The Progressive Era: America in 1900s

The early 1900s is not a time that most people would easily remember, like the 60s or the 80s. But this ten-year period is still a meaningful time in our country´s history. It was a time in which the country was struggling economically. We also have the 1900s to thank for all the modern conveniences and advanced technology that we have applied to our everyday lives. In the beginning, I knew nothing about this decade. But as I did more research, I began to see some connections between my chosen topics.

I saw how in times of hardship, Americans worked hard to solve the problems that they faced and thought of creative, life-changing ways to usher the country into a more modern age.

One of the most prominent events of the 1900s was industrialization. It was also the time that contained most of the events of the Progressive Era. “Progressivism began as a social movement and grew into a political movement” (The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, The Progressive Era).

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“Progressivism was built on a vibrant grassroots foundation, from the Social Gospel and the labor movements to women’s suffrage and civil rights to environmentalism, antiwar activism, and gay rights” (Halpin and Cook, Social Movements and Progressivism).

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“The activists and leaders of these movements believed deeply in the empowerment and equality of the less privileged in society, the primacy of democracy in American life, and the notion that government should safeguard the common good from unchecked individual and commercial greed” (Social Movements and Progressivism). “They challenged the government to eliminate its own legal injustices and also harnessed the force of the government as a vital tool for advancing human freedom and establishing the ‘more perfect union’ envisioned by the Founding Fathers”( Social Movements and Progressivism). “One of the main issues addressed by the Progressive Movement was labor conditions, especially for children” (Rodgers, The Progressive Era to the New Era, 1900-1929).

Other movements took place during the 1900s as well. One organization that dealt with civil rights was the Niagara Movement. “The Niagara Movement was a civil rights group organized by W.E.B DuBois and William Monroe Trotter in 1905”(Christensen, Niagara Movement (1905-1909)). “In the summer of 1905, 29 prominent African Americans, including DuBois, met secretly in Fort Erie, Ontario near Niagara Falls, and drew up a manifesto calling for civil liberties, abolition of racial discrimination, and recognition of human brotherhood” (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, Niagara Movement).“The movement attempted to bring about legal change, addressing the issues of crime, economics, religion, health, and education”(Christensen, Niagara Movement (1905-1909)).“The Niagara Movement drafted a ‘Declaration of Principles’, part of which stated: ‘We refuse to allow the impression to remain that the Negro-American assents to inferiority, is submissive under oppression and apologetic before insults’” (Christensen, Social Welfare History Project).

The Socialist Party of America also had a big impact in the early 1900s. “The Socialist Party was included in the Progressive Movement. The party dealt with American problems in an American manner” (United States History, Socialism in America). African Americans were also involved with the party. “ Within the SPA, there were two main thoughts about the role of African Americans: One was that it could broaden the movement by downplaying racism and oppression.The other was that the party condemn racism and work to fight for its eradication” (Azikiwe, African Americans and the Struggle for Socialism).

The 1900s also went through some cultural changes. One movement that was introduced to American society was the Pentecostal Movement. “The modern Pentecostal movement began after 1901 in the U.S. through the preaching and teaching of Charles Fox Parham (1873-1929) and William J. Seymour (1870-1922)” (Espinosa, Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement | Timeline). “The modern movement in the U.S. traces its roots to 19th-century Protestant evangelicalism” (Espinosa, Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement | Timeline). “ The 1906 revival at Azusa Street, Los Angeles marked the second phase of the Pentecostals’ origins” (Stephens, Assessing the Roots of American Pentecostalism). Those who followed this movement spoke two different languages. The first was called xenolalia, which was a divinely given language that no one had ever studied, and the second was called glossolalia, which was a language given only to God (Espinosa, Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement | Timeline).

Cultural and political movements in the 1900s, like all movements in history, helped shape the country to what it is to this day. They introduced new ideas, beliefs, and also worked to find a solution to ongoing problems across the country. For example, without the Niagara Movement, the NAACP may have never been formed. It is fascinating to know where the organizations we have to this day originated from. These movements show how dedicated and hardworking Americans can be. They will go to great lengths to ensure that their future and their children’s future are bright and full of any and all opportunities that they can take advantage of.

When I was researching these 20th century movements, I noticed how they were all relatively connected. The Progressive Era, as most would already know, had the biggest impact on America in the 1900s with all of the unsafe working conditions, low wages for workers, and child labor. From this, other movements like the Socialist Party and the Niagara Movement came to be. Their work was inspired by their desire for change; for a society that was much better than the one they were living in.

Other than the cultural and political changes, the 1900s is also known as the birth of modern technology. This was the decade when some of the things we use in our daily lives were created. One invention that had a very big effect on America in the 1900s was that of the Bakelite. “In 1907, Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite, the first fully synthetic plastic, meaning it contained no molecules found in nature”(Science History Institute, The History and Future of Plastics). “Bakelite is a thermosetting resin-that is, once molded,, it retains its shape even if heated or subjected to various solvents” (American Chemical Society, Bakelite First Synthetic Plastic). “ It was also particularly suitable for the emerging electrical and automobile industries because of its extraordinarily high resistant to not only electricity but heat and chemical action” (Bakelite First Synthetic Plastic). “On June 18, 1907, Baekeland began a new laboratory notebook documenting the results of tests in which he applied a phenol and formaldehyde mixture to various pieces of wood”(Bakelite First Synthetic Plastic). “Baekeland made the first public announcement of his invention on February 8, 1909, in a lecture before the New York section of the American Chemical Society”( Bakelite First Synthetic Plastic).

This invention had one of the most substantial effects on the 1900s. Plastic began to be used for making items such as food containers, cups, bottles, and bags. It was a much more convenient way for people to carry their belongings and reduce the amount of water they needed to use for cleaning. To this day, plastic is still widely used in America, with more and more corporations making profits from plastic products and more consumers purchasing these products to make their lives a little more convenient for them.

One very popular invention made in the 1900s was that of the first powered airplane by Wright Brothers Wilbur and Orville. “Near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first successful flight in the history of self-propelled, heavier-than-air aircraft”(, First Airplane Flies). “After exhaustingly researching other engineers’ efforts to build a heavier-than-air aircraft, the Wright Brothers wrote to the U.S. Weather Bureau inquiring about a suitable place to conduct glider tests. They settled on Kitty Hawk, an isolated village on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, which offered steady winds and sand dunes from which to glide the land softly” (First Airplane Flies). “To design their first powered airplane, which they simply called the Flyer, the Wrights returned to their wind tunnel data and the lift and drag equations. To carry the weight of an engine propellers, and added structural reinforcement, they had to increase the wing area of 500 square feet” (The Wright Brothers| The First Successful Airplane). Building their airplane was a lot of work for the Wright Brothers, but in the end, their work paid off. On December 17, 1903, the Wrights were ready to put the Flyer to work. “At 10:35 a.m, the Flyer lifted off the launching rail with Orville at the controls. The overly sensitive elevator controls caused the Flyer to dart up and down as it sailed slowly over the sand, coming to rest with a thud 120 feet from where it had taken off” (The Wright Brothers| The First Successful Airplane). “The flight was short-only 12 seconds- but it was a true flight nevertheless. A human had flown” (The Wright Brothers| The First Successful Airplane).

Another invention that took the nation by storm in the 1900s was the invention of the air conditioner. “The first modern air conditioner was invented in 1902 by Willis Carrier, a skilled engineer who began experimenting with the laws of humidity control to solve an application problem at a printing plant in Brooklyn, NY” (Varrasi, Global Cooling: The History of Air Conditioning). “Borrowing from the concepts of mechanical refrigeration established in earlier years, Carrier’s system sent air through coil filled with cold water, cooling the air while at the same time removing moisture to control room humidity” (Varrasi, Global Cooling: The History of Air Conditioning). After the drawings for Carrier’s system were created on July 17, 1902, nothing was ever the same again (Willis Carrier-The Invention that Changed the World). From that point on, Americans were able to relax and stay cool on otherwise hot and uncomfortable days.

An inventor named Henry Ford also put together a development that changed the lives of 20th century Americans. His invention was the Model T, the first automated car. “The Model T, also known as ‘Tin Lizzie’ changed the way Americans lived, worked, and traveled” (, Model T). “The Model T spawned mass ‘automobility’, altering our living patterns, our leisure activities, our landscape, and even our atmosphere” (Casey and Harrington, Model T: 1908-1927). “The Model T was offered in several body styles, including a five seat touring car, a two seat runabout, and a seven seat town car, All bodies were mounted on a uniforms 100-inch-wheelbase chassis” (, Model T). “One key to the Model T’s success was a simple thing like ample ground clearance, which allowed it to deal with the terrible conditions of rural roads” (Model T: 1908-1927). “Henry Ford’s revolutionary advancements in assembly-line automobile manufacturing made the Model T the first car to be affordable for a majority of Americans” (, Model T). “The real key to the Model T’s importance lies in Henry Ford’s oft-quoted desire to ‘build a car for the great multitude…so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one’”(Model T:1908-1927).

These inventions were the beginning of the modern era in the 1900s. They changed the way Americans conducted their lives and pulled them away from their old traditions. The Wright Brothers’ airplane and the Model T introduced a new way to travel and significantly cut down the time it would take to travel by train. Other inventions like the Bakelite and the air conditioner provided many benefits for Americans.

The movements and technology of the 1900s have many connections with each other. Since this decade was when the country was in the Progressive Era, the need for change was very prominent. From this reform movement, other movements branched out, like the Niagara Movement and the Socialist Party. They worked to try and solve some of the problems that the country was dealing with. Technological breakthroughs may have also been used to help the country solve some of their economic problems. These inventions could almost be thought of as a movement themselves: the point of introducing these ideas to the public is to create some sort of change. Whether it is a change in the community, state, or country, nothing ever stays the same. The movements and technology of the 1900s go hand-in-hand with one another. For example, one of the problems of the Progressive Era was urbanization. There were too many people coming into the cities and very little places to house them. Henry Ford’s invention of the Model T could have helped to solve this problem. With cars becoming more popular, Americans now have a way to travel across the country and settle in different areas where they find the most opportunities for themselves and their families. Inventions like the Model T also brought in more revenue. The first airplane, the air conditioner, and plastic were all revolutionary ideas that no one in the 1900s had seen before. Their instant popularity made thousands, if not millions of dollars for businesses who were struggling.

The air conditioner was one invention that may have helped solve another problem in the Progressive Era. With the unsafe working conditions in factories across America, workers were at a higher risk of getting injured, killed, or developing some sort of sickness from the unsanitary conditions in the workplace. The air conditioner may have helped eliminate a problem with working conditions by providing factory workers with a cooler environment to work in during the hot summers.

The companies that presented these technological advancements to the public may have also had job opportunities for those looking for work. As these 20th century inventions became more popular in America, more people were needed to operate the machines that made these products. Immigrants that came to the U.S. may have been able to take these jobs and provide an income for their families. African Americans could have also taken advantage of these opportunities, which may have been one step closer to one of the Niagara Movement’s goals of economic opportunities for African Americans.

Based off of my research, the personality of America is very much shown in the 1900s. It was a time when great, influential, and creative thinkers came together to get rid of the various complications that their lives were plagued with. Their actions and ideas show the drive and determination that Americans have. It shows how they don’t give up easily when things get even more difficult. When the Niagara Movement failed, DuBois and his supporters didn’t give up; they created an organization that was much stronger than the one they had before. When the Wright Brothers had problems with the Flyer, they didn’t give up. They kept on working through their problems until they were finally able to overcome them and get their airplane, the very first airplane, into the air.

Things may not always turn out the way we want them to. There will always be times in our lives where we run into problems we think we can’t fix. But if there is one thing that I have learned from this decade, it is that we never give up. We keep trying and trying and trying until our work finally pays off, and our lives and the lives around us are better off for it. When we notice a problem, we dedicate our entire lives to make a change, and inspire others to make a change too.

In the 1900s, America was filled with people who were passionate, inspiring, hard working, and dedicated to their work and what they believed in, and it has been that way ever since.

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The Progressive Era: America in 1900s. (2021, Sep 22). Retrieved from

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