In the years following the Civil War the United States was transformed by the enormous growth of industry. Once, the United States was mainly a nation of small farms. By 1900, it was a nation of growing cities, of coal, steel, and of engines and fast communications. Though living standards generally rose, millions of industrial workers lived in crowded, unsanitary slums.
In the north, industrial violence was common and occurred on numerous occasions. The most violent confrontation between labor and employers was probably the Great Railway Strike of 1877. The nation had been in the grip of a severe depression for four years. During that time, the railroads had decreased the wages of railway workers by 20 percent. Many trainmen complained that they could not support their families adequately, and there was little that the trainmen could do about the wage decreases. At that time, unions were weak and workers feared going on strike; there were too many unemployed men who might take their jobs. Some workers secretly formed a Trainmen's Union to oppose the railroads. In the last quarter of the century, the textile, metal, and machinery industries equaled the railroads in size. In 1870, the typical iron and steel firm employed fewer than 100 workers. Thirty years later, the force was four times as large. By 1900, more than 1,000 factories had work forces ranging from 500 to 1,000 workers. From 1860 to 1900 some 15 million immigrants from southern and eastern Europe came to the United States in search of a better life, and most of them settled in the north and northeast. With big cities and factories came big business and big government who profited greatly from the cheap work force of immigrants and washed out farmers. The working class comprised mostly of immigrants and farmers rebelled against the upper and middle class, and insisted on better living and working conditions.
In the late nineteenth century, Americans became the backbone of the nation. The Indian problem that plagued America for 200 years was ending but not without bloodshed. Indians that were not killed were forced onto reservations. White farmers brought Indian land into cultivation, modernized their farms, and raised bumper crops. Many lived in poverty and debt while others fled to the cities, where they joined the industrial work force. Between 1865 and 1900, the nation's farms more than doubled in number as Americans eagerly migrated to land west of the Mississippi River. With the aid of modern machinery, farmers raised specialized crops and relied on the railroads to deliver their crop to market. Bankers and loan companies provided capital to expand farm operations, while middlemen stored and sometimes sold produce. Farmers increasingly desired and depended on improved machinery inventors and manufactures met the demand. In the 1970's large bonanza farms established the trend of large-scale agriculture. With mass farming came overproduction and falling prices. Railroads were becoming big business and attempts to regulate railroads failed. The Government was corrupt and big business did whatever they wanted with little resistance from politicians or elected officials. Cattle ranchers and shepherds had conflicts over land and barbed wire fences became popular. Gold was discovered in California, and strip mining for other precious metals environmentally damaged the land. Wild Bill's Wild West Show was popular, and the Grange society was formed.
Of all the nation's agricultural regions, the South was the poorest. In 1880 the yearly income of southerners was half that of the national average. The New South attempted to industrialize with textiles, steel, cotton, and farm animals. The New South argued that southern backwardness did not stem from the war, but from basic conditions in southern life and a rural economy based on cotton. Realizing too late that power and wealth came...