Gilded Age (1865-1918)

In United States history, the Gilded Age is a period spanning approximately the 1870s to the turn of the twentieth century. The term was coined by writers Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today (1873), satirizing what they believed to be an era of serious social problems disguised by a thin gold gilding.

The Gilded Age was an era of enormous growth, especially in the North and West. This attracted millions of emigres from Europe. However, the Gilded Age was also an era of enormous poverty. The average annual income for most families was $380, well below the poverty line. Railroads were the major industry, but the factory system, mining, and labor unions also increased in importance.

Two major nationwide depressions known as the Panic of 1873 and the Panic of 1893 interrupted growth. The South remained economically devastated; its economy became increasingly tied to cotton and tobacco production, which suffered low prices. African-Americans in the South were stripped of political power and voting rights. The political landscape was notable in that despite some corruption, turnout was very high and elections between the evenly matched parties were close.

The dominant issues were cultural (especially regarding prohibition, education and ethnic and racial groups), and economics (tariffs and money supply). Reformers crusaded against child labour and for the 8-hour working day, civil service reform, prohibition, and women's suffrage. State & local governments built schools, colleges and hospitals that sometimes received donations from philanthropists and various diverse religious denominations structured the social and cultural lives of many Americans.

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