Progressive Era during the Great Depression Essay

Human beings are superior creatures who will always device survival mechanisms and options whenever situation compels. No tragedy has ever occurred to surpass the creativity and innovation of human beings. To prove this, it is worthwhile for any individual to seek understanding as to the mechanisms developed to sail the world through tough economic, social, and political moments like the Great Depression, Progressive era and, World War I and II. These four events marked and established a concrete history that shaped as well as helping in describing the current setup of the world.

Progressive era that transpired through 1800s to 1920s established a critical moment of change for the American society and world in general. The period characterized with massive urbanization coupled with high rate of industrialization. In nutshell, the Progressive era became synonymous with high levels of poverty that touched lower class that constituted the biggest percentage of the American population. No sooner had the impacts the Progressive era fade than America and world in general bumped into yet another tempting moment of Great Depression. This period begun in 1929 and ended in the early 1940, before giving way for World War II.

According to Sage (2010, p. 1), the spirit of progressive started to signalize in the early 1890s when small businesspersons, farmers and other reform oriented leaders merged to form the Populist Party. The purposes of the party were to confront and address the problems faced by the American societies such unemployment, injustice, poor leadership among other. It is from Populist Party that Progressives would later develop after the former gained national trust. As mentioned earlier, Progressive era entailed numerous events ranging from urbanization and industrialization that necessitated the need for change in the American societies. The rate at which urbanization took place alongside industrialization could only translate to the effects of poverty. Increased poverty among majority of citizens translated to poor health services, high crime rates, racism, violence, class warfare, and greed, together with corruption. In the description of Burt (2004, p. 3), poor working conditions and environments were also justifiable causes of concern by the Progressives. By 1890, 18% of the total labor in the country constituted of the women and children. Prior to the Progressive era, American experienced high influx of immigrants who in turn compromised the wage rates for the native employees bearing the stiff competition for employment opportunities. To extinguish such misfortunes from the society and ensure growth of the American societies, a group of individuals from higher social class mutinied to form a social movement called “Progressives”. Members of the Progressive group were mainly city dwellers who had significant college education (Burt 2004, p. 4).

According to the Progressives, honest government, safe environment, and education for the country were the only options that would help save and develop the country. Progressive was the only sure way of responding to, and appreciating the industrial revolution that had hit the country. Among the Progressives were Jane Addams, Susan Antony, Margaret Sanger, Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, and Carrie Nation among others. The leading journalist of the era who helped spread the message of progress was Ida Tarbell, Thomas, Nast, Upton Sinclair, and Jacob Riis. The political reformers and activists of the time included Theodore Roosevelt, William Dubois, Booker Washington, and Eugene Debs. The great missions of the Progressives included fighting fear among the immigrants, teaching democracy and exposing evil and corrupt acts committed by those holding power.

Rauchway (2007, p. 8) remarks that election of Robert La Follette as the governor of Wisconsin in 1900 through the Republican Party stipulated the introduction of an active pro-progressive into the American politics. During his reign, Robert sponsored strategic laws that sought to regulate corporations and businesses in the country. Cocks et al. (2009, p.3) add that Robert also introduced laws that sought to weaken the influence of political parties by allowing directing preliminary elections and setting limits that a party or political contestant could spend in campaigns. In addition, Robert proposed for the creation of state commission to sponsor in the regulation of environment, railroads, transportation, and civil service.

A critical turning point in the Progressive era occurred in 1901, when Theodore Roosevelt assumed presidency upon the assassination of President William McKinley. The significance of Theodore’s presidency to this era of progression attached to his concerted efforts and commitments towards furthering the spirit and mission of Progressive era. As outlined by Cocks et al (2009, p. 4) Roosevelt formed a presidency focused on regulating businesses, giant industries, and corporations by preventing and monitoring monopoly. Trust on Roosevelt grew when he put his missions into action at the time that he filed a case against Standard Oil that was growing too large to stifle free competition in the market. Another significant achievement of President Roosevelt as one of the Progressives was the creation of the department of labor and commerce contemplated to help increase government’s oversight on interstate trade. In 1911, Progressives under the rule of Roosevelt emerged winners when the Supreme Court ruled for dissolution of the Standard Oil into smaller and controllable business organizations. This ruling marked great beginning of success in the fight against corporate and general societal greed.

The publication of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair marked another significant road towards achieving the missions of the Progressives. In the book, Sinclair disclosed the unhealthy handling of meat in the meat industry. According to Hassan, this disclosure attracted immense public attention thus compelling the establishment of mode that ensured federal inspection of the meat industries. It was also during the reign of President Roosevelt that Department of Agriculture unveiled the use of toxic food additives during processing of canned foods. Samuel Hopkins, one of the leading journalist in the Progressive movement investigated and reported fraudulent and misleading advertisements in the sale of the “over the counter drugs”. As a way of dealing with all the heinous acts, the Progressives under the leadership of President Roosevelt introduced the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 (Burt 2004, p. 5). This act empowered the government to conduct investigations into the sanitary and healthy practices in the meat industries. Progressives also endorsed the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. This law purposed to prohibit any form of fraudulent advertisements of the toxic food additives.

Among the positive achievements, include the transformation and bettering of working conditions in employment sectors (Sage, 2010, p.1). Many people also regard the Women’s Right Movement, which began in this era, as one of the major turning points during this period. From 1901 to 1920, more than 2 million females demanded the right to vote, something that had not previously existed. With the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, the women demanded equal rights, starting the wave of feminism. Women’s suffrage movement, which began with National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) eventually, helped the women to gain their voting rights. Hence, this particular turning point is self-explanatory, since it led to a major chunk of the population earning the right to vote, furthering the idea of democracy. Women, during the progressive era worked with their male counter-parts to draft public policies, which included birth control rights and labor laws for women and children (Weingand 2009, p. 21). Furthermore, the efforts by Progressives ensured women in the frontier states exclusive rights to vote and participate in any public decision making. Women in the Southern and Eastern states, much of the women were restricted to largely feminine professions, which included nursing and teaching.

The progressive era marked a number of victories for the United States of America, which makes the country today what it is. These included a number of different changes to the constitution, which included the sixteenth amendment, and of course as previously mentioned the voting rights of women. To help with maintaining the equal distribution of income and wealth, the sixteenth amendment provided Congress to implement taxes on the incomes of Americans in 1913. In 1909, there was a tax, placed on the income and profits of corporations (Rauchway 2007, p. 10). This form of taxation has helped the government collect finances used to pay for public utilities, construction of infrastructure and promotion of social justice. Additionally, another legislation, which also had an impact on the conduct of business, included the Clayton Act of 1914 and the Federal Trade Commission Act. This helped regulate the power of monopolies and its discriminatory practices, which included price discrimination, exclusive dealing contracts, interlocking directorates, and the acquisition of competing companies through stock purchases. These acts were in response to the allegations that investment bankers and financers had created monopolies out of different industrial corporations. Therefore, small businesses had not been able to survive. Once these practices ended, competition spurred, and this was helpful to the economy (Weigand 2009, p.78).

Another event, which occurred during these years made America extend its power beyond its territory, which would eventually help in the becoming of a world power. The war had numerous causes, which included the allegation that Spain had impinged upon the sovereignty of United States, as well as because of the sympathy for the Cubans, which was in the control of Spain. However, once United States was able to defeat the Spanish in Cuba effectively, it was able to work its way into different Spanish colonies, such as Puerto Rico and Hawaii among many others. In this way, the period of American imperialism began (Neumann, 2004, p. 525).

However, after the roaring Twenties, and a great feeling of optimism, following the Stock Market Crash, the Great Depression began, which lasted for a decade. The federal government eventually had to play some part in getting the American economy out of this depression, which had brought upon so much tragedy. Following the Great Depression, the amount of government expenditure increased. In response to this misfortunate Great Depression, the governments created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation whose funding came from the Federal Government. The Federal-State Unemployment Compensation, which exists today also has its roots in the Great Depression, which was a program to be administered by states, under the guidelines of the federal government, helping those that are unemployed (Wiegand 2009, p. 82). Therefore, this period shaped America in different ways, leading for implementation of new laws, which make America what it is today. Additionally, American progress and eventually imperialism had its roots from this era.


Burt, E. V. (2004). The Progressive era: Primary documents on events from 1890 to 1914. Westport (Conn.: Greenwood Press.

Cocks, C., Holloran, P. C., Lessoff, A., & Cocks, C. (2009). The A to Z of the Progressive Era. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press.

Neumann, M. (2004). The international handbook of competition. Cheltenham [u.a.: Elgar.

Rauchway, E. (2007). The Great Depression and the New Deal: A very short introduction. Oxford [u.a.: Oxford Univ. Press.

Sage, H. (2010). The Progressive Era, 1896-1916. Academic American History. Retrieved July 25, 2012, from

Wiegand, S. (2009). Lessons from the Great Depression for dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.