Growth of the Cities

The following notes will help you prepare for questions about the Growth of the Cities on the AP U.S. History Exam.

  • As industry grew and immigrants poured into the U.S., American cities began to flourish. In some cases, immigrants arriving from Europe stayed in New York City after passing through the inspection at Ellis Island. Other immigrants moved on to other cities, such as Chicago, and formed tightknit neighborhoods of people who spoke their language, ate their food, and practiced their customs. In the South, African Americans fled Jim Crow for better opportunities and fewer social restrictions in the cities.

  • This rapid growth was not without problems. Local governments could not keep up with the needs of its citizens, creating an opportunity for political machines. Many people lived in extreme poverty, at times with entire families living in one small room of a rundown tenement. With no laws to prevent it, many of these rooms had no running water or ventilation and were infested with rats. These tenements would be a target of the reform efforts of the Progressive Era.

Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) : law banning Chinese immigration due to claims that they were driving down wages in the U.S.

Columbian Exposition of 1893 : a world's fair in Chicago, celebrating the 400 years since Columbus sailed to North America; showcased American progress and the elements of the ideal city

Ellis Island : first federal immigrant processing station; located in New York Harbor

ghetto : densely populated immigrant neighborhoods in the city

"How the Other Half Lives" : Book by Jacob Riis that had photographs of some of New York's worst neighborhoods, intended to show the poverty that existed in the city

New Immigrants : Immigrants arriving in the U.S. in the late 1800s and early 1900s from Southern and Eastern Europe

nickelodeon : machines showing moving pictures; cost a nickel per show

Old Immigrants : Immigrants arriving in the U.S. in the late 1800s and early 1900s from Northern and Western Europe

political machines : informal political groups that gained power in the cities because they could provide services that local governments could not; generally corrupt and often bribed citizens for votes

skyscrapers : tall, multi-story buildings; steel made them possible; allowed cities to grow vertically and become more densely populated

streetcar cities : cities that utilized streetcars to move people from place to place, allowing citizens to go beyond their neighborhoods for work or entertainment

Tammany Hall : one of the most famous political machines of 19th century New York City

tenement : run-down apartment building


Jane Addams : founder of Hull House, the first immigrant settlement house

Thomas Edison : American inventor; made the incandescent light bulb, which changed how people live by providing a safe form of light after dark

Thomas Nast : political cartoonist who frequently targeted Boss Tweed in an attempt to expose the corruption in Tammany Hall

Frederic Law Olmstead : landscape architect; designed Central Park after Europeans criticized the lack of green space in U.S. cities

Jacob Riis : social activist, photographer, author of "How the Other Half Lives"

William "Boss" Tweed : corrupt leader of the Democratic Machine in New York City, called Tammany Hall

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