Rapid industrialization in the Gilded Age

In the late 19th Century, otherwise known as the Gilded Age, the United States experienced tremendous economic growth — an important aspect of which was innovation.
According to the Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History, “the number of patents issued by the Patent Office increased steadily” following the Civil War’s end in 1865 — from 1,045 in 1844 to 7,653 in 1860 to 45,661 in 1897. Among those who received patents were Wiltonian inventors like David Lockwood and Samuel Osborn.
Mr. Lockwood received a patent (No. 301,732) in 1884 for improved dandy rolls for paper-making machines. In his patent description, Mr. Lockwood described his dandy rolls as “simple and economical in construction” and “exceedingly durable,” adding that they “[had] and will always preserve a perfect cylindrical form.”
In 1890, Mr. Osborn received a patent (No. 422,617) for a “new and useful improvement” for checking and unchecking horses.
On Sunday, March 22, Matthew Warshauer, a history professor at Central Connecticut State University, will lead the last scholarly series lecture on the Gilded Age at the Wilton Historical Society, from 4 to 5:30.
“My focus is going to be on the shift in American society — from pre-Civil War to post-Civil War,” he told The Bulletin. “Essentially, how industrialization took off after the Civil War.”

Rural to city life

According to Mr. Warshauer, the United States “fundamentally changed” after the Civil War, as a result of “the rapid growth of industrialization.”
Such changes included the growth of factories and the cities in which they were located, he said, accompanied by “many of the problems that go with the growth of cities — everything from housing issues, poverty, issues of crime and cleanliness.”
“The growth of cities at this time just exploded,” said Mr. Warshauer. “It was really the shift of America from its rural, agricultural existence to an industrial existence.”
During the war, Mr. Warshauer said, the mass production of firearms was “huge” and contributed to the nation’s industrial revolution.
“Ammunitions and weaponry required very fine-tooled machining, and that was naturally put into other kinds of industries. There was also an explosion in the textile industry,” he said.
“A lot of these things had been beginning before the war, but after the war, it was like putting it all on steroids.”
The growth of factories created new jobs, which led many Americans to leave rural life for city life.
“Pre-Civil War, the majority of Americans were engaged in agriculture, but after the war, there was a huge shift of unskilled workers moving into the cities to work in factories,” said Mr. Warshauer.
“Not only did their work life change, but their home life changed drastically, too — from living in agricultural, rural areas to living in cities.”
The government had a “hands-off” role in the late 19th Century economy, said Mr. Warshauer.
“In the 1870s and 1880s, the government did very, very little to deal with any of the problems related to the growth of industry — the growth of monopolies and trusts and many of the negative aspects of market capitalism,” said Mr. Warshauer.
“The government’s role and responsibility in a free market system is something we’re still trying to work out today.”

The big picture

What Mr. Warshauer finds most fascinating about this time period, he said, is “the massive turbulence in American society.”
“How much things changed and how they changed so rapidly,” he said. “It is very reflective of challenges we face today.”
Mr. Warshauer said he hopes people leave his lecture with an understanding of “the big picture” of the United States’ economic trajectory — “how we have gotten to where we are today.
“The importance of studying and understanding history is not just knowing what happened,” he said, “but considering what happened and seeing if there are ways for us to learn from that.”
To register for the lecture, visit wiltonlibrary.org or call 203-763-3950, ext. 213.