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[Detail] The anarchist riot in Chicago

Historical Context: Industrialization and Urbanization in the Post-Civil War United States

The collection's Special Presentation, The Dramas of Haymarket, is a thorough, interactive overview of the events and issues of the Haymarket affair. It includes information about the historic changes of industrialization and urbanization in the post-Civil War United States, which provided the backdrop for the radicalization of labor and the events of the Haymarket affair.

Read this Special Presentation's Prologue and Act I: Subterranean Fire to learn more about these historical changes. For example, the prologue explains the impact of industrialization on American workers:

"The trajectory of industrial capitalism tended towards larger workplaces with layers of supervision, increased use of technology, and division of the manufacturing process into discrete parts that required limited skills and training. Labor correctly understood this trajectory as a threat to the worth and power of the individual worker, who was becoming an interchangeable, cheap, and readily replaceable cog in a system driven by the logic of production and profit."

From Prologue: Whither America? The Dramas of Haymarket.

  • In what ways did industrialization change the nature of work in the United States?
  • Why did American laborers perceive industrialization as a threat?
  • How did they respond to this threat?
  • In what other ways did industrialization affect American society and culture?

In addition to concerns over industrialization, three economic depressions between 1873 and the early 1890s added to the anxieties of the American working class. During this period of turmoil, however, "No phenomenon . . . so profoundly raised the question of where America was going as did urbanization." The Prologue continues:

"During the last two-thirds of the nineteenth century, the United States was to a significant extent transformed from a largely rural republic with a relatively homogeneous population to a polyglot urban nation. American urbanization gathered astonishing momentum as the decades unfolded. In the last thirty years of the nineteenth century, both the number of communities defined by the federal census as urban and the number of people living in such places tripled."

From Prologue: Whither America? The Dramas of Haymarket.

This unprecedented change in American society raised many concerns, from the dangers posed by cities' gas mains and electrical wires to fears about crime, poverty, and political corruption. A chart illustrating the urban growth that transformed American society offers statistics about Chicago, which epitomized the rapidly growing cities of the post-Civil War United States.

  • In what ways was Chicago's growth typical of cities of nineteenth-century America?
  • What spurred the growth of American cities like Chicago in the late-nineteenth century?
  • Where did Chicago's new population come from?
  • What was the relationship between immigration and class divisions?
  • Why would urbanization have a negative impact on the economy?
  • In what other ways did urbanization shape American society and culture?
  • How did urbanization affect the working class?

For more on the industrialization and urbanization of the United States during the post-Civil War era, see Alan Trachtenberg's Incorporation of America, presented as an electronic hypertext on the University of Virginia's American Studies web site.