The Gilded age, as we know it today spans from the 1870’s to about 1900. The term was coined by American writer Mark Twain. Gilded, meaning gold plated or wealth, refers to the seemingly perfect and orderly society. However, underneath the gold façade lay corruption, poverty, and discrimination. Although the gilded age was a time of great industrial, economic and innovative achievements, it was also a time of discrimination against immigrants, poverty, and political corruption.
The Gilded age is known as the second industrial revolution, manufacturing and transporting goods became increasingly easy with the aid of machines and new railroads. It was an age of scientific breakthroughs and technological innovation. Overall, life sounds much better than it would have been during the era of reconstruction; however, these new advantages mainly benefitted upper-middle-class white men. Unskilled, uneducated, poor laborers operated all the new technology, leading to immense social devaluation of skilled human labor. Big companies and manufacturers no longer needed skilled laborers they just needed abled enough bodies to operate machinery. The U.S. economy became more and more industrial and a new social order where class distinctions were made apparent emerged. Furthermore, big companies like Standard Oil and Carnegie Steel Company held monopolies over the labor industry, so it became increasingly hard for new companies to provide competition, and for individuals to advance economically. This essentially meant that laborers for these companies had little to no workers rights. Workers were even denied the right to strike because striking violated the companies’ property rights. Although these companies allowed for technological advancements and the wealth and prosperity of a selected few, they ingrained social injustice and economic disparity in the foundation of modern day America.
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On the other end of the wage gap were people like Rockefeller and Carnegie who on top of being among the wealthiest few in America were also big philanthropists. They funded arts programs, schools, and social institutions, aiming to emulate European counterparts. Andrew Carnegie embodied the true American dream coming from Scotland and starting with nothing and then becoming an industrial giant in his success with U.S. Steel. He gave the people of America hope that they too could achieve what he was able to achieve. He was seen ultimately as a good guy, who held a moral obligation to give back to the society, which had treated him so well. Rockefeller among others gained the name “‘robber baron” alluding to the fact that they steal from the people with one hand and give back to them with the other. All though most of the business billionaires in the gilded age donated their time and money to social institutions of some kind, it was the imbalance of wealth and deplorable working conditions that fattened the pockets of these men that created the need to have social assistance in the first place
On the surface, the aftermath of the Louisiana Purchase and westward expansion created numerous opportunities for Americans and symbolized freedom and prosperity. However, Chinese immigrants attracted to the new opportunities that the west held, faced much discrimination and unjust treatment. Chinese immigrants usually came through Angel Island; most were single men who sought out work. Chinese immigrants did not assimilate as successfully as the Jewish and Irish immigrants did in New York. Chinese immigrants tended to be isolated from the white majority and were often discriminated against using comparisons to animals and insects. This stemmed from the fear of white Americans that America was becoming less white and that immigrants would take the jobs of the “deserving” white people. There was increased anxiety surrounding the availability of jobs at this time, as there were so many people out of work companies treated laborers as dispensable entities. This is demonstrated by the panic of 1893. Although successful westward expansion created more job opportunities and prospects for innovation it also lead to the discrimination of the Chinese and their eventual exclusion.