AP US History Exam: Period 6 Notes (1865-1898)

Five Things to Know about AP US History Period 6

  1. Large scale industrialization and advances in technology gave rise to capitalism and the era of big business. Businessmen such as Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, and John D. Rockefeller amassed huge fortunes. Aggressive financial methods caused multiple economic downturns and financial panics.
  2. Due to the rise of big business, many groups such as farmers and unions called for stronger governmental protections to regulate the economy and safeguard the rights of workers.
  3. Migration increased, both to and within the United States. Cities became areas of economic growth that attracted African Americans and migrants from Asia and Europe. Multiple ethnic groups vied for control of the Western frontier, and cultural tensions continued nationwide.
  4. New intellectual and cultural movements arose during this period, often dubbed the “Gilded Age.” One view, called Social Darwinism, attempted to justify a wealthy elite class as natural and inevitable. Another view, known as the Gospel of Wealth, urged the wealthy and big business to help the less fortunate.
  5. Debates intensified over citizens’ rights, especially in relation to gender and race. The Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) marked a major setback for African Americans, as it upheld racial segregation and ended some of the progress made in the decades following the Civil War. African American reformers continued to strive for political and social equality in the face of escalating violence and discrimination.


Key Topics–Period 6: 1865 to 1898


Remember that the AP US History exam tests you on the depth of your knowledge, not just your ability to recall facts. While we have provided brief definitions here, you will need to know these terms in even more depth for the AP US History exam, including how terms connect to broader historical themes and understandings.

The Industrialization of America

  • Transcontinental Railroad: The Transcontinental Railroad linked the U.S. from Atlantic to Pacific by both rail and telegraph. This railroad accelerated the development and eventual closure of the frontier. See: Promontory Point.
  • Cornelius Vanderbilt: A business tycoon who amassed a fortune in the steamboat business and invested this fortune in the consolidation of many smaller rail lines under one company, the New York Central Railroad.
  • New York Central Railroad: A railroad company founded by Cornelius Vanderbilt. It consolidated many smaller rail companies, standardized gauges, and popularized steel rails. It linked major cities on the East Coast and in the Midwest.
  • Union Pacific Railroad: One half of the Transcontinental Railroad. It began building its portion from Omaha, Nebraska, and moved westward. See: Central Pacific Railroad, Promontory Point.
  • Central Pacific Railroad: Led by Leland Stanford, it set out to build the most difficult stretch of the transcontinental railroad from Sacramento, California, through the Sierra Nevada mountains and eastward. Chinese laborers built most of the Central Pacific’s line. See: Chinese Exclusion Act, Promontory Point, Union Pacific Railroad.
  • Leland Stanford: He became a wealthy merchant during the California Gold Rush, and later served as Governor of California (1862–183) and as its Senator (1885–1893). Leader of the Central Pacific Railroad, Stanfold oversaw the construction of part of the transcontinental railroad. Considered a robber baron, he wielded tremendous wealth and influence due to his control over railroads in the American West. Later founded Stanford University.
  • Promontory Point: The point at which the rail lines of the Union Pacific Railroad and Central Pacific Railroad finally met on May 10, 1869. This marked the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Promontory Point, Utah, is just north of the Great Salt Lake.
  • Robber barons: A pejorative name for investors who artificially inflated the value of their company’s stock, sold the stock to the public, and pocketed the profits. The company would then go bankrupt, leaving stockholders with nothing. Additionally, the fierce competition of the Gilded Age coupled with lack of federal regulation often led to dishonest business practices.
  • Alexander Graham Bell: A Scottish-born scientist. He is best known for patenting the telephone in 1876. He also founded the Bell Telephone Company in 1879 and the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) in 1885.


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