Progressive Era through the Great Depression Essay

In the American history, the period between 1890 and 1940 has been marked with various growth and downfall phases. The progressive era from 1890 to 1920 can be argued as the golden period when the economical growth and social development were at their highest level. Much considerable advancement in the areas of politics, society, and culture can be identified under this timeframe. Most of the urban towns were transformed into rural cities, and large number of people migrated to metropolitan areas to obtain higher standards of living. Many new immigrants poured in from other countries with diverse cultures and traditions (Jaycox 2005). While the progressive era was significant for the economic growth, the late 1920s marked an era of economic depression. This economic decline was the worst in the history; it spread all over the world after its origin in the United States. The prices declined drastically with considerable increase in unemployment rate. Such was the influence of this economic downfall that October 29, 1929, the day that marked the beginning of this devastating collapse, was named as Black Tuesday. Although many events took place during the period under discussion, two events can be considered as major historic turning points with a great influence on the America’s current society, economy, politics, and culture. The changes in the American foreign policy and large flow of immigrants from other nations proved to be major turning points in the progressive era through economic depression. (Jaycox 2005)

American Foreign Policy and New Immigrants

Prior to 1890, America followed the ideology of isolationism, and relations with the other nations were limited. The American government mostly focused on its own development and had a negligible interest in the foreign affairs. This trend, however, changed after 1890 when government policy makers adopted a more global approach and America began to influence the world affairs. This encouragement was partly due to a fact that many circumstances had changed over the years. America had evolved into an industrial juggernaut, and opening a foreign front helped the businessmen to approach the international market. Soon, the national goods were distributed around the globe, which played a major role in the economic development, global influence, and American transition into a superpower. Similarly, the flow of immigrants during this period had a great impact on the social structure of the country. This intake from diverse cultures helped formation of a multicultural environment that attracted skilled labor from around the globe. Therefore, these immigrants initially provided the unskilled labor as most of them were from poor families, but the very their presence cultivated the ground for the future intake of the more skilled immigrants who played a pivotal role in the establishment of the country. (Jaycox 2005)

Women’s Right to Vote

A campaign for woman suffrage in the United States is one of the highlighted events during the period under discussion. Although most of the women received their rights to vote by 1920, the western states were more liberal than the northeastern and southern states in granting women their desired rights. Few reasons can be speculated for women’s liberty in the west. First of all, women in the frontier were given more status than household articles. Many speculate that this was a result of a distinct frontier democracy or more liberal approach of the western men. But the efforts of women associations in the west were one of the important differences that can explain why women received the right to vote much earlier in the west as compared to the other states.

American-Spanish War

Tensions built up between Spain and the United States over the Cuban rule by the end of 19th century. America had concerns over Spanish colonization in the surrounding regions, and the incidence involving mysterious sinking of an American battleship ignited the fire between the two nations. In 1898, the war was officially declared and fought on many fronts that involved Cuba and Philippines. After a small resistance from the Spanish army, America emerged victorious. Many impacts of this glory that helped America develop as an empire are evident. First of all, the defeat turned out to be a major blow for the Spanish Empire that crumbled under the humiliation. Therefore, a void was created that favored the US in establishing an empire. Secondly, the treaty that was signed following the Spanish defeat gave the control of Cuba and Philippine to the United States. These colonies proved to be invaluable and supported the cause of the US to become a huge empire. So, direct and indirect contribution of Spanish American war in the US establishment is quiet evident. (Britannica 2012)

Legislation in the Roosevelt–Taft–Wilson Progressive Era

Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson were the three presidents who joined the office during the progressive era. Different legislation under their government rule was introduced that had a great influence on the business sector that remained even today. For example, legislations were passed in 1914 that introduced a more secure environment for obtaining and piling the capital. These laws include Clayton Anti-trust Act and the Federal trade commission act of 1914. Clayton Act was a modified version of the Sherman Act first introduced in 1890. Under this act, discriminatory pricing was tagged as illegal. Moreover, the companies were restricted from obtaining the exclusive contracts that would result in the loss of market competition and the increase of burden on the consumer as the pricing can be set high (Saros 2009). These legislations served as the foundations that still exist in the present times and influence the conduct of business to this day. Introducing market competition still remains an important tool for price controlling and ensuring quality products. Most of the agencies that still regulate in the United States such as Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) and Federal Trade Commission were also influenced by the legislatures introduced in the progressive era. (Saros 2009)

Federal Government and National Economy

The sudden transition from progressive era to the worst economic depression ever seen affected the federal government and its involvement in the national economy. During the progressive era, much of the spending was focused on agriculture, antitrust, and academics of the country. Even when the progression was halted by the world war, the federal power spread without any hindrance. Before the great depression or during the progressive era, the spending of the federal government had only exceeded the revenue collection during the war period leading to a deficit. But this deficit rose considerably following the great depression. Prior to the great depression, federal government’s role in national economy was minimal, but, after withstanding the aftershocks of the economic downfall, few reforms were introduced such as readjusting the taxes, subsidizing the agriculture, and other similar interventions to stabilize the economy. (Schick et al 2000)


From the above depiction of the historical events during the progressive era followed by the great depression few conclusions can be obtained. The changes in the American foreign policy and the flow of immigrants proved to be the key turning points during this period. As regards women’s rights, the west was more liberal or the movements and efforts of the women in the region helped them obtain their voting rights before any other states of America. The Spanish American war along with the crucial laws introduced during the progressive era cultivated a fertile soil for the expansion of the great American empire. American federal government worked hard for establishing a strong infrastructure in the country and made some amendments to cover up the void created by the great depression.


Jaycox, F. (2005). The Progressive Era. New York: Facts On File.

Saros, D. E. (2009). Labor, industry, and regulation during the progressive era. New York, NY: Routledge.

Schick, A., & LoStracco, F. (2000). The federal budget: Politics, policy, process. Washington, D.C: Brookings Institution Press.

Spanish-American War. (2012). In Encyclopædia Britannica online. Retrieved from