A Developing World/ Immigration 1870s-1900


The United States in the years between 1870-1900 developed or grew considerably in economic, cultural and technology terms. Cities expanded past the streets and farms around/in cities turned into housing developments overnight. Population (the number of people) rose tremendously with new babies and lots of new immigrants. Immigrants are people from other countries that move to a new country for a better life.

All these new people and immigrants need jobs to support their families, and lucky for them America had lots of jobs, because the country was getting big. America needed goods from factories, food from farms and people for workers. Immigrants came to big cities, like Boston, Washington DC, New York and San Francisco, and brought their own culture, language and customs.



People in other countries, such as Russia, Italy and Ireland, had a hard time. Many were poor, hungry and unemployed. They came to America to find a better life. They brought the few things they owed and most spent the little money they had on a boat ticket to America. Back then there was not much help for them (most of them didn’t know English or have a job lined up), so they moved to neighborhoods with their same people. Irish stayed in Irish neighborhoods; Chinese lived in Chinatown. Irish recruitment agencies and boarding houses helped Irish immigrants find jobs.

Native English speaking Americans discriminated against new immigrants with insults and discrimination. Irish and Italian Immigrants, for example, were frequently denied jobs and housing.


Despite these difficulties, immigrants coming to the United States worked hard, saved money and gradually through several generations improved the lives of their children. Now most people cannot recognize immigrants from 100 years ago in the United States. They learned English though slowly and with many accents (that’s why many New York people speak differently). Of course, immigrants caused many difficulties in the United States creating ghettos, increasing crime in some cases and due to their poverty spreading trash/disease in some cities.

The clip below shows a young immigrant boy from Sicily coming to America for the first time. What are some of the difficulties he experienced?


The late 1800s and 1900s saw the United States expand tremendously in economics, population and industry. New lands to the West opened up and people rushed to fill them. This required railroads to cross the country. Huge quantities of food were grown to feed massive groups of people, so farms spread across the country, especially in the center.

For more information about the Wild West:


Meanwhile, on the East Coast (us) factories produced clothes, steel, ships, railroads, shoes etc. They were large, unsafe, dangerous and paid very little.

As cities got bigger– their problems got bigger.

Before toilets, people used buckets to remove waste. In a small city like Boston in 1776, it was a smelly inconvenience. People usually emptied the buckets on the street– it smelled bad and you had to watch where you were walking. In cities, like New York in 1900s, with millions of people, small rivers of sewage would cover the street and poison the water supply. They needed sewers to empty the waste.

This was the beginning of a field we call urban planning. Laws were passed to limit how many people could live in a house or where they could be built.

How people do you see living in this room?

All these new people had to live somewhere, so they moved into tenements or really cheap and crowded apartment buildings.

Apartments were small and cramped. That many people living together also increases the chances for disease. It was very dirty and noisy.

This is an entire apartment. There is no bathroom– that was outside or down the hall (you shared with about 20 other people). The kitchen is to the right (the stove and only the stove). One bed (everyone else slept on the floor). Bigger families could sometimes get a separate bedroom for parents.

DC Growth

DC was different from other major US cities, because it did not receive huge amounts of immigrants from around the world. But many did come and start their lives here.

The factories were very important for Maryland. Baltimore was a manufacturing hub or center where they made things. Bethesda, Maryland was the capital of steel. They invented new processes for steel and manufactured it on an immense scale. To run the steam engines they needed coal (Western Maryland and Virginia) and wood (Western Maryland), and they shipped the steel from Baltimore and other ports to other places in the country. The steel was then made into different things, like knives, pots or shovels– this is called manufacturing.

Some examples of what the machines looked like: introduction and 4 minutes.


Different types of energy used for the economy.

You can see the transition from wood to coal to oil in the last 150 years. This need for fuel has shaped the economy. The mid 1800s saw a push for new forests and untouched land.

In the 1900s, coal was the fuel for steam engines. Miners dug this out of the mountains. It was dirty and dangerous work.

Now we depend on oil for our fuel, although coal is still mined in many places.


Maps of DC







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