"We must abolish everything that bears even the semblence of privelige."
Message to Congress, April 8, 1913
Between two great wars - the Civil War and the first World War - the United States of America came of age. In a period of less than fifty years, it was transformed from a rural republic to an urban state. The frontier had vanished. Great factories and steel mills, transcontinental railroad lines, flourishing cities, vast agricultural holdings marked the land. And in them came accompanying evils: monopolies tended to develop, factory working conditions were poor, cities developed so quickly that they could not properly house or govern their teeming populations, factory production sometimes outran practical consumption. Reaction against these abuses came from America's people and from her political leaders - Cleveland, Bryan, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson. Their powerfully articulated reforms, idealistic in philosophy but realistic in execution, accepted the dictum that "legislation may begin where an evil begins." Indeed, the accomplishments of the period of reform served effectively to check the wrongs engendered in the period of expansion.
"The Civil War," says one writer, "cut a white gash through the history of the country; it dramatized in a stroke the changes that had begun to take place during the preceding twenty or thirty years. . . ." War needs had enormously stimulated manufacturing and had speeded up an economic process whose fundamental factors were the exploitation of iron, steam, and electrical power, and the forward march of science and invention.
The 36,000 patents granted before 1860 were but a pale forerunner of the flood of inventions to follow. From 1860 to 1890, 440,000 patents were issued, and in the first quarter of the twentieth century, the number reached nearly a million. The principle of the dynamo, which was developed as early as 1831, revolutionized American life after 1880, when Thomas Edison and others made its use practical. After Samuel F. B. Morse perfected electrical telegraphy in 1844, distant parts of the continent were soon linked by a network of poles and wires. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell exhibited a telephone instrument and, within half a century, 16,000,000 telephones were accelerating the social and economic life of the nation. The tempo of business was quickened too by the invention of the typewriter in 1867, the adding machine in 1888, and the cash register in 1897. The linotype composing machine, invented in 1886, the rotary press, and paper-folding machinery made it possible to print 240,000 eight-page newspapers in an hour. After 1880, Edison's incandescent lamp brought to millions of homes better, safer, cheaper light than had ever been known beforeA The talking machine was also perfected by Edison who, in conjunction with George Eastman, developed the motion picture. These, and the many other applications of science and ingenuity, resulted in a new level of productivity in virtually all fields.
Concurrently, the basic industry of the nation - iron and steel - was forging ahead, protected by a high tariff. Previously concentrated near deposits in the eastern states, the iron industry moved westward as geologists discovered new ore deposits. Especially notable was the great Mesabi iron range at the head of Lake Superior which, within a short time, proved one of the greatest ore producers in the world. The ore lay on the surface of the ground and was easy and cheap to mine. Remarkably free of chemical impurities, it could be processed under the new converter or open-hearth methods into steel of superior quality at a price of thirtyfive dollars instead of the previously prevailing cost of three hundred dollars a ton.