Learn American History through 50 pop songs

The Progressive Era


The Progressive Era in the United States was a period of reform which lasted from the 1890s to 1920. In response to economic and social conditions of the late 19th century, Progressives advocated a wide range of economic, political, social, and moral reforms in an effort to fundamentally change America.


© Copyright 2010 by Mr. and Mrs. Gillenwater

Abuse and corruption reigned over the land
Tycoons held Washington in the palms of their hands
The bribed their way through Mark Twain’s Gilded Age
Till progressive reformers turned this damaging page

Big business and trusts were running roughshod over
All competition and driving costs lower and lower
Then in 1890 brought the Sherman Anti-Trust Act
And monopolies no longer could block competitor’s paths

Fighting for people’s sake, fighting for a fair shake

A free market was a goal for progressives
So two more acts were set up to protect it
The Clayton Anti-Trust fought hard for free enterprise
And the Federal Reserve Act set up banks nation wide

Fighting for people’s sake, fighting for a fair shake
Taking on greed and abuse
Sounding alarms exposing truths – progressives protect us

Then came the muckrakers raking up muck
With their pen, paints, and pictures outrage soon struck
They exposed to the public truths corrupt and unfair
Revealing reality unclothed and bare

Jacob Riis photographed life in the slums
Hungry children, rag pickers, hobos and bums
And wielding a pen was Miss Ida Tarbell
Condemning big businesses in newspaper articles

Fighting for people’s sake, fighting for a fair shake
Taking on greed and abuse
Sounding alarms exposing truths – progressives protect us

With Upton Sinclair’s Jungle the nation was shocked
Chicago’s meat packing plants forever were rocked
He wrote of rats, rat droppings, and poisoned bread
Ground up and stuffed into the links we were fed

Fighting for people’s sake, fighting for a fair shake
Taking on greed and abuse
Sounding alarms exposing truths – progressives protect us
Taking on greed and abuse
Sounding alarms exposing truths – progressives protect us

Thanks to the progressives, citizens can petition to place an initiative (or a bill) on the ballot. Then voters can accept or reject it by referendum. We also have the power, thanks to progressives, to recall bad elected officials
so watch out!


Tycoons— A tycoon is a businessman of exceptional wealth and power.

Mark Twain’s Gilded Age— Mark Twain, was an American novelist who wrote classics such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In 1873 he wrote The Gilded Age with Charles Dudley Warner. The Gilded Age satirizes greed and political corruption in post-civil war, industrial America.

Sherman Anti-Trust Act—The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 was the first measure passed by the U.S. Congress to prohibit monopolies.

Monopolies— A monopoly is a term used by economists to refer to the situation in which there is a single seller of a product for which there are no close substitutes.

Free market— A free market is a market without economic intervention and regulation by government except to regulate against force or fraud.

Progressives— The Progressive reformers were people who fought for change in labor, education, politics, and social conditions in turn of the century America.

Clayton Anti-Trust— The Clayton Anti-Trust Act, approved in 1914, expanded the government's role in regulating business and helped to set the foundation for most of the regulation of business competition today.

Federal Reserve Act— The Federal Reserve Act enacted December 23, 1913 is the act of Congress that created the Federal Reserve System, the central banking system of the United States of America.

Muckrakers— Muckrakers is the name given to American journalists, novelists, and critics and others who, in turn of the century America, attempted to expose the abuses of business and the corruption in politics.

Jacob Riis— Jacob August Riis (May 3, 1849 - May 26, 1914), was a Danish American social reformer, journalist and social documentary photographer. He is known for using his photographic and journalistic talents to help document the impoverished in New York City.

Ida Tarbell— Ida Minerva Tarbell (November 5, 1857 – January 6, 1944) was a teacher, an author and journalist. She was known as one of the leading muckrakers of her day. She is best-known for her 1904 book The History of the Standard Oil Company, which led to the break-up of Standard Oil and to the passing of antitrust laws in the United States of America.

Upton Sinclair’s Jungle— Upton Sinclair, Jr. (September 20, 1878 – November 25, 1968) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American author who achieved particular fame for his 1906 muckraking novel The Jungle which exposed conditions in the US meat packing industry and contributed in part to the passage a few months later of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act.

Referendum— A referendum is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal.

Recall— A procedure by which voters can remove an elected official from office through a direct vote.

Tiered Questions

Tier 1 Questions

What was the progressive era?

What was a muckraker?

Tier 2 Questions

Name 3 muckrakers, explain what they sought to improve and how they did it.

Tier 3 Questions

What is a condition or situation in America today that you feel needs reform?

Consider the muckrakers and their actions. Create a plan of action you could take to affect change in the area that you believe needs reform.

Test Prep Questions

1) Muckrakers Ida Tarbell and Upton Sinclair influenced the federal government to

  • (1) grant citizenship to people who had entered the country illegally
  • (2) pass legislation to correct harmful business practices
  • (3) force individual states to regulate monopolies
  • (4) end racial discrimination in the workplace

2) Progressive Era authors such as Jacob Riis and Upton Sinclair are best known for

  • (1) focusing attention on social conditions
  • (2) fighting for the civil rights of African Americans
  • (3) promoting the interests of the American farmer
  • (4) supporting the goal of woman’s suffrage

3) The initiative and referendum are considered democratic reforms because they

  • (1) permit citizens to have a more direct role in lawmaking
  • (2) let all registered voters select their state’s presidential electors
  • (3) extend the right to vote to 18-year-old citizens
  • (4) allow residents of one state to bring lawsuits against residents of another state

4) During the early 1900s, the term muckrakers was used to describe

  • (1) pacifists who demonstrated against war
  • (2) writers who exposed the evils in American society
  • (3) newspaper columnists who reported on celebrities
  • (4) politicians who criticized Progressive Era

5) The Interstate Commerce Act (1887) and the Sherman Antitrust Act (1890) were efforts by the federal government to

  • (1) regulate some aspects of business
  • (2) expand the positive features of the trusts
  • (3) favor big business over small companies
  • (4) move toward government ownership of key industries

6) In the early 1900s, the muckrakers provided a service to the American public by

  • (1) calling for a strong military buildup
  • (2) lobbying for less government regulation of business
  • (3) exposing abuses in government and industry
  • (4) encouraging states to resist federal government authority

7) This cartoonist is expressing

  • (1) support for new tariffs
  • (2) encouragement for increased immigration
  • (3) concern for environmental pollution
  • (4) dissatisfaction with the power of big business

8) In his book, How the Other Half Lives, muckraker Jacob Riis exposed the

  • (1) ruthlessness of the Standard Oil Company
  • (2) social ills of life in New York City’s tenements
  • (3) unsanitary conditions in the meatpacking industry
  • (4) abuses of the railroad industry

9) Progressive Era reformers sought to expand voter participation in government by adopting

  • (1) the initiative and referendum
  • (2) tougher literacy tests
  • (3) additional poll taxes
  • (4) a civil service system

10) The Progressive movement (1900–1920) was primarily a response to problems created by

  • (1) abolitionists
  • (2) nativists
  • (3) industrialization
  • (4) segregation

11) The photographs of Jacob Riis are most closely associated with the

  • (1) battlefields of the Civil War
  • (2) living conditions of the urban poor
  • (3) plight of sharecroppers in the South
  • (4) victims of the Dust Bowl on the Great Plains

12) In the late 19th century, Congress tried to limit the power of monopolies by

  • (1) creating the Federal Trade Commission
  • (2) strengthening the Supreme Court
  • (3) adopting Granger laws
  • (4) passing the Sherman Antitrust Act

13) In 1906, the publication of The Jungle, written by Upton Sinclair, led Congress to

  • (1) enact stronger prohibition laws
  • (2) support the national conservation movement
  • (3) establish a system for meat inspection
  • (4) legalize strikes and boycotts by labor unions

14) Progressive Era reforms such as the initiative, referendum, and recall attempted to

  • (1) increase the power of citizens in state and local government
  • (2) reestablish the system of checks and balances
  • (3) provide low-interest loans to farmers
  • (4) expand voting rights to Native Americans

15) During the early 1890s, the federal government dealt with situations like the one shown in the cartoon by

  • (1) raising tariff rates on imported oil
  • (2) providing economic aid for small businesses
  • (3) prosecuting businessmen for graft and corruption
  • (4) passing the Sherman Antitrust Act

16) During the Progressive Era, many state and local governments adopted initiative, referendum, and recall procedures that

  • (1) eliminated the need for the electoral college
  • (2) created political action committees (PACs)
  • (3) gave voters a more direct voice in government
  • (4) strengthened the role of the president’s cabinet

17) The Jungle by Upton Sinclair and Unsafe at Any Speed by Ralph Nader were both intended to

  • (1) publicize the growing violence in American society
  • (2) suggest that a poor person could get rich with hard work
  • (3) encourage immigration reform
  • (4) make the public aware of the poor quality of certain products

18) A goal of the Progressive movement was to

  • (1) reduce the government’s involvement in social issues
  • (2) correct the problems caused by industrialization
  • (3) promote laissez-faire policies
  • (4) promote settlement of land west of the Mississippi River

19) The initiative, the referendum, and the recall were adopted by several states during the Progressive Era as ways to

  • (1) limit immigration
  • (2) promote the formation of trusts
  • (3) restrict the use of presidential vetoes
  • (4) make government more democratic

20) The Interstate Commerce Act and the Sherman Antitrust Act were attempts by Congress to

  • (1) regulate the activities of big business
  • (2) protect consumers against unsafe products
  • (3) impose government regulations on agricultural production
  • (4) bring transportation activities under government ownership

21) What is the main idea of the cartoon?

  • (1) Government policies have created a recession.
  • (2) Americans support the activities of trusts.
  • (3) Good government has saved the country from trusts.
  • (4) Trusts are a threat to the nation.

22) Which group would most likely have favored government action to address the issue shown in the cartoon?

  • (1) bankers
  • (2) unions
  • (3) industrialists
  • (4) railroad owners

23) Both the Interstate Commerce Act and the Sherman Antitrust Act were

  • (1) inspired by the effectiveness of earlier state laws
  • (2) designed to protect business from foreign competition
  • (3) declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the late 1800s
  • (4) passed by the federal government to regulate big business

24) During the Progressive Era, muckrakers published articles and novels primarily to

  • (1) advance their own political careers
  • (2) make Americans aware of problems in society
  • (3) help the federal government become more efficient
  • (4) provide entertainment for readers

25) Mark Twain labeled the late 1800s in the United States the “Gilded Age” to describe the

  • (1) end of the practice of slavery
  • (2) absence of international conflicts
  • (3) extremes of wealth and poverty
  • (4) achievements of the labor movement

26) The Federal Reserve System was created to

  • (1) maintain a national petroleum supply
  • (2) provide military support for the armed forces
  • (3) protect consumers from fraud
  • (4) manage the nation’s supply of currency and interest rates

27) The Sherman Antitrust Act and the Clayton Antitrust Act were passed in an effort to

  • (1) promote the formation of new trusts
  • (2) maintain competition in business
  • (3) increase business investment
  • (4) limit the activities of foreign corporations

28) The common purpose of these legislative acts was to

  • (1) protect the nation’s natural resources
  • (2) improve conditions for recent immigrants to the United States
  • (3) advance the growth of big business
  • (4) promote the general welfare of the American public

29) Rachel Carson and Ralph Nader are similar to the muckrakers of the Progressive Era because they have

  • (1) advocated a total change in the structure of government
  • (2) attempted to expose societal problems
  • (3) failed to influence public opinion
  • (4) supported anti-American activities

30) The Interstate Commerce Act and the Sherman Antitrust Act were passed by Congress to
(1) increase safety in the workplace
(2) promote fair hiring practices
(3) improve working conditions
(4) protect the interests of small businesses

31) Dorothea Dix, Jane Addams, and Jacob Riis were all known as

  • (1) muckrakers
  • (2) suffragettes
  • (3) political leaders
  • (4) social reformers

33) Passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act illustrated the federal government’s commitment to

  • (1) environmental conservation
  • (2) workers’ rights
  • (3) business competition
  • (4) consumer protection

34) Muckrakers contributed to the rise of Progressivism in the early years of the 20th century by

  • (1) challenging big government and urging a return to past conditions
  • (2) exposing widespread corruption in business and government
  • (3) writing favorable biographies about wealthy Americans
  • (4) aligning themselves with the women’s suffrage movement

35) Which law was passed as a result of muckraking literature?

  • (1) Interstate Commerce Act
  • (2) Sherman Antitrust Act
  • (3) Meat Inspection Act
  • (4) Federal Reserve Act

36) Reformers of the Progressive Era sought to reduce corruption in government by adopting a constitutional amendment that provided for

  • (1) a maximum of two terms for presidents
  • (2) term limits on members of Congress
  • (3) voting rights for African Americans
  • (4) direct election of United States senators

37) In How the Other Half Lives, Jacob Riis described the living conditions of

  • (1) workers in urban slums
  • (2) African Americans in the segregated South
  • (3) the rich in their mansions
  • (4) Native American Indians on reservations

38) What was a significant impact of the Progressive movement on American life?

  • (1) increased government regulation of business
  • (2) increased restrictions on presidential powers
  • (3) decreased influence of the media on public policy
  • (4) reduced government spending for social programs

39) What is the main idea of this cartoon?

  • (1) Big business greatly influenced the actions of the Senate.
  • (2) The Senate had to continue to pass legislation to support conservation efforts.
  • (3) The Senate needed more financial support from monopolies.
  • (4) Relations between industry and the Senate benefited the general public.

“Jane Addams Opens Hull House”
“Jacob Riis Photographs Tenement Residents”
“Ida Tarbell Exposes Standard Oil Company”

40) These headlines represent efforts by individuals to

  • (1) support business monopolies
  • (2) improve depressed urban areas
  • (3) solve problems of American farmers
  • (4) correct abuses of the Industrial Revolution

41) The Clayton Antitrust Act was passed to

  • (1) restore business competition
  • (2) end stock market speculation
  • (3) prosecute corrupt labor unions
  • (4) break up city political party machines

42) Both the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Clayton Antitrust Act were passed in response to the problem of

  • (1) companies refusing to hire minority workers
  • (2) businesses choosing to hire illegal immigrants
  • (3) unsafe working conditions in factories
  • (4) business combinations limiting competition

43) In his book How the Other Half Lives, Jacob Riis focused attention on the living conditions of

  • (1) residents of urban slums
  • (2) sharecroppers in the South
  • (3) Native American Indians on reservations
  • (4) small farmers on the Great Plains

44) The Sherman Antitrust Act and the Clayton Antitrust Act were both designed to

  • (1) establish safe working conditions in factories
  • (2) promote fair competition in business
  • (3) force industry to use natural resources wisely
  • (4) decrease Federal income taxes on corporations

45) Reform legislation of the Progressive Era provided for

  • (1) increased direct participation in government
  • (2) employment for the poor
  • (3) tax incentives for business investment
  • (4) the elimination of racial segregation in public places


Historical Context: The Progressive movement that began in the late 1800s was an attempt to bring about governmental reforms and to correct injustices in American life.

Task: Using information from the documents and your knowledge of United States history, answer the questions that follow each document.

  • Discuss specific problems or injustices that were present in American life during the late 1800s and early 1900s
  • Explain how reforms proposed during the Progressive Era attempted to address these problems

State two conditions that Jacob Riis’ photograph shows about life in cities in the late 1800s.

With one member trimming beef in a cannery, and another working in a sausage factory, the family had a first-hand knowledge of the great majority of Packingtown swindles. For it was the custom, as they found, whenever meat was so spoiled that it could not be used for anything else, either to can it or else chop it up into sausage. With what had been told them by Jonas, who had worked in the pickle rooms, they could now study the whole of the spoiled meat industry on the inside, and read a new and grim meaning into that old Packingtown jest — that they use everything of the pig except the squeal.

— Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (1906)

Identify one industrial abuse that is described in this passage from The Jungle.

According to the chart, how did the percentage of working children between the ages of 10 and 15 change from 1890 to 1920?

According to the cartoon, who were the “Bosses of the Senate”?

Our laws should be so drawn as to protect and encourage corporations which do their honest duty by the public and discriminate sharply against [regulate] those organized in the spirit of mere greed, for improper speculative purpose.

— Theodore Roosevelt (1900)

What did Theodore Roosevelt say should be done to corporations that operate with little or no consideration for the public good?

We propose . . . “effective legislation to prevent industrial accidents, occupational diseases, overwork, and unemployment . . . to fix minimum standards of health and safety in industry . . . and to provide a living wage throughout industry. . . .”

— Progressive Party platform (1912)

State two reforms that were proposed in the Progressive Party platform of 1912.

Historical Context: The Progressive movement that began in the late 1800s was an attempt to bring about governmental reforms and to correct injustices in American life.

Task: Using information from the documents above and your knowledge of United States history, write an essay in which you:

  • Discuss specific problems or injustices that were present in American life during the late 1800s and early 1900s
  • Explain how reforms proposed during the Progressive Era attempted to address these problems.

Thematic Essay 2

Theme: Individuals, Groups, Institutions — Writing and Reform
Throughout United States history, individuals have used writing as a way to focus attention on issues facing the American people. To resolve the issues raised in these writings, actions have been taken by the government, groups, or individuals.

Task: Select two pieces of writing that have focused attention on issues facing American society and for each

  • Describe the historical circumstances surrounding the issue addressed by the author
  • Discuss an action taken by the government or a group or an individual in response to the issue raised by the author

You may use any piece of writing from your study of United States history that focuses attention on an issue facing American society. Some suggestions you might wish to consider include Common Sense by Thomas Paine (1776), Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852), How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis (1890), The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (1906), “I, Too, Sing America” by Langston Hughes (1925), The Other America by Michael Harrington (1962), Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962), The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1963), and “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1963).

Thematic Essay 2

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

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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.