American Urban Society's Growth Essay

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In the 1860s: Immigration and the Development of Urban Cities in America

In the 1860s, there were no American cities with more than a million residents. The impressive rate of urban growth in America was primarily attributed to the great number of immigrants who entered the country. Due to the perception that the United States was a country of economic opportunity, many people immigrated here. People immigrated to the United States from all over the world in order to escape famine, crop failure, increasing taxes, as well as a lack of jobs and land. The image shown above shows the Volga Germans' impermanent housing in central Kansas. Immigration led to the development of urban cities in America.

Fig. 2 Joining of the rails at Promontory Port

Cheap steel and federal grants on land helped in expansion of railroads. Within a short time, the miles of railroad tracks jumped into fivefold. Mass-transit lines radiated out from central cities to surrounding suburbs as Americans were becoming commuters, carted daily between home and job. Railways and electronic trolleys propelled city limits explosively outward drawing industrial jobs into factory centres hence making life in the big city more alluring2. The picture above shows the joining of the rails at Promontory Port. Railroads helped in development of American urban society as it eased transport.


Fig. 3 Claremont Theatre, New York

Workers in the United States began to have more leisure times than their predecessors in the period from 1894 to 1915. Workers were given more free time for leisure activities when industrial employers instituted a Saturday half-day holidays as well as decreasing working hours. People would, therefore, attend vaudeville shows which featured a multitude of acts within cities thereby creating urban entertainment. `The picture above shows a family enjoying their Saturday half-holiday at Claremont Theatre in New York3.

Fig. 4 Basketball, Missouri Valley College

Around 1890 to 1915, people in urban centres began to see the importance of exercise to health hence growing the popularity of sports as leisure activities. The wealthy, middle class, and the working participated in most sporting activities as publicly opening of fields, courts, and gymnasiums took place. As people flocked to see different types of sports, spectator sports became popular among people in the urban centres. For example, the America's Cup of racing sport began in 1870 thus increasing sport's appeal.


Fig. 5 American worker's houses near the Santa Fe railroad yards, Topeka, Kansas, 1915

Between 1915 and 1929, most commercial builders in North America ceased to erect dwellings for moderate-and low-income households as consumer preferences shifted away from housing to other consumer goods such as the automobiles4. Especially after 1918, the growth of a new financial instrument, the mortgage bond was fostered by the development of large, planned, and well-serviced subdivisions of residential development which required larger amounts of capital. The savings of small investors which had previously financed small-scale landlordism, house building, and land speculation were redirected by bonds. With large consequences of the lives of Americans, urban housing market had been transformed during this period.

Fig. 6 American grand prize, San Francisco in 1915

During the 1920s, the American economy exhibited impressive growth despite the 1920-1921 depression. Ownership of housing, new household appliances, and cars spread widely through the population in American urban centres. A continued rise in the productivity of labour and capital in the American urban society was brought about by the combination of the growing adoption of the moving assembly line in manufacturing and the widening use of electricity in production. New markets were created by new products and services such as the markets for vacuum cleaners, electric lighting, fans, electric irons, electric iceboxes, radios, and other labour-saving household appliances.

Change over Time Analysis

American cities exerted forces which were centrifugal- pulling interest, resources, and people towards them and centripetal- sending out ideas, services, and goods in 1865 to 1926 period. Every aspect of American urban history is encompassed on the story of how a number of forces evolved over time. The paper explores the analysis and the ways the American urban development influenced the lives of the people and how they shaped the urban environment. American cities are simultaneously a political, economic, and social entity. A number of these dimensions are looked at in the urban life. The focus is on urban society: its people such as the issue of immigration, and its activities such as urban sports, development of railroads among others. In this, the paper pays particular to issues of emerging cultural forms such as the rise of sports and spectators, regional differentials, the built environment, and enhanced transportation. More importantly, immigration trends resulted in the production of new racial and ethnic mix hence adding on the environmental impact of the American urban society.

In a comprehensive look at the multifaceted interdependency and interrelationship between American urban society and sport, indicates the formulation of class as well as ethnic subcultures, social reform, evolving special arrangements, and demographic growth all interacting to influence the American sport development4. For instance, Basket Ball in Missouri Valley College became valuable for anyone interested in American cities as well as sports. In addition, the Claremont theatre at New York City dug deeply into the urban roots of the society's national obsession. These activities, therefore, played in significant role in moulding the culture of the American societies as it led to the development of American spectator sport and commercialization of professional sports and acting.

Consequently, years of industrial expansion brought significant changes to American urban society. The rise of new immigrants did not only make cities grow in terms of population, but also in size as new transportation systems extended outward and skyscrapers pushing cities upward. The unprecedented mass immigration to American cities left a mark on the way people spent their leisure time and spent their daily lives. The city society experienced growth in theatres and sporting activities. For example, workers used Claremont theatre in New York City for passing time during leisure time with their families. The theatre brought rise to the field of act in urban cities until it became a profession.

Further, immigration to American cities largely came from Western and Northern European countries such as Scandinavia, Germany, and Great Britain (particularly Ireland). The immigrants moved into the poorer sections of the American cities7. For instance, German immigrants settled in central Kansas when they arrived in 1868. Also, immigrants occupied New York's Lower East Side. Immigrants' settlement patterns had a significant impact in as far as development of American urban society is concerned7. For example, new railroads were built to join the central cities with its outskirts hence easing transportation and enabling the cities to expand outwards. The immigrants also tended to live and work with people from their native nations. They sought similar surroundings thereby naming their neighbourhoods after their native country like Chinatown, Little Bohemia, and Little Italy among others. American cities were also shaped by transportation systems1. As population increased in cities, building construction became more expensive. Contractors shifted their attention to development of automobiles hence helping in changing living patterns in American cities. The innovation of automobiles in San Francisco had a major impact on how the people lived in the neighbourhood.


Chudacoff, Howard P., Judith Smith, and Peter Baldwin. The evolution of American urban society. Routledge, 2016.

Goldfield, David R. Encyclopedia Of American Urban History. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2007.

Lees, Andrew. Cities perceived: urban society in European and American thought, 1820-1940. Manchester University Press, 2015.

Park, Roberta J. "British sports and pastimes in San Francisco, 1848–1900."The International Journal of the History of Sport 1, no. 3 (2012): 300-317.

Richter, A. G. (2015). At home in nineteenth-century America: a documentary history. NYU Press.

Starr, Kevin. Americans and the California dream, 1850-1915. OUP USA, 2014.

July 07, 2023
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