The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)

Immigrants on board ship by Edwin Levick, 1906. Courtesy of Library of Congress


The problems facing the nation in the late 19th century gave rise to the Progressive movement. Progressives were a diverse group with various--and sometimes contradictory--agendas. However, most focused on the problems arising from rapid industrialization, urbanization, increasing immigration, and corruption in the worlds of business and politics.

Two of the problems confronted by Progressives are still central today. One was the dilemma of how to maintain the material benefits that flowed from the industrial revolution while bringing the powerful forces creating those benefits under democratic control and managing economic opportunity. The other was the issue of how to maintain democracy and national identity in the context of increasing immigration and a political environment in which there was widespread corruption and concentration of power. But the agenda of the Progressive movement agenda was not always "progressive" Its reformism was tainted by antagonism to radical labor movements and an indifference to the plight of African Americans and other minorities.

Foreign policy remained an important issue during this period. The United States stepped onto the international stage in the Spanish-American War at the end of the 19th century. And when it joined the Allied side in World War I in 1917, the United States emerged as a world power.

Big business and Republican politics regained control during the new prosperity of the 1920s. Social and cultural tensions persisted, however. Women continued to struggle for equality. Radical labor movements and radical ideologies provoked widespread fear and even hysteria. Recurring racial tension led on the one hand to black nationalism, the Harlem Renaissance, and the first great northward migration of African Americans and on the other to the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan. The movement to Americanize a generation of immigrants gained strength, leading to the momentous closing of the nation's gates through severe retrenchment of the open-door immigration policies. Tensions increased among country's various religious groups.

Presidents From This Era
William McKinley 1897-1901
Theodore Roosevelt 1901-1909
William Howard Taft 1909-1913
Woodrow Wilson 1913-1921
Warren G. Harding 1921-1923
Calvin Coolidge 1923-1929
Objects From This Era
William McKinley's inaugural ball
Early teddy bear
Theodore Roosevelt campaigning for the Progressive Party
"Votes for Women" pennant
Pillow cover with World War I imagery

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