Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson are remembered as the Progressive Presidents. The time between the late nineteenth century and the end of World War I marked a significant change in how people lived; daily routines were unrecognizable to those of previous generations. The times were drastically changing, and so were the people.
The period from the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century saw a number of changes in American society, culture, and demographics. The greatest and most significant development of this era was industrialization. “The phenomenal boost in manufacturing production,” Chambers said, “Came from a triple revolution: in transportation and communication, in production, and in marketing.” However, this shift did not occur because Americans found factory work more appealing, but the prospect of successfully supporting one’s self and one’s family began to diminish as urban wages surpassed those of rural areas. Although these jobs paid more, the work was monotonous, the hours were long, the managers were demanding and the now widespread title of “employee” suggested an unwanted reliance on the wage system—a direct contrast to the self-sustaining lifestyles of previous generations. Even more frightening were the unsafe and unregulated factory conditions, which led the United States to have the highest accident rates in the industrial world. Regardless of safety concerns, Industrial demand continued to rise throughout the era, and the country responded with a steady supply of workers.
Implied in industrialization is urbanization. As industry and manufacturing began rapidly developing in the urban areas, many Americans abandoned their farming and artisan lifestyles in the country for the crowded, time-clocked factory routine found in the cities. Cities also grew because life in the country became increasingly difficult. Farm mortgages increased while the price of goods fell. Increases in technology also yielded higher productivity, and thus a lower demand for farm hands. The lower demand for physical labor and high mortgage, freight and interest rates resulted in an increase in farm tenancy and bankruptcy. As farms went bankrupt, their owners flocked to the cities. Chambers explained that “The Industrial city emerged, for better or worse, as the symbol of the transformation of American society. The urban population grew from 20 percent in 1860 to 40 percent in 1900” (p.17). New technological access to transportation, electric, and sewage systems allowed cities to expand both outward and upward. The urban lifestyle was much different than that of countryside; city life was fast-paced and culturally dynamic as opposed to the slower and tradition-based society of the country. One could walk down the street and see a new face every day.
Among those new faces city migrants encountered were immigrants. Between 1870 and 1910, 21 million European immigrants flooded the gates of Ellis Island in search for political,...