Some Mexican immigrants found jobs with railroads, mines, factories, and canneries. But most found work in agriculture. Mexican farmworkers moved from region to region, harvesting crops as they ripened. They picked oranges in southern California, almonds in central California, and then apples in Oregon. They harvested cotton in Texas and Arizona, and then moved on to sugar beets in Colorado.
Farmwork paid very little. One Texas farmer said, “I was paying Pancho and his whole family 60 cents a day…. He worked from sun to sun.” Children worked in the fields beside their parents to help support their families. Few of these children had a chance to attend school.
Farmworkers often lived in camps that they built near the fields. “Shelters were made of almost every conceivable thing—burlap, canvas, palm branches,” said one visitor. Some farms and ranches provided housing for their workers. Either way, these temporary homes usually lacked running water and basic sanitation.
After harvest season, farmworkers sometimes moved to nearby towns. Barrios, or Mexican neighborhoods, sprang up on the edges of cities near such farming areas as Los Angeles, California, and San Antonio, Texas. Food stands and grocery stores in the barrio offered familiar tastes and smells. Residents helped each other take care of the sick and find jobs. On Mexican religious holidays, Catholic churches held special ceremonies. On those days, the barrio was filled with singing, dancing, and fireworks.
Many Mexican immigrants originally planned to return to Mexico once the revolution was over. Whites who believed that Mexicans were taking their jobs encouraged such returns. One wrote, “I wish the Mexicans could be put back in their country.”
Mexicans who remained in the United States often faced strong prejudice. Compared to whites, they earned very low wages, and they had little say in their working conditions. In schools, white children were sometimes taught to “boss” their Mexican classmates, as they were expected to do when they grew up.
Despite these problems, many Mexican immigrants chose to stay. Like Isidro Osorio, a farm and railroad worker, they hoped for a better future in their new homeland. “I have worked very hard to earn my $4.00 a day,” reported Osorio. “That is why I want to give a little schooling to my children so that they won’t stay like I am.”
Some Mexicans, such as those in this photograph, found jobs in mines. Most, however, were employed as agricultural workers.
26.7 Closing the Door on Immigration
In 1920, a mob stormed through the Italian neighborhood of West Frankfort, a small Illinois town. The crowd was frustrated by a mining strike and angered by bank robberies that Italian criminals were rumored to have committed. For three days, mobs beat up Italian immigrants and burned their homes. This attack reflected a surge of nativism, or anti-immigrant feeling, that peaked in the United States around this time.
The Tide Turns Against Immigrants The United States has always been a nation of immigrants, yet time and again nativism has sparked actions and policies directed against newer arrivals. Sometimes nativism is rooted in economic competition. Sometimes it stems from ethnic, religious, and other differences. In the 1830s, for example, Protestant nativists charged that Catholic immigrants were enemies of democracy because they owed their primary loyalty to the Pope in Rome.
The surge in immigration that began in the 1880s fueled another rise in nativism. Native-born Americans blamed immigrants for everything from slums and crime to hard times. Fearing competition for jobs, many labor leaders stoked the fires of prejudice, especially against nonwhites. In 1909, the president of the United Mine Workers wrote of Asians that “as a race their standard of living is extremely low, and their assimilation by Americans impossible.”
Restricting Immigration Politicians responded to the growing clamor against immigrants. As you have read, in 1882 Congress banned further immigration by Chinese laborers. In 1907, Japanese immigrants were forbidden entry to the United States. In 1917, Congress required immigrants to prove that they could read and write before they would be allowed into the United States.
To further limit immigration, Congress established a quota system in 1921 and refined it in 1924. Under this system, by 1927 only 150,000 immigrants were allowed to enter the United States each year. East Asians were completely excluded. In addition, quotas limited immigration from any one country to 2 percent of the number of people from that country who lived in the United States in 1890. Most eastern and southern Europeans had arrived after that year. As a result, most of the quota spaces were reserved for immigrants from England, Ireland, and Germany.
The new laws did not limit Mexican immigration. However, Mexicans now needed passports and visas to enter the United States. For the first time, America was closing its doors.
Immigrants like the Chinese man in the cartoon above often faced discrimination and lack of acceptance in their new country.
nativism an attitude of superiority and resentment toward the foreign-born.
quota a limit based on numbers or proportions—for example, the proportion of a country’s population allowed to immigrate to the United States
visas government documents that allow people from other nations to enter the country for a limited period of time
26.8 Chapter Summary
In this chapter, you read about the great wave of immigration to the United States between 1880 and 1920. You used an illustration to learn about the experiences of four immigrant groups from around the world who built new lives in America.
The immigrants of this period were far more diverse than earlier arrivals. Many were escaping from poverty, wars, or persecution. Others were drawn to America by the promise of economic opportunity. With their skills and labor, these new immigrants helped build the nation’s booming cities and industries. But they also faced many challenges, including the tension between assimilation and preserving their way of life.
Each group of immigrants faced its own challenges in journeying to America. Once they arrived, most had to pass inspection at immigration stations like those on Ellis Island in New York Harbor and Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. There they could be denied entry and sent home.
The immigrants who did enter the country often experienced prejudice and discrimination. In cities, they crowded into their own neighborhoods and worked at lower-paying jobs. In the West and the Southwest, Mexican farmworkers labored long hours in the fields and followed the crops from region to region.
In the 1920s, anti-immigrant feeling led Congress to limit the number of people who would be allowed into the United States. These immigration-restriction laws brought an end to the great wave of immigration. But by then, the United States had become a far more diverse country. Only time would tell whether Americans would embrace this diversity and extend the promise of equal opportunity to all the nation’s people.
The great wave of immigration during the late 19th century created a nation of rich, diverse cultures. People from many backgrounds came together and became Americans. In this photograph, a mix of immigrants are in class together learning English.
The Progressive Era
What does the scientist think he will find as he tests the milk and the sugar?
The men who start the great new movements in the world are enthusiasts,” said Sam McClure at his college graduation, “whose eyes are fixed upon the end they wish to bring about.”
Some of his fellow students may have brushed off McClure’s words as mere speech making. They shouldn’t have. This immigrant from Ireland was serious about starting “great new movements.” And he had just the enthusiasm to do it. But how?
McClure’s answer was to start a journal called McClure’s Magazine. McClure prided himself on knowing what people wanted to read about. “If I like a thing,” he said, “then I know that millions will like it.”
In 1900, McClure decided that Americans wanted to know the truth about trusts, those giant business monopolies that worked to reduce competition. He hired a reporter named Ida Tarbell to write a history of one of the biggest trusts—John D. Rockfeller’s Standard Oil. McClure ran Tarbell’s report as a serial, printing one part at a time in issue after issue. The report told about unfair pricing putting Standard Oil’s competitors out of business. McClure’s popularity soared.
McClure began hiring more journalists to uncover the truth about other evils in America. Some people called his journalists muckrakers because they spent so much effort stirring up dirt and filth. Writers like Tarbell adopted this name with pride.
McClure and his muckrakers were part of a larger reform effort known as the Progressive movement. Looking back at the century just ended, Progressives could see great progress. Slavery had ended. The United States had become an industrial giant. Still, huge problems remained to be solved.
Progressives did not work as a single group. Some fought railroad monopolies, while others marched with child factory workers. Some worked for equal rights for African Americans, and others to protect forests. Whatever their cause, most Progressives wanted government to play a larger role in helping to cure the nation’s ills. And all of them believed that ordinary people could start “great new movements” that would improve American life.
Graphic Organizer: Panel of Historical Figures
You will use this panel to help you understand the views and work of social leaders during this time.
27.2 Sowing the Seeds of Reform
The Progressives of the early 20th century rebelled against economic and social injustice, the power of big business, and political corruption. But they were not the first to criticize these conditions and propose far-reaching reforms.
As you have learned, industrialization began remaking American society shortly after the Civil War. To some, the rise of big industry meant endless progress and prosperity. Others, however, felt left behind. As early as the 1870s, some of these “have-nots” began organizing mass movements to work for political and social change. These populist revolts sowed the seeds of Progressive reform.
The Farmers Revolt Organized protest against the power of big business began on the farms of the Midwest. After the Civil War, many midwestern farmers were caught between rising costs and falling prices for their crops. Farmers felt victimized. Banks made it hard for people to get cash loans to keep their farms going in lean times. Railroads and grain storage companies charged high rates to transport and store crops. And merchants paid too little for what farmers produced.
In 1867, Oliver Kelley, a clerk in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, began organizing self-help clubs for farmers called Granges. The movement spread rapidly through the Midwest. By the mid 1870s, the Grange had grown into a political force. Farmers used the Grange to protest unfair practices by the railroads. Grangers banded together to negotiate better prices and started their own banks. They campaigned for political candidates and worked for reforms such as an income tax and laws against trusts.
In the 1870s, angry farmers attacked the power of the railroads to set whatever rates they wanted. This cartoon shows wealthy “rail barons” carving up the country for their own profit.
populist devoted to the needs and interests of common people
Pressure from the Grangers led some states to pass laws that limited railroad shipping rates and prices for grain storage. Big businesses protested this interference with their “rights.” In 1877, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the Grangers. In a series of cases, the Court ruled that states had the right to regulate private property when it is used in the public interest. The Grangers had won a key victory for the idea that government had a responsibility to help protect the common good.
Membership in the Granges dropped in the 1880s as conditions improved for midwestern farmers. The farmers’ revolt continued, however, in the South and West, where organizations called Farmers’ Alliances took up the cause of reform.
The Farmers’ Alliances angrily challenged the influence of eastern bankers and industrialists. A favorite target was Wall Street in New York City, the nation’s financial capital. Mary Elizabeth Lease of Kansas charged:
It is no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street. The great common people of this country are slaves and monopoly is the master. ThePeople’s Party In the 1890s, the Farmers’ Alliances took the lead in forming a new People’s Party (often called the Populist Party). The party’s leaders hoped to forge an alliance between farmers and industrial workers. Such a mass movement, they believed, could break the power of big business to dictate government policy.
In 1892, the People’s Party adopted a platform calling for such reforms as an eight-hour working day and government ownership of railroads. That fall, Populist candidates won election to hundreds of state and local offices. The Populist candidate for president, James B. Weaver of Iowa, received over a million votes, winning six of the Mountain and Plains states. But that was the high point for the People’s Party.
Four years later, the Democratic Party adopted some Populist ideas as part of its platform. The Populists decided to support the Democratic presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan. The Republican candidate, William McKinley, drew heavy support from business and financial interests. The battle lines were drawn between eastern capitalists and the reform-minded farmers of the South and West.
McKinley won the election handily. His victory was a triumph for those who were opposed to radical change. The People’s Party, which had lost its identity after fusing with the Democrats, soon dissolved.
For the moment, big business and its allies reigned supreme. It would be up to other reformers to continue the fight begun by the Grangers and the Populists.
Wealthy industrialists gave huge sums of money to help elect Republican William McKinley to the presidency in 1896.
platform a statement of the policies favored by a political party
27.3 Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller: Captains of Industry
When business leaders like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller looked at the United States in 1900, they saw progress everywhere. Railroads linked towns and cities across the nation. The increased ease of delivering goods by rail had nourished countless new industries, including their own. Both men were proud to be “captains of industry,” leading the way in this growth. “Mere money-making has never been my goal,” wrote Rockefeller. “I had an ambition to build.”
Industry BringsProgress New industries meant more jobs for a growing nation. With immigrants pouring into the country, the population of the United States tripled between 1850 and 1900. Every new factory or mill created jobs for the newcomers. Carnegie Steel alone employed more than 20,000 workers, many of them immigrants.
The nation’s new industries turned out a wealth of new products at prices ordinary Americans could afford. “The home of the laboring man in our day boasts luxuries which even in the palaces of monarchs as recent as Queen Elizabeth were unknown,” wrote Carnegie. “What were luxuries for some,” he noted, “are now necessities for all.”
The Benefits of Bigness What made such progress possible? The growth of big business, answered the captains of industry! Only big business enterprises could deliver quality goods at prices everyone could afford. As Carnegie explained in an article defending big business to its critics:
[The] cheapness [of goods] is in proportion to the scale of production…. The larger the scale of operation the cheaper the product…. Instead of attempting to restrict [bigness], we should hail every increase as something to be gained, not for the few rich, but for the millions of poor.
Bigness, in Carnegie’s view, was the inevitable result of competition. When many small companies compete in the same industry, some are more likely to do well than others. Those that are run most efficiently will thrive
Andrew Carnegie made a huge fortune in the steel industry. When he retired, he began to give away most of his money. Here we see him carrying libraries like gifts, symbolizing the money he gave to thousands of communities for libraries.
from competition and grow larger. Those that are not well run will perish. “The law of competition,” Carnegie argued, “may be sometimes hard for the individual, [but] it is best for the race, because it ensures the survival of the fittest in every department.”
When Carnegie wrote about “the law of competition” in business, he was borrowing an idea from the British naturalist Charles Darwin. Darwin had observed that, in nature, animals and plants compete for food and living space. Those that are best adapted to their environments are the most likely to survive. This idea was popularized as “survival of the fittest.”
Before long, some people began to apply Darwin’s idea to human society. The result was Social Darwinism. According to this theory, people and societies competed for survival just as plants and animals did. The most fit became wealthy and successful. The least fit struggled just to survive.
Social Darwinism seemed to provide a “scientific” justification for huge differences in people’s wealth and power. It also lent support to the idea of laissez-faire. Let businesses compete without restraint, argued corporate leaders. Then the best possible economy will emerge naturally. By this line of thinking, it was misguided for government to try to correct such problems as child labor, poor working conditions, or cutthroat business practices.
Giving Away Wealth In 1901, Carnegie sold his steel company for $250 million. Then he retired to devote his life to philanthropy, or generosity to charities. Rich people, he believed, have a responsibility to use their wealth to help others. “The man who dies rich,” he wrote, “dies disgraced.”
Carnegie used his wealth to build concert halls, universities, and hospitals. Most of all, he loved building libraries. A library, he said, “outranks any other one thing that a community can do to benefit its people.” Before 1880, few Americans had access to free public libraries. Just one generation later, 35 million people a day were using libraries that Carnegie had helped to build.
“Your example will bear fruits,” Rockefeller wrote to Carnegie. “The time will come when men of wealth will more generally be willing to use it for the good of others.”
Rockefeller used his own fortune to fund universities, medical research, the arts, and education for all. During his lifetime, he contributed about $182 million to the Rockefeller Foundation, a charitable organization he established to promote “the well-being of mankind throughout the world.”
John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company controlled 90% of the oil refined in the United States at the turn of the century. His business methods were deemed ruthless by his critics and brilliant by his supporters.
Social Darwinism the idea that people and societies compete for survival, with the fit becoming wealthy and successful while the weak struggle to survive
27.4 Theodore Roosevelt: Trust-Busting President
Not everyone admired big business the way Rockefeller and Carnegie did. Many thought big businesses took unfair advantage of workers and consumers. In 1890, Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act to outlaw any form of business monopoly. The law was so vague and big business so powerful, however, that for years the law was not enforced. The Sherman Antitrust Act got its first real test only after Theodore Roosevelt became president in 1901.
Breaking a RailroadTrust Roosevelt came into the White House with a reputation as a reformer. As president, he attacked business monopolies with great energy. “We do not want to destroy corporations,” he assured the public, “but we do wish to make them [serve] the public good.”
Roosevelt’s first target was a railroad monopoly called the Northern Securities Company. This company controlled nearly every rail line between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest. Roosevelt had the Justice Department sue Northern Securities for violating the Sherman Antitrust Act. The justices of the Supreme Court ordered the monopoly to be broken up into smaller railroad companies.
Trust-Busting Expands Just after Roosevelt filed suit against Northern Securities, McClure’s Magazine began publishing Ida Tarbell’s history of the Standard Oil Trust. In her report, Tarbell documented how Rockefeller had driven his competitors out of business. She told about secret deals he had made with railroads to ship his oil at lower prices than other oil companies paid. She explained how Rockefeller had cut his oil prices below what the oil cost to produce. This attracted customers away from other oil companies. After his competitors went out of business, he raised prices again.
A shocked public demanded action. Roosevelt filed suit against not only Standard Oil, but against 44 other trusts as well. In 1911, Standard Oil was “busted”—broken up into five major oil companies and several smaller ones.
Roosevelt thought that government regulation, or enforcement of laws, was a good long-term solution to bad business behavior. “The great development of industrialism,” he said, “means that there must be an increase in the supervision exercised by the Government over business enterprise.”
“Trust-busting” Teddy Roosevelt is shown here vigorously shaking the railroad trust. Roosevelt tried to break up monopolistic trusts in order to make American business fair for all.
regulation: the enforcement of laws that control conduct or practices; government regulations control the way goods, food, and drugs are produced and sold to the public
27.5 Robert La Follette: Fighter for Political Reform
In 1890, Robert La Follette of Wisconsin ran for reelection to Congress and lost. Still a young man, he returned to his work as a laywer. Then something happened. Senator Philetus Sawyer, a powerful Republican Party boss, offered La Follette a bribe to “fix” a court case. Sawyer thought that he could pay La Follette to guarantee that he would win the case. An insulted La Follette reported the bribery attempt to the newspapers.
An equally insulted Sawyer decided to crush La Follette. But “Battling Bob” was not an easy man to put down. Sawyer had made him so mad that La Follette decided to run for governor of Wisconsin. As governor, he could put the party bosses out of business.
In Wisconsin and other states, political machines, or groups run by party bosses, controlled local and state governments. To make sure that their candidates were elected, corrupt bosses were known to bribe voters and “stuff” ballot boxes with fake votes.
Thus, the bosses, not the people, chose each party’s candidates for office. The candidates, men like lumber millionaire Sawyer, usually represented powerful business interests. Without the party’s support, upstart reformers like La Follette had little chance of reaching voters. La Follette was defeated twice by Wisconsin’s powerful Republican “machine,” but finally won election as governor in 1900.
Once elected, La Follette pushed reforms that put the people in charge of politics. Wisconsin became the first state to adopt the direct primary. This election system allowed party members, not bosses, to chose party candidates. By 1916, over half the states had adopted the “Wisconsin Idea.” With the people choosing their leaders in primary elections, reform governors swept into office across the nation.
Oregon introduced three other reforms that put political power into the hands of the people. The initiative allowed citizens to enact laws by a popular vote. The referendum allowed voters to overturn an existing law. The recall allowed voters to remove an elected official from office.
What all these reforms had in common, wrote La Follette, was a belief that each state could become a place where “the opportunities of all its people are more equal… [and] human life is safer and sweeter.”
Party bosses controlled the American political system through a corrupt system of bribery. Reformers like Robert La Follette sought to take power out of the hands of the bosses and return it to the people.
27.6 Mother Jones: Champion of Workers’ Rights
In 1903, labor leader Mary Harris Jones—known as Mother Jones—went to Pennsylvania to support a strike by 75,000 textile workers. About 10,000 of the strikers were children. Jones wrote of these young workers:
Every day little children came into Union Headquarters, some with their hands off, some with the thumb missing, some with their fingers off at the knuckle. They were stooped little things, round shouldered and skinny. Many of them were not over ten years of age.
Child LaborLaws The situation Mother Jones found in Pennsylvania was not unusual. In the early 1900s, more than 1 million children under the age of 16 worked in mines and factories for up to 13 hours a day. To publicize their plight, Jones led a “March of the Mill Children” from Pennsylvania all the way to Oyster Bay, New York, to petition President Roosevelt to support child labor laws.
The children’s march prompted stories and photographs of child workers in newspapers and magazines. Across the country, reformers demanded an end to child labor. Employers claimed that abolishing child labor would produce “a nation of sissies.” But, by 1909, 43 states had passed laws that outlawed the hiring of children.
Improving Working Conditions Progressive reformers also worked to improve the lives of adult workers. In 1903, for example, Oregon passed a law that limited women workers to a ten-hour workday. Maryland set up a program to assist workers who had been injured on the job.
New York responded to the tragic 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire by setting up a state committee to investigate conditions in factories. Based on the committee’s work, the state legislature passed 56 worker- protection laws. Many of these laws called for improvements in factory safety. One permitted women workers to take pregnancy leaves. (A leave is time away from work.) Another required employers to provide garment workers with chairs that had backs, rather than simple stools.
Mother Jones saw progress for the worker in such reforms. “Slowly his hours are shortened, giving him leisure to read and to think,” she wrote. “Slowly the cause of his children becomes the cause of all.”
At the turn of the century, school-age children worked long hours for meager wages in America’s mines and factories.
John Muir was so clever with machines that he might have been a great inventor. But one day in 1867, a file slipped from his hand and hit him in the eye. This accident sent Muir’s life down a different path. After recovering from his injury, Muir decided to spend his life roaming wild places. “I might have been a millionaire,” he said. “I chose to become a tramp.”
Muir found his wilderness home in Yosemite Valley, a place of great natural beauty in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. “God seems to be doing his best here,” he wrote of Yosemite.
Humans, in contrast, seemed to be doing their worst. Loggers were felling Yosemite’s ancient redwood trees. Herds of sheep were stripping its meadows and hillsides bare. “To let sheep trample so divinely fine a place seems barbarous!” wrote Muir.
Yosemite was not the only wild place threatened by human activity. Rapid industrial growth and urbanization were causing massive environmental changes. Loggers were felling the nation’s forests at an alarming rate. Miners were scarring mountains and polluting rivers. Many species of birds and animals were near extinction or already lost forever.
Concerns over such changes had given birth to a small but growing conservation movement. Some conservationists worried most about dwindling natural resources. They advocated careful development of the wilderness. Others, like Muir, wanted to preserve wonders like Yosemite in their natural state.
To rally the public to his cause, Muir started publishing articles urging the passage of laws to protect wilderness. By 1890, his writings had attracted enough support to convince Congress to create Yosemite National Park.
Conservationists found an ally in President Theodore Roosevelt. While Roosevelt was in office, he increased the amount of land set aside as national forest from 47 million to 195 million acres. He also doubled the number of national parks. To Muir’s delight, the president also prohibited logging and ranching in Yosemite and other national parks.
“Wilderness is a necessity,” said Muir. “Mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”
Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir are pictured high on a cliff in Yosemite National Park. Muir (on the right) founded the Sierra Club, an organization committed to the preservation of the environment.