appeared, as did cream separators, manure spreaders, potato planters, hay driers, poultry incubators and a hundred other inventions.

Scarcely less important than machinery in the agricultural revolution was science. In 1862 the Morrill Land Grant College Act allotted public land to each state for the establishment of agricultural and industrial colleges. These were to serve both as educational institutions and as centers for research in scientific farming. Congress subsequently appropriated funds for the creation of agricultural experiment stations throughout the country and also granted funds directly to the Department of Agriculture for research purposes.

By the beginning of the new century, scientists throughout the United States were at work on a wide variety of agricultural projects. Ironically, the federal policy that enabled farmers to increase yields ultimately generated vast supplies which drove market prices down -- and disheartened farmers.

One of these scientists, Mark Carleton, traveled for the Department of Agriculture to Russia. There he found and exported to his homeland the rust- and drought-resistant winter wheat that now accounts for more than half the United States wheat crop. Another scientist, Marion Dorset, conquered the dreaded hog cholera, while still another, George Mohler, helped prevent hoof-and-mouth disease. From North Africa, one researcher brought back Kaffir corn; from Turkestan, another imported the yellow-flowering alfalfa. Luther Burbank, in California, produced scores of new fruits and vegetables; in Wisconsin, Stephen Babcock devised a test for determining the butterfat content of milk; at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, the African-American scientist George Washington Carver found hundreds of new uses for the peanut, sweet potato and soybean

In the 1880s, the South pushed hard to attract industry. Large inducements were offered to investors to develop the steel, lumber, tobacco and textile industries. Yet in 1900 the South's percentage of the nation's industrial base remained about the same size as it had been in 1860. Moreover, the price of this drive for industrialization was high: disease and child labor proliferated in Southern mill towns.

Thirty years after the Civil War, the South remained largely poor, overwhelmingly agrarian and economically dependent. Its society enforced a rigid social segregation of blacks from whites, and tolerated recurrent racial violence. Intransigent white Southerners, who resisted Reconstruction through their positions in the national government in Washington, found ways to assert state control to maintain white dominance. Several Supreme Court decisions bolstered the views of these Southerners, beginning in the 1870s, by upholding traditional conservative views of the appropriate balance between national and state power.

In 1873 the Supreme Court found that the Fourteenth Amendment (citizenship rights not to be abridged) conferred no new privileges or immunities to protect African Americans from state power. In 1883, furthermore, it ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment did not prevent individuals, as opposed to states, from practicing discrimination. And in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) the Court found that "separate but equal" public accommodations for African Americans, such as trains and restaurants, did not violate their rights.

Soon the principle of segregation by race extended into every area of Southern life, from railroads to restaurants, hotels, hospitals and schools. Moreover, any area of life that was not segregated by law was segregated by custom and practice. Faced with pervasive discrimination, many African Americans supported the program of Booker T. Washington (right), the most prominent black leader of the late 19th and early 20th century, who counseled them to focus on modest economic goals and to accept temporary social discrimination. Others, led by the African-American intellectual W.E.B. DuBois, wanted to challenge segregation through political action. But, with the complicity of two major parties, calls for racial justice attracted little support, and segregationist laws remained common in the South well into the second half of the 20th century.

In 1865 the frontier line generally followed the western limits of the states bordering the Mississippi River, bulging outward to include the eastern sections of Kansas and Nebraska. Beyond this thin edge of pioneer farms lay the prairie and sagebrush lands that stretched to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Then, for nearly 1,600 kilometers, loomed the huge bulk of mountain ranges, many rich in silver, gold and other metals. On the far side, plains and deserts stretched to the wooded coastal ranges and the Pacific Ocean.

Apart from the settled districts in California and scattered outposts, the vast inland region was populated by Native Americans: among them the Great Plains tribes -- Sioux and Blackfoot, Pawnee and Cheyenne -- and the Indian cultures of the Southwest, including Apache, Navajo and Hopi.

A mere quarter-century later, virtually all this country had been carved into states and territories. Miners had ranged over the whole of the mountain country, tunneling into the earth, establishing little communities in Nevada, Montana and Colorado. Cattle ranchers, taking advantage of the enormous grasslands, had laid claim to the huge expanse stretching from Texas to the upper Missouri River. Sheep herders had found their way to the valleys and mountain slopes. Farmers sank their plows into the plains and valleys and closed the gap between the East and West. By 1890 the frontier had disappeared.

Settlement was spurred by the Homestead Act of 1862, which granted free farms of 64 hectares to citizens who would occupy and improve the land. Unfortunately for the would-be farmers, the land itself was suited more for cattle ranching than farming, and by 1880 nearly 22,400,000 hectares of "free" land was in the hands of cattlemen or the railroads.

In 1862 Congress also voted a charter to the Union Pacific Railroad, which pushed westward from Council Bluffs, Iowa, using mostly the labor of ex-soldiers and Irish immigrants. At the same time, the Central Pacific Railroad began to build eastward from Sacramento, California, relying heavily on Chinese immigrant labor. The whole country was stirred as the two lines steadily approached each other, finally meeting on May 10, 1869, at Promontory Point in Utah. The months of laborious travel hitherto separating the two oceans was now cut to about six days. The continental rail network grew steadily, and by 1884 four great lines linked the central Mississippi Valley area with the Pacific.

The first great rush of population to the Far West was drawn to the mountainous regions, where gold was found in California in 1848, in Colorado and Nevada 10 years later, in Montana and Wyoming in the 1860s, and in the Black Hills of the Dakota country in the 1870s. Miners opened up the country, established communities, and laid the foundations for more permanent settlements.

Yet even while digging in the hills, some settlers perceived the region's farming and stock-raising possibilities. Eventually, though a few communities continued to be devoted almost exclusively to mining, the real wealth of Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and California proved to be in the grass and soil.

Cattle-raising, long an important industry in Texas, flourished after the Civil War, when enterprising men began to drive their Texas longhorn cattle north across the open public land. Feeding as they went, the cattle arrived at railway shipping points in Kansas, larger and fatter than when they started. Soon this "long drive" became a regular event, and, for hundreds of kilometers, trails were dotted with herds of cattle moving northward. Cattle-raising spread into the trans-Missouri region, and immense ranches appeared in Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakota territory. Western cities flourished as centers for the slaughter and dressing of meat.

Ranching introduced a colorful mode of existence with the picturesque cowboy as its central figure. Although the reality of cowboy life, with its low pay and grueling work, was far from romantic, its mythological hold on the American imagination has remained strong, from the "dime" novels of the 1870s to the films of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood in the late 20th century.

Altogether, between 1866 and 1888, some six million head of cattle were driven up from Texas to winter on the high plains of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. The cattle boom reached its height in 1885, when the range became too heavily pastured to support the long drive, and was beginning to be crisscrossed by railroads.

Not far behind the rancher creaked the covered wagons of the farmers bringing their families, their draft horses, cows and pigs. Under the Homestead Act they staked their claims and fenced them with a new invention, barbed wire. Ranchers were ousted from lands they had roamed without legal title. Soon the romantic "Wild West" had ceased to be.