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Timeline and Summary of the Progressive Era

Neha Gohad Mar 15, 2020
Watching a season of 'Boardwalk Empire' transports you to the infamous era of bootlegging, radical changes in fashion, political bosses, and burlesque. Coined as the 'Progressive Era', this was also a time of great reforms in the U.S. Here's a brief history of the reforms and a timeline of this bygone era.

Did You Know?

By 1900, just 1% of American corporations controlled a third of the nation's manufacturing. Hence, acts like the Sherman Antitrust Act were passed to ensure free competition.
The Progressive Era can be defined as a period of social activism and political reforms from the 1890s to the 1920s in the U.S. Prohibition, women's suffrage, a scientific approach towards social sciences like economics and politics, and a modern perspective characterize the progressive era reforms.
When Social Darwinists began drawing parallels between society and 'the survival of the fittest', advocates of the progressive movement staunchly opposed it. Progressivists were people who believed that a radical change was the key to eliminate vices like gender bias, corruption, exploitation of the working class, and violence.
This could be done with the help of education, regulation of large corporations and monopolies, child labor laws' enactment, prohibition, and conservation of the environment. Following are the reforms brought about during this period in brief, the key progressivists, and a chronological timeline.

Progressive Era Reforms

The single most long-term reform of the Progressive Era was making the government more responsive and efficient. The progressivists intended to increase public participation in the formation of the government and limit the power wielded by the political bosses.

Labor Unions

Dissatisfied with the working conditions and the wages paid, the labor decided to protest and chose to strike.
It was a collective decision, and thus led to the formation of labor unions. The National Labor Union was the first national labor federation in the U.S.

Child Labor Reforms

Children were employed in glass factories, ammunition factories, and seafood sorting places. Employers preferred hiring children because they were quick, willing to work for low wages, and easy to train too.
Progressive reformers fought against child labor. They strove to make laws against employment of children in factories. They believed that the children had a right to education and should be protected from harmful environment at this age.
Owing to their efforts, every state had the provision to ban children under 14 from working. The Keating - Owen Act passed in 1916, and Smith Huges Act passed in 1917 were precursors to this act.


In 1917, Congress passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which passed the plan for Prohibition. It prohibited the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. It aimed at breaking the nexus between the liquor distillers and the corrupt yet powerful political bosses.
But soon, illegal smuggling of alcohol became commonplace, and hence, the amendment was repealed in the 21st Amendment, in 1933.

Women's Suffrage

The 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed in June 1919, which granted suffrage to women.
The first women's rights convention took place at Seneca Falls. A resolution in favor of women's suffrage was passed at this convention. Women regularly voted till 1797 in some states, but a law passed in 1807 excluded women from voting in those state.

Key People

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore 'Teddy' Roosevelt was the Vice President before the assassination of William McKinley. He succeeded McKinley to become the President in 1901.
Roosevelt brought about many business reforms mainly to decentralize power from a few large American monopolies. He is credited with coining the term 'Muckrakers' for journalists, after he asked them not to 'rake up all the muck'.

Woodrow Wilson

"We have come upon a very different age from any that preceded us." said President Wilson about this era. He argued for a stronger central government, labor rights, and antitrust legislation.
Wilson's policies, like reducing tariff and introducing income tax, proved to be instrumental in improving the national economy. Although Wilson assured to bring back free competition by eliminating monopolistic trusts, his policies resembled the 'regulated monopoly' of the Republican President Roosevelt.

William Taft

Taft was Roosevelt's handpicked successor and became the 27th President, in 1909.
Taft was more conservative than Roosevelt, but he filed twice the number of antitrust suits as his predecessor.

Jane Addams

Jane Addams was a prominent reformer of the Progressive Era. She supported Roosevelt's policies. She founded the 'Hull House' in Chicago for immigrants and worked to improve the living conditions in urban slums. Addams' friend Ellen Gates Starr co-founded the 'Hull House'.

The Muckrakers

Influential journalists helped carry the message of social reform and brought to light the underlying corruption mushrooming in big trusts. They included Jacob Riis, Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, Thomas Nast, and many others.
Upton Sinclair's 'Jungle' described the unhygienic meat packaging issue, which was immediately addressed by President Roosevelt. Riis exposed the bad living conditions and growing crime rate in New York City through his photographs and writings. Tarbell was a muckraker who wrote about the Standard Oil Company.

Timeline of the Progressive Era

Year - Event

1840:- Second Great Awakening: Agitation for Prohibition started.
1874:- Women's Christian Temperance Union was founded.
1887:- The Interstate Commerce Act was passed.
1890 :-The Sherman Antitrust Act was passed.
1893:- The Anti-Saloon League was formed.
1900:- The Association of American Law schools (AALS) set up by American Bar Association.
1907:- The second wave of Prohibition legislation is almost complete.
1906:- The Food and Drug Act is passed. Patent medicines that had never been scientifically tested are removed.
1911:- The breakup of Standard Oil Company.
1913:- The 17th Amendment is passed. All senators be elected by the people.
1913:- The Underwood Tariff Act is passed.
1913:- The Federal Reserve System is established.
1913:- The 16th Amendment is ratified. A small income tax on high incomes is made legal.
1913:- Henry Ford introduces the moving assembly line.
1914:- The Clayton Antitrust Act is passed.
1917:- The Food and Fuel Control Act is passed, which bans production of distilled spirits for the duration of war.
1917:- The 18th Amendment passes the plan for prohibition, which is repealed in the 21st Amendment, in 1933.
1932:- The Norris La Guardia Act for labor unions is passed.
1932:- A general agreement that the Progressive Era is over.
Thus, the Progressive Era proved to be epoch-making in the history of the U.S. The reforms had far-reaching effects on posterity.