Postbellum America, 1866-1913

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1865-1867: Sioux War
1865: 13th Amendment abolishes slavery
1866: 14th Amendment gives blacks right to vote and equal protection
1866: KKK founded
1867: Reconstruction Act
1868: President Johnson impeached
1869: Transcontinental Railroad completed
1872: Montgomery Ward opens
1872-1874: Buffalo destruction
1873: Panic of 1873
1875-1876: Sioux uprising
1876: Custer's Last Stand
1876: Bell patents telephone
1877: Edison invents phonograph
1877: Socialist Labor party formed
1881: President Garfield assassinated
1882: Chinese Exclusion Act
1882: Edison's station supplies power to 85 customers in New York
1883: Pendleton Act
1884: first roller coaster opens
1886: American Federal of Labor founded
1887: Interstate Commerce Act
1889:Edison forms Electric Light Company, later called GE
1891: Populist convention
1892: Homestead strike
1893: Panic of 1893
1894: Pullman strike
1900-1910: 9 million immigrate to U.S.
1901: President McKinley assassinated
1902: coal strike
1903: Wrights invent airplane
1903: Panama Canal built
1903: first World Series
1907: Panic of 1907
1908: FBI formed
1909: Peary discovers North Pole
1909: Model T car manufactured
1912: New Mexico becomes 47th state
1912: Arizona becomes 48th state
1913: 16th Amendment creates income tax
1913: international art exhibition in New York

Updated September 24, 2001
© Mark Canada, 2001

History and Culture

By Mark Canada
Professor, University of North Carolina at Pembroke

If the antebellum period of American history was a time of seeking and becoming, the postbellum era was a time of seeing and being. The Civil War, which ended in 1865, had largely resolved the division between the northern and southern states, and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 marked the fulfillment of the country's "manifest destiny," at least in practical terms. Now that the period of division and expansion was largely over, America began to take shape as its modern self: a pluralistic, industrialized, and commercial society. During Reconstruction, the period of rebuilding after the Civil War, the United States ratified constitutional amendments designed to end slavery and to secure citizenship and voting rights for black Americans. Meanwhile, women widened their role in the culture, and immigrants started to flood into the United States. Between 1870 and 1910, some 16 million people immigrated to America from Ireland, Germany, Italy, and other countries, many of them coming through Ellis Island in New York. Many Native Americans, on the other hand, remained on the margins, having been forced from their homes onto reservations. Over the course of the postbellum period, as well as the ensuing modern era, these various groups overcame Jim Crow laws, the Ku Klux Klan, and other forms of oppression and persecution on their way to entering and diversifying the American mainstream. Many of these "new" Americans helped to shape the new America by going to work in factories and stores. Despite Thomas Jefferson's early hope that America would be an agrarian paradise, the United States now was clearly an industrial and commercial country. Americans such as Andrew Carnegie and Cornelius Vanderbilt made fortunes in the steel, railroad, and other industries. Like diversification, industrialization brought both adversity and growth as a strong labor movement developed to cope with poor working conditions, child labor, and other problems.

Some cornerstones of modern American culture were laid between the end of the Civil War in 1865 and the beginning of World War I in 1914. As the modern populace and economy took shape, so did modern technology, transportation, and recreation. Alexander Graham Bell's invention of the telephone and Thomas Edison's work in the areas of lighting, the phonograph, and the motion picture revolutionized the culture perhaps more than anything else, setting the stage for the information age to come. Similarly, the Wright brothers and Henry Ford laid the foundations for modern transportation by developing the airplane and automobile. Even many modern forms of recreation took shape as Coney Island emerged as a popular amusement park, and spectator sports--especially baseball, boxing, automobile racing, and rowing--became major forms of entertainment.