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Learning how to relax:

Culture of leisure in the Gilded Age

Your always busy man accomplishes little; the great doer
is he who has plenty of leisure. Andrew Carnegie, 1883

Learning outcomes
Students will:
Identify and discuss the connection between industrialization
and leisure
Identify the major forms of leisure during the Gilded Age and
explain why those activities were popular
Explain the roles that immigration and urbanization had in
advancing a culture of leisure
Analyze the economics of leisure and why it became a viable
industry during the Gilded Age

Different definitions of leisure

Dictionary.com definition:
Freedom from the demands of work or duty

Gilded Age author Thorstein Veblens

Non-productive consumption of time

What does leisure have to do with the Gilded


Leisure before the Gilded Age

Leisure and Labor by Frank Blackwell Mayer, 1858

Leisure during the Gilded Age

Sparrow Hall by Homer Winslow, 1881-82

Industrialization and leisure

Production increased
Real GDP: $166 billion in 1877, $457
billion in 1900 (2009 dollars)

Average work week decreased

59 hours by 1900

Average household income

Real GDP per capita: $3,503 in
1877, $6,003 in 1900 (2009 dollars)

Result: more time/money for

non-work activities

Other factors for leisure

General cultural angst
Immigration boom
Nearly 10 million new immigrants
between 1877-1900

25.7% of population living in urban
areas in 1870, 39.6% in 1900

Increase in railroad track

93,000 in 1880, 207,000 in 1900

Technological innovations

Invention timeline for Gilded Age leisure

1870 Subway (Alfred Beach)
1876 Telephone (Alexander
Graham Bell)
1877 Phonograph (Thomas Edison)
1884 Thrill ride (L.N. Thompson)
1885 Electric trolley (Leo Daft)
1885 Safety Bicycle (John Kemp Starley)
1888 Kodak camera (George Eastman)
Thomas Edison and the phonograph

1893 Ferris wheel (George Ferris)

So what did
people do for

Why were these activities popular?

Reflection of ideals/beliefs
Francis Richter on baseball: a great sport one
that stimulates all the faculties of the mind;
keenness, invention, perception, agility, celerity of
thought and action, adaptability to all circumstances
in short all the qualities that go to make the
American man the most highly organized, civilized
being on earth.

Escape from routine

Relative cost/affordability
A statement of status (upper class)
Thorstein Veblen & conspicuous leisure

Thorstein Veblen & conspicuous leisure

Conspicuous leisure (CL)
Leisure made visible for sake of displaying social
Believed CL had roots in ancient times, abstaining
from labor as a display of wealth
Argued CL was a problem in society, discouraged
people from contributing to industrialization
Other examples?

Conspicuous consumption
Spending money or acquiring luxury goods &
services as a display of economic power
Believed to be intentionally wasteful behavior
Modern examples?

Economics of leisure
Think about your own
leisure & entertainment
Which activities are
inexpensive and which cost
Which activities require
How would cost affect leisure
activities among different
economic classes of people?
Which activities do you think
were common for wealthy
class vs. middle class vs.
working class?

Economics of leisure
Demand created viable
industries for variety of
leisure & entertainment
Barnum & Bailey
Vaudeville & minstrel shows
Baseball (pro & recreational)
Travel & tourism
Sears Roebuck & department