Urbanization: Growing Cities
Frameworks for America's Past
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What is urbanization?

   Urbanization is the term for the growth of cities.  The root word is urban, which means city.  American cities were expanding even before the Civil War years, but after the war ended in 1865, they grew even more rapidly.

   The "bird's eye" view of New York City shown below is a drawing made around 1884
.  The Brooklyn Bridge is visible on the right, crossing over the East River.  New Jersey is across the Hudson River to the left.  

Three reasons American cities were growing rapidly

1.  Many industries were expanding

   Since factories were usually built in or near cities, that created new jobs, which attracted people looking for work.  Some cities grew because certain specialized industries were concentrated there.  Here are some examples: 
  • Chicago was a center of the meat packing industry. 
  • Pittsburgh was a center of the steel industry. 
  • Detroit became the big city for the automobile industry.
  • Many cities in the New England area had textile (cloth making) factories.
   The photo shows a worker in a textile factory in the city of Fall River, Massachusetts.

2.  Immigration was growing

    The arrival of millions of new immigrants also caused cities to expand in these years.  The photograph below shows Mulberry Street in New York City around 1900.  It was an immigrant neighborhood at that time.  Stores are on the bottom level of the buildings, with apartments above.  Food sellers have their carts lined up along the sides of the street.


Click here for a larger version of this image

3.  Many Americans were moving from
rural (farming) areas to cities.

   The rapid growth of cities created some serious problems, such as overcrowding and unhealthy living conditions.  Whatever problems cities had, however, they were seen by most people as places of opportunity.  Many Americans in these years were moving from farms and small towns to larger cities.

   The photo shows the docks in New York City, with the Brooklyn Bridge in the distance.  The bridge was completed in 1883.

Looking Deeper:
See Mulberry Street as it looks today!

   You can see Mulberry Street and the buildings as they look today by using the "Street View" feature of Google Maps.  Read the directions below, then go to Google Maps by clicking here:

   Use 90 Mulberry Street, New York, NY, as your viewing point.  Type it into the search space on the Google Maps page.
   When the map shows the location, switch to "Street View" by double clicking on the icon that shows the address, then selecting "Street View" in the dialog box.  Use your mouse to turn the view to look up and down the street.

All photos are from the Library of Congress.
Some have been edited or resized for this page.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright 2009, 2012 by David Burns.  All rights reserved.  As a guide to the Virginia Standards of Learning, some pages necessarily include phrases or sentences from that document, which is available online from the Virginia Department of Education.  The author's copyright extends to the original text and graphics, unique design and layout, and related material.