Progressive Era Urbanization Cory You | American History 2 | Period 2

As the industrial United States developed throughout the late 19th century, or the "Gilded Age", economic and social prosperity led to the widespread urbanization of significant American populations. In 1860, only 9 cities had more than 100,000 people living in them and around 6 million people lived in urban areas. By 1930, those numbers grew tenfold to 93 major cities and 69 million people living in urban regions.

Shoppers on Sixth Avenue, New York City | Credit: Library of Congress


Louis Sullivan was the first architect to design and build skyscrapers, which were supported by industrial steel. He coined the phrase "Form follows function."

Commercial/Retail Stores

As America transitioned from a mostly agricultural society to an industrial one, workers began to acquire far greater wealth. Because people now had disposable income to spend, shopping centers, department stores, restaurants, and chain stores such as Frank W. Woolworth's "dimestores" popped up all over during the Progressive Era.


Innovative transportation systems were developed and widely adopted, heavily influencing typical Americans' day-to-day lifestyle.

Public Safety

City life markedly improved as professional police forces and firefighters were hired to keep people safe from crime and disaster.


All of these revolutionary improvements to urban cities brought pervasive consumerism and bred the American middle class. Industrialization made the United States' GDP skyrocket from $9.11 billion to $104.4 billion during the Progressive Era.


The mass migration of people into the cities enriched some people but caused severe problems for others. Lured by the promise of prosperity, many rural families and immigrants from throughout the world arrived in the cities to work in the factories. It is estimated that by 1904 one in three people living in the cities was close to starving to death. For many of the urban poor, living in the city resulted in a decreased quality of life. With few city services to rely upon, the working class lived daily with overcrowding, inadequate water facilities, unpaved streets, and disease. Lagging far behind the middle class, working class wages provided little more than subsistence living and few, if any, opportunities for movement out of the city slums.

Works Cited

"Cities in the Progressive Era - American Memory Timeline- Classroom Presentation | Teacher Resources - Library of Congress." Cities in the Progressive Era - Library of Congress. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2017. <>.

“Immigration, Urbanization, and Identity: The Progressive Era City.” Essential Lens. n.d. PDF. 23 Feb. 2017.

Jackson, Bill. “Improvement in the cities - progressive era.” The Social Studies Help Center. 2001. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.

Hansan, John E. “Progressive era - social welfare history project.” Civil War, Reconstruction, and Progressivism. Social Welfare History Project, 20 Jan. 2011. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.

SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on The Gilded Age & the Progressive Era (1877–1917).” SparkNotes LLC. 2005. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.

Chauncey, Sarah A. “The progressive movement.” Digital Pencil. 2005. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.

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