Sunday, January 19, 2020

The American Gilded Age

By Susan G Mathis

The Gilded Age is from about 1870-1910. Mark Twain coined the term in his 1873 novel The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today that satirized the era of social problems that were masked by a layer of thin, gold gilding. 
It was a time of rapid technical advances, industrialization, and thousands of new inventions. This era of economic growth, with wages higher than Europe, led to massive immigration drawing about 20 million to the U.S. shores. Unions fought to stop child labor and establish an eight-hour work day. Social reforms included women’s suffrage, prohibition, and other civil changes. In the cities, labor unions became important in regulating industry, while trusts grew stronger in several industries. Education, prohibition, and racial inequalities dominated politics as did economic affairs of money supply and tariffs.

But it was also a time of unequal distribution of wealth where the rich got richer and the poor working class suffered. Many young women worked as servants until they married, and that’s what my stories are about—those nameless, faithful women who cooked and cleaned and served tables for the rich and famous. These “downstairs” women had fascinating stories to tell. 

The Gilded Age titans of industry changed our world—people like John D Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, George Pullman, and others who were sometimes called “robber barons.” But there were others who quietly made a difference—people like Frederick Bourne who took the Singer sewing machine around the globe. 

During this time city growth ballooned and so did the economic problems of housing, the poor, and many social problems. Factories, railroads, finance, and mining were just a few of the growing industries during this time, while immigrants and others moved West and filled jobs in mining, farming, ranching, and building railroads. The number of public schools multiplied and so did membership in churches, especially in Catholicism due to so many Irish, Italian, and other immigrants. But the Panic of 1873 and the Panic of 1893 depressed growth for a season and brought political and social strife.
Technology and industrialization grew the economy during this era. Mechanization created less expensive products.  The steel industry exploded, and the first transcontinental railroad opened in 1869. For the first time one could travel from New York to San Francisco in just six days. By 1880, railroad mileage tripled and brought the nation closer together. Markets became national and the world smaller. 
During the Gilded Age, America led the world in innovation. A half-million patents were issued for new inventions including hundreds by Thomas Edision, Westinghouse, and others. Thanks to inventions such as delivery of electric power, the world became lighter, safer, more convenient and comfortable, and all around better.  

What strikes you most about the Gilded Age?
Leave your answer or comments on the post below and join me on February 19th for my next post. 

Check out Katelyn's Choice, Book 1 of the Thousand Islands Gilded Age series
Katelyn Kavanagh’s mother dreamed her daughter would one day escape the oppressive environment of their Upstate New York farm for service in the enchanting Thousand Islands, home to Gilded Age millionaires. But when her wish comes true, Katelyn finds herself in the service of none other than the famous George Pullman, and the transition proves anything but easy. 
Thomas O’Neill, brother of her best friend, is all grown up and also working on Pullman Island. Despite Thomas’ efforts to help the irresistible Katelyn adjust to the intricacies of her new world, she just can’t seem to tame her gossiping tongue—even when the information she’s privy to could endanger her job, the 1872 re-election of Pullman guest President Ulysses S. Grant, and the love of the man of her dreams.

About Susan: 
Susan G Mathis is a multi-published author of stories set in the beautiful Thousand Islands, her childhood stomping ground in upstate NY. Katelyn’s Choice, the first in The Thousand Islands Gilded Age series, is available now, and book two, Devyn’s Dilemma, releases in April, 2020. The Fabric of Hope: An Irish Family LegacyChristmas Charity, and Sara’s Surprise are available now. Visit for more.

Susan is also a published author of two premarital books with her husband, Dale, two children's picture books, stories in a dozen compilations, and hundreds of published articles. Susan makes her home in Colorado Springs, enjoys traveling globally with her wonderful husband, Dale. 

Lighthouse Publishing:


  1. What a fascinating article. Thank you, Susan, for such an interesting peek into an important era in our history.

  2. It sounds like the Gilded Age began the "progress" that continues today and has brought so much change to life. The beginnings of the unions were necessary to protect the workers in bad working conditions. Technology improved the lives of workers both at their jobs and in their homes, making it easier to do all of the things. There could be a whole discussion about whether there is ever "enough" progress, but I suppose humankind is constantly striving towards the "better" or the "best". Thanks for the thought-provoking post!!!