Primary Source Images: Life in Industrial America

The turn of the twentieth century witnessed the triumph of American industrialization and the rise of “big business,” large corporations, run by trained bureaucrats and salaried managers, doing national and international business. Sweeping changes washed over the country as new industrial modes of production revolutionized American life. The rise of cities, the evolution of American immigration, the transformation of American labor, the further making of a mass culture, the creation of great concentrated wealth, the growth of vast city slums, the conquest of the West, the emergence of a middle class, the problem of poverty, the triumph of big business, widening inequalities, battles between capital and labor, the final destruction of independent farming, breakthrough technologies, environmental destruction: industrialization created a new America. The following documents depict some of that radical change.

Mulberry Street, New York City (ca. 1900)

Bustling street in New York City in 1900, showing covered wagons, street vendors, and people of all ages.

“Mulberry Street, New York City,” ca. 1900, Library of Congress

At the turn of the century, New York City’s Lower East Side became the most densely packed urban area in the world. This colorized photomechanical print from the Detroit Photographic depicts daily life on Mulberry Street, the area’s central artery.

Luna Park

Photograph of Luna Park on Coney Island showing decorative buildings , street vendors, and people.

Visitors to Coney Island’s Luna Park, ca.1910-1915. Via Library of Congress (LC-B2- 2240-13).

Amusement-hungry Americans flocked to new entertainments at the turn of the twentieth century. In this early-twentieth century photograph, visitors enjoy Luna Park, one of the original amusement parks on Brooklyn’s famous Coney Island.