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 things appeared wonderful on the surface in this era, but these two men contended, underneath, life was difficult for the vast majority of Americans.
The Gilded Age marked tremendous economic growth within the United States, as the nation moved towards industrialization. Urbanization occurred, as native-born Americans sought prosperity in the cities, as did new immigrants, especially ones coming to the United States from Southern and Eastern European nations. Big Businesses, such as the Standard Oil Company in Ohio, arose. Numerous people made great fortunes. While some people attained wealth, the vast majority of Americans, farmers and industrial workers, struggled to survive. Working conditions were harsh, with long hours and no safety mechanisms on machines. Wages also were pitiful. These poor conditions led both farmers and industrial workers to seek reform. Populism, Progressivism, and labor organization all partly resulted from this unhappiness. Still, the rise of factories caused a plethora of new products to come to the market and helped spawn the beginnings of the consumer culture.
Politically, corrupt politicians characterized this era. City bosses arose who illegally controlled city governments. At the state and federal levels of government, 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 American 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 Americans shared in it.