Learn American History through 50 pop songs

Invisible America


In late 19th-century America there was a vast expansion of industrial output. At the heart of this was the mass production of goods by machines. These machines not only reduced manufacturing costs but lowered prices. Many workers were needed to work machinery to produce these goods. Factory managers forced workers to work very long hours. Many work places were rife with hazards. Child labor ran rampant during this time. Immigrant and women laborers were overworked and highly underpaid. One result of all this was labor organization, most notably labor unions.


© Copyright 2010 by Mr. and Mrs. Gillenwater

Factories boomed across the land prosperity loomed for many
Cameras, cars, phones, and planes
Eastman, Ford, Bell and the brothers Wright changing forever American life
With assembly lines and mass production, new and amazing mechanical inventions

A demand for goods sharply rose and jobs were a plenty
White men left their failing farms
And from the South in Great Migration seeking work African Americans
At the lowest of wages women and children, European, Asian, and Mexican immigrants

America, we are your children, America, we are your women
And minorities and brand new immigrants,
For twelve hours a day, for such little pay
We build America, and we are invisible

Sweatshops sprung up en masse hazards doomed to many
Explosions, cave-ins, lost limbs
Vats of red-hot molten metal spills, dust damaged lungs in the mills
As long as factories raked in profits no one stood up to try to stop it

America, we are your children, America, we are your women
And minorities and brand new immigrants,
For twelve hours a day, for such little pay
We build America, and we are invisible

At Haymarket Square we finally spoke
But our line, the strikebreakers broke
And we were irate and chaos ensued
And passions were great and some of us died
At the Haymarket riots

Unions formed to help the workers earnin’ only pennies
They strongly striked for workers rights
Terrence Powderly’s Knights of Labor, the A.F.L. and Samuel Gompers
One by one worker’s rights were won, picketing in lines and joining labor unions

America, we are your children, America, we are your women
Bothers and sisters and brand new immigrants,
For twelve hours a day, for such little pay
We build America, and we are invisible

America, we are your children, America, we are your women
Bothers and sisters and brand new immigrants,
For twelve hours a day, for such little pay
We build America, and we are invisible


Eastman— George Eastman (July 12, 1854 – March 14, 1932) founded the Eastman Kodak Company and invented roll film, helping to bring photography to the mainstream and paving the way for motion pictures.

Ford— Henry Ford (July 30, 1863 – April 7, 1947) was the American founder of the Ford Motor Company and father of modern assembly lines used in mass production. Ford’s introduction of the Model T automobile revolutionized transportation and American industry.

Bell— Alexander Graham Bell (March 3, 1847 – August 2, 1922) was an eminent scientist, inventor, engineer and innovator who is credited with inventing the first practical telephone.

Brothers Wright— The Wright brothers, Orville (August 19, 1871 – January 30, 1948) and Wilbur (April 16, 1867 – May 30, 1912), were two Americans who are generally credited with inventing and building the world's first successful airplane.

Assembly lines— An assembly line is a manufacturing process in which parts (usually interchangeable parts) are added to a product one at a time to create a finished product much faster than with handcrafting-type methods. The assembly line developed by Ford Motor Company between 1908 and 1915 led to an industrial era of mass production and cheaper goods.

Mass production— Mass production is the standardized production of large amounts of products, including and especially on assembly lines.

Great Migration— The Great Migration was the movement of 4.1 million African Americans out of the Southern United States to the North, Midwest and West from 1910 to 1930.

Sweatshops— Sweatshop is a working environment with unhealthy conditions that are difficult or dangerous. This includes exposure to harmful materials, hazardous situations, extreme temperatures, or abuse from employers. Sweatshop workers often work long hours for little pay, regardless of any laws mandating overtime pay or a minimum wage. During the industrial revolution in America sweatshops were widespread.

Haymarket Square— The Haymarket Square Riot took place on Tuesday May 4, 1886, at the Haymarket Square Chicago. It began as a rally in support of striking workers. Someone threw a bomb at police as they dispersed the public meeting. The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of eight police officers and an unknown number of civilians.

Terrence Powderly’s Knights of Labor— Terence Vincent Powderly (January 22, 1849 – June 24, 1924) was a well-known national figure as leader of the Knights of Labor from 1879 until 1893. The Knights of Labor was a labor union whose goal was to organize all workers, skilled and unskilled, into one big union united for workers' rights and economic and social reform.

AFL— The American Federation of Labor (AFL) was one of the first federations of labor unions in the United States. It was founded in Columbus, Ohio in 1886 by Samuel Gompers.

Samuel Gompers— Samuel Gompers (January 27, 1850-December 13, 1924) was an American labor union leader and a key figure in American labor history. Gompers founded the American Federation of Labor (AFL), and served as the AFL's president from 1886-1894 and from 1895 until his death in 1924.

Tiered Questions

Tier 1 Questions

“America, we are your children, America, we are you’re women
And minorities and brand new immigrants, for twelve hours a day, for such little pay
We build America, we are invisible”

Explain what the chorus of this song is talking about.

Tier 2 Questions

Explain the cause and effect relationship between the riot at Haymarket Square and the formation of labor unions.

Tier 3 Questions

Cite the parallels between this song and The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Song.

Test Prep Questions

We mean to make things over, we are tired of toil for naught,
With but bare enough to live upon, and never an hour for thought;
We want to feel the sunshine, and we want to smell the flowers,
We are sure that God has will’d it, and we mean to have eight hours.
We’re summoning our forces from the shipyard, shop and mill,
Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will!
Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will!

— I.G. Blanchard, “Eight Hours,” 1878

1) During the late 1800s, the ideas expressed in these lyrics were the goals of

  • (1) organizers of labor unions
  • (2) sharecroppers following the Civil War
  • (3) Grangers demanding railroad regulation
  • (4) owners of big businesses

The Uprising of the Twenty Thousands (Dedicated to the Waistmakers of 1909)
In the black of the winter of nineteen nine,
When we froze and bled on the picket line,
We showed the world that women could fight
And we rose and won with women’s might.
Hail the waistmakers of nineteen nine,
Making their stand on the picket line,
Breaking the power of those who reign,
Pointing the way, smashing the chain.
And we gave new courage to the men
Who carried on in nineteen ten
And shoulder to shoulder we’ll win through,
Led by the I.L.G.W.U.

— Let’s Sing!, Educational Department, International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, New York City

2) Which type of labor-related action is best described in this song?

  • (1) a strike
  • (2) an open shop
  • (3) a boycott
  • (4) an injunction

3) What was a primary reason for the great migration of African Americans to northern cities during World War I?

  • (1) Job opportunities were available in northern factories.
  • (2) Jim Crow laws in the South had been repealed.
  • (3) Voting rights laws had been passed in northern states.
  • (4) The federal government had guaranteed an end to discrimination.

4) What is the main idea of this cartoon from the 1800s?

  • (1) Labor is gaining power over big business.
  • (2) Most Americans support the labor movement.
  • (3) Business has advantages over labor.
  • (4) Government should support the expansion of railroads.

5) The American Federation of Labor responded to the situation shown in the cartoon by

  • (1) organizing skilled workers into unions
  • (2) encouraging open immigration
  • (3) forming worker-owned businesses
  • (4) creating a single union of workers and farmers

6) What was the main benefit that labor unions of the late 19th century gained for their members?

  • (1) job security
  • (2) improved wages and hours
  • (3) paid vacations
  • (4) health insurance

7) A significant contribution to the industrialization of the United States was Henry Ford’s development of

  • (1) the assembly line
  • (2) electric-powered vehicles
  • (3) the first holding company
  • (4) a new process for making steel

8) During the late 19th century, Samuel Gompers, Terence Powderly, and Eugene Debs were leaders in the movement to

  • (1) stop racial segregation of Native American Indians
  • (2) limit illegal immigration
  • (3) gain fair treatment of Native American Indians
  • (4) improve working conditions

“Labor Leaders Executed for Causing Haymarket Riot”
“State Militia Called In To End Homestead Strike”
“1,000 Jailed as Silver Miners Protest Wage Cuts”

9) Which statement about labor unions in the late 1800s is illustrated by these headlines?

  • (1) Strikes by labor unions usually gained public support.
  • (2) The government frequently opposed labor union activities.
  • (3) Labor union demands were usually met.
  • (4) Arbitration was commonly used to end labor unrest.

10) The main purpose of this 1886 poster was to

  • (1) oppose immigrants who took jobs from American workers
  • (2) support nativist calls for limitations on labor unions
  • (3) organize a protest against acts of police brutality against workers
  • (4) show support for police actions against foreign revolutionaries

Thematic Essay 1

Theme: Reform Movements
Reform movements have been an important part of United States history.

Task: Identify two reform movements in the United States since 1800 and for each reform movement

  • Describe the historical circumstances that led to the need for reform
  • State one goal of the movement and discuss two actions taken by the government, a group, or an individual in support of this goal
  • Evaluate the extent to which the reform movement has made an impact on the United States

You may use any reform movement in the United States from 1800 to the present. Some suggestions you might wish to consider include the abolitionist movement, Populist movement, Progressive movement, women’s rights movement, civil rights movement, and the labor movement.