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In United States history, Gilded Age refers to the period following the Civil War and Reconstruction, running from roughly 1873 to 1896. The term "Gilded Age" was coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in their book The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, published in 1873. The term refers to the gilding of a cheaper metal with a thin layer of gold. The connotation referred to the perception of many contemporary observers that the era was marked by ostentatious display, crass manners, corruption, and shoddy ethics.[1]

Regardless of its perceived moral character, historians view the Gilded Age as a period of rapid economic, technological, political, and social transformation. This transformation forged a modern, national industrial society out of what had been regional "island communities."[2] By the end of the Gilded Age, the United States was among the world's leading industrial nations. In the Progressive Era that followed, it became a world power. In the process, there was much dislocation and many injustices including the destruction of the Plains Indians, hardening discrimination against African Americans, environmental degradation, discrimination against immigrants, and increasingly poor conditions for the working classes. Two extended recessions, often referred to as the Long Depression added to the period's difficulties. Despite these drawbacks, the Gilded Age saw impressive economic growth and the unprecedented growth of major cities (Chicago's population increased tenfold from 1870 to 1900). Technological innovations including the telephone, steel production, skyscrapers, refrigerator car, linotype machine, chromolithography, electric light bulb, moving pictures, typewriter, sewing machine, and many others provided the bases for modern industry and modern life. Politically, the period saw the rise of third parties, organized political dissent by farmer's groups, labor unions, and intellectuals, the beginnings of civil service reform, gains in women's suffrage, the adoption of the Australian ballot, and the transition from party to modern interest group politics. Socially, the period was marked by increasing immigration, the rise of a managerial and professional middle class, the settlement of the Plains territories, and migration from rural areas to the cities.

  1. ^ Other contemporary works critical of the era include Henry Adams's Democracy, and Walt Whitman's Democratic Vistas, both published in 1873.
  2. ^ Daniel Boorstin, The Americans (1973).