Industrial America and the Progressive Era – 1876-1929

Industrial buildings in Holyoke, Massachusetts by Carol Highsmith.

Industrial buildings in Holyoke, Massachusetts by Carol Highsmith.

Following the Civil War and Reconstruction, the United States entered an era of national expansion and reform. As the nation continued to move westward, it displaced numerous Indian tribes and Mexicans, leading to numerous conflicts. Social reforms included promoting temperance, creating public school systems, improving the treatment of prisoners, the insane, and the poor, and gaining equal rights for women. By the late 19th-century, the United States was best known for the vast expansion of its industrial plants and output, with huge increases in mass production of goods by machines.

The early 20th century was an era of business expansion and progressive reforms. Activists worked to make big businesses more responsible, to clean up corrupt city governments, improve working conditions in factories, and for better living conditions for those who lived in slum areas. This generation of Americans also hoped to make the world a more democratic place. After World War I, the “roaring twenties” adopted an attitude of live and let live as incomes of working people increased along with those of middle class and wealthier Americans. Americans fell in love with the automobile, which radically changed their way of life.


1876 – The National League of baseball was founded.

Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by Charles Shober & Co., 1876

Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by Charles Shober & Co., 1876

The Centennial Exposition is held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The Supreme Court case of Munn v. Illinois upheld the power of the government to regulate private industries. This was especially important in the public regulation of utilities.

Colorado becomes a state.

The Battle of Little Bighorn occurs in Montana. Lieutenant Colonel George Custer’s regiment was eliminated by Sioux Indians.

Wild Bill Hickok is killed by a shot to the back of his head by Jack McCall while playing poker in Deadwood, South Dakota. He held aces and eights, now known as the Dead man’s hand.

1877 – The Electoral Commission awards Rutherford B. Hayes the presidency in return for ending the military occupation of the South. The 19th president of the United States, he serves until 1881.

The Great Railroad Strike of 1877.

The Great Railroad Strike of 1877.

The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 occurs.

Reconstruction ends.

The Nez Perce War occurs.

The phonograph was invented by Thomas Alva Edison at his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey.

1878 – Morgan silver dollars are first minted.

1879 – Thomas Edison creates the first commercially viable light bulb.

1880 – The University of Southern California is founded.

U.S. population exceeds 50 million.

1881 – James Abram Garfield is made the 20th president of the United States. However, after serving only six and a half months, he was assassinated on September 19, 1881.

Chester Alan Arthur becomes the 21st president of the United States.

The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral takes place in Tombstone, Arizona.

Red Cross Wagon

Red Cross Wagon

Clara Barton creates the American Red Cross.

Tuskegee Institute, a private black university, is established in Tuskegee, Alabama.

Billy the Kid is shot and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett.

1882 – The Chinese Exclusion Act was signed into law on May 6, 1882, prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers. The law resulted from public fear of the Chinese influence in the labor market and the economy but was probably also based on prejudice and the public perception of these immigrants’ inability to assimilate into American culture.

The Immigration Act of 1882 was signed into law on August 3, 1882. It imposed a head tax on noncitizens who came to American ports and restricted certain classes of people from immigrating to America, including criminals, the insane, or “any person unable to take care of him or herself.”

Jesse James was shot and killed by Robert and Charlie Ford.

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, Courier Litho. Co, 1899

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, Courier Litho. Co, 1899

1883Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was founded. It participants include Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Calamity Jane, and Annie Oakley.

Several Civil Rights Cases legalize the doctrine of segregation.

The Brooklyn Bridge opens in New York.

1885 – Grover S. Cleveland becomes the 22nd president of the United States.

The Washington Monument is completed.

The Haymarket Riot

The Haymarket Riot

1886 – Haymarket Riot in Chicago Illinois. It began as a peaceful rally in support of workers striking for an eight-hour workday, but when an unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at the police, all hell broke loose and the ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of seven police officers and at least four civilians. Dozens more were wounded.

The American Federation of Labor was founded in Columbus, Ohio.

Coca-Cola was invented by John Stith Pemberton when Atlanta and Fulton County, Georgia passed prohibition legislation. The new drink was a nonalcoholic version of Pemberton’s French Wine Coca.

The Statue of Liberty is dedicated.

1887 – Congress creates the Interstate Commerce Commission to regulate railroads. Later it was expanded to also regulate trucking to ensure fair rates and to regulate other aspects of common carriers, including interstate bus lines and telephone companies.

Dawes Act

Dawes Act

The Dawes Act authorized the President of the United States to subdivide Native American tribal landholdings into allotments for Native American heads of families and individuals before transferring the rest back to the government.

1888 – The National Geographic Society is founded.

The drinking straw was invented by Marvin Stone who worked in a factory that made paper cigarette holders.

1889 – Benjamin Harrison becomes the 23rd president of the United States.

The first Oklahoma Land Rush occurs on April 22, 1889.

North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Washington become states.

The Johnstown Flood occurs in Pennsylvania.

During a speech given by Benjamin Harrison, he becomes the first U.S. president in history to have a voice recording.

1890 – Idaho and Wyoming become states.

Yosemite National Park is created.

Opening of the fight at Wounded Knee, by Frederic Remington, 1891

Opening of the fight at Wounded Knee, by Frederic Remington, 1891

The Wounded Knee Massacre occurs.

The National American Woman Suffrage Association is founded.

1891 – James Naismith invents basketball.

The first Ferris Wheel opened on June 21, 1893, at the Chicago World’s Fair. It was invented two years earlier by Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania bridge-builder George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. in 1891.

The rotary dial telephone was invented by Almon Brown Strowger.

1892 – The Homestead Strike occurs in Homestead, Pennsylvania beginning on July 1, 1892. The strike was between the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers and the Carnegie Steel Company. The final result was a major defeat for the union of strikers and a setback for their efforts to unionize steelworkers.

The first professional game of American football was held on November 12, 1892, between the Allegheny Athletic Association and the Pittsburgh Athletic Club.

General Electric Company was founded.

1893 – Grover Cleveland becomes the 24th president, serving until 1897.

The Panic of 1893 was a serious economic depression in the United States that began in 1893 and lasted until 1897. It deeply affected every sector of the economy.

Pullman Strike1894

Pullman Strike1894

1894 – The Pullman Strike, a nationwide railroad strike begins on May 11 and lasts until July 20, 1894. Pitting the American Railway Union against the Pullman Company, the main railroads, and the federal government, was a turning point for US labor law.

1895 – William G. Morgan invented the sport first known as “Mintonnette” in 1895 while studying at a YMCA in Holyoke, Massachusetts. It was later renamed volleyball by Alfred S. Halstead.

1896 – Utah is admitted to the United States.

The Plessy v. Ferguson case was a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation laws for public facilities as long as the segregated facilities were equal in quality. The decision legitimized the many state laws re-establishing racial segregation that had been passed in the American South after the end of the Reconstruction Era.

The Klondike Gold Rush by Strobridge & Co., 1897

The Klondike Gold Rush by Strobridge & Co., 1897

Gold is discovered in the Yukon’s Klondike.

1897 – William McKinley becomes the 25th president serving until 1901.

The Boston, Massachusetts subway is completed,

1898 – The USS Maine explodes in Havana, Cuba harbor, precipitating the Spanish-American War.

The Spanish-American War begins and ends.

The Treaty of Paris ends the Spanish-American War and Spain gave Puerto Rico and Guam to the U.S.

Candy corn was introduced by the Goelitz Confectionery Company, now known as the Jelly Belly Candy Company.

The United States purchased the Philippines.

Hawaii is annexed to the United States.

New York Newsboys by Lewis W. Hine, 1908.

New York Newsboys by Lewis W. Hine.

1899 – The Newsboys’ strike of 1899 was a U.S. youth-led campaign to force change in the way that Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers compensated their force of newsboys.

The Philippine-American War begins that lasted from February 4, 1899, to July 2, 1902.

1900 – Galveston, Texas was hit by a hurricane killing over 6,000 people

1901 – Theodore Roosevelt becomes the 26th president serving until 1909.

1902 – The teddy bear was invented by Morris Michtom, owner of a Brooklyn toy store, who was inspired by a political cartoon of President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt on a hunting trip in Mississippi who spared the life of a Louisiana black bear cub.

1903 – The Ford Motor Company is established.

The First World Series is played.

The Wright brothers make their first flight.

1904 – The United States acquired the Panama Canal Zone.

Ruins of San Francisco after the earthquake in 1906.

Ruins of San Francisco after the earthquake in 1906.

1906 – The Great Earthquake of San Francisco, California left 500 missing or dead and destroyed four square miles of the city

1908Oklahoma is admitted to the United States.

The Ford Model T is marketed.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is established.

1909 – William Howard Taft becomes the 27th president of the United States, serving until 1913.

1912 – Arizona, Alaska, and New Mexico are admitted to the United States.

The Titanic sinks.

The electric traffic light was invented by policeman Lester Wire in Salt Lake City, Utah. The color of the traffic lights representing stop and go are likely derived from those used to identify port (red) and starboard (green) in maritime rules.

1913 – Woodrow Wilson becomes the 28th president of the United States.

World War I aviators by John D. Shaw, National Guard Series

World War I aviators by John D. Shaw, National Guard Series

1914World War I started on July 28, 1914, and lasts until November 11, 1918.

1916 – Lincoln Logs, the children’s toy consisting of notched miniature wooden logs, used to build miniature forts, cabins, and buildings, was invented by John L. Wright, son of famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

1917 – The United States enters World War I.

The U.S. Virgin Islands are purchased from Denmark.

1918 – World War I ended.

Influenza Pandemic occurs and spreads across the world.

1919 – The Treaty of Versailles is negotiated and signed.

1920 – The first radio broadcast is delivered from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Women vote, 1917

Women vote.

The 19th amendment is ratified giving women the right to vote.

The sale and manufacture of alcoholic liquors was outlawed. Prohibition begins.

1921 – Warren Gamaliel Harding becomes the 29th President of the United States.

1923 – Calvin Coolidge becomes the 30th President of the United States.

1924 – The Indian Citizenship Act extended citizenship and voting rights to all American Indians born in the U.S. on June 2, 1924. Some Indians, however, did not want to become U.S. citizens, preferring to maintain only their tribal membership.

1927 – Charles Lindbergh makes his first trans-Atlantic flight.

The Jazz Singer starring Al Jolson is the first “talkie” to be released.

Kool-Aid was invented in 1927 by Edwin Perkins in Hastings, Nebraska.

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2021.

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Industrial Mining

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Company Towns of America

The Industrial Revolution in America