Reconstruction and Gilded Age (1866-1914)

2013-11-09 10.44.21There is so much happening during this time: people are recovering from a long and costly Civil War, railroads are expanding, inventions and big business are on the rise, the Panama Canal is dug, the Great San Francisco Earthquake, Steamboats, and the Statue of Liberty.

Growing up in Eastern North Carolina the Wright Brothers were an important part of our state history studies. I read the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk  so many times that the cover was falling off. My children had the opportunity to go visit the monument and visitors center in Kitty Hawk several years ago and really enjoyed it. They are looking forward to studying this aspect further. They have also enjoyed reading Suzanne Tate’s books including Helping the Wright Brothers.

In addition to studying the Wright Brothers we will spend some time studying various inventors and business men such as Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Thomas Edison. We will watch the History Channel documentary, Men Who Built America to get an understanding of some of these men and the effects their lives and businesses had on America. ( I do recommend previewing these to make sure they are appropriate for your family. Most of them are very good but we do skip the first one due to language and content.)


Food should be a fun topic this month. While finding actual recipes was a bit more difficult for this time period there were a lot of new companies and foods that were becoming popular. Including the invention of ‘Brad’s Drink’ that we know today as Pepsi. My plan is to work with the children in researching some of those new products and hold a tasting. We may also field trip to the Birthplace of Pepsi. I did find recipes for the Wright Brothers breakfast so that will probably make it onto the menu plan sometime in February as well.

We will learn about Teddy Roosevelt and listen to Theodore Roosevelt: An American Original. I want to at least touch on Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty as well as the Panama Canal. To add in some great literature of the time period will we read some of Mark Twain’s short stories, Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain (only .99 on kindle at the time of posting). We will also enjoy some of the Little House on the Prairie series during our reading time.

I’ve included a brief synopsis of this period in history below. I’d love to hear what your favorite resources are and what you want to learn more about in the comments. Don’t forget to check out the resource list for this month in the free resources library.

Reconstruction and Gilded Age (1866-1914)

1865 closed a brutal chapter in American History. At the dawn of the last third of the 19th Century, Union forces still occupied much of the south. Despite Lincoln’s insistence that the southern states had no right to leave the Union, the former Confederate States were forced to apply for readmission, complete by 1870, to the United States.  Military governors oversaw the formation of new assemblies and congresses and stipulated that states accept the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to earn readmission.

Death, destruction, and the scars of war persisted throughout America. America’s greatest maritime disaster occurred during a Prisoner of War Repatriation trip (Steamer Sultana).  The south was deeply segregated, racial divided, and often at odds with northern political influence. Rural working and living conditions were by many accounts very harsh. At the same time, railroads were pushing east and west, soon to meet at Promontory, UT (1869).

America completed its ‘Manifest Destiny’ and settled the entire continent, accepting the lower 48 states by 1912 and claiming or purchasing territories in Hawaii (1894) and Alaska (1867).  Rail soon linked all major cities stimulating a great migration.  Farming, once Thomas Jefferson’s ‘noble occupation,’ comprised 58% of the population in 1860, by 1910 only 30% still farmed.  America became an industrialized nation, textiles, factories, trains, steel, steam ships, great naval ships, electricity, communications, and consumer goods soon became norm.

Fueled by rapid industrial growth and emerging technologies industrial titans earned huge fortunes. They provided transportations (Vanderbilt), oil (Rockefeller), steel (Carnegie), financial reform (J.P. Morgan), electronics (Edison/Telsa), and soon automobiles (Ford).  These captains of industry provided unprecedented access to goods and services. For this, and their creativity, energy, and abilities, they created a new class of ultra wealthy in the United States. Rockefeller and Carnegie went back and forth throughout their careers, each holding the title of world’s richest man for periods. At his death in 1937, John Rockefeller held 1.5% of America’s wealth (more than four times that of Bill Gates).  The wealth represented by these families stood in stark contrast to the working class, often employed by the same firms. Fueled by public outrage at the wealth divide, governments passed the 40-hour workweek, health and safety standards, anti-trust legislation, and child labor restrictions. Eventually the national standard of living would creep upward, greatly expanding the middle class.

America emerged on the world stage as a burgeoning super power, defeating the Spanish in Cuba and the Philippians (1898), sailing the Great White naval fleet around the world (1907), and developing industrialization and technologies at an unprecedented rate. But global war, on a scale not before seen, was on the horizon.

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