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Defining Moments

The Gilded Age

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In the years following the Civil War, the United States expanded rapidly. As the nation became industrialized, wealth became consolidated in the hands of the leaders of industry, who amassed staggering fortunes on the backs of workers, who earned very little. The gaping chasm of this economic inequality stirred many cultural, social, and political changes, a period that in many ways mirrors the inequality in contemporary American life.

Defining Moments: The Gilded Age presents an authoritative account of the origins and progression of the industry-driven economic changes that followed the Civil War. It also explores the event’s lasting impact on America’s political and cultural landscape. The volume is organized into three distinct sections—Narrative Overview, Biographies, and Primary Sources—which offer a one-stop resource for student research.

  • The Narrative Overview section provides a detailed, factual account of what led up to the Gilded Age, the events and issues during the era, and its legacy in American society
  • The Biographies section presents valuable biographical background on leading figures associated with the era
  • The Primary Sources section collects a wide variety of pertinent primary source materials from the Gilded Age, including official documents, song lyrics, memoirs, editorials, and other important works

Other notable features include a glossary of important people, places, and terms; a detailed chronology featuring page references to relevant sections of the narrative; an annotated listing of selected sources for further study; an extensive general bibliography; and a subject index.

Standard Features

  • Library binding, 7 1/4 x 9 1/4
  • 240 pages
  • 30-40 photographs and other illustrations
  • Narrative Overview section: Provides a detailed, factual account of the “defining moment”
  • Biographies section: Presents valuable biographical background on leading figures associated with the event
  • Primary Sources section: Collects a wide variety of pertinent primary source materials from the era
  • Research Topics: Proposes a list of topics suitable for conducting historical research and writing reports, a valuable starting point for student research
  • Source Attribution: Contains references for primary sources and other quoted material that guide users to other historical research resources
  • Glossary of Important People, Places, and Terms: Gives brief definitions for the many terms used in the book
  • Chronology: Highlights the related events in chronological order, along with “see” references that direct the reader to pages in the narrative with additional information
  • Sources for Further Study: Provides annotated citations for selected sources that are most useful to students
  • Bibliography: Lists books, periodicals, web sites, and videos consulted in preparing the volume
  • Subject Index: Includes people, places, organizations, events, and other topics

Research Topics

Each volume in the Defining Moments series covers a wide range of topics that students can use as starting points for further research. Potential research topics for Defining Moments: The Gilded Age are below:

  • Review how Americans spread across the western frontier during the 19th century, and what impact this migration had on the nation’s economic and cultural growth
  • Summarize the political and economic effects of the transcontinental railroad and the extension of rail lines throughout the United States
  • Study the transformation of America from a rural, farming society to an urban, industrial society
  • Analyze the creation of the first great industrial corporations and factors in their growth and success
  • Track the rise of the industrialists known as the “robber barons” and their contributions—both positive and negative—to American business and finance
  • Compare and contrast the glittering displays of wealth by business owners and political leaders and the poverty and hardships faced by working-class Americans during the Gilded Age
  • Survey the targets and achievements of the political, social, and economic reforms of the Gilded Age
  • Chart the growth and impact of the labor movement in the Gilded Age
  • Study the history of third-party political movements in the Gilded Age
  • Review the factors influencing the rise of Populist movements, and how and why they succeeded or failed
  • Compare and contrast the role of the president in the Gilded Age with that of Theodore Roosevelt in the Progressive Era
  • Survey the contributions of “muckraking” investigative journalists to raising public awareness of corporate greed and political corruption
  • Define the legacy of the Gilded Age on American business, economics, politics, law, and culture
  • Debate whether the United States has entered into another Gilded Age of economic disparity and excess during the 21st century


“[The first section] is a clear and objective narrative overview with chapters about economic expansion, robber barons and corruption, reform movements, labor unrest, and analysis of the era’s legacy and its parallels in our own stratified society. … This well-written book offers both historical and contemporary analyses, making it a good choice for collections that need report information about an often-overlooked time in American history.”

—School Library Journal, Oct ’12

“This narrative provides a detailed and fully researched explanation of the Gilded Age. … This series is a solid start for research assignments, as it engages students in history and helps them narrow their topics while providing numerous resources for further research. This easy-to-read and navigate resource is a recommended purchase for library collections serving middle and high school students.”

—VOYA: Voice of Youth Advocates, Aug ’12

“The Gilded Age fills a sometimes overlooked period in American history and is a valuable addition to any American history collection.”

—American Reference Books Annual, 2013