The Wealthy 1815-1914

E-Swizzle + G-Spice

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Capitalism Diagram

“To invent something in a laboratory is one thing; to make it a practical success is quite another. Watt needed skilled workers, precision parts, and capital, and the relatively advanced nature of the British economy proved essential.” (731)

How Society Had Changed...

  • the industrial revolution and free, global markets of the time led to a production explosion.
  • capitalism took command as the prevailing economic theory governing Europe.
  • the putting out system was replaced by enormous factories, which allowed the rich to more effectively exploit the poor.

“ The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors,’ and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment.’” (Marx)


“It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value…” (Marx)


  • amongst the people, culture and the old social ties that had entangled society for centuries were replaced by cold hard cash payment.


“The product of an age of progress that had transformed what were once rural societies into modern industrial nations through unprecedented economic, territorial, industrial, and population expansions, the aristocracy wanted to make sure that their privileged position remained intact.” (La Belle Epoque: The Twilight of the 19th century)

The Newly Rich



  • Being part of the upper crust was now defined only by your money, not your family or social status.
  • It was increasingly difficult for a young mechanic to start a small enterprise and end up as wealthy manufacturer...you needed a formal education, which was available only to the upper classes.

  • Those who did remain or become rich during this period were aggressive capitalists who ignored traditional work rules and flooded their trades with unorganized women and children workers to lower wages.
  • The newly rich were proud and self-satisfied industrialists of the time originally from merchant families, the middle class, and skilled artisanry.
  • Note the contrast between the wealthy of the revolutionary era, who were more interested in morals and reform than selfish economic expansion.


“On the one hand, the old aristocracy of birth and inheritance was being replaced by a new one of wealth and economic power. The intensely class-conscious long-established aristocracy regarded the newly rich as ‘vulgar’.” (La Belle Epoque: The Twilight of the 19th century)

Few ways in which being rich was less exclusive…

“Another factor which inevitably destroyed la belle époque was progress...technology and machines had a liberating force on society once they become accessible to all. Furthermore, technology created new economic and educational prospects for everyone.” (La Belle Epoque: The Twilight of the 19th Century)



  • Now people of any class could invest in new companies. In Prussia, the government guaranteed that it would pay interest on Railroad bonds, so there was little risk for the investors, and capital was quickly increased.




  • Concept of Economic Freedom→ the government had little control on the domestic economy during this time, it encouraged personal initiative, technical change, and free market
  • It was also possible for anyone to invest in banks as the theory of limited liability appeared, a stockholder could only lose his original investment in the bank’s common stock & couldn’t be assessed for additional losses, so banks attracted many shareholders, large & small



“...has set up that single, unconscionable freedom— Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.” (Marx)

La Belle Époque

...picking up from a previous quote, the wealthy wanted to ensure that their "privileged position remained intact"...


“ Rather than admitting that their values and lifestyles had to evolve to meet the challenges of the new age, the tradition-bound elite embraced very rigid forms of behavior devoid of any authenticity.” (La Belle Epoque: The Twilight of the 19th century)


  • It was an age of power and awe, as captured in the paintings of Claude Monet & Joseph Turner and train stations/cathedrals of the time.
  • People with old money were so suspicious of the new form of industry & changes it wrought that they did little to encourage it…

Some Thinkers of the Time Period...

Thomas Malthus (Essay on the Principle of Population)

  • (Essay on the Principle of Population) argued that population would always grow faster than the food supply, believed the only way to check the population growth was “prudential restraint” → marry late in life


"The rich, by unfair combinations, contribute frequently to prolong a season of distress among the poor." (Thomas Malthus)


"The constant effort towards population, which is found even in the most vicious societies, increases the number of people before the means of subsistence are increased." (Thomas Malthus)

David Ricardo

  • Ricardo was a wealthy english stockbroker/leading economist who formulated the Iron law of wages, which presented the idea that because of population growth, wages would always sink to the subsistence level, so wages would always be just high enough to keep workers from starving.


"The exchangeable value of all commodities, rises as the difficulties of their production increase." David Ricardo


“It is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state, that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him. Society can no longer live under this bourgeoisie, in other words, its existence is no longer compatible with society.” (Marx)

Friedrich List

  • List was a dedicated nationalist who considered the growth of modern industry of utmost importance, as manufacturing was a primary means of increasing people’s wellbeing & relieving their poverty.


“Industry entirely left to itself, would soon fall to ruin, and a nation letting everything alone would commit suicide.” (Friedrich List)


"Look around, and you see everywhere the exertions and acts of individuals restricted, regulated, or promoted, on the principle of the common welfare." (Friedrich List)


"The more a person learns how to use the forces of nature for his own purposes, by means of perfecting the sciences and the invention and improvement of machines, the more he will produce." (Friedrich List)

“The growth of industry posed enormous challenges for all elements of Western society, from young factory workers confronting relentless discipline to aristocratic elites maneuvering to retain political power” (787).

Urban Growth

Why did the upper class migrate from peaceful, rural areas to the growing cities?


“Thereupon, steam and machinery revolutionised industrial production. The place of manufacture was taken by the giant, Modern Industry, the place of the industrial middle class, by industrial millionaires, the leaders of whole industrial armies, the modern bourgeois." (Marx)


  • rich were drawn to the areas that allowed them to become even wealthier through involvement in industrial work (factory owners and manufacturers)


Did the upper class experience poor housing and sanitation, just like the poor did?


The upper class lived charmed, urban lives with an extravagance of wealth to shield them from many of the dangers found in the cities.




Although the upper class abandoned large, spacious estates, they remained imbedded in traditionalism, illustrated in their reluctance to modernize.

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Class Struggles Related to Industrialization

All people, from the poorest classes who were most directly affected by wretched urban conditions, to the wealthiest people, wanted major changes in regard to city life.


Different economic situations led to increased differences in living conditions between the upper, middle, and lower classes, which only stimulated greater class tensions.


  • The distribution of income in Europe was incredibly unequal.
  • The richest 5% received 33% of all national income, while the richest 20% received 50-60% of all national income.
  • The working classes received less income altogether than the two wealthiest classes, even though they did most of the “dirty work” in Europe.
  • Since taxes rarely affected the incomes of the upper class, a significant gap between the rich and the poor existed.


The great gap between rich and poor endured, in part, because industrial and urban development made society more diverse and less unified.”

"The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guildmaster and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, that each time ended, either in the revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.” (Marx)

Upper Middle Class & Aristocracy

The upper middle class grew into a more aristocratic population, as they were fully accepted by the nobility with their “shared interest in country homes and servants, and other unnecessary displays of wealth."


  • Why did the aristocracy welcome a growing upper middle class? Aristocrats were a dying breed, which was a byproduct of industrialization, thus they enjoyed a new population of people that were becoming more involved in life's delicacies (“delighted to trade titles, country homes, and snobbish elegance for good hard cash”).

  • The upper middle class shared aristocratic ideals with the upper class (manners, education, religion).

Does this dress make me look rich?

Wealthy women wore expensive dresses, beautifully adorned and exquisitely tailored so that each dress-wearer seemingly exuded wealth and power over her inferiors, pronounced in the graphic below.
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Sexual Promiscuity in the Cities

Unmarried people used new types of contraception so that they could have sex, without increased risk of pregnancy...and scandal.
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Upper and middle class men were the most common customers to the city brothels where men “indulged their appetites for prostitutes and sexual promiscuity” (806).


My Secret Life, written by an anonymous author, shockingly illustrated this burgeoning age of sexual promiscuity in urban areas. It tells the story of a wealthy man feeding his hunger for pleasure by paying for time spent with prostitutes. The encounters illustrated in the book display almost a business deal between both parties: the man willing to pay for sex and the prostitute willing to put-out for money. It “reveals the dark side of sex and class in urban society” (807).


  • Marriage was also a business-like deal, so men rarely felt like they were truly cheating their wives since they didn’t look at their marriage as a substantial union.
  • Rape often occurred between wealthy men and inferior women (usually laborers).


However, industrialization greatly changed the role of women in society. While women remained to be viewed as property, the principles of marriage changed. Rather than a marriage of convenience, people began marrying for actual love (sexual attraction is finally deemed more important than money/property)!

Age of Motherhood

Women finally took ownership of their motherly duties and “early emotional bonding and a willingness to make real sacrifices for the welfare of the infant were beginning to spread among the comfortable classes by the end of the eighteenth century…” (810)


  • Women breastfed their newborn infants. The age of the wet nurse was over!

  • Parents became more concerned in their elder children as well.

  • By reducing the number of children a couple had, the better they could improve the economic and social position of their children. In making this sacrifice, children were able to explore different activities.

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Evolution

Evolution, the idea extensively described by Charles Darwin, had a major impact on European thought, especially for those that were at the top of the food chain in European society.


The poor were the ill-fated weak; the prosperous were the chosen strong.”


  • idea produced by Herbert Spencer
  • relates to Social Darwinism - "survival of the fittest"
  • perpetuated capitalism


According to Spencer’s logic, the wealthy were the strongest in society, since they were at the top of the pyramid, so to speak.


“Living in isolation from the rest of society, the elite indulged in every kind of privilege, luxury and extravagance as living proof that they were above the rest.” (La Belle Epoque)

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How does realism relate to Social Darwinism?

"Balzac pictures urban society as grasping, amoral, brutal, characterized by a Darwinian struggle for wealth and power."
Coal, Steam, and The Industrial Revolution: Crash Course World History #32
Capitalism and Socialism: Crash Course World History #33