In United States history, the Gilded Age was the period following the American Civil War, roughly from the end of Reconstruction in 1877 to the turn of the twentieth century. The term was coined by writers Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, satirizing what they believed to be an era of serious social problems hidden by a thin layer of gold.
The Gilded Age was a time of enormous growth that attracted millions from Europe. Railroads were the major industry, but the factory system, mining, and labor unions also gained in importance. The growth was interrupted by major nationwide depressions known as the Panic of 1873 and the Panic of 1893. Most of the growth and prosperity came in only the former Union states of North and West. The South, of the defeated Confederate States of America, remained economically devastated; its economy became increasingly tied to cotton and tobacco production, which suffered low prices. African Americans in the south experienced the worst setbacks, as they were stripped of political power and voting rights. The political landscape was notable in that despite rampant corruption, turnout was high and elections between the evenly matched parties were close. The dominant issues were rights for Black Americans, tariff policy and monetary policy. Reformers worked for civil service reform, prohibition and women's suffrage, while philanthropists built colleges and hospitals, and the many religious denominations exerted a major sway in everyday life.