Victorian England


Victorian England Essay, Research Paper

Economics of the Late Victorian Era

With the power of wealth and concentration of industry, the tremendous development in machinery, and power to drive machinery; with the improvement of the tools of labor, so that they are wonderfully tremendous machines, and with these all on the one hand; with labor, the workers, performing a given part of the whole product, probably an infinitesimal part, doing the thing a thousand or thousands of times over and over again in a day-labor divided and subdivided and specialized, so that a working man is but a mere cog in the great industrial modern plant; his individuality lost, alienated from the tools of labor; with concentration of wealth, concentration of industry, I wonder whether any of us can imagine what would be the actual condition of the working people of our country to-day without their organizations to protect them.

What would be the condition of the workingmen in our country in our day by acting as individuals with as great a concentrated wealth and industry on every hand? It is horrifying even to permit the imagination full swing to think what would be possible. Slavery! Slavery! Slavery! Demoralized, degraded slavery. Nothing better (Gompers 102).

In the 1830s the impudent luxury of the Regency Period was put side by side with the immorality and misery created by the new industrialism. This time was suggested in the “silver fork” novels of the late twenties and thirties; they reflected the high society and glamour of the time. These novels were later replaced in the forties with novels of social protest. Even though there were not many novels of protest, a few made a big impact on society. These novels spoke about how rough the poor lived and worked (Boardman 21).

During the Victorian period, the middle class issues were the result of rulings made by the government. The upper class administered the government. The cabinet members in the government were mostly noblemen. The middle class had very little influence on politics and government (Boardman 38).

In the early nineteenth century people where using labels like “working classes” and “middle classes.” This designation was to separate people who had achieved success in commerce, industry, and other professions. They were considered the upper class. The upper class had a great control over the political system. This was not good for the working class and middle class because it left them no say in the government. However, some of the more powerful middle class men pushed for the Reform Act of 1832 and the deletion of the Corn Laws of 1846 (Wohl 1).

The high Victorian era ended toward the end of the 1860s-1870s. The year that started the late Victorian era was 1867 when the Second Reform Bill was doubled. In this year the town workers were starting to have some say in town government. Now what had been unraveling for decades was taking affect. The middle class had already achieved power in government and now it was the worker’s turn. The upper class was bitter over the success that the workers were gaining, but they had no other choice than to accept what was happening (Boardman 38).

Increased industrialization was becoming a concern of the workers. They started strikes protesting the addition of machines because their jobs were being compromised. The only that workers were heard was by striking. In a way this was their identity, but it was not always good. Some workers were beaten or even arrested. At times the factory owners would pay police officers to arrest them for false reasons. Companies were competing over who had the most technology and this sparked all the strikes (Balkin 15).

The industrialization of the country was changing and so was the relationship of the employer and employee. The workers and the management had problems more often and there were more strikes. The workers organized into groups and fought for their rights through politics. They went straight to the state and federal government. The employers on the other hand did all they could to destroy the groups of people, using either the government or the courts (Boardman 12).

Problems between the workers and the companies persisted. There was a brief fear of a civil war. These confrontations gave the state power to keep things under control. During 1887 there were bloody railroad strikes, which resulted in the government coming in and keeping the situation under control. What is now called the “National Guard” was called in for the matter. During this era, public and government police forces, militias, and detective agencies made themselves known (Balkin 19).

Industrial capitalism’s quest for regularity and standardization in the workplace, an environment that times both men and machines, had a long American history, dating at least to Benjamin Franklin’s belief in his Advice to a Young Tradesman that ‘Time Is Money’ (Balkin 18).

“In the simplest terms, capitalism can be defined as the condition of possessing capital,” of having money to invest for financial gain. The term capitalism also expresses favoritism to capitalists, who are individuals who gather capital. They then allow others to invest and the company becomes an industrial enterprise (Wohl 1).

In the Victorian Era, for the first time in history, industry became more important than agriculture. Companies became more dependent on machines than workers. Most enterprises were partly owned by the same people or trusts. By 1900 there was 185 large combinations of companies. The same people owned one third of all companies (Boardman 16).

Farmers from the West and South felt that they were losing their status economically and socially. The farmers felt that their trouble was due to the bankers and railroads. They could not borrow money from the banks because the interest was high. The problem with the railroads was that they were charging too much for the transportation of the farmer’s products (Boardman 21).

The US was entering into a new century with many changes. Even though it looked exciting the economy had flaws, and the class system was complex. With the new immigration boom in the US, everything was changing. Now the lower class was made up of the immigrants who lived in poverty in the large cities. It also consisted of factory workers who had no land. The upper class now had new rich people who had made their money investing (Boardman 20).

The outlook of the country was not good because of the agricultural depression that began in 1873 and just lasted. The farmers were not producing as usual due to the machines that didn’t harvest the crops probably. The crops from New Zealand and Australia increased because of the refrigerator ships, which brought meat to the US. Economy and agriculture was no longer balanced. Because of all these things, the landowners had no other choice but to give up their political power (Boardman 16).

Even though there were a lot of crops, there were not a lot of farmers. Because of industrialization, farmers were leaving their farms for other occupations. There was also a depression going on at the time. Agricultural prices went down and did not come up until after 1910. Wheat prices declined three-quarters and corn went down two-quarters. Poverty was seen in farmers and sharecroppers. At the same time other things happened like droughts, soil erosion, plaques of grasshoppers, floods, and boll weevils. This devastated the farmers and the countryside. Even though the farm jobs rose, the non-farm jobs were more popular and prosperous. By 1870 farmers were the minority work force in the country (Balkin 23).

Times were really bad due to the economic depression. Factories were closing and people were getting laid off. However, there were lucky people who kept their jobs but worked fewer hours. The harvests were not doing well. Cholera reappeared in some towns. When all else was not working, the government turned to Chartism to find new ways of overcoming the depression (Boardman 21).

From the 1830s to 1848 there was a general rubric, which was named Chartism. It recorded all the working class protest movements for the People’s Charter, published in England in May 1838. Shortly after Chartism became popular among the major political movements proposed in the 1839 pamphlets. They expressed their unhappiness over the way the working class had no say. Because of the fear of a revolution people realized that economic ties were not the right way to run a government (Carlyle 1).

The middle years of the 1890s was a time of depression. The conditions of the business depression didn’t improve until 1897. Most Americans felt that the country was going to improve itself. As the new century started there was great feeling of a better industry (Boardman 21).

The best example of modern technology in the late 1800s was the railroad. From 1870-1920 some of the most important confrontations had to do with the railroads, from the nationwide strikes of 1877 to boycotting the Pullman railroad because of the wage cuts, which led to an economic, national, political, and constitutional crisis (Balkin 26).

Economics in the US was changing quickly after the close of the Civil War. Year by year change grew faster. In 1894 the US was ranked number one in the value of its manufacturing products. In the 1890s the value of manufacturing products was twice the value of the agricultural products, which were produced. Another change was the way business was run and managed. The one man owned companies were no more. In order to have a successful company there had to be many partners (Boardman 16).

The industry was now focused on mass production. Some of the important developments were the manufacturing of firearms with interchangeable parts, grain milling, iron foundyring, can making, steel production, and bicycles. The Ford Motor Company was the first to introduce the chain-driven assembly line. They came up with this from past ideas (Balkin 58).

Industrial workers did not own their own tools. The factory owners incorporated more advanced tools to limit the need for human labor and to send out their products faster. This made the product cheaper and allowed the workingman to afford one. The workers did not like the machines because it was compromising their jobs. However, companies where making more money and products were being produced faster (Balkin 57).

Wages were low and laborers had to work for long hours. In 1890 the average work week was sixty hours. The ten-hour day was a regular thing for workers. In the steel mills many men worked twelve-hour days and seven-day weeks. At the time workers with trades made about $4 a day. But unskilled workers only made about $1.50 a day. Girls could hold down clerk jobs in stores and make $5 to $6 a week, only professionals made $18 a week. The average annual earning of a worker was $490, excluding farm laborers (Boardman 21).

The first Worker-Management Confrontations started in the fields of agriculture and mining. By this time there was a new working class, which was getting bigger. The working force was one third of the population and one third of that was made up of immigrants. The unskilled work force was mainly immigrants. They migrated from there mother countries to the United States in a search for a better life. In 1877 the average immigrant made an annual amount of $506, in 1893 it was $544, and in 1909 it was $660. These immigrants lived in poverty due to the insufficient pay. Because of the low pay children where forced to work, in order for there families to survive. Also, the depressions and recessions were at fault for 23 to 30 percent of the workers that were laid off (Balkin 32).

The Mill another major employer, was completely different from an industrial plant. The mill first was introduced in the early 1900s. The United States Steel complex was a perfect example. It employed 9,000 workers and gave them a place to live. Another example was the Ford Plant at Highland Park, Michigan where they employed 16,000 workers. Not only did it house the workers, but it also had its own railroad station, a water supply, energy source, telephones, fire departments, and its own police force. This revolutionized the workplace (Balkin 34).

At this time the preferred method of organization was the corporate one. The large amounts of capital where sold to different people. They would sell the stocks and bonds to the public and in return people would have a peace of the company. At times bankers and financers had a bigger say due to the amount of stock they owned (Boardman 16).

Each individual or group that controlled a company gave its stocks to a board of trusties. In return they were given trust certificates. The trustees then would make meetings and vote on what would be done in the company. This was not good because it killed competition and the public would have to rely on the trusts. The courts did not like this and they had to expand the people involved. Because of this new form of business ordinary people could buy stocks and have a say in the company (Boardman 18).

Individual companies and factories started to merge and create bigger companies. This was good for stockholders because they had more power in the company. However, the mergers would create one organization, which would control production. They would also control wages and prices in an entire industry (Boardman 17).

In 1890 the US fought against the growing power of industrial and railroad merges. The law named the Sherman Antitrust Act, stated that mergers which would hurt the people were illegal. It also said that commerce should not be united in one power. But at times the Sherman Antitrust Act only slowed town the merger and did not stop it (Boardman 18). Large businesses like the American Sugar Refining Company, the United States Steel Corporation and the American Tobacco Company spent most of their time fighting the act (Boardman 20).

The progressives were fighting for control and regulation of the companies that where irresponsible for monstrosities. People where busy creating the new industrial order in which they profited from. In 1902 during a coal strike a man by the name of George F. Baer, a railroad president, said that the laboring worker would be taken care of, “by the Christian men whom God, in his infinite wisdom, has given control of the property interests of the country” (Boardman 17).

As products where mass-produced, the market was also expanding due to the growing population. The national income was rising. Advertising came to play a great role in the selling of products. This also convinced buyers that they needed these new innovations (Boardman 21).

Most people showed off their riches. It could be that the family invested in, railroads, steel mills, and of course the stock market. Maybe someone owned a mill or worked on a large farm. However, the rich came to live in New York and other cities during the 1900s. The dream was to get into society (Balkin 24).

World’s expositions, quintessential Victorian artifacts, displayed this material world in unprecedented scale and scope. Between 1876 and 1916 nearly 100 million people visited a dozen major international expositions held in the United States. I use several fairs to summarize changes and continuities in American everyday experience. For example, Americans attending expositions at Philadelphia and San Francisco witnessed changes along a diverse cultural spectrum. In 1876 they favored soda water, patent medicines, and took multicourse noon meals; by 1915 they preferred white flour, cold cereal breakfasts, and fast food lunches. In the centennial’s Machinery Hall, individual leather makers crafted horse saddles, completing one very two days; at the Panama-Pacific Exposition, industrial laborers working on an assembly line built a new ford every half hour. In 1893 electricity contended with steam as the dominant energy source only to be challenged by oil in 1915. Queen Anne houses yielded to California bungalows as the nation’s residential ideal. Perhaps most significant of these changes was a transformed middle-class culture, expanded by increasing bureaucratization, fueled by consumer abundance, promulgated by communications technology, and motivated to hold power without property and to maintain hegemony with education and expertise (Balkin 32).


Work Cited

Altick, Richard D. Victorian People and ideas. New York: W.W. Norton and company, 1973.

Balkin, Richard. Victorian America. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991.

Boardman Jr., Fon W. America and the Progressive Era 1900-1917. New York: Boardman Publishing,


Hofstadter, Richard. The Progressive Movement 1900-1915. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc.,


“Victorian Era.” Victorian Information.

(February 12, 2000).

Wohl, Anthony S. “Economics.” Victorian Website. (March 2, 2000)

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