Before 1920 
  The Future

  Before 1920:
Empirical Knowledge Base for Education

The Twentieth Century

In the late nineteenth century the economic and demographic profile of the United States changed in several ways. First, the population was becoming increasingly urban. Between 1880 and 1900, the urban population doubled. In 1800, there were six cities with a population over 8,000. Twenty years later there were over 448 cities with a population over 8,000. In 1880, Chicago had a population of half a million; New York had a population of two million.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, Chicago's population had tripled to one and a half million; the population of New York had almost doubled to three and a half million. By 1900, nearly 40 percent of the 70 million people in the United States lived in cities.


Between 1865 and 1900 twelve million immigrants arrived in the United States and settled in the cities of the Northeast or Midwest. The largest group of immigrants settled in New York City. By 1890, 68 percent of Chicago's population were foreign-born and another 10 percent were American-born children of immigrants.

Second, by 1900 the United States was a major industrial power in the world. The Industrial Revolution spread to the United States in the late 1700s and spurred the rise of imperialism. The wealth and productivity created by the growth of industry stimulated the quest for both new markets and sources of raw materials. In 1867, the United States bought Alaska from Russia. In 1898, Congress passed a joint resolution annexing Hawaii to the United States, and the United States acquired Puerto Rico, the islands of Wake and Guam, and the Philippine Islands.

In 1914, the first ships passed through the Panama Canal, and the United States now had the greater ability to extend its power and influence to other parts of the world. Manufacturers built their factories in the larger cities in order to be near workers and transportation. The factories, in turn, drew still more people to the cities. These two changes, increased urban population and the move toward industrialization, combined to create dramatic need for an efficient and cost effective method to teach students.

Web Resources:

"Nationalism and Americanism," a speech by Warren Harding, 1920


Davidson & Lytle, (1990)

Niemiec, R. & Walberg, H. (1989). From teaching machines to microcomputers: Some milestones in the history of computer-based instruction. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 21(3), 263-276.

Images from The American Memory Collection, Library of Congress

  • Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.
  • The Frances Loeb Library, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University