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1878-1899: Business and the Economy: Chronology

1878-1899: Business and the Economy: Chronology




  • Fifteen members of the Greenback Labor Party are elected to Congress. The party supports a stable federal currency and more silver coins, along with such popular labor positions as restricting Chinese immigration and legislating shorter working days.
  • Frederick W. Taylor begins working for Midvale Steel Company in Philadelphia. By 1881 Taylor is conducting detailed time studies of work at the plant; two years later, Taylor has risen to chief engineer at the company.
  • John Bet-A-Million Gates who has already lost a fortune speculating in grain in Chicago, launches a barbed-wire business that will grow to become the American Steel & Wire Company in 1899.
  • 28 Jan. The nations first commercial telephone exchange begins operations in New Haven, Connecticut. It provides eight lines and serves twenty-one telephones.


  • Treasury Secretary John Sherman begins resumption of specie payments for greenbacks, under terms of legislation passed in 1875.
  • Massachusetts adopts a ten-hour working day.
  • The first American cash register is invented by James Rilty, a saloon keeper in Unio, in an effort to reduce employee theft.
  • The California Constitution bans the employment of Chinese workers.
  • Cyrus McCormick, a farm-machinery manufacturer based in Chicago, incorporates his business as McCormick Harvesting Machine Company a company that pioneers new techniques including centralized management, franchised dealers, and disttibution via a regional network of sales offices.
  • 21 June Frank W. Woolworth opens the Great Five Cent Store in Utica, New York Moving to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, several months later, he expands his line to include tencent offerings. By 1900 he is operating fifty-nine stores, with sales greater than $5 million, making his company the worlds largest retailing business.
  • July The Tidewater Pipeline Company completes construction of an oil pipeline running frorn oil fields in Bradford to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, approximately one hundred miles.
  • 18 July The Cincinnati soap and candle works owned by the Procter family develops a new soap, which it names Ivory (inspired by a verse from Psalms).


  • John Wanamakers Philadelphia department store, the Grand Depot, hires a rull-time advertising copywriter a first in the United States.
  • Apr. George Pullman begins building a model industriai town outside of Chicago for the workers of his Pullman Palace Car Company.


  • Joseph Wharton, a merchant, donates $100,000 to the University of Pennsylvania to form the nations first permanent school of business at the college level.
  • Gustavus F. Swift, a Chicago meatpacker, hires Andrew J. Chase to design a refrigerated railroad car to carry his dressed beef to eastern cities. Other major meatpackers follow suit, including Phillip D. Armour of Chicago and Geroge H. Hammond of Detroit.
  • William Filene starts a womens clothing store in Boston. In the next several decades, the store introduces brargain basement sales, as well as the progressive C ooperative Management Association.
  • James Buchanan Duke shifts his manufacturing operations from chewing to-bacco to cigarettes. Pressed by competitors, Duke automates production and advertises aggressively on a national scale.
  • Ohio C. Barber, owner of the Barber Match Company, combines with three competitors to create the Diamond Match Company. The new company produces matches at a rate of twomillion a day and controls 85 percent of the national market.
  • More than one hundred delegates from national unions meet in Pittsburgh to form the Federation of Organized Trades and Labour Unions, predecessor to the American Federation of Labor.
  • 3 Mar. Congress authorizes a new federal agency to register trademarks.


  • Immigration to the United States reaches 789,000, the highest annual figure in the nineteenth century.
  • Quaker Mill, owned by Henry P. Crowell in Ravenna, Ohio, develops the first continuous milling process.
  • Dow, Jones & Company a financial news service, is established, and within two years the firm is generating indexes for stock price averages.
  • 2 Jan. John D. Rockefeller establishes the Standard Oil Trust as a means of bringing the forty separate enterprises that collectively comprise Standard Oil Company under more effective central control.
  • 6 May Congress passes the Chinese Exclusion Act, banning the immigration of Chinese for ten years.


  • The state of New York passes legislation prohibiting the manufacture of cigars in tenement houses one of the first governmental efforts to abolish sweat-shops in the cities. The state supreme court strikes down the act.
  • Sept. The Knights of Labor elect Terence V. Powderly as their Grand Master Workman, marking a period of national expansion for the organization.
  • 18 Nov. American and Canadian railroads adopt standard time zones, standardizing clock and watch settings across the continent for the first time.


  • The Antimonopoly Party forms and advocates a graduated income tax and the regulation of trusts and monopolies.
  • For the first time, the United States outstrips England in steel production.
  • May Striking shop men of the Union Pacific Railroad join the Knights of Labor, beginning the latter organizations rise in national prominence and membership.
  • 27 June Congress creates the Bureau of Labor within the Department of Interior.


  • Chemist Robert F. Lazenby invents a new soft drink, calling it Dr. Pepper.
  • 26 Feb. Congress enacts the Contract Labor Law, or Foran Act, forbidding American companies from signing up cheap foreign workers with the promise of paying their passage to the United States.
  • Mar. Workers of the Missouri Pacific Railroad strike against a wage cut. The walkout spreads throughout the southwestern railroad network, forcing Jay Gould to meet the strikers demands.


  • Southern railroad lines- the last major set of railways to make the conversion- shift their tracks to the standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches.
  • New York becomes the first state to set up a permanent agency to mediate labor disputes.
  • In Atlanta, pharmacist John S. Pemberton devises a new medicinal drink that his bookkeeper Frank Robinson dubs Coca-Cola.
  • Mar. Knights of Labor workers again strike against Jay Goulds Missouri Pacific Railroad. This time Gould resists, and by early May the strike collapses.
  • 4 May Strikers and political activists gather in Haymarket Square, Chicago, to protest the killing of a striker the day before by the police. At the gathering, a bomb is thrown, and the police respond by firing into the crowd. In an ensuing trial that attracts national headline attention, eight anarchist leaders are convicted of inciting the violence.
  • 10 May In Santa Clara County Company v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that corporations enjoy the same rights under the Fourteenth Amendment as do naturai persons. This ruling gives businesses more protection from state legislatures.
  • 29 June Congress approves the incorporation of trade unions.
  • 25 Oct. In Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific Railway Company v. Illinois the U.S. Supreme Court rules that states cannot regulate railroad rates for interstate traffic.
  • 8 Dec. The American Federation of Labor is established in Columbus, Ohio It comprises twenty-five labor groups representing 150,000 members.


  • Richard W. Sears and Alvah C. Roebuck join forces to sell watches by mail.
  • 4 Feb. Congress passes the first Interstate Commerce Act to regulate big business. The law creates a five-member commission charged with supervising railroad freight rates to ensure that they are reasonable and just.
  • 2 Mar. Congress enacts the Hatch Act, a law establishing an agricultural research and experiment station in each state with a land-grant college. By the end of the following year, forty-three stations are created.


  • Sears, Roebuck Company publishes its first mailorder catalogue.
  • Quaker Mill joins with several competitors to form the American Cereal Company.
  • Dow, Jones and Company begins publishing The Wall Street Journal.
  • The Industrial Reform Party, Union Labor Party, and United Labor Party all nominate candidates for national offices.
  • Apr. George Eastman of Rochester, New York, patents the Kodak, a small, standardized hand camera that is easy to produce and operate.
  • 13 June Congress creates the Department of Labor.



  • For the first time in the national census, the value of the nations manufacturing output equals that of its agricultural production. The United States is the top producer in the world of iron and steel, making 9.3 million tons.
  • Backed by financing from the Vanderbilt family and J. P. Morgan, Henry Villard forms the Edison General Electric Company. The company controls the licensing of Thomas A. Edisons patents.
  • The Procter & Gamble Company is formed and stumbles on a manufacturing process that makes Ivory Soap float. Soon the company is selling two hundred thousand bars a day, advertising nationally, and selling via a network of branch sales offices.
  • The American Federation of Labor establishes the United Mine Workers.
  • Herbert H. Dow starts Midland Chemical Company in Michigan.
  • American Express offers the first travelers checks, signaling the growing popularity of traveling by the middle class.
  • Jan. James Buchanan Duke combines with four other cigarette manufacturers to form the American Tobacco Company. By the end of the decade this company controls 62 percent of the nations chewing tobacco market and 93 percent of the cigarette market.
  • 2 July Congress enacts the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, prohibiting every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States.
  • 8 Aug. Congress passes the Original Package Act, upholding the right of an individual state to regulate goods produced out of state.


  • Pemberton Chemical Company sells its operations to Asa Candler.
  • Henry O. Havemayer creates the American Sugar Refining Company. By the time of Havemayers death in 1907, his company controls half the sugar consumed in the United States.
  • 24 Aug. Thomas A. Edison files a patent for a motion picture camera.
  • 29 Dec. Edison files a patent for a wireless telegraph machine.


  • The Supreme Court of Ohio dissolves Standard Oil Trust within the borders of the state.
  • Asa Candler registers the Coca-Cola trademark with the U.S. Patent Office and remarkets the medicine as a soda fountain drink.
  • John Froelich builds the first self-propelled gasoline-powered tractor.
  • Andrew Carnegie reorganizes his operations in Pittsburgh as Carnegie Steel which becomes the worlds largest steelmaking business with a capitalization of 125 milhon. Carnegie himself holds 55 percent of the companys stock.
  • J. P. Morgan and Henry Villard form the General Electric Company, combining the facilities of Thomson-Houston, which manufactured are lamps, and Edison General Electric, which specialized in incandescent lighting.
  • 1 July Workers at Camergies Homestead Steel Works go on strike, setting off a bitter four-month struggle in which twenty strikers are killed and hundreds are fired.


  • Eugene V. Debs organizes the American Railway Union.
  • In United States v. Workmens Amalgamated Council, the U.S. Supreme Court holds that the Sherman Anti-Trust Act applies to unions.
  • 21 Apr. Financial panic erupts when American gold reserves fall below $100 million, setting off a national depression that lasts for four years. Hundreds of railroàd companies, steel mills, and other business go under.


  • Over the course of the year, some 750,000 workers go on strike.
  • 20 Apr. The United Mine Workers Association (UMW) coordinates a national coal strike the largest of its kind. Mine owners respond by hiring nonunion labor and marshaling police and state militia, eventually breaking the strike.
  • 30 Apr. Jacob S. Coxey, leading approximately four hundred people protesting unemployment and advocating public relief, reaches Washington, D.C. When the leaders of Coxey s Army are arrested the following day for violating local laws prohibiting parading on the Capitol grounds, the protest falls apart.
  • 11 May Workers of the Pullman Palace Car Company near Chicago go on strike. Many of the strikers are affiliated with the American Railway Union and manage to block much of the nations rail traffic for several weeks. Federal troops and state militra break the strike by mid July.
  • 28 June Congress declares Labor Day a national holiday.


  • The Vanderbilt family builds The Breakers, a palatial summer cottage in Newport, Rhode Island, that costs $4 million.
  • Businessmen found the National Association of Manufacturers.
  • 21 Jan. In United States v. E. C. Knight Company the U.S. Supreme Court holds that the Sherman Anti-Trust Act covers only monopolies in restraint of trade, not manufacturing.
  • 27 May In litigation stemming from the Pullman Strike, the U.S. Supreme Court sustains the use of court injunctions against strikers, including Eugene V. Debs.


  • 4 June Henry Ford builds his first car, the Quadracycle.
  • 8 July William Jennings Bryan delivers his Cross of Gold speech to the Democratic National Convention, advocating free coinage of silver.


  • Seventy-five thousand UMW coal miners in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania strike successfully for an eight-hour day, semimonthly pay, and the elimination of company stores.
  • Midland Chemical Company becomes Dow Chemical Company, which develops and patents more than one hundred chemical processes.
  • L. Frank Baum (writer of the Oz series of childrens stories) publishes the first issue of The Shop Window, a monthly journal of decorative art on the design of department-store window displays.


  • The University of Chicago establishes a school of business, supported by John D. Rockefeller, to train professional business managers.
  • L. Frank Baum founds the National Association of Window Trimmers.
  • 7 Mar. In Smyth v. Ames the U.S. Supreme Court rules that railroads are entitled to reasonable returns on the fair value of the property being used, a decision that invalidates a Nebraska statute setting rates for freight hauling.


  • The United Fruit Company is formed out of the Boston Fruit Company and several smaller entities. It amasses a fleet of refrigerated steamships, railroad facilities, and huge plantations in the Caribbean. By 1914 it has $73 million worth of investments in Central America.
  • Thorstein Veblen publishes The Theory of the Leisure Class, an attack on the conspicuous consumption of the nations business elite.
  • 31 Jury Henry Ford incorporates the Detroit Automobile Company.
  • 4 Dec. In Addyston Pipe & Steel Company v. United States the U.S. Supreme Court rules that negotiations between corporations to eliminate competition violate the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.

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