Amusing America - Introduction

At the end of the Civil War, in 1865, America is rapidly evolving from an agricultural to an industrial economy. Technology and invention are shifting into high gear. Edison files his first patent for the phonograph in 1877, envisioning its uses in business and education. Out in San Francisco, businessman Louis Glass has a better idea and turns his phonographs into nickel-in-the-slot music machines. Phonograph parlors open in cities across america.

"Amusement may not be the great aim of life, but it gives zest to life and makes a grand improvement in human character"

-- Phineas Taylor Barnum, American Showman

Market Street at night
Market Street at night
On New Year's Eve, 1879, Edison demonstrates his incandescent bulb and lights the night. From "The Great White Way" to San Francisco's Market Street, people are lured out of their homes like moths to a flame. The dynamos and generators that turn on streetlights also power trolley cars. In 1890, 85% of all American streetcars are horsecars. By 1902, 92% are electric.

Barbary Coast by night
Barbary Coast by night
Immigrant from farms, small towns and foreign shores seek a better life in the city. Between 1880 and 1890, the urban population more than doubles--from 14 million to 30 million. Cities provide new kinds of jobs. Unionization brings improved hours and wages, affording young workers their first taste of leisure.

"The shorter workday brought me my first idea of there being such a thing as pleasure"

-- A Young City Worker in a Newly Unionized Workplace.

Transit companies relieve urban stress--and increase profits--with trolley parks as bright lures at the ends of their lines. By the early 1900s, every city from San Francisco to New York worth its saltwater taffy has a trolley park with amusements.

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