In 1820 America was a land of farmers. Barely 5 percent of the people lived in towns or cities. But after that, decade-by-decade, the urban population swelled. By 1870, only 25 cities had a population exceeding 50,000 residents. By 1890 58 cities have populations exceeding 50,000 residents. By 1900, one out of every 5 Americans lived in cities of over 100,000 residents. Nearly a tenth of the nation, 6.5 million persons, lived in just three great cities: New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. The rise of the city had begun.
The newfound cities at the turn of the 20th century provided a setting for and urban culture unlike anything seen before in the United States. The city itself became an arena to the nation's vibrant economic life. Here is where the factories went up, and here is where the new immigrants settled, making up about a third of the residents of major American cities in 1900. In the new bundle of joy also lived the millionaires and the growing white-collar middle class.
The migration from the farms to the city seem inevitable to the nineteenth-century Americans. Josiah Strong declared,"The greater part of our population must live in cities. In due time we shall be a nation of cities." Urbanization was directly linked to industrialism, which made it an inevitability of American life.
Pre-Civil War cities were used mainly as centers of commerce and not industry as they became by the 1900's. Their main use was by merchants who bought and sold goods for distribution. Industry in pre-Civil War times was bound, due to lack of technology, to be located near streams or rivers. They also needed access to fuel and raw materials. Most of their labor force was recruited from the countryside. These constraining factors hindered the cities from growing and prospering.
The arrival of the steam engine opened the eyes of industry to a world of possibilities. No longer did the mill operators need to locate alo…