Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What Problems Did the American Cities Face in the Late 1800s?

American cities in the early 20th century faced many problems. Many Americans and new immigrants lived in awful conditions. Some slept and labored in rooms with over 15 people. The slums and tenements they lived in were often dangerous and unsanitary. Even with the help of state laws, "ordinary blocks contained 10 such tenements and housed as many as 4,000 people. The airshafts became giant silos for trash. They blocked what little light had entered and, worse still, carried fires from one story to the next" (Davidson 577). The poor living conditions often contributed to an increase of disease as well. Disease "in the 1870s killed tens of thousands...Almost a quarter of children born in American cities in 1890 never lived to see their first birthday" (Davidson 276).

Many of the poor housing conditions found throughout American cities during the early 20th century continue today. For this reason, I don't agree with many of the policies that were formed in response.

While I think the discovery of new sanitation devices such as the toilet were important, I also think that the government takeover of water and electrical companies was damaging in the long run. For one, high prices kept the use of electricity and water down. A price increase, which would have occurred due to the increase in demand from new immigrants, would have required workers to move to other locations to reside (thus increasing that local economy) and would have likely curbed many of the problems we face today. With government control of water and electricity, the government was able to keep prices low for everyone (this policy continues today). What happens in response is that many people don't often care about how much power or water they use. Why would you, if the price is kept artificially low? While many blame big businesses for global warming (or whatever it is you want to call it), I believe government has just as much responsibility, if not more.

Bottom line: I think conditions would have improved as educational and job opportunities would have eventually allowed new immigrants to move to places with better conditions. For anyone who believes cities today are not that bad, I highly suggest you travel to beautiful cities like Detroit and Chicago, and to be honest, parts of Jacksonville.

Davidson, James, Brian Delay, Christine Heyrman, Mark Lytle, and Michael Stoff, Nation of Nations: A Narrative History of the American Republic Volume II: Since 1865. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008.

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