Week 4: Imperialism
Welcome to HST 202 Week Four! This is the fourth learning module looking at Imperialism in the United States.
Carnes, Chapter 22: From Isolation to Empire
Schweikart Chapter 13 “Building Best, Building Greatly, 1896–1912”
A popular 1901 magazine, Current Literature, collated available census data about American males at the turn of the century. It reported that the typical American man was British by ancestry, with traces of German; was five feet nine inches tall (or about two inches taller than average European males); and had three living children and one who had died in infancy. A Protestant, the average American male was a Republican, subscribed to a newspaper, and lived in a two-story, seven-room house. His estate was valued at about $5,000, of which $750 was in a bank account or other equities. He drank more than seven gallons of liquor a year, consumed seventy-five gallons of beer, and smoked twenty pounds of tobacco. City males earned about $750 a year, farmers about $550, and they paid only 3 percent of their income in taxes. Compared to their European counterparts,Americans were vastly better off, leading the world with a per capita income of $227 as opposed to the British male’s $181 and a Frenchman’s $161—partially because of lower taxes (British men paid 9 percent of their income, and the French, 12 percent).
Standard income for industrial workers averaged $559 per year; gas and electricity workers earned$543 per year; and even lower-skilled labor was receiving $484 a year.2 Of course, people in unusual or exceptional jobs could make a lot more money. Actress Sarah Bernhardt in 1906 earned $1 million for her movies, and heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson took home a purse of $5,000 when he won the Heavyweight Boxing Championship of 1908. Even more “normal” (yet still specialized) jobs brought high earnings. The manager of a farm-implement department could command $2,000 per year in 1905 or an actuary familiar with western insurance could make up to $12,000 annually, according to ads in the New York Times.
What did that buy? An American in 1900 spent $30 a year on clothes, $82 for food, $4 for doctors and dentists, and gave $9 to religion and welfare. A statistic that might horrify modern readers, however, shows that tobacco expenditures averaged more than $6, or more than personal care and furniture put together! A quart of milk went for 6 cents, a pound of pork for nearly 17 cents, and a pound of rice for 8 cents; for entertainment, a good wrestling match in South Carolina cost 25cents, and a New York opera ticket to Die Meistersinger cost $1.50.
A working woman earned about $365 a year, and she spent $55 on clothes, $78 on food, and $208 on room and board.4 Consider the example of Mary Kennealy, an unmarried Irish American clerk in Boston, who made $7 a week (plus commissions) and shared a bedroom with one of the children in the family she boarded with. (The family of seven, headed by a loom repairman, earned just over $1,000 a year, and had a five-room house with no electricity or running water.) At work Kennealy was not permitted to sit; she put in twelve to sixteen hours a day during a holiday season. Although more than 80 percent of the clerks were women, they were managed by men, who trusted them implicitly. One executive said, “We never had but four dishonest girls, and we’ve had to discharge over 40 boys in the same time.” “Boys smoke and lose at cards,” the manager dourly noted…
..Until 1900, employees like Kennealy usually took electric trolleys to work, although Boston opened the first subway in the United States in 1898, and low-paid workers could enjoy the many public parks—Boston was among the nation’s leaders in playground and park space. Bicycles, though available, remained expensive (about a hundred dollars, or more than a quarter of a year’s wage for someone like Kennealy), and thus most people still depended on either city transportation or their own feet to get them to work. Nevertheless, the economic progress was astonishing. Here were working-class women whose wages and lifestyle exceeded that of most European men by the end of Teddy Roosevelt’s second term. The improvement in the living conditions of average Americans was so overwhelming that even one of the godfathers of communism, Leon Trotsky, who lived in New York City just a few years later, in 1917, recalled:
We rented an apartment in a workers’ district, and furnished it on the installment plan. That apartment, at $18 a month, was equipped with all sorts of conveniences that we Europeans were quite unused to: electric lights, gas cooking-range, bath, telephone, automatic service-elevator, and even a chute for the garbage.
This prosperity baffled socialists like the German August Bebel, who predicted in 1907, “Americans will be the first to usher in a Socialist republic.”7 Yet by the year 2000, two historians of socialism in America concluded, “No socialist candidate has ever become a vehicle for major protest in the United States.”
The prosperity that short-circuited the socialists and dumbfounded the communists was the end product of a thirty-year spurt, marred only by the two panics. During that burst, American steel producers climbed atop world markets. National wealth doubled in the 1890s, and in 1892 the United States attained a favorable balance of trade. By 1908, American investments overseas reached $2.5 billion, and would soar to $3.5 billion in less than a decade. The president of the American Bankers’ Association boasted in 1898, “We hold…three of the winning cards in the game of commercial greatness, to wit—iron, steel, and coal.”
The excesses of the Gilded Age, both outrageous and mesmerizing, concealed, as most people knew, a widespread prosperity generated by the most amazing engine of growth ever seen. The number of patents, which passed the one-million mark in 1911, rewarded invention and innovation. Brilliant engineers like Carnegie’s Julian Kennedy had more than half of his hundred patents in actual operation in Carnegie’s steel mills during his lifetime. American innovation enabled factory workers to maintain rising real wages, enabled agriculture to consistently expand production, and generated enough wealth that waves of immigrants came in, and kept on coming. It was something Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle could not explain: if things were so bad, why did people so desperately try to get here?
Remember all assignments, tests and quizzes must be submitted official via BLACKBOARD
Forum Discussion #5
The United States occupation of Haiti began on July 28, 1915, when 330 US Marines landed at Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on the authority of US President Woodrow Wilson. The first invasion forces had already disembarked from USS Montana on January 27; 1914.The July intervention took place following the murder of Dictator President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam by insurgents angered by his political murders of elite opposition. The occupation ended on August 1, 1934, after President Franklin D. Roosevelt reaffirmed an August 1933 disengagement agreement. The last contingent of US Marines departed on August 15, 1934, after a formal transfer of authority to the Garde d'Haïti.
Watch this old newsreel and answer the following question:
Is the occupation of Haiti (1915-1934) considered a success? Why or why not? Were the rebels justified in their actions?
Need help? Remember the Discussion Board Rubric.
Ryan Lancaster wears many hats. Dive into his website to learn about history, sports, and more!