Who Were the Gilders? And Other Seldom-Asked Questions about Business, Technology, and Political Economy in the United States, 1877-1900

John, Richard R.

Historians of the United States have for many decades termed the late nineteenth century the "Gilded Age." No consensus exists as to when this period began and ended, or how it might best be characterized. Most textbook authors place the origins of the Gilded Age around 1877 and its demise around 1900. Few would deny that this period witnessed a host of epochal innovations that included the rise of the modern industrial corporation, the building of large-scale technical systems, including the electric power grid, and the creation of governmental institutions that were conducive to rapid industrialization. Yet the significance of these innovations remained a matter of dispute. This essay contends that no synthetic account of the late nineteenth-century United States that aspires to be at all comprehensive can ignore these innovations—innovations that have come to be known by various names such as the "managerial revolution," the "Second Industrial Revolution," and "modernization."1 It further contends that the reluctance of some of the most respected historians of business, technology, and political economy to embrace the Gilded Age construct raises questions about its
utility as a periodizing device.

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Journal of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era

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September 9, 2019