credit: John Corbett

Learn how the Gilded Age transformed America

The America we know today was born in the Gilded Age.

A time of exciting and unsettling change, the late 19th and early 20th centuries saw Americans go from horse-drawn to motor-driven, oil lamplight to electric light, farmwork to factory labor, handmade to assembly line-produced, all in a few tumultuous decades. Mass communications, easy long-distance travel, leisure time and modern conveniences reached millions for the first time.

This fascinating period will be explored in depth during The Preservation Society of Newport County’s six-part lecture series, “The Gilded Age Years: Transforming America.” Each presentation will focus on a different aspect of life and culture: migration, technology and mass production; the communications revolution; the emergence of leisure travel and vacation resorts; political and social reforms; the emergence of the skyscraper and other changes in architecture; and the lives of everyday Americans.

“The Gilded Age Years: Transforming America” will be presented over six Thursdays, April 13 through June 15, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., live at the Great Hall of The Breakers and via Zoom video conference.

Tickets for each lecture cost $20 for in-person attendance, or $15 for Preservation Society members. Zoom registration costs $10 for members and non-members. Discount packages for all six lectures are available. For more information and a link to buy tickets, go to

The Breakers is located at 44 Ochre Point Ave., Newport.

Here is the lineup of topics and speakers:

• Thursday, April 13, 6 p.m.: “The Gilded Age: Past and Present”

Live in The Breakers Great Hall and via Zoom

Are we living in a second Gilded Age? With this question in mind, Dr. Michael Patrick Cullinane will explore the transformative years of the late 19th and early 20th century when migration, technology and mass production changed everything and left a lasting legacy for our world today. Cullinane is

Professor of History and the Lowman Walton Chair in Theodore Roosevelt Studies at Dickinson State University. He is an award-winning author and the host of the popular podcast “The Gilded Age and Progressive Era.”

• Thursday, April 20, 6 p.m.: “The Gilded Years: The First Information Age”

Live in The Breakers Great Hall and via Zoom

The Information Age was introduced with the advent of the computer in the second half of the 20th century. But long before that, new technologies (the telegraph, phonograph, photography and even the sewing machine), were revolutionizing communication, connecting and shrinking the world, and creating the vast fortunes which define the Gilded Age. Matthew Bird, who teaches design and design history at the Rhode Island School of Design, will explain how the real Information Age was actually a 19th-century phenomenon.

• Thursday, May 4, 6 p.m.: “The Many Playgrounds of an Industrial Age”

Live in The Breakers Great Hall and via Zoom

Americans in the Gilded Age vacationed in a growing number of northeastern summer playgrounds, from the Adirondacks to Coney Island, from Martha’s Vineyard to the Catskills, and from Saratoga to Newport. Will B. Mackintosh, Associate Professor of History at the University of Mary Washington, will explore the many and diverse summer holidays of the American Gilded Age.

• Thursday, May 18, 6 p.m.: “Age of the Machine: The Fight to Reinvent Democracy in the Gilded Age”

Live in The Breakers Great Hall and via Zoom

The Gilded Age is notorious as a time of rampant political corruption and heavy-handed corporate intervention in elections. It was also a time when reformers ignited a reinvention of American democracy, changing how people voted, why people voted and how government worked. Biographer T.J. Stiles, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, will look at both the underside of these reform efforts and the unexpected benefits as they laid the foundations for the republic we know today.

• Thursday, June 1, 6 p.m.: “Creating a New American Image: Architecture, 1870-1910”

Live in The Breakers Great Hall and via Zoom

American architecture changed dramatically in the Gilded Age. Tall commercial buildings rose in New York and Chicago. Grand mansions were built for the wealthy, while more modest residences saw the use of shingles, the emergence of the Colonial Revival style, and the adoption of the bungalow style. Richard Guy Wilson, Commonwealth Professor Emeritus in Architectural History at the University of Virginia, will examine these developments as well as the work of several architects who helped to change the appearance of America.

• Thursday, June 15, 6 p.m.: “Under the Gold-Plating: Everyday Americans in the Gilded Age”

Who were the everyday Americans in this great period of industrialization and urbanization? Where did they come from? What did they do for work? For fun? What were their struggles and triumphs?

Nancy C. Unger, Professor of History at Santa Clara University and Past President of the Society of Historians for the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, will give a richly illustrated presentation on the lives of the men, women and children whose labor helped make possible this period of astonishing transition and innovation.



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