Immigration and Urbanization (1880-1910)

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Progressive Business, book by Christian Christiansen (2016)

During the time period of 1890-1920 mass immigration and urbanization grew in major cities in the north such as New York, Detroit, and Chicago. With a mass population brought a boom in consumer freedom. Department stores, chain stores, and retail stores all started to rise, giving hundreds of low wage jobs. This new found American society was run by what was called a “wages system” which modernized to be capitalism; and this essentially brought economic competition among highly populated, urbanized areas where consumers could consume freely. Progressive Business written by Christian Olaf Christiansen, describes the wages system as “an age of new riches, railroad tycoons, industrialists, financial magnates, and political corruption”. However, Christiansen goes onto prove that these circumstances lead to “unprecedented inequality, mass poverty, and social despair”. Only those who could compete in the capitalistic society were fit to reap the benefits- to consume freely and profit from their own product and services. However, all diversification of immigrants did not experience equal opportunities, resulting in either being a player in the new capitalistic era, or dense poverty. 

Lewis Hine at Ellis Island , photo by Lewis W. Hine

This source is a photo taken by Lewis W. Hine of an Italian family making artificial flowers in an East Side tenement in New York in 1908. The audience of this picture is the wealthy people in New York, so they can see how immigrants and the impoverished live. The key points of this photo show 5 family members, the youngest most likely under 5 years of age and a mother being oldest, all handling the same work in their small tenement area. They look hard at work and intricate while working, while most likely earning low income. However, this connects to my project because it shows the difference of standard of living between being an immigrant worker in New York in the early 1900s and working for the stock market while it was booming in the early 1900s. These two jobs could be acquired in the same urbanized area such as New York City , but the immigrants in this photo show the poverty within one of the most economically booming urban cities in America in this time period (for the small upper class).

“To Settle Farm Lands”, article by St. Albans Messenger 

This source is a newspaper article written on November 26th, 1914 by the St. Albans Messenger in New York. The audience of this source is American people informing them of the “Great Migration” which included over 2 million European immigrants that are flooding major cities such as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and Cleveland. The main point is that the writer is concerned that when soldiers return from War War I to their rural homes, immigrants will be pushed into cities which will increase congestion. This source relates to my theme because the over crowding into cities decreased the standard of living and the minimal job opportunities for immigrants, which widened the wealth gap.

“How The Other Half Lives”, photography by Jacob Riis (1889)

This photo was taken in 1889 in Bayard Street tenements in New York City. This was one of many photos taken by Jacob Riis, in his gallery named “How The Other Half Lives”, to show the few wealthy people of early industrial America how bad their fellow immigrants lived. Depicted in this photo are at least 5 people, curdled up in a very small tenement that is messy and is definitely an uncomfortable living area. At this point in time, Theodore Roosevelt was the president of the United States, and Roosevelt even admired Riis’s work, saying he was “The best American I ever knew.” Upon Riis finally releasing “How the Other Half Lives” in 1890 to the public of New York, it gained immediate attention and success. It inspired Roosevelt to close of the worst of the tenement housing and edged city officials to reform the cities housing policies. Riis was successful at exposing the wealth concentration, however tenement housing still existed in some big cities such as Chicago until the 1920s. Not until the New Deal in 1933 did President Franklin Roosevelt transform tenement housing into public housing for low-income families.