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Gilded Age Essay

983 words - 4 pages

P. J. O’Rourke said, “Anyway, no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we're looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power.” When Mark Twain and Charles Dudley coined the phrase ‘gilded age’ to describe what they saw in the late 19th century I’m sure they would agree wholeheartedly with Mr. O’Rourke. What does it mean ‘gilded age’? Gilded means to coat with a thin layer of gold, which I’m sure almost always is covering an inferior product. When one thinks of America one of the first thoughts that pop into mind is the American Dream. Achieving the impossible and pulling oneself up out of the mire and reaching a level of success and stature one wouldn’t have elsewhere. But how does one determine success? Many believe it is through how much one has financially and what they can obtain. I think that Mark Twain, Charles Dudley and P.J. O’Rourke are saying that having money does nothing if those who have it do not use it to further a better way of life for those that surround them. If America represents a chance to come from nothing and gain everything then why try to cover it up with gold?

The late 19th century of America was a time with huge growth for the country. During this period, the United States economy grew at an astonishing rate, producing enormous levels of wealth. Railroads and telephone lines expanded across the country, which allowed for new opportunities for cheaper goods to be bought by the majority and for entrepreneurs to seek wealth. This all grew rapidly for a nation of small farmers and craftsman, who now had to deal with a society where the chasm of haves and the have-nots was growing. This was a time where the majority of the populace was poor workers who struggled to survive while the industrial and financial aristocracy lived in palatial homes and indulged in opulent amusements. While some saw the new wealth and growth as a positive thing in America, there were many who opposed it. None the less, it could be agreed upon by all that America was changing.

During this period, while the rich were having expensive balls and buying more property than needed, the industrial workers struggled to survive the miserable conditions often shadowed by the nation's sparkling disguise. Industrial wages were low and hours were long in factories that were typically dangerous and unhealthy. Probably one of the most detrimental things to happen to the industrial worker was the development of machines to do what skilled craftsmen use to. Using vertical integration, Andrew Carnegie created a steel empire. Vertical Integration is a business approach that increased profits by removing middlemen from the production line. This left many workers with few marketable skills and limited them for professional or social mobility. Likewise, John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company utilized horizontal...

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