Postcard depicting an exterior view of Forest Hill, the residence of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. in Cleveland, Ohio. Rockefeller consolidated small oil refineries in the Cleveland area to form the Standard Oil Company in 1870.
The Gilded Age began in 1877, following the conclusion of Reconstruction. It continued until the mid-1890s, with many historians contending that the era ended with the Panic of 1893.
In their book The Gilded Age, authors Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner claimed that, on the surface, things appeared wonderful during this era while underneath, life was difficult for the vast majority of people living in the U.S.
The Gilded Age marked tremendous economic growth within the United States as the nation moved towards industrialization. Industrialization brought urbanization, with populations flocking to the prosperous cities. Immigrant populations from Southern and Eastern Europe, especially, urbanized during this time. Numerous people made great fortunes. Big businesses, such as the Standard Oil Company in Ohio, arose.
While some people attained wealth, the vast majority of the population, including farmers and industrial workers, struggled to survive. Working conditions were harsh, with long hours and few safety provisions. Wages were pitiful. Such poor conditions led both farmers and industrial workers to seek reform, contributing to the rise of Populism, Progressivism, and labor organization. Still, the rise of factories allowed new products to come to the market and helped foster the beginnings of a consumer culture.
Politically, corrupt politicians characterized this era. City bosses, who illegally controlled city governments, arose. At the state and federal levels, while many politicians were well intentioned, others were not. Historians commonly view United States political leaders during this period as among the most corrupt and inept officials in U.S. history.
Events in Ohio symbolized those that occurred across the rest of the United States during the Gilded Age. Some residents, like John D. Rockefeller, earned massive fortunes, while the majority of working-class Ohioans struggled. Political corruption occurred across Ohio, as symbolized by George Cox, the city boss of Cincinnati, Ohio. The United States experienced tremendous growth during the Gilded Age, but not all in the United States shared in it.