America in the 20th Century - Vol. 1

America in the 20th Century - Vol. 1

America in the 20th Century - Vol. 1

America in the 20th Century - Vol. 1


Copiously illustrated with period photographs, prints, and historic documents to appeal to students from sixth grade through high school, these volumes provide a decade-by-decade overview of American history in the 20th century, with a focus on social issues. Attention is paid to developments in politics, business, technology, and people's lives at home and at work; short biographies of leading figures are included. Two of the volumes contain primary sources, also grouped by decade; documents are followed by discussion and short lists of questions. Annotation (c)2003 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (


“Not that they starve,
but that they starve so
dreamlessly, / Not that
they sow, but that they
seldom reap, / Not that
they serve, but have no
gods to serve, / Not that
they die, but that they
die like sheep.”

Vachel Lindsay, poem
about the urban poor

Growing Cities and
Crowded Conditions

Cities began to expand their boundaries into neighboring towns as the new middle class built Victorian-style homes at the edge of the streetcar line. (These may have been the first suburbs, but suburbs as we know them today didn’t really take shape until after World War II.) Most cities sprang up around a hub that served as the main shopping area. But small cities within cities were formed when immigrants settled in areas where they could live among members of their own culture. These little cities had their own shopping centers where traditional foods could be purchased, and churches or temples where religious traditions could be followed.

Although some wealthy families lived in rural areas, most chose to live in the heart of their city to be close to shopping and cultural entertainment. the very rich owned a country or weekend home to complement their city lifestyle.

Factories were built along rivers and railroads because they relied on these resources for power and transportation. As industries grew, new housing sprang up around them. Sometimes these simple wood bungalows were built by factory owners who rented them at high cost to their employees. Factory neighborhoods were the least desirable places to live in the cities because industrial waste produced soot, grime, and pollution that dusted the homes and choked the residents. When the middle and wealthy classes moved to the end of the streetcar line, they left behind housing that deteriorated as less well-to-do owners converted their homes into boarding houses. These were the first tenements, which were rented by new immigrants and displaced farm workers lured by new factories. As overcrowding worsened, open spaces between buildings were occupied by narrow apartments built by frugal businessmen, who exploited the housing shortage by squeezing as many small apartments as possible into these confined spaces.

These crowded conditions promoted diseases such as tuberculosis. Dozens of families shared facilities where germs bred easily. Many tenements lacked indoor bathrooms so tenants used public bath houses called natatoriums for bathing. Poorly paid workers could not provide nourishing food for their families. Doctors among the poor were few and far between. All these factors contributed to ill-health among the poor in urban centers.

The burgeoning cities were not equipped to respond to growing problems. Without enough police . . .

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