Progress and Poverty
DURING the nineties Americans as a whole grew wealthier. The total wealth of the nation increased from $65 billion in 1890 to $88.5 billion in 1900, the national income from $12 billion in 1890 to $18 billion in 1900.1 These gains, spectacular enough in themselves, were not as great as those of previous decades. Considering that over four of the years between 1890 and 1900 were years of deep and prolonged depression, the wonder is that any gains were made at all. That the American economy made such rapid strides in the face of what was one of the worst depressions in its history testifies to the great vigor of industrial capitalism in its formative years.
That industry was outstripping agriculture was evident by the 1880's, when the total value of manufactures for the first time exceeded that of agricultural commodities. By 1894 it was evident that American industry was rapidly outstripping industry in other countries; already the value of American manufactures was believed to be twice that of Great Britain and more than half that of European manufactures.2 During the 1890's American industrial capital increased from $6,525,000,000 to $9,813,000,000, an increase of more than $3 billion; the total value of manufactured products increased by an even greater amount. Yet in all categories of the industrial census--capital, value of products, value added by manufactures, cost of materials, number of wage earners, wages, and number of industrial establishments--the gains of the 1890's, except in the last category, were smaller than those____________________