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Entertainment In The Gilded Age

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In the late 1800's, American society began to burst with cultural activity. After the Civil War and the Reconstruction, Americans were eager to return to their normal lifestyles. The period that followed, however, was quite different from what the country was used to. During the war, many pushed hard for a rise in industry, leading to an explosive industrial revolution far beyond what people had expected. America's business and economy had boomed, and, as the new century approached, many had a new outlook on life. They were eager to escape the dull regiments of both the past Victorian era and the new urban lifestyle. This was easy for the upper and middle classes, both of which were growing due to the rapid increase in industry. It was great news for entrepreneurs and business people of the time, because there was money to be made in this desire for amusement. Of course, this was not the whole story of the new Gilded Age, but it was definitely an era of growing leisure time and the business that came along with it.
One of the most popular forms of entertainment during the Gilded Age was theater, particularly Vaudeville, which was a type of variety theater prominent in late 19th century America. Of course, similar types of variety shows had existed much earlier, before the 1830's, but they experienced a growth thanks to Benjamin Franklin Keith, "the father" of American Vaudeville. He spent his earlier years working in traveling shows and circuses, before establishing his own museum of oddities in 1883. His success allowed him to finance the building of his own theater, and he became the subject of his own "rags to riches" story, one of many that were so common in the Gilded Age. Keith was a savvy businessman who knew...

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...k advantage of this. The Gilded Age was not all fun and games, of course, with corrupt political machines and robber barons, but the growing upper and middle classes yearned to break free from their urban confines. America wanted to be amused, and it was more than ready to pay for some entertainment.

Source List


Cook, David A. A History of Narrative Film. New York: W.W. Norton, 1990

Greenwood, Janette Thomas. The Gilded Age. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000

Scheffel, Richard L. Discovering America's Past. Reader's Digest, 1993


Baseball Beginnings. The Library of Congress

Hudson, William. Bicycle History. Jim Langley

The Origins of Mass Entertainment. San Francisco State University

P.T. Barnum and the Management of Spectacle. The University of Virginia

Vaudeville, A History. The University of Virginia

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