Gilded Age

The following notes will help you prepare for questions about the Gilded Age on the AP U.S. History Exam.

  • Mark Twain is credited with giving the Gilded Age its name. Gilded means that something looks good on the outside but can be rotten on the inside. In the late 1800s, some Americans became very wealthy as the industrial revolution took off. However, it was often at the expense of the poor workers, who turned to unions to fight for fair wages and safe working conditions.

  • Some of the business leaders of the time, including John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, and Andrew Carnegie were called either "robber barons" or "captains of industry," depending on the point of view. Today, some of their business practices would seem unethical and are illegal. At the time, though, there were few laws regulating business and government took a laissez faire attitude.

  • One thing that did develop from the wealth was the rise of philanthropy. Not all wealthy individuals were philanthropists. Cornelius Vanderbilt was not. However, John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie gave away millions of dollars and the effects of their philanthropy are still felt today.

Bessemer process : cheaper method of mass-producing steel that helped make Carnegie a millionaire

Gospel of Wealth : Carnegie's essay outlining his theory on how wealth should be used to help the poor; believed in giving money to institutions rather than individuals

horizontal integration : dominating one phase of a producing a product by building alliances with other companies

monopoly : one business completely dominates all other businesses in an industry; legal during the Gilded Age

Laissez-faire : the idea that the government keeps its "hands off" of business affairs, or does not interfere with private business by creating laws and regulations

philanthropy : donating money to people, organizations, or institutions in an effort to better society

Social Darwinism : survival of the fittest in society; used as an argument against helping the poor as some Americans became very wealthy

Standard Oil : oil company created by John D. Rockefeller that was eventually declared a monopoly

trust : a group of businesses or companies that is run by one board of directors; tends to reduce competition and make it difficult for businesses not part of the trust

vertical integration : business practice in which one company controls the entire production process


Horatio Alger : novelist who wrote books during the Industrial Revolution that glorified the benefits of hard work

Andrew Carnegie : made millions in steel; philanthropist

J. P. Morgan : American banker and art collector

John D. Rockefeller : oil tycoon and philanthropist; at one time was the richest man in the U.S.

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