Progressive Era

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

  • The Progressive Era saw many movement develop during the years between the turn of the 20th century and the beginning of World War I. The rapid changes in society, especially in the cities, led to the need for various reform efforts. Reformers sought to limit political authority and create a better society for the common person. This included changes in education, medicine, food production, living conditions, and working conditions.

  • At the forefront of the reform efforts were the muckrakers, so named by President Theodore Roosevelt. They were journalists who investigated and reported on the problems they saw in society, ranging from race issues to poverty. One of the biggest targets of the muckrakers was Standard Oil, which was declared a monopoly and broken up following Ida Tarbell's "History of Standard Oil."

"The Jungle" : fictional account of an immigrant's experience in a meatpacking plant, based on Upton Sinclair's actual observations when he worked undercover at a factory in Chicago; horrified many Americans and led to new workplace and food laws

new nationalism : Roosevelt's 1912 campaign platform; called for women's suffrage, more social welfare, and stricter control over corporations

Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 : first set of laws aimed and providing safe food and medicine; response to Sinclair's "The Jungle"

recall : removing an elected official who is still in office through a popular vote

Socialist Party of America : political party dedicated to the working class; called for public ownership of utilities, railroads, and some major corporations; considered very radical

Square Deal : Theodore Roosevelt's domestic program; three main components were conserving national resources, protecting consumers, and controlling corporations

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire : fire that killed 146 factory workers in New York, mostly women and teenagers; led to changes in workplace safety laws

trust-busting : breaking up trusts; Roosevelt got the nickname "the trustbuster" for targeting railroads and Standard Oil but was not opposed to all trusts


W.E.B. Dubois : scholar and critic of the views of Booker T. Washington; helped found the NAACP; first African American to earn a PhD after graduating from Harvard

Robert LaFollette : Republican and progressive governor of Wisconsin who worked to limit the power of the railroads

Theodore Roosevelt : 26th president; believer in social reforms; lost election in 1912 as the Progressive party candidate

Margaret Sanger : nurse and activist for a woman's right to have access to birth control

Lincoln Stefens : journalist who wrote "Shame of the Cities" in 1904

William Howard Taft : elected president in 1908; successor to Roosevelt and continued his progressive policies although the Progressives did not support him; broke up U.S. Steel

Ida Tarbell : journalist and daughter of an oilman who exposed John D. Rockefeller's business practices and helped break up Standard Oil

Lillian Wald : advocate for child labor laws

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