For the novel, see The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. "The Breakers", a gilded-age mansion in Newport, Rhode Island.

In American history, the Gilded Age refers to to the era of rapid economic and population growth in the United States and extravagant displays of wealth and excess of America's upper class during the post-Civil War and post-Reconstruction eras of the late 19th century (1865-1901). The term "Gilded Age" was coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in their 1873 book, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today.

The businessmen of the Second Industrial Revolution created industrial towns and cities in the Northeast with new factories, and hired an ethnically diverse industrial working class, many of them new immigrants from Europe. The super-rich industrialists and financiers such as Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew W. Mellon, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Flagler, and J.P. Morgan were called "robber barons" by critics, who believed they cheated to get their money and lorded it over the common people. There was a small, growing labor union movement led in part by Samuel Gompers, who created the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1886.

Gilded Age politics, called the Third Party System, featured very close contests between the Republicans and Democrats, and, occasionally, third parties. Nearly all the eligible men were political partisans and voter turnout often exceeded 90% in some states.[1]

This Gilded Age is most famous for the creation of a modern industrial economy. A national transportation and communication network was created, the corporation became the dominant form of business organization, and a managerial revolution transformed business operations. By the beginning of the 20th century, per capita income and industrial production in the United States led the world.

The wealth of the period is highlighted by the American upper class' opulence, but also by the rise of American philanthropy (referred to by Andrew Carnegie as the "Gospel of Wealth") that used private money to endow thousands of colleges, hospitals, museums, academies, schools, opera houses, public libraries, symphony orchestras, and charities. The Beaux-Arts architectural idiom of the era clothed public buildings in Neo-Renaissance architecture.

This period overlaps with the nadir of American race relations and the start of the era of Jim Crow. African Americans lost many of the civil rights obtained during the Reconstruction era, 1863-1877, often after violent or fraudulent elections.

The end of the Gilded Age coincided with the Panic of 1893, a deep depression. The depression lasted until 1897 and marked a major political realignment in the election of 1896. After that came the Progressive Era.

 
 
Copyright © 2006-17 Claud "Sonny" Rouch, all rights reserved. Website by OACYS Technology. Cover photo by Roberts Engineering.