Chapter 18:

The Age of the City


1)The Urbanization of America

a)The Life of the City

i)Urban pop increased 7x in 50 yrs after Civil War, by 1920 majority of ppl lived in urban areas. Occurred partly b/c of natural growth, mostly b/c immigrants and rural ppl flocked b/c offered better paying jobs than rural areas, cultural experiences available, transportation to cities easier than ever


i)Late 19th century saw geographic mobility- Americans left declining Eastern agricultural regions for new farmlands in West and for cities of East

ii)Women moved from farms where mechanization decreased their value; Southern blacks moved to cities to escape rural poverty, oppression, violence

iii)Largest source of urban growth immigrants: until 1880s mainly educated N Europeans who were sometimes skilled laborers, businessmen or moved West to start farms. After 1880s largely S and E Europeans, lacked capital (like poor Irish immigrants before Civil War) so took mainly unskilled jobs

c)The Ethnic City

i)Not only was amt of immigrants tremendous, but so was diversity of immigrant population (no single national group dominated)

ii)Most immigrants were rural ppl so formed close-knit ethnic communities to ease transition-offered native newspapers, food, links to national past

iii)Assimilation of ethnic groups into capitalist economy depended on values of community, but also prejudices among employers, individual skills and capital


i)Most immigrants had desire to become true “Americans” and break with old national ways. Particular strain w/ women who in America shared more freedoms- adjust to more fluid life of American city

ii)Assimilation encouraged by Natives thru public schools and employer requirement to learn English, religious leaders


i)Immigrant arrival provoked many fears + resentments of some native-born ppl. Reacted out of prejudice, foreign willingness to accept lower wages

ii)Political response to these resentments- American Protective Association founded by Henry Bowers 1887, Immigration Restriction League sought to screen/reduce immigrants.  1882 Congress passed Chinese Exclusion Act, also denied entry to all “undesirables” and placed small tax on immigrants

iii)New laws kept only small amt out. Literacy requirement vetoed by president Grover Cleveland—anti-immigrant measures failed mainly b/c many natives welcomed it, provided growing economy w/ cheap and plentiful labor

2)The Urban Landscape

a)The Creation of Public Space

i)By mid-19th century reformers and planners began to call for ordered vision of city, resulted in creation of public spaces and public services

ii)Urban parks solution to congestion, allowed escape from strain of urban life. 1850s Central Park famously planned by Frederick Olmsted and Calvert Vaux

iii)Great public buildings (libraries, museums, theaters), spurred by wealthy residents who wanted amenities to match material and social aspirations

iv)Urban leaders undertook massive city rebuilding projects- “City Beautiful Movement” inspired by architect Daniel Burnham- provide order and symmetry to disorderly life of city (faced opposition from private landowners)

b)Housing the Well-to-Do

i)Availability of cheap labor + materials lowered cost of building in late 19th century. Most wealthy lived in mansions, but later moderately well-to-do and wealthy both began to build and commute from suburban communities nearby

c)Housing Workers and the Poor

i)Most residentsforced to stay in city and rent- demand high and space scarce led to little bargaining power. Landlords tried to get most ppl in smallest space

ii)“Tenements” came to refer to overcrowded slum dwellings. Poverty and rough tenement life showcased by reporter Jacob Riis in his 1890 How the Other Half Lives. Some immigrants also boarded in small family homes

d)Urban Transportation

i)Old, narrow dirty streets insufficient to deal w/ urban growth and need for ppl to move everyday to difft parts of city- new forms of mass transit needed

ii)Cities experimented w/ elevated railways, cable cars, by 1895 electric trolley lines, and in 1897 Boston opened first subway in nation

iii)New road, bridge tech also developed (e.g. John Roebling’s Brooklyn Bridge)

e)The “Skyscraper”

i)Inadequate structural materials and stairs prevented tall buildings until 1870s iron and steal beam development. After Civil War buildings grew successively taller, 1890s term “skyscraper” introduced

ii)Steel girder construction allowed city’s w/ limited space to expand upward if not outward. Architect Louis Sullivan famous skyscraper designer

3)Strains of Urban Life

a)Fire and Disease

i)Fires destroyed large parts of downtown areas w/ buildings made mainly of wood. “Great fires” led to fireproof buildings, professional fire departments

ii)Diseases from poor neighborhoods w/ inadequate sanitation and sewage disposal threatened epidemics that could spread thru whole city

b)Environmental Degradation

i)Industrialization and rapid urbanization led to improper disposal of human and industrial waste that threatened waterways and drinking water, air quality suffered from burning of stoves and furnaces

ii)By early 20th century reformers: seeking new sewage and drainage systems; Physician Alive Hamilton looked to identify and correct pollution in workplace; 1912 fed govt created Public Health Service created factory health standards to prevent occupational diseases (weak b/c no enforcement power)

c)Urban Poverty

i)Expansion of city created poverty, sheer number of ppl meant many unable to earn decent subsistence. Public agencies and private philanthropic groups offered limited relief, and if they did mostly only to the poorest

ii)Some groups focused on religious revivalism as relief; others alarmed at great number of poor children in streets (some lives on their own)– “street arabs”

d)Crime and Violence

i)Poverty and crowding created violence, crime. Murder rate rose nationwide, and rising crime rates prompted cities to create larger, more professional police forces. Armories also developed b/c of fear of urban insurrections

e)Fear of the City

i)City offered allure and excitement, but also alienation and feelings of anonymity (e.g. Theodore Dreiser’s 1900 Sister Carrie about displaced single women)

f)The Machine and the Boss

i)Newly arrived immigrants sought assistance from political machines- created by power vacuum of cities, voting power of large immigrant communities

ii)Urban “bosses” sought votes for his organization by winning loyalty of constituents thru relief, jobs for unemployed, patronage

iii)Machines enriched politicians b/c of graft and corruption from contractors or investment from inside knowledge- most notorious was William Tweed of NY’s Tammany Hall during 1860s/1870s

iv)In spite of middle class reformers citing machines as obstacles to progress, boss rule possible b/c immigrant voters wanted services first and foremost & weakness of city govts

4)The Rise of Mass Consumption

a)Patterns of Income and Consumption

i)Growing markets and demand turn of century b/c of production and mass distribution made goods less expensive, also b/c of rising incomes of “white collar” professionals and working-class ppl despite union failures

ii)Mass market also grew b/c affordable prices and new merchandising techniques allowed goods to reach more consumers (e.g. ready-made clothing after Civil War and rise of fashion)

iii)Food transformed by tin cans, refrigerated RR cars for perishables, home iceboxes. Allowed for better diet and higher life expectancy

b)Chain Stores and Mail-Order Houses

i)Way in which Americans bought goods altered- local stores faced competition from “chain stores” whose national network could sell manufactured goods at lower prices. Customers couldn’t resist great variety + lower prices of chains

ii)Chain stores slow to rural areas but gained access thru mail-order houses-notably 1880s Montgomery Wary and Sears Roebuck mail order catalogues

c)Department Stores

i)Dept stores transformed shopping by bringing together many products under one roof (clothing, furniture) previously in separate shops; gave allure and excitement to shopping; economies of scale enabled lower prices than comp

d)Women as Consumers

i)Mass consumption affected women greatest b/c primary consumers in family. Spawned consumer protection movement w/ National Consumers League 1890s under Florence Kelley to force retainers for better wages, conditions

5)Leisure in the Consumer Society

a)Redefining Leisure

i)Leisure had been previously scorned, but redefinition in late 19th century b/c economic expansion and greater worker time away from work leisure began to be a normal part of everyday life (economist Simon Pattern wrote of this in his 1902 The Theory of Prosperity and 1910 The New Basis of Civilization)

ii)New forms of leisure had public character- time spent mostly in public spaces, part of appeal of leisure was time spent w/ large crowds

b)Spectator Sports

i)Search for public forms of leisure led to rise of organized spectator sports

ii)Saw rise of baseball as “national pastime”, leagues formed in 1870s. Football became standardized 1870s and began to grew. Boxing grew in the 1880s after adoption of Marquis of Queensberry rules

iii)Spectator sports had close association with gambling w/ elaborate betting syndicates. Prompted sports to “clean up” and regulate games

c)Music and Theater

i)Large market of cities allowed theaters to be maintained in ethnic communities, musical comedies developed, and vaudeville widely popular

d)The Movies

i)Thomas Edison and others laid tech for motion picture 1880s, soon projectors allowed showings on big screens in theaters w/ large audiences. By 1900 very popular, especially after DW Griffith introduced his silent epics

e)Working-Class Leisure

i)Workers spent great amt of leisure time on streets b/c had much time but little money. Also popular were neighborhood saloons (often ethnic), served as political centers b/c saloonkeepers often involved in political machines (largely b/c they had regular contact w/ many men in a neighborhood)

ii)Boxing also emerged as a poplar sport- bare knuckle fights by ethnic clubs

f)The Fourth of July

i)B/c most ppl worked six-day workweek w/o vacations, 4th of July became a full day of leisure and an impt highlight in the year of ethnic, working-class communities. Massive neighborhood celebrations often w/ drinking

g)Private Pursuits

i)Reading remained popular as leisure activity, w/ Louisa Alcott’s Little Women (1869) capturing a large women audience

ii)Public music performances popular, but also learning instrument w/in home

h)Mass Communications

i)Large urban market for transmitting news and information in urban industrial society- rise in publishing in journalism after Civil War w/ increase in newspaper circulation, rise of national press services using telegraph to supply news to papers across country

ii)Rise of newspaper chains, especially competition btwn William Randolph Hearst + Joseph Pulitzer (rise of sensational “yellow journalism to sell papers)

6)High Culture in the Age of the City

a)The Literature of Urban America

i)Some writers responded to new industrial civilization by evoking more natural world, others sought to use literature to recreate urban social reality

ii)Realism led by Stephen Crane (famous for The Red Badge of Courage in 1895) who showed urban poverty and slum life. Theodore Dreiser highlighted social dislocations and injustices. There authors followed by Frank Norris’ The Octopus (1901) and Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906) which showed depravity of capitalism by exposing abuses in meatpacking industry

b)Art in the Age of the City

i)By 1900 many American artists breaking from Old World traditions of Eur and experiment w/ new styles. Some turning away from traditional, academic style toward exploring grim aspects of modern life

ii)Ashcan School produced stark portrayal of social realities, showcased expressionism and abstraction at famous 1913 art “Armory Show”

iii)Beginning of modernism- rejected past and embraced new subjects, glorified the ordinary, coarse over genteel tradition +“dignified” aspects of civilization, embraced the future over “standards” of past- individual creativity

c)The Impact of Darwinism

i)Darwin argued evolution from earlier species thru “natural selection”, challenged traditional American religious faith. By end of century most urban professionals and members of educated classes converted; taught in schools

ii)Darwinism led to schism btwn culture of city receptive to new ideas and the traditional, provincial culture of rural areas tied to religion and older values

iii)Other intellectual movements included Social Darwinism of William Sumner, “pragmatism” of William James that valued scientific inquiry + experience

iv)Relativism spawned by Darwinism led to growth of anthropology and study of other cultures (notably Native American culture)

d)Toward Universal Schooling

i)Dependence on specialized skills and scientific knowledge led to demand for education. Spread of free public primary and secondary education, compulsory attendance laws in many states. Rural education still lagged

ii)Some reformers including Richard Pratt targeted native tribes to “civilize” them- urged practical “industrial” education. Failed b/c resistance, funding

iii)Colleges grew late 19th century, benefited from Morrill Land Grant Act of Civil War era that donated large amt of land for colleges; also from contributions made by business and financial tycoons

e)Education for Women

i)Expansion of educational opportunities for women (although lagged behind that of men). Public high schools accepted women, and network of women’s colleges emerged that served to create distinctive women’s community