The 19th century, 1800 to 1899, was a time of great change in America, and a time of many Americas.  The north and south held different values and different economies.  Western expansion more than doubled the size of the country.  In the mid 1800s, 1861 – 1864, the Civil War tore the country between north and south, and in the later decades the country knitted itself back together.

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  • In 1803, Ohio became a state.
  • In 1812, Louisiana became a state.
  • In 1816, Indiana became a state.
  • In 1817,  Mississippi became a state.
  • In 1818, Illinois became a state.
  • In 1819, Alabama became a state.
  • In 1820, Maine became a state.
  • In 1821, Missouri became a state.
  • In 1836, Arkansas became a state.
  • In 1837, Michigan became a state.
  • In 1845, Florida and Texas became states.
  • In 1846, Iowa became a state.
  • In 1848, Wisconsin became a state.
  • In 1850, California became a state.
  • In 1858, Minnesota became a state.
  • In 1859, Oregon became a state.
  • In 1861, Kansas became a state.
  • In 1863, West Virginia became a state.
  • In 1864, Nevada became a state.
  • In 1867, Nebraska became a state.
  • In 1876, Colorado became a state.
  • In 1889, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington became states.
  • In 1890, Idaho and Washington became states.
  • In 1896, Utah became a state.

Presidents.  These were the presidents during the 1800s:

  • 3rd: Thomas Jefferson 1801–1809
  • 4th: James Madison 1809–1817
  • 5th: James Monroe 1817–1825
  • 6th: John Quincy Adams 1825–1829
  • 7th: Andrew Jackson 1829–1837
  • 8th: Martin Van Buren 1837–1841
  • 9th: William Henry Harrison 1841
  • 10th: John Tyler 1841–1845
  • 11th: James Polk 1845–1849
  • 12th: Zachary Taylor 1849–1850
  • 13th: Millard Fillmore 1850–1853
  • 14th: Franklin Pierce 1853–1857
  • 15th: James Buchanan 1857–1861
  • 16th: Abraham Lincoln 1861–1865
  • 17th: Andrew Johnson 1865–1869
  • 18th: Ulysses S. Grant 1869–1877
  • 19th: Rutherford B. Hayes 1877–1881
  • 20th: James Garfield 1881
  • 21st: Chester Arthur 1881–1885
  • 22nd: Grover Cleveland 1885–1889
  • 23rd: Benjamin Harrison 1889–1893
  • 24th: Grover Cleveland 1893–1897
  • 25th: William McKinley 1897–1901

Inventions. The 19th century was a time of inventions of all sorts!

Some of those early inventions were:

  • 1801: James Finley invented the suspension bridge.
  • 1806: Benjamin Rumford invented the coffee percolator.
  • 1807: Robert Fulton built the first successful steamboat.
  • 1808: Ebenezer Thorndike invented the lobster trap.
  • 1815: Levi Parmly invented dental floss.
  • 1829: Reverend Sylvester Graham invented the graham cracker.
  • 1833: Elias Howe patented the sewing machine.
  • 1834: Hiram Moore invented the combine harvester.
  • 1837: Samuel Morse invented the telegraph.
  • 1839: George Pullman invented the sleeping car.
  • 1845: Alexander Cartwright wrote the official set of baseball rules.
  • 1850: Josephine Cochrane invented the first successful and practical dishwasher.
  • 1850: Allen Wilson invented feed dogs, to pull fabric through a sewing machine.
  • 1852: Elisha Otis invented the elevator brake, contributing in a big way to taller and taller city buildings.
  • 1853: George Crum invented potato chips.
  • 1856: Ralph Collier patented the egg beater.
  • 1857: Joseph Gayetty invented toilet paper.
  • 1866: Charles Goodnight introduced the concept of a chuckwagon.
  • 1867: Sylvester Roper invented a motorcycle that was powered by coal and driven by steam.
  • 1867: Samual Fay invented the paper clip.
  • 1867: J.B. Sutherland received a patent for the refrigerator car.
  • 1872: Walter Scott invented the first diner, a sort of horse-drawn food truck.
  • 1873: Levi Strauss invented jeans.
  • 1874: Christopher Sholes invented the QWERTY keyboard and the typewriter.
  • 1877: Thomas Edison invented the phonograph.
  • 1879: James Ritty invented the cash register.
  • 1885: George Eastman invented photographic film.
  • 1888: Frank Sprague is credited with inventing the trolley pole.
  • 1888: Theophilus Van Kannel invented the revolving door.

Work. The late 19th-century United States is probably best known for the growth of factories and the mass production of goods by machines.  Machines had replaced highly skilled craftspeople in one industry after another. By the 1870s, machines were knitting stockings and stitching shirts and dresses, cutting and stitching leather for shoes, and producing nails by the millions. It was cheaper to make goods, and cheaper to buy them.

Machines changed the way people worked. Skilled craftspeople of earlier days had the satisfaction of seeing a product through from beginning to end. When they made a knife, or barrel, or shirt or dress, they had a sense of accomplishment. Machines, on the other hand, tended to subdivide production down into many small repetitive tasks with workers often doing only a single task. The pace of work usually became faster and faster; work was often performed in factories built to house the machines. Finally, factory managers began to enforce an industrial discipline, forcing workers to work set–often very long–hours.

There were increasing reasons for workers to join labor unions. These labor unions were not able to organize large numbers of workers in the 19th century but they were able to organize strikes to protest poor working conditions and low wages.

Rural Life.   While the number of people living on farms and small towns continued to grow in the late 1800s, city life was growing much more quickly. Still, most Americans lived the rural life in the 1800s.  Many of those Americans had settled on the plains — what is now the midwest — in the 1880s, drawn there by the promise of free land under the Homestead Act.  When the homesteaders’ crops failed, sending many of them into debt, they went farther west, or back to the east or south. Farmers began to organize into groups called Granges and Farmers’ Alliances to address the problems faced by farmers. Some farmers tried to launch a new political party, the People’s Party (or Populists), running a candidate for president in 1892. Unfortunately, their candidate did not do well, drawing only about 8 percent of the vote.

New machines for use in farming were invented in this period, but horses, oxen, and people still provided most of the power that operated the machinery. While farmers now produced cash crops (crops grown for sale), they were still remarkably self-sufficient, often making or trading for nearly everything required by their own families.  Farming was changing, as the new engines continued to replace farm animals, sped up tedious processes like removing seeds, and combined steps in the harvesting process.

Lifestyle.  Between 1880 and 1900, cities in the United States grew by about 15 million people!   People from rural America were moving to the cities during this period, taking jobs in factories, but more than half of Americans still lived on farms or in small towns.  Immigrants arrived from around the world.

All of those people and factories in cities led to noise, traffic jams, slums, air pollution, and sanitation and health problems.  Skyscrapers began to dominate city skylines, thanks to elevators and steel.  Mass transit, in the form of trolleys, cable cars, and subways, was built and made it possible for people to live farther out from the city.

Many city people lived in rental apartments or tenement housing. Immigrants often attempted to hold onto and practice precious customs and traditions from their home countries in their new city neighborhoods.

Education. American education in the nineteenth century is called “The Common School Period” because the 1840s was the first time that education was available to everyone, at least in some places.  Reformers Horace Mann and Henry Barnard created the first statewide schools in Massachusetts and Connecticut, making them available to all children.  Textbooks in the 19th century focused on teaching children to be democratic citizens when they grow up.

In 1833, Rev. William Holmes McGuffey was approached by Truman and Smith Publishing and asked to write a school text book for their company to sell. McGuffy decided to write a textbook because he was completely dissatisfied with the teaching methods of his time. He invited children to join him on his porch, so he could find out how they learned. He discovered that children could read before they even knew how to spell, and are more likely to retain information if they read out loud. His first reader, published in 1841, contained fifty-five lessons.

Public high schools were developed in the early 1800s for college preparatory classes.

Transportation.   Beginning around 1790, a series of changes was beginning that historians have called “The Transportation Revolution.” Americans—and New Englanders in particular—rebuilt and extended their roads. More than 3,700 miles of toll roads were built in New England between 1790 and 1820.  Continuing through the 1840s, many thousands of miles of improved county and town roads were constructed as well. The new roads were far better built and maintained, and allowed for much faster travel.

With better roads there was much more traffic in the form of stagecoach lines, wagons and carriages. Stagecoach lines spread across the Northeastern states, used continual relays, or “stages,” of fresh horses spaced out every 40 miles or so. They made travel, if not enjoyable, at least faster, less expensive, and less dangerous than it had ever been. The 1830s reduced the travel time between Boston and New York to a day and a half. Good roads and stages extended across southern New England, the lower Hudson Valley in New York, and southeastern Pennsylvania.

The biggest changes in the speed, scale and experience of traveling came with the railroad, the steamboat, and the building of canals. Beginning with Robert Fulton’s steamboat the Clermont, which successfully made the journey up the Hudson from New York City to Albany in 1807, Americans developed steamboats to travel the deeper eastern rivers and the shallower western ones. Although steamboats were sometimes dangerously prone to fires and boiler explosions, they traveled faster, met tighter schedules and could travel against the river current far more effectively than rafts and barges. Steamboats expanded passenger travel on American rivers and carried much higher value cargo upstream.

Americans of the 19th century built canals, as the British had done decades earlier. Canals made it less expensive to ship farm goods, manufactured goods and passengers, but it was often difficult for them to return profits to their investors. The Erie Canal, which was built in 1825, crosses New York State to connect the cities of Albany and Buffalo.  This canal opened up trade with New York City and New England. In New England, New York and Pennsylvania, Americans created a system of inland waterways that reduced transportation costs, too.

After 1830, the railroad or, as most Americans at that time said, the “Rail Way,” was the most dramatic of the new transportation options.  It offered speed and power that was far greater than anything before it.  Noisy and dirty, train travel was used only by a few passengers, but brought goods between cities faster than ever before.  With good weather, a good road and rested horses, a stagecoach might manage eight or nine miles an hour. The small locomotives of the 1830s, pulling a handful of cars over uneven track, could travel at fifteen to twenty miles an hour.  By 1840, 3000 miles of railroad track had been laid down, most of it in the northeast.  By train, a trip between Boston and Worcester took less than two hours.  Travelers could reach New York City from Boston in less than a day, using both steamship and railway.  Transportation costs had been greatly reduced and travel had become faster by a factor of 5 or more. These changes made possible America’s first “Industrial Revolution,” the widespread development of commercial agriculture in the Midwest, and a national system of markets and the distribution of goods.

After 1840 the railroad grew faster, more powerful and more efficient, becoming America’s dominant mode of transportation east of the Mississippi.  Stagecoaches disappeared, and so did some of the canals.

Religion.  The 19th century saw the rise of biblical criticism, a new diversity, and the growth of science.  Many Christians started to emphasize a moral approach with religion as a lifestyle rather than as a revealed truth.  There was rapid growth of Methodist and Baptists denominations, and steady growth among Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Anglicans. After 1830 German Lutherans arrived in large numbers; after 1860 Scandinavian Lutherans arrived.

The movement of thousands of settlers to new territories without permanent villages of the types they knew meant they were without religious buildings and leaders. The “camp meeting” led by itinerant preachers was an innovative response to this situation. Camp meetings have strong roots in the Presbyterian Scots-Irish, who dominated many parts of the frontier.  Because travel in the frontier was difficult, people camped out at or near the revival site. People were attracted to large camp meetings from a wide area, out of sincere religious interest, or curiosity and a desire for a break from routine; participants could take part in almost continuous services, which resulted in high emotions; once one speaker was finished (often after several hours), another would often rise to take his place.


Gross, Ernie. Colonial and 18th Century American Life Advances and Innovations in American Daily Life, 1600s-1930s. McFarland, 2002. Print. ISBN:0786412488
This reference book is divided into these sections: Agriculture, Art and music, Business and finance, Clothing, Communications, Education, Energy, Entertainment, Food and drink, Health, Labor, Law, Manufacturing, Public service, Religion, Science, Shelter and domestic furnishing, Social welfare, Sports, and Transportation.

Thackeray, Frank and Findling, John.  Events That Changed America in the Eighteenth Century.
Designed to help students better understand the vitally important historical events of 18th century American history, this volume in the acclaimed series presents 10 major events in separate chapters. From the Great Awakening early in the century to Jefferson’s Revolution of 1800, each chapter goes beyond the traditional textbook treatment of history by considering the immediate and far-reaching ramifications of each event.