What Was The Gilded Age?

The Breakers, the summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, located in Newport, Rhode Island, United States. (UpstateNYer/Wikimedia Commons)

The Gilded Age, known for its opulence, industrialization, and rapid population growth, was an era in American history that lasted from the 1870s to the turn of the 20th century. It was the time of the great so-called "captains of industry" like J.D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, and Andrew Carnegie, who built skyscrapers and railroads and amassed significant wealth. People from all over the world looked to America as the land of opportunity and progress, and immigration skyrocketed as people began moving to the States in droves.

If you scratch the surface, however, you'll find that all that glittering wealth was just a thin veneer covering severe inequality and labor conflicts (hence the "Gilded" Age rather than "Golden"). While the G.D.P. soared, the rapid industrialization responsible for it only benefited a very few elites who used ruthless and sometimes violent tactics to monopolize their industry, earning the "captains of industry" another, less savory nickname, the "robber barons."