9.2. The Progressive Era (1900-1930)




1900

(45 states)

1920

(48 states)

1940

(48 states)

Colorado

539,700

31st

939,629

33rd

1,123,296

33rd

Montana

243,329

41st

548,889

39th

559,456

39th

Idaho

161,772

43rd 

431,866

42nd

524,873

42nd

Wyoming

92,531

44th

194,902

47th

250,742

47th

Utah

276,749

40th

449,396

40th

550,310

40th

Nevada

42,355

45th

77,407

48th

110,247

48th

Region's % of

U.S. population

1.8%

 

2.5%

 

2.4%

 

 

  • After 1900, Rocky Mountain agriculture diversified as irrigation expanded and a large portion of the farmable federal lands in the region was sold to settlers.  Pockets of the region, most notably the Denver and Salt Lake City areas, developed significant industry.  Mining activity continued and industry increased.  At the end of the era, Nevada developed two unique economic sectors:  it liberalized its marriage and divorce laws, becoming a haven for couples who wanted to avoid the delay required by more restrictive divorce laws in their home states, and it expanded legalized gambling – a step that soon transformed Las Vegas and Reno from sleepy desert towns into cities attracting visitors from around the nation.
  • The Progressive Era (1900-1915) witnessed an unprecedented expansion of regulatory laws and of government’s role in the daily lives of Americans.  Rocky Mountain states participated actively in the Progressive movement, although reform came to some states (most notably Wyoming) later than to others.  Major reforms of the era included “good government” laws creating civil service systems and requiring selection of political candidates by voters rather than party caucuses; increased railroad regulation; public utility regulatory systems in which water and power companies received officially-sanctioned status as local monopolies in return for their consent to state regulation of their rates and business activities; the addition of income and inheritance taxes to property taxes; and new conservation, product safety and workplace safety laws. 
  • Labor issues, particularly in the mining industry, also occupied lawmakers’ attention during this era.   Unions such as the United Mine Workers and Western Federation of Miners actively tried to organize the Rocky Mountain coal, gold and silver mines during the era; mine owners resisted their efforts with equal vigor.  Organizing efforts, particularly those of the Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) sometimes resulted in violence.  The culmination came in a bitter strike in Ludlow, Colorado (1914) which led to extensive property damage, several deaths and a call-up of federal troops to preserve order.    
  • Cultural tensions between descendants of early settlers and later immigrants reached a climax throughout the United States during and after World War I.  Many Americans feared that German immigrants might sabotage the war effort; others were deeply uneasy about rising support for the Socialist Party in many parts of the nation.  These fears led to enactment of anti-sedition laws in many states.  Old-stock Americans’ antagonism toward parochial schools and foreign-language instruction, which had flourished in the late 19th century, resurfaced during the 1920s in the form of laws requiring that Bible reading (usually in the King James version accepted by Protestants) and requiring that school instruction be given only in English. 
  • These tensions were relatively muted in the Rocky Mountain region.  There were several reasons for this.  During the region’s frontier era old-stock Americans and European immigrants moved in simultaneously and lines between the groups did have time to become as entrenched as they were in other regions.  By 1900 the region had established a tradition of tolerance, reflected in its early acceptance of women as voters and office holders (see § __), and the region’s residents carried on that tradition during the Progressive era.   Racial relations were not a contentious issue because few blacks lived in the Rockies except in Colorado, which continued its frontier-era tradition of racial tolerance.