The industrial revolution, business consolidation, and expansion brought widespread economic growth, innovation, and entrepreneurship to the United States. This period also saw turbulence in the form of wars, financial panics, and labor/management confrontations. In the great merger wave between 1897 and 1903 some 1800 businesses consolidated into 150 of the largest firms in U.S. history. In the bare knuckle marketplace, businesses tried to quash competition and control resources.
Craft work and merchant trade diminished in importance as the effects of the industrial revolution began to dominate public attitudes and actions. Businesses and manufacturing enterprises became increasingly large and impersonal, employing new models of organization, management, and control. Government struggled with how much to limit the growing power of business. Workers responded to industrialization by organizing and strengthening unions. Class and workplace tensions developed as new immigrants and migrants entered the workforce and the income gap between owners and workers widened.
Despite challenges, the quality of life for most Americans improved. Large scale businesses create new forms of middle class work. Consumers, motivated by new credit instruments and advertising, turned to the commercial marketplace to purchase necessities as well as non-essential goods. Economic growth created many opportunities, but prosperity was far from uniform.
Christmas Clubs, like this one, began in the 1910s and became widely popular during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Financial institutions found this a creative way to market savings accounts to children and instill the value of thrift.
John Lewis, one of America’s foremost labor leaders, wore this badge at the 1936 United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) convention.
Artisans, also called mechanics, had formed general societies in several eastern cities by the end of the eighteenth century.
This time clock was used in a garment factory in New York. It helped to regulate the arrival and departure of employees and record how long they worked.
The ornate brass and marble exterior of this cash register signaled the authority of the corporate retail environment and provided visual allure in early 20th century stores.