The course of history seems to be that as we find solutions to one problem, we often create new ones. In the late 1800s, factories provided goods to people more quickly and cheaply than ever before. At the same time, advances in farm equipment and techniques meant that farmers could grow an abundance of food. In time, though, both of these innovations created serious challenges for workers.
- Factory work was long, monotonous work. Men, women, and even children worked long hours in dirty and unsafe conditions. Pay was low and workers felt little satisfaction because they toiled day after day on the same tasks, never seeing a finished product.
- Workers tried to group together – or form unions – to persuade factory owners to give them better working conditions and higher pay. These efforts were usually unsuccessful. The workers would often go on strike, or refuse to work.
- Several strikes ended in violence. During the Haymarket Riot of 1886, police were called in to break up a strike. Someone set off a bomb, killing seven police officers. The police shot at the crowd, injuring dozens. During the Homestead Strike in 1892, seven guards and nine strikers were killed.
- New farm equipment, such as the combine, better seeds, and improved farming methods created a glut of farm produce – too much for even America’s growing cities to use. The price of produce dropped and farmers could no longer make a living farming. Many farmers went bankrupt and their farms were foreclosed on by the banks.
- Farmers banded together, forming cooperatives that allowed them to buy equipment and seed at a lower price. Many farmers ran for and won political offices in their local communities, believing that gaining political power would help their situation.
- Strike: when a group of workers refuses to come to work; during a strike, workers often walk around outside the workplace, carrying signs and yelling (picketing)
- Bankrupt: when a company or individual is unable to pay its debts
- Foreclose: when a bank or lender takes back property, such as a farm or home, because the tenant is unable to pay the loan
Questions and Answers
Question: Why did the cost of food go down when farmers were growing an abundance?
Answer: This is called the principle of supply and demand. When a lot of people want something and there isn’t very much of it, the price goes up. When people really want something they will pay more for it. Conversely, when there is so much of something (such as food) that people have more than they need or want, the price goes down.
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