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Lone Star College-Kingwood Library

American Cultural History

19th Century - 1880 - 1889

1800 1810 1820 1830 1840 1850 1860 1870 1880 1890


Presidents: J.A. Garfield, Chester Arthur, Benjamin Harrison | Statehood: North and South Dakota, Montana, and Washington became states. Population: 50,155,783

About the 19th Century Decades Pages

 In 1800 everyday life had changed little since the year 1000. By 1900 the Industrial Revolution had transformed the world's economy. To see the whole picture, we encourage users to browse all the way through these decades. Oil field workers and their obstinate transportation.Then visit the suggested links for more information.   As librarians, we must point out that the best way to immerse oneself in a topic is to use both Internet and the library.  ENJOY! Since we are getting close to the end of the century, you may want to see our Twentieth Century Decade.

The 1880-1889

Canned fruits and meats appear in stores | There are 87,000 miles of rail in America | U.S. frontiersman W.F. (Buffalo Bill) Cody organizes his 'wild west show.' | The first regulatory commission was set up to regulate railroad rates | Andrew Carnegie opened his first public library | Women were participating in more sports than ever before | Excluding blacks from jury duty was held unconstitutional | Fencing of public lands was prohibited by an act of Congress | Transit workers strike | The Oklahoma land rush bagan at noon on April 22, 1899. | Oil!


Example of trompe l'oeilThe home of William Kissam Vanderbilt was built on 5th Ave and 52nd St in NYC at a cost of $3,000,000. Henry Hobson Richardson built shingled houses in Mass. (Bellaman House). He brought his functional approach to suburban railroad stations. He completed the Marshall Field Building in Chicago. John A. Roebling designed the Brooklyn Bridge. A masonry building, the Monadnock Building, was 16 stories - in Chicago. Steel skeleton construction was used in Chicago by architect William L. Jenney. Asbestos curtains were used in theaters to deter fire. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was opened, sponsored by wealthy families. The main building for the Boston Public Library was begun by Charles Follen McKim of McKim, Mead and White, a great architectural firm of the 19th and early 20th century. The library contained decorative ideas by Saint-Gaudens and murals by Edwin Abbey and John Singer Sargent.

By Frederick RemingtonIt was during this decade that millionaires became art collectors. Mary Cassatt, an expatriate, showed at the Paris Impressionist exhibits. Portraitists Eastman Johnson and John Singer Sargent (Portrait of Madame X) were extremely popular. Trompe l'oeil paintings of William Michael Harnett, After the Hunt, were so realistic that many a drinker reached for the painted jug. Douglas Tilden, a West Coast sculptor, created Tired Wrestler, Baseball Player and Young Acrobat. Augustus Saint-Gaudens completed Abraham Lincoln in Chicago. Olin Levi Warner and others specialized in painting American Indians. John La Farge, church muralist, painted the Ascension for Church of the Ascension in New York.


Industrialization, improved transportation via the completed nationwide rail system, and immigration all had a great impact on business and economic conditions in the last part of the 19th century.  Mechanization altered the way work was performed. As the process of producing goods shifted, the workplace changed for working men and women.  Rail transport of goods improved the manufacturing process by supplying materials and moving finished products to markets. By 1882, 789,000 immigrants a year were coming to America to work in the factories, mines and businesses created by the new economy, the highest level in the 19th century.  Immigrants often took the least desirable jobs with ethnic groups specializing in particular areas of work. The Slavs became steel workers, Greeks opened small stores, Mexicans worked in agricultural jobs in the west, Jews in New York's lower Eastside worked in tailoring, or opened restaurants and delicatessens.  In cities like Boston, New York and Chicago, the Irish, Jews and Germans dominated city jobs and political machines.

Haymarket Riot from the Chicago Historical Society Trade unions like the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada, (1881) predecessor of the American Federation of Labor (1886) were established to protect worker's rights. In 1883, the Civil Service Commission was established with passage of the Pendleton Act.  Workers of the Missouri Pacific Railroad opposed a wage cut and initiated the Great Southwest Strike of 1886.  Workers in Chicago lobbied for an 8-hour workday. Union strikers at the McCormick Reaper Works rallied at Haymarket, where police fired upon the protesters, killing two and injuring others.  The resulting riots lasted for several days.  Many states, beginning with New York, began celebrating Labor Day.

Dow, Jones & Company, a financial news service, was established in 1882.  American and Canadian railroads adopted standard time zones in 1883 and helped regulate clocks across America.  In 1885, Charles Alderton created the recipe for Dr. Pepper. Congress enacted the Hatch Act, 1887, which established agricultural research and experiment stations in each state with land-grant colleges.  Asa Candler bought part interest in a patent medicine known as Coca-Cola in 1887 and Richard W. Sears and Alvah C. Roebuck began to sell watches by mail.  In 1889, Dow Jones & Co. began publishing the Wall Street Journal, Andrew Carnegie published the Gospel of Wealth,and George Eastman invented celluloid-based roll film of high quality.


Huck and Jim on the raft.As always, literature helped people better understand the world they lived in. Henry James' Portrait of a Lady centered on the psychological story of an American woman, inheriting money and living in Europe. Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn, his most famous and most complex work about freedom. Ramona, then A Century of Dishonor were written by Helen Hunt Jackson describing eye-opening accounts of the U.S. governments ruthless treatment of the Indians.

These books created great sympathy for their plight. Henry Adams published Democracy, set in Washington. Albion W. Tourgee wrote a novel of life in postwar North Carolina, Bricks without Straw. Books in native dialect became popular, examples are The Old Swimmin' Hole and 'Leven More Poems by James Whitcomb Riley and In the Tennessee Mountains by Charles Egbert Craddock. A Utopian fantasy by Edward Bellamy was a hit for expressing concern with social problems in an industrial society, Looking Backward, 2000-1887. The Winning of the West by Theodore Roosevelt, depicted the westward movement. Authors like William Dean Howells wrote literature taking up causes, like labor (Annie Kilburn), as topics. This was also the decade that introduced The Wall Street Journal.

Kate Greenaway book image, British author. Lovell's Library made its appearance and consisted of cheap books selling at 10 to 20 cents. (Later Lovell's Popular Library). Important reference books include The Spirit of Modern Philosophy by Josiah Royce, Personal Memoirs by Ulysses S. Grant, The Library of American Literature, edited by Edmund Clarence Stedman, and The History of the United States by Henry Adams (volumes one and two). Other important books published during the decade included:

Childrens books included The Five Little Peppers by Margaret Sidney. Little Lord Fauntleroy, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, was enormously popular. Casey at the Bat was written by Ernest Thayer. Eugene Field published two of his best loved poems, Little Boy Blue and Wynken, Blynken and Nod. Louisa May Alcott wrote Jo's Boys.


Gold campRailroads now crisscrossed most of the West and farmers were persuaded to move into the region  by railroad advertising and the relative ease of train travel.  The Mormons had demonstrated what irrigation could accomplish to make the desert into productive farm land.  More railroads made it possible to transport crops and cattle to the markets in the East.  Cow towns such as Abilene, Kansas grew up as such men as Joseph G. McCoy  established cattle yards for Texas beef.  First the miners, then the cattlemen, and lastly the farmers had taken over what had been the land of the Great Plains Indians.  On July 18, 1881 Sitting Bull surrendered at Fort Buford, and the fight to retain their way of life was essentially over.  A last holdout, Geronimo, gave up in 1886.  The federal government did make some effort to protect Indian land.  In 1881 Buffalo soldiers of the Ninth Cavalry were sent to Oklahoma Indian Territory to prevent white settlers from encroaching on Indian land.  The Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 sought to protect tribal holdings by dividing the land into individual homesteads.  There were provisions aimed at preventing the Native Americans from being cheated, but those provisions were ineffective.  Oklahoma Land Rush By 1934, Native Americans had seen their land shrink from 150,000,000 acres to less than 60,000,000 acres - all lost to white settlers.  A last effort to reestablish the Indian way of life started with the Ghost Dance cult in the late 1880's and ended at the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890.  The  Oklahoma Land Rush on April 22, 1889 opened the Indian Territory to homesteaders.  This was the last major area to be opened to settlement in the continental United States.

The 1880's saw 5,248,568  immigrants come to the United States.  Most of these people still came from northern and western Europe, but the tide began to change during the decade as more and more of the immigrants came from southern and eastern Europe.  Steamships had increasingly made the voyage to America  faster, safer, and more comfortable.  American industry contracted foreign labor until the Foran Act of 1885 made it illegal.  The padrone system had flourished as the padrone, or labor boss, encouraged nationalities such as Italians and Greeks to come the U.S. for jobs.  The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 sought to halt the arrival of Chinese into country.  


Utah Historical Society picture - working trainChinese working on railroad - Calif State Railroad MuseumBOOKS:




Sutton family picture, 1880s schoolgirl.Boy in duncecapFrontier schools in this era were primitive by today's standards but suceeded in their goal of educating children.  The McGuffey texts taught morality  along with reading and patriotism along with history. The one-room school house did not have much in the way of creature comforts or educational supplies. Many did not even have a blackboard.  Sometimes the students were expected to provide their own books and  thus each child might be learning his or her lessons from a different source.  An educator of the time, Edwin Hewett wrote a Treatise on Pedagogy for Young Teachers in which he saw nothing amiss about this situation.  The working under these conditions received little pay. The average salary for women was $54.50 a year and for men $71.40.  The discipline could be harsh.  Misbehaving children could feel the sting of the switch, the darkness of being locked in a closet, or the embarassment of sitting on a stool in the front of the class wearing a dunce cap.  Getting to and from school could also be hazardous.  In what became known as the "school children's blizzard" in January, 1888, on the Nebraska plains many children died on their route home from school.  One teacher, Minnie Freeman, became a heroine for her efforts that saved the children in her care.  In 1882, Massachusetts made an effort to improve the rural schools in the state by passing a law requiring them to consolidate into larger districts.  In New York City, Julia Richman used her influence as a principal and later District Superintendent for the Lower East Side to promote her progressive education ideas and the Americanization of the immigrant children pouring into the city. In Boston Pauline Agassiz Shaw persuaded the Boston School Committee to add her privately financed kindergartens to the city's public school system in 1888. Her aim was much like Richman's - to integrate the immigrant children in Boston into their new country. Francis W. Parker, also an advocate of progressive education, became principal of the Cook County Normal School in Chicago in 1883.  He trained his student teachers in the theory and methods of this new philosophy.     This decade saw the founding of the Tuskegee Institute by the famous African American scientist, Booker T. Washington.  The school placed emphasis on vocational training for its students.  Spelman College in Atlanta became the first liberal arts college for African-American women in 1881.





FLASH! The most popular names for children are John, William, Mary and Anna. FLASH! Southern states segregate 'colored' riders on trains and other transportations FLASH! Over 600 lynchings of African Americans during the decade. FLASH! 10 story Home Insurance Building built in Chicago FLASH! Clara Barton organizes the American Red Cross. FLASH! Secret ballot system introduced into U. S. FLASH! Electrocution replaces hanging as the official method of capital punishment in New York State. FLASH! October 28, 1886. Statue of Liberty dedicated in New York Harbor. FLASH! 1882. In Boston, a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe is lighted by electric incandescent light bulbs, the first such use of the new technology. FLASH! In New York, Edison's Pearl Street power company begins to supply electricity for the city.


Edison's Gramophone 1888Operas and operettas, particularly those by Gilbert and Sullivan, were traveling the country.  Lillian Russell had begun her rise to operatic stardom.  Burlesque, still a new form of entertainment, had up to this time, been a parody on popular operettas and stage productions of the day.  Shapely women showed as much leg as the law would allow, and witty humor was the mainstay.  But by the 1880's, the shows, comprised of ten to twenty acts, featured bawdy humor and a dance similar to the cancan.  Vaudeville began to separate itself from Burlesque, as Tony Pastor, often called the father of vaudeville, established a theater in New York where the entire family could enjoy a "straight, clean variety show."    "While Strolling Through the Park" began as a vaudeville song and later was a soft shoe dance routine.  Although many vaudeville performers got their start in Burlesque, only those who were washed up would return.  Ed Harrigan and Tony Hart originated musical comedies on Broadway.

The "Boston Classicists," a group of musicians including George Chadwick, Arthur Foote, Horatio Parker, Amy Beach and Arthur Whiting represented German Romanticism and classical harmony and counterpoint.

 John Philip Sousa, conductor of the US Marine Band, wrote Semper Fidelis in 1888, and the Washington Post March in 1889.   Thomas Edison incorporated other people's ideas into an improved phonograph that used wax cylinders in 1888.

Popular songs of the time included:
"Oh, My Darling Clementine"
"There is a Tavern in the Town"
"Sweet Violets"


Fashion of the 1880s, notice bustle.The melding of  American society into a national identity began in earnest during this decade.  Mass circulation publications with their advertising and their articles on fashion, foods, and activities, plus a national rail system with the ability to transport the advertized  items throughout the country, spread similar ideas and products across the continent.  The verb used with United States  changed from "are" to "is"  as the country became a whole, not a group of parts.  Some homes in the larger cities were now graced with such modern Coca Cola ad  1880s.conveniences as running water, gas, electricity, and sewer systems.  However, except for the wealthy, indoor plumbing was still in the future.  Outhouses and tin bathing tubs filled with water heated on the stove continued to be the norm.  Refrigerated railway cars now made it possible to ship fruits from Florida, citrus from California, and meat from the slaughterhouses of Chicago to any market with access to a rail line.  The American vegetable diet that had consisted mainly of potatoes and cabbage widened as produce was processed and moved cross country.  Tomatoes, previously thought poisonous, joined the new items in the 1880's kitchen.  Coca Cola made its entrance into the culture in 1886 as a "brain and nerve" tonic.  With the opening of mail order houses such as Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck, the housewife in the mid-west and her counterpart in the east could have access to the same products.  Dress became more uniform between regions and classes as reasonably priced ready-made clothing became available nation-wide.  Men adopted a more casual, comfortable mode of clothing as the sack suit became the attire of choice.  Fashionable women continued to wear more elaborate dress. The wire cage called a bustle was fastened around the waist and extended the dress out in the back.  A tightly laced corset gave them tiny waists and little room to breathe.  Poor and middle-class women whose main occupations were housework and child care wore dresses more suitable to their work.  Women were becoming more active outside the home in such areas as social reform and suffrage movements.  In 1889, Jane Addams founded the first settlement house in the United States to help immigrants adapt to their new country.  Americans entertained themselves in a variety of ways.  Sports such as baseball, golf, roller skating, and the newly developed game of football were pursued.  Exercise for women was still limited, but girls did partake in tennis, croquet, and seaside bathing.   By 1884, some 50,000 Americans owned bicycles. "The Buffalo Bill Wild West Show" opened its first performance on July 4, 1883.  Vaudeville shows were also popular.  The Stereoscope, or steriopticon, was a popular item on the parlor table.  Consumerism and the gospel of wealth had started taking hold of the American psyche.  In 1882, when asked whether he ran his railroad for the benefit of the public or his stockholders, William H. Vanderbilt replied, "The public be damned!"  No doubt where his priorities lay.  


Elevated railroad in NYC 1886The Brooklyn Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the world, opened forty six years after it was first proposed.  While working on the bridge, it's architect, John Roebling, was killed.  His son, Washington Roebling, took over but was incapacitated on the job.  Washington's wife, Emily, became chief engineer until its completion in 1883.  Within Manhattan, transportation was improved by an elevated railroad powered by steam engines.  Meanwhile, across the country where time had always been determined by the location of the sun or a prominent clock tower, railroads needed exact times for their schedules.  The country was divided into four time zones to accomodate the 87,000 miles of rail in operation.  Automobiles were still in the demonstration state, as Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz in Germany developed internal combustion cars and Philip W. Pratt of Boston designed the first electric automobile in 1887.  
Kodak camera with film, 1888
Thomas Edison developed the world's first electric power system, the Edison Electric Illumniating Company in 1882, using Direct Current.  Other engineers, including Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse, were proponents of Alternating Current.  When the governor of New York asked for a more humane execution method than hanging, Edison proposed electrocution - using alternating current!  Then the public would believe alternating current was too dangerous for use.  

George Eastman opened the world of amateur photography with the development of the box camera.  Roll film was sealed in the camera, which had to be returned to the factory for removal and developing.  Telescopes became ever more refined and powerful.  The Lick Observatory, built in 1888, had the most powerful telescope yet devised.

The field of medicine made great strides in prevention as opposed to treating disease.  The miasmatic theory of contagion was replaced by the infectious theory. The Marine Hospital Service Hygenic Laboratory, later to be come the National Institutes of Health, was established in 1887 as the first public health research center.  Edward Livingston Trudeau opened the Adirondack Cottage Sanatorium in 1885 to facilitate recovery from tuberculosis.  When it was discovered that swine fed with garbage developed trichinosis, cities began to use furnaces to dispose of garbage.   The Mayo Clinic opened in 1889.  The field of sociology began with contrasting theories of evolution.  Lester Frank Ward, believed that the human mind could take an active part in the process of human evolution, while William Graham Sumner thought only the fittest survived, and those who lived by hard work and individualism rose to the top.

Inventions and discoveries of the 1880s:
incancescent lamp | flat iron | petroleum jelly | fountain pen | loganberry                 


American society was becoming more modern.  Women took roles outside the home as opportunities in education, politics and work increased.  While immigrants to America brought skills, traditions and customs from their homelands, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Italy, China, and Ireland, people of different ethnicity, race and origins did not always blend successfully.  Anti-Catholicism, expressed by groups like the American Protective Association, and anti-Semitism, expressed by many Protestant Americans, took hold in communities across America.  In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act which suspended Chinese immigration for ten years.  William Graham Sumner wrote What Social Classes Owe to Each Other in 1883, promoting social Darwinism or natural selection in human society. Eugenicists who studied ways to improve hereditary characteristics, encouraged social engineering to eliminate human frailties through selective breeding, immigration barriers, and segregation.  Throughout the 1880's in the South, whites removed black officeholders and by using intimidation, poll taxes, literacy tests and violence effectively robbed blacks of their rights as citizens.  The Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 gradually eliminated tribal lands of the Native Americans and provided for the introduction of both Protestant and CatholicJane Addams portrait from the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, Chicago missionaries on reservations.

Rev. Josiah Strong, who wrote Our Country: Its Possible Future and Its Present Crisis  in 1885, represented Protestant leaders who viewed the newly crowded, annonymous cities as a particular challenge.  Evangelist Dwight L. Moody tried to improve the conditions of the poor in the cities by working with the Salvation Army.  The Third Plenary Council of America's Catholic Bishops held in Baltimore in 1884, established an administrative code, a parish-based education system and a planned establishment of a national Catholic university. The Jewish community in America also changed as the Reform movement, expressed in the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885, grew.  Conflicting views were held by Orthodox Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.

The Social Gospel Movement began to emerge as more and more protestant clergy began to question the unrestricted use of business power to exploit the working man where no competition existed. They viewed that power as un-Christian and a violation of basic Protestant virtue.  In 1886, workers began to unite for an 8-hour work day.  The Haymarket riot in Chicago was set off by police action on May day.  The Settlement-House movement established by Jane Addams's Hull House in 1889 sprang up to aid urban tenement residents, many of whom were immigrants and the working poor.  The Woman's Christian Temperance Union grew to greater prominence and drew more women out of their homes and into public life.  The WCTU eventually became a multi-issue movement including prison reform, labor reform and child-protection laws along with the anti-alcohol message.

Turn of the century exhibits - Newcomers 1880-1920 from the Memorial Hall Museum Online.


MLA Style
Sutton, Bettye, et al. "19th Century: 1880-1889." American Cultural History. Lone Star College-
    Kingwood Library, 2003. Web. 1 Mar. 2011.
Chicago Style

Sutton, Bettye, Sue Goodwin, Becky Bradley, Shielda Welling and Peggy Whitley. "19th Century:
    1880-1889." American Cultural History
. Lone Star College-Kingwood Library. Last modified
    August 2010.
APA Style 
Sutton, B., Goodwin, S., Bradley, B., Welling, S. and Whitley, P. (2010). 19th Century: 1880-1889.
    American Cultural History
. Lone Star College-Kingwood Library, Kingwood, TX. Retrieved from

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