The Progressive Era

The Progressive Era was a period of social activism and reform in the United States of America. It lasted from the 1890s all the way to the 1920s.

Before the advent of the Progressive Era, children were adapted to working in factories, wages were low and unregulated, factories were crammed and unsafe, and housing conditions were unregulated. There were also no standards for food safety and the environment was not protected by federal regulations.

19th Amendment

The Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote and have their say in the political matters of the country. Read more about the 19th Amendment >>


History of the 'Muckrakers' famous Journalists of the Progressive Era Read more about the Muckrakers >>

Women’s Suffrage

Women's Suffrage - Discover the History of 'Women's Suffrage' Read more about the Women’s Suffrage >>


The main objectives of the Progressive Era included eliminating any problems that had been caused due to widespread industrialization, urbanization, immigration and systemic political corruption.

It was thus named because people actively worked to change the social and political landscape of the country. Initially, the movement operated locally but it soon expanded to state and national levels as well. Following are some key events of the Progressive Era.

The Homestead Act (May 20, 1862)

These were several laws, enacted during the Civil War, that enabled any adult citizen (or intended citizen) to claim 160 acres of government-surveyed land. The only condition was that the person should not have ever taken up arms against the government.

These laws were clearly defined in the Homestead Act of 1862. More than 160 million acres of land was given away by the government to 1.6 million people throughout the United States as a result of the Act. The Act was passed and signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln.

First Transcontinental Railroad (May 8, 1869)

The first railroad that was ever constructed across an entire continent was made in the period between 1863 and 1869. Known originally as the ‘Pacific Railroad’, it was nearly 1912 miles long. It connected the eastern U.S. rail network at Council Buffs (Iowa) with the Pacific coast at the Oakland Long Wharf (San Francisco Bay).

The First Transcontinental Railroad was built by three private companies over land provided by the Homestead Act. The construction of the railroad was financed by both the government and state subsidy bonds, alongside company-issued mortgage bonds. It was officially opened for business on May 10th, 1869.

Pendleton Act (January 16, 1883)

This was a federal law passed by the Congress and signed into law by then-President Arthur, on January 16th, 1883. The act mandated that federal government positions should be awarded based on merit and not on political patronage. This act ensured that governmental positions were attained by potential government employees having to clear specific competitive examinations, rather than courting political patronage.

Establishment of the Socialist Party of America (January 11, 1901)

A socialist, democratic political party in the United States of America, it was established on January 11, 1901. It had numerous elected officials up until the First World War. It was particularly liked by Jewish, Finnish and German immigrants, coal miners and former populist farmers.

The party’s strong opposition to America’s involvement in the First World War led to prominent defections and vigilante persecution. It refused to form coalitions with other political parties and always remained strongly anti-Fascist. In its last decades, many of its prominent members fundamentally disagreed amongst each other regarding socialist beliefs. It officially changed its name to ‘Social Democrats, USA’ in 1973.

The Black Hand Mafia (January 10, 1903)

A concerted series of extortions of wealthy Italians began in 1903. it was practiced by smaller gangs and the Italian mafia. Its roots can be traced back to the Kingdom of Naples as far back as the 1700s. Italian immigrants in the United States formed criminal syndicates and largely victimized fellow immigrants for power. On occasion, the criminals used violence against law enforcement as well.

The Jungle (February 28, 1904-1906)

This was a novel published in 1906 by journalist Upton Sinclair. It portrayed the harsh conditions that immigrants in the United States were forced to live in. Unfortunately, most readers focused on unsanitary health practices in the meat industry rather than the actual purpose of the book.

During 1904, before writing the book, Sinclair spent a few weeks researching the meatpacking plants of the Chicago stockyards, where some of the information he used in his book came from. Regardless of the negative response, he was considered a journalist who effectively exposed corruption in government.

Meat Inspection Act (June 30, 1906):

In 1906, as a result of the response from Sinclair’s novel ‘The Jungle’ which shed some light on the processes used in the meatpacking industry, the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 was signed by President Theodor Roosevelt. The act prohibited the sale of adulterated or misbranded livestock.

It also enforced that livestock were slaughtered under sanitary conditions meeting proper health and safety requirements. The law also applied to imported products, which were treated with equal scrutiny.

Teddy Roosevelt as President (May 4, 1909)

Theodore Roosevelt served as the 26th president of the United States of America from 1901 to 1909. He was the driving force behind the Progressive Era, as leader of the Republican Party. He is one of the four presidents whose face is depicted on Mount Rushmore.

Woodrow Wilson (December 11, 1913)

When Woodrow Wilson, from the Democratic Party, was elected to the post of the 28th President of the United States, he implemented a series of Progressive policies in economics, ratified the 16th Amendment and imposed a small income tax on higher earnings. He also effectively mobilized public opinion behind tariff changes. President Wilson pledged to keep the United States out of the First World War, narrowly winning reelection in 1916.

The 19th Amendment (August 26, 1920)

The Woman’s Suffrage movement began in the late 19th century. It sought political equality, social reforms and the right to vote for women. The International Suffrage Alliance (which was founded in Germany) also played its part in coordinated efforts towards equal civil rights for women.

The 19th Amendment was officially adopted on August 26, 1920 as a direct result of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. It enfranchised nearly 26 million women to vote just before the 34th U.S. Presidential Election.


  • Progressive Era was an era of social activism and reform. It generally dates from 1890s to the 1920s.
  • Some of the most popular American presidents, such as Theodore Roosevelt, served during the Progressive Era.
  • The 19th Amendment was passed during the Progressive Era. It enfranchised 26 million women to vote.
  • Socialist Party of America was established in 1901 during the Progressive Era. It became a significant party across U.S. over subsequent years.
  • Reforms were adopted which better regulated industrialization, urbanization, immigration and political spending.