Industrial Revolution Conflicts

Growth of Cities

Industrialization brought with it urbanization, or city growth. Most of the nation’s new industries were located in cities. Immigrants and rural Americans flocked to these industrial centers looking for jobs. Chicago, for example, more than tripled its population between 1880 and 1900.


As cities swelled with workers, demand for cheap housing exploded. To meet this demand, developers threw up cheap apartment buildings called tenements. One person described tenements as “great prison-like structures of brick, with narrow doors and windows, cramped passages and steep, rickety stairs.” By 1900, about two thirds of New Yorkers lived in such buildings.


A poor family might occupy just one or two rooms in a tenement, usually with no heat or water. Friends or family often took in newcomers who arrived in cities without money for rent. As a result, tenement neighborhoods were some of the most heavily populated areas on Earth.


Tenements were unclean and even dangerous places to live. Only a few rooms had windows to provide light and fresh air. The rest were dark and airless. In some tenements, the only source of water was a single faucet in a courtyard. Many lacked sewer services. In such conditions, diseases such as typhoid and cholera spread quickly, killing infants and young children. Fire was another constant worry.


As cities expanded, urban land costs shot up. In New York, land that had sold for $80 in 1804 was selling for $8000 by 1880. Such prices inspired builders to construct more building space on less land by going upward. Using lightweight steel beams to support walls and ceilings, builders constructed skyscrapers that rose ten or more stories into the air. Electric elevators whisked people and freight effortlessly from floor to floor.


The rapid growth of the cities produced serious problems. Terrible overcrowding in tenement districts created sanitation and health problems. Garbage accumulated in city streets. Filth created a breeding ground for disease. Typhoid, malaria, and a host of other medical conditions would rip through communities since many of those people living there were too poor to afford good medical care.


The poverty in the cities also led to crime. Orphans and homeless children sometimes resorted to picking pockets and other crimes. Gangs roaming the poor neighborhoods committed more serious crimes.


New social classes emerged due to urbanization during the industrial revolution. The entrepreneurs as well as the business people gained enormous wealth. This led to a class divide, where the workers in the factories became the have-nots and the factory owners, with their huge wealth became the haves.

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