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Lone Star College-Kingwood Library

American Cultural History

19th Century - 1890 - 1899

1800 1810 1820 1830 1840 1850 1860 1870 1880 1890


Presidents: Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt | Population: 62,947,714 | Statehood: Idaho, Wyoming, Utah

About the 19th Century Decades Pages

By 1900 the Industrial Revolution had transformed the world's economy. To see the whole picture, we encourage users to browse all the way through these decades. Then visit the suggested links for more information.   As librarians, we must Prothro family at home. point out that the best way to immerse oneself in a topic is to use both Internet and the library.  Since we are getting close to the end of the century, you may want to see our Twentieth Century American Cultural History pages at ENJOY!

Overview 1890-1899

Beginning of America's Gilded Age | 60% of the stocks listed on the stock exchange were those of railroad | NYC had become a melting pot of immigrants from around the world | 23,000 children were employed in the factories of the 13 southern states | Reporter Nellie Bly claimed a train from Colorado to Chicago averaged 78.1 miles per hour | Congress passed the International Copyright Act | Federal penitentiaries were authorized | Lizzie Borden gave her parents whacks with an ax | Ellis Island became the receiving station for immigrants | General Electric company was formed | Use of convict labor was causing unrest | The first graduated income tax law was passed | Garment workers struck against sweatshop conditions | Plessy v. Ferguson established 'separate but equal.'


New York Public Library American portraiture, realism, historical painting and landscapes continued as important art genres.Most interesting today are the American Impressionist artists including Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, Robert Henri, and Childe Hassam. Art Nouveau soared into the artworld during this decade. John Singer Sargent continued with his famous portraits, including Lord Ribblesdale. The American Fine Arts Society was formed in NYC, aided by George W. Vanderbilt (Biltmore Estate opened in 1895). Frederick W. MacMonnies created the great fountain of the Columbian Exposition. Daniel Chester French and Cyrus Dallin were other sculptors whose work was represented at the exposition. The women's building was interesting as well. Glass works flourished, including Blenko.

The American Arts and Crafts movement started in the 1890s and went into the next century, with its simple, well-built crafts and architecture. Names like A. G. Bauer, M. W. Morris, and Gustav Stickley achieved fame for their designs.

Louis H. Sullivan, father of the skyscraper and modern architecture, built the Wainwright Building and Chicago's Auditorium. Other skyscarpers were built including the 17 story Manhattan Life Insurance Building and the Astoria Hotel in NYC. Another modern architect Daniel H. Burnham completed The Masonic Temple in Chicago, the tallest building in the U.S. (20 stories.) Heins and La Farge were awarded the architectural project for the largest protestant Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Frank Lloyd Wright build his first houses in Chicago (Charnley House and Winslow residence). Work was begun on the New York Public Library by architects John Merven Carrere and Thomas Hastings.


Henry Ford The age of the giant corporation was here.  American Tobacco, 1890, American Sugar Refining Company, 1891, and  General Electric, 1892, were established during this period.  At the same time came the working man's organizations such as  United Mine Workers, the American Railway Union and the National  Association of Window Trimmers (founded by L. Frank Baum author of The Show Window and The Wonderful Wizard of OZ) unions formed to help people make working conditions better.  Giants of the age were J. P. Morgan, Henry Villard, James Buchanan Duke, Andrew Carnegie, names still recognized today.  The stage was set and America was a primary player.

In 1890 the United States was the top producer in the world of iron and steel (9.3 million tons, see Historical Statistics of the US Colonial Times to 1970, part 1, M205-220).  Procter and Gamble began to make Ivory Soap float.  American Express offered the first traveler's checks as American went abroad in greater numbers.  Edison filed patents for the motion picture machine camera in 1891 and the first flourescent electric lamp in 1896.  Andrew Carnegie reorganized his Pittsburgh operation in 1892 to form Carnegie Steel, which would become the world's largest steel making business.  J.P. Morgan and Henry Villard formed the General Electric Company in 1892 by combining General Electric Lamps Thomson-Houston lamp factory and Edison General Electric. In 1896 Henry Ford built his first car, the Quadracycle. In 1899, the United Fruit Company was formed out of the Boston Fruit Company and several smaller companies. In 1899, Henry Ford incorporated the Detroit

In 1890 Congress enacted the Sherman Anti-trust Act.  This began a series of Supreme Court cases which originated issues of current corporate rules.  Standard Oil was dissolved in 1892 and later reestablished as Standard Oil of New Jersey in 1899.  In 1895, in the United States v. E. C. Knight Company, the U. S. Supreme Court held that the Sherman Anti-trust Act covered only monopolies in restraint of trade, not manufacturing.  The Supreme Court held in Addyston Pipe & Steel Company v. United States, 1899, that negotiations between corporations to eliminate competition violated the Sherman Anti-Trust

Labor unions were established to improve labor relations. The United Mine Workers, 1890, was begun by a merger of the Knights of Labor Trade Assembly No. 135 and the National Progressive Union of Miners and Mine Laborers. The American Railway Union was organized in 1893 by Eugene V. Debs. The National Organization of Manufacturers, a businessmen's group started in 1895.  In 1893, financial panic erupted when American gold reserves fell below $100 million, setting off a national depression that lasted for four years.  Hundreds of railroad companies, steel mills and other businesses failed. Over the course of 1894, 750,000 workers went on strike.  Congress declared Labor Day a national holiday. In 1897, seventy-five thousand UMW coal miners in Ohio, West Virgina and Pennsylvania went on strike winning an eight hour day, semimonthly pay and the elmination of company stores. Also in 1897, L. Frank Baum, author of the Oz series of children's books, published the first issue of The Show Window a monthly journal on the design of department store window displays.  Thorstein Veblen published the Theory of the Leisure Class in 1899, an attack on the "conspicuous consumption " of the nation's business elite.


Realism, romances, history books, religious books, books containing local color, and poetry all continued to be read by many. Wealthy women had servants and there was plenty of time for reading. Ambrose Bierce, known for tales of the Civil War and horror stories, wrote Tales of Soldiers and Civilians. Laura Jean Libbey, an extremely popular romantic novelist, wrote stories of the New York Working-Girl. Poems, Second Edition and Third Edition were published by Emily Dickinson's sister after her death in 1890. One of our favorites by Emily Dickinson follows:

I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you--Nobody--too?
Then there's a pair of us?
Don't tell! they'd advertise--you know!
How dreary--to be--Somebody!
How public--like a Frog--
To tell one's name--the livelong June--
To an admiring Bog!

John Fiske popularized U.S. History with The American Revolution. The first American collection of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Yellow Kid comic by Richard F. Outfault famous detective Sherlock Holmes was published (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes). Religious books had always been read and In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? by Kansas minister Charles M.Sheldon was published in 25 languages. The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke is also still in print. Frank Norris (McTeague) and Booth Tarkington (The Gentleman from Indiana) began publishing during this decade. International censorship and copyright laws were passed.

Katzenjammer Kids comic by Rudolph Dirks Poetry was popular and the final poetry collections of Walt Whitman (d.1892), Goodbye, My Fancy and Leaves of Grass were published. James Whitcomb Riley published more Hoosier poems. Edwin Arlington Robinson published his second collection of poetry, The Children of the Night. A new form of American journalism and humor came into being with the appearance of The Yellow Kid by Richard F. Outcault. The comic strip was wildly popular and circulation really boomed when Rudolph Dirks introduced The Katzenjammer Kids. Another pioneer of comic strips was Frederick Burr Opper with Happy Hooligan. More books by popular writers of the 1890s and today include:

For children and adults, Joel Chandler Harris published another collection of Uncle Remus tales. Margaret Marshall Saunders wrote Beautiful Joe, a dog story that sold 1,000,000 copies. G. A. Henty's With Lee in Virginia told the story of the Civil War. See more at Children's Literature.

One of the most memorized poems ever was written, by Gelett Burgess in 1895.

I never saw a purple cow. I never hope to see one.

But I can tell you anyhow.
I'd rather see than be one.
See Representative Poetry Online
to find out what Burgess wrote as a sequel.


Sutton family, 1890s With the Battle of Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890 and the subsequent surrender of the Lakotas on January 16, 1896, the Indian Wars were over.  At the beginning of the decade there remained some western lands still to be settled - 11 million acres of Lakota land ceded to the federal government in 1889 and land purchased from the Cherokee in Oklahoma - but by the end of the 19th century  most of the free land was gone.  All but three  of the contiguous states (Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma) were now part of first 48 states in the Union. The west of cowboys and Indians was finished.  In 1893 the noted historian, Frederick Jackson Turner, in his paper "The Significance of the Frontier in American History", proposed the theory that the availability of free land and its gradually westward settlement formed the American character.  This restless character would be changed as it no longer would be challenged by a frontier to conquer.  The country's population was shifting from the eastern seaboard of the first of the century to extend across the continent.  By the 1890 census, of the 62,947,714 people counted, 17,000,000 lived west of the Mississippi River.  This same census declared the disappearance of a designated frontier line.  In less than 100 years this uncharted and sparsely populated country  had become inhabited, cultivated, and linked together from coast to coast. People were coming into the United States in great numbers - 3.6 million in this decade alone.

 No longer were they mainly from the "old immigrant" countries of western and northern Europe but from the "new immigrant" countries of southern and eastern Europe. Political upheaval in Italy and pogroms against the Jews in Russia made leaving their homeland either a necessity or an attraction.Ellis Island, 1890s.  On January 1, 1892 the government opened Ellis Island in New York City harbor to process the multides coming to the New World.  The new residents had to make a place in their new home.  They  tended to establish themselves in enclaves in the cities and seek jobs in industry or commerce rather than farming. These "new immigrants" were looked upon as less desirable and skilled than the earlier immigrants.  The deplorable living conditions in the  tenaments where many were forced to live were disclosed in Jacob Riis's book, How the Other Half Lives.  The competition for jobs, accelerated by the  Panic of 1893, stirred antagonism toward these newcomers who were willing to work for less pay.  The Federal Immigration Act of 1891 (see page 12) tightened regulations for those who would be admitted to the United States.  In 1896, the Immigration Restriction Bill, first of many bills to impose a literary test for admittance, was introduced in Congress but was vetoed by President Cleveland.   Despite the hardships and the discrimination still they came as the Statue of  Liberty proclaimed to them in this sonnet by Emma Lazarus, 1883:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.



High School Class of 1897, Union County Ark. In 1890, Congress passed the Second Morrill Act which specified that states that maintained separate colleges for different races had to propose a just and equitable division of the funds to be received under the act. This act served to establish sixteen black land-grant colleges throughout the South.  School boy - 1890sCities remained ahead in educating their children.  The kindergarten program had moved from New England to such Midwestern cities as St. Louis and Chicago through the efforts of such educators as Elizabeth Harrison, William Hailmann, John Dewey, Patty Smith Hill, and Pauline Agassiz Shaw.  During this same period the drive for public high schools continued.  The number of such schools had increased from one hundred in 1860 to 6,000 by the end of the century.  Some of these schools began to offer organized sports and other extracurricular activities such as 4-H Clubs.  More and more women entered the teaching profession.  By 1900 seventy-five percent of all teachers were women, and these women were rising to supervisory positions.  Fanny Jackson Coppin became the head of the Institute for Colored Youth in Phildephia and trained teachers to work in the inferior schools provided for African-American children.  Janie Porter Barrett started a school in her home, and in 1890 established the Locust Street Social Settlement, the country's first such institution for African-Americans.  The Supreme Court issued the Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896 that established the doctrine that was to legalize segregated schools until the Brown v. the Board of Education decision of 1954 .  

In higher education more students were seeking advanced degrees..  By 1900 over 5,000 such students were enrolled in the universities of Harvard, Yale, and Johns Hopkins.  The questions of academic freedom and academic standards were beginning to be addressed.  Charles W. Eliot, president of Harvard, was introducing such programs as the college elective system, admissions standards, and graduation requirements at his university.  He also served on the Committee of Ten  which set up standards for high schools in the United States.

The theories that would dominate the United States educational system for most of the twentieth century - the graded classroom, the nine-month school term, free textbooks, the Americanization of  immigrant children and Native-American children, the philosophy of progressive education - were in place by the end of the nineteenth century.


VIDEOS:Burt family at home in Oklahoma.



Judge Roy Bean's courthouse IN THE NEWS

FLASH! Gold discovered in the Klondike...the great gold rush is on...25,000 people stampede to the Klondike area. FLASH! Chicago's World Fair and Columbian Exposition. FLASH! Chinese Exclusion Treaty excludes Chinese laborers from the U.S. FLASH! Treasury Departments buys $62,000,000 in gold from J.P. Morgan & Company and August Belmont & Company.FLASH! Power generators put into operation at Niagara Falls by the Westinghouse Electric Company. FLASH! Pulpit thumping Christian evangelism thrives with Billy Sunday at its helm. FLASH! Rural free postal delivery established. FLASH! American industry becomes the most productive in the world, including steel, cotton, meat packing, electric power, steam turbines and electric motors. FLASH! The horseless carriage is introduced to Americans. FLASH! Illiteracy on the decline. 13.3% of the population said to be illiterate, a decrease of 3.7%. FLASH! 1899. Congress authorizes voting machines for federal elections.FLASH! Judge Roy Bean, the hanging judge, takes care of crime in Texas.


The Marine Band in a recording studio 1891 The popularity of bicycles gave rise to songs about them, including The Cycle Man, The March of the Bloomers, and the still popular Bicycle Built for Two.  Music Boxes, idiophones with changeable cylinders brought music into the homes and and stores.  Recorded music was selected by the lot rather than by the title, and coin operated music boxes cost a penny a song.  John Philip Sousa, not allowed to leave Washington DC for more than one day at a time, turned to recording to share his music.  In 1891, he finally went on tour successfully, and, in 1892, resigned as conductor of the Marine Corps Band (see picture at the left) to form the Sousa Band.  

At the Columbian Exposition in 1893, Little Egypt danced the hoochee-coochee belly dance in a semitransparent skirt.  "The Hootchy Kootchy Dance" song aided her popularity. She was considered scandalous - wow!  Not far away, Buffalo Bill offered his Wild West Show.Little Egypt dancing the Cootchie Cootchie at the Columbian Exposition.  

The gay nineties featured two major dances, the waltz and the two-step.  Dancing master Allen Dodworth considered the waltz a sinful dance because of the closeness of the dancers.  He instructed men to never put a bare hand on a woman's waist. America's first contribution to social dancing was the two-step, danced to the popular John Philip Sousa marches.  From the Cakewalk came a style, originally called rag music, featuring syncopated piano playing.  It became known as Ragtime.  Scott Joplin's career took off with the "Maple Leaf Rag."  Other popular songs included "There'll be a hot time in the old town tonight," "Red River Valley," "Sidewalks of New York," and "Ta-ra-ra Boom-De-Ay." "After the Ball" was written by Charles Harris, who advertised "songs written to order" but could not read nor write music.  "Happy Birthday to You" debuted  In 1898, Isadora Duncan, traveled to London and became world famous. She based many of her dances on interpretations of music by Strauss, Chopin, and Tchaikovsky.

Although most composers were men, Amy Marcy Cheney Beach  completed her Symphony in E-minor, ("Gaelic") in 1896.   Her compatriot, Margaret Ruthven Lang, was the first woman to write a symphony played by a major orchestra.   Horatio Parker established a reputation as a composer with Hora Novissima.   Charles Ives wrote his first symphony in 1898. 



Women's baseball team An article in  The Ladies’ Standard Magazine in April 1894, reported the benefits of cyclingBicycles became easier to ride once both wheels were the same diameter. This popular sport  gave rise to the phrase "Mile-a-Minute Murphy" when, on June30, 1899, Charles M. Murphy rode a bicycle a mile in sixty-five seconds.  Basketball, introduced in 1891, was first played with a soccer ball and two peach baskets.  The prize fighting world was stunned by the Sullivan-Corbett match on September 7, 1892.  Women were increasing their participation in sports as the catch phrase "The New Woman" was used to describe the feminist of the day.  The University of Nebraska opened competitive athletics for women. women played baseball in Bloomer Girls leagues. The first Women's Golf Championship Tournament was held at Meadow Brook, Long Island in 1895.  Women's fashions adapted to this increased participation in activities and sports.  Women's bicycle bloomers and swimsuits made an appearance.  Another major influence on women's fashion was the "Gibson" girl created by the magazine illutrator Charles Gibson.  The mannish styled tailored shirtwaist was popular with girls wanting the "Gibson" look.  They also wore a feminized version of the man's "boater" straw hat.  The unisex look was at its very beginning.  Men's clothes featured a batswing tie that was a variation of the bowtie. They wore their hair parted in the middle or slightly left of center and were generally either clean shaven or had little mustaches waxed and turned up at the ends.

     Main Street was still the center of life in the 1890's.  The drug store soda fountain was a gathering place and drives in a surrey were a way of courting.  Dancing was a favorite passtime with the two-step being the most popular.  Amusement parks such as Coney Island and the Atlantic City boardwalk drew crowds.  The first Ferris Wheel was built for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  Cigarette smoking continued to rise but was still considered unacceptable for women.  The term "the 400" came into being to decribe New York City society when the invitation to the Astor Ball had to be trimmed to that number to accomodate the Astor ballroom.  With the publication of  Fannie Farmer's The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book  recipes became more prcise with stress on exact measurement of ingredients in cooking.  The term "home economics" was coined to describe the movement to bring science into the American home.  In 1895, Sears and Roebuck began publishing their mail order catalogs.  The catalog became a favorite book in many homes. A new convenience food was introduced in 1897.  Dr. John T. Dorrance developed Campbell's condensed soup, which sold for 10 cents!  With advertising increasing and chain stores beginning to replace the local storekeeper the nation continued on its road to consumerism and homogenization.  This decade is often referred to as the "Gay Nineties".


The field of medicine gradually became more modern.  Lt. Col. George Miller Sternberg helped Bayer advertisement for Heroin as a cough sedative, 1898.  Reproduced in Yale Alumni Magazine, January 1972. to develop the field of bacteriology.   Rubber gloves were first used in surgery at Johns Hopkins. Drugs were freely available, and abuse common.  Heroin, for instance, was sold as a cough medicine  John H. Kellogg, a physician at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, and his brother, Will Keith Kellogg, developed wheat flakes (called Granose) in 1894 in an attempt to create a more digestible bread.  The cereal, a vegetarian diet, and water treatments were such a success that people came to the sanitorium from all over.  In 1895, Charles W. Post was one of the patients.  He took some of Kellogg's ideas and developed Postum, a malt beverage, and Grape Nuts.  (Not until 1906 did Will start the W. K. Kellogg company to sell Corn Flakes.)   Breakfast cereal not only enhanced nutrition.  It also freed housewives from the necessity of cooking a big breakfast every morning.

, a uniquely American school of philosophy, held that actions were judged by their consequences.  This philosophy led to the science of psychology, founded by William James, brother of author, Henry James.  In 1892, the American Psychological Association was formed.

As the country became intrenched in the industrial age, it developed a social conscience.  Partly due to the efforts of environmentalist John Muir, Yosemite National Park and Sequoia National Park were established in 1890 to protect native species of animal and plant life.   The Field Museum of National History in Chicago, the New York Aquarium  and the Wildlife Conservation Society sprang up to introduce city dwellers to wildllife.  Looking heavenward, the Lowell Observatory and the Yerkes Observatory were built to discover new celestial bodies, including the fifth moon of Jupiter.   In 1892 for the first time, the Boll Weevil crossed the Rio Grande and began to spread north and east, destroying cotton crops.  The Kensington Rune Stone was discovered in Minnesota, offering evidence of the early visits of Norsemen to America.

A. M. Herring's Soaring Machine, 1894 Horseless carriages came closer to being practical.  William Morrison made an electric automobile in 1891.  The first successful gas powered automobile was built by Charles and Frank Duryea, bicycle designers in Chocopee Massachusetts in 1893.  The quadricycle, the first Henry Ford automobile, was completed on June 4, 1896 but the road test was delayed a bit  because the completed vehicle was too big to fit out through the door.   By the end of the decade, there were 8,000 automobiles registered in the entire country, and ten miles of paved roads of many makes and models. In Indiana, Augustus M. Herring and Octave Chanute experimented with flying machines. 1895 Boston subway first in nation

Chicago's Columbian Exposition of 1893 introduced picture postcards, Juicy Fruit gum and Cream of Wheat.   President Grover Cleveland opened the Exposition by pushing a button at the White House, over 1000 miles away.  Electricity was the  theme, and the star attraction the Ferris Wheel.  Thomas Edison, building on the work of Eadweard Muybridge, developed moving pictures. In 1891, the Edison company successfully demonstrated the Kinetoscope, which enabled one person at a time to view moving pictures. The first commercially successful projector, the Vitascope, showed projected movies 1896.  Other inventions include the zipper, matchbooks, the electric chair, the electric stove and the adding machine.  In fact, inventions were so many and so diverse that in 1899, Charles Duell, commissioner of the U. S. Patent Office, declared "everything that can be invented has been invented."


In the last decade of the 19th century, people in the United States were looking toward the future.  Opportunity for a better life drew more immigrants to the United States.   Industrialization helped improve the economic outlook.  Scientific advances enabled men to overcome many problems encouraging optimism and changing religious views of the world.  Charles Augustus Briggs of Union Theological Seminary in New York and Newman Smyth, a Congregational pastor, introduced new methods of Biblical study to American schools.  Opposing this new thinking were schools like the Princeton Theological Seminary.

Battle of Bounded Knee   Denver Public Library, Colorado Historical Society, and Denver Art Museum Labor movements grew stronger throughout the 1890's in response to conditions created by increased industrialization, crowded urban areas, and the rise of big business.  Jacob Riis wrote How the Other Half Lives, 1890, about life in urban slums.  The federal government immigrant receiving station on Ellis Island opened in 1892 to handle the huge numbers of people coming into America.  Jane Addams wrote Hull-House Maps and Papers in 1895 which reported on the living conditions of poor Chicagoans. Women's rights grew as suffrage was granted in states like Colorado, 1893, and Utah.

African American churches became important organizations for blacks in the South as Reconstruction failed to eradicate segregation.  The largest were Black Methodist and Baptist congregations like the National Baptist Convention organized in 1895.  Leaders of these churches like Theophilus Steward of Wilberforce University in Ohio were often the most influential and and independent

Native Americans all over the West responded to the teachings of a Paiute named Wovoka who preached a religion called Ghost Dance which combined traditional Indian and Christian elements.  The Ghost Dancers of the Lakotas were some of the last Native Americans to join.   In South Dakota, Lakotas held one of the last large Indian reservations.  In 1890, Chief Big Foot , also known as Spotted Elk, and a group of 250 Lakota men, women and children were killed at Wounded Knee as whites became fearful of the Ghost Dancers.  In 1891, the Lakota surrendered and the final Indian war was over.



MLA Style
Sutton, Bettye, et al. "19th Century: 1890-1899." American Cultural History. Lone Star College-
    Kingwood Library, 2003. Web. 1 Mar. 2011.
Chicago Style

Sutton, Bettye, Sue Goodwin, Becky Bradley, Shielda Welling and Peggy Whitley. "19th Century:
    1890-1899." American Cultural History
. Lone Star College-Kingwood Library. Last modified
    August 2010.
APA Style 
Sutton, B., Goodwin, S., Bradley, B., Welling, S. and Whitley, P. (2010). 19th Century: 1890-1899.
    American Cultural History
. Lone Star College-Kingwood Library, Kingwood, TX. Retrieved from

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