2.5. The Mid-Atlantic States: The Progressive Era and Its Aftermath (1900-1925)


and rank


(45 states)


(48 states)

New York





New Jersey










Total population

% of US pop.







Mid-Atlantic cities in top 10 Population and rank



New York, NY

3,437,202 (1st)

5,620,048 (1st)

Philadelphia, PA

1,293,697 (3rd)

1,823,779 (3rd)

Buffalo, NY

352,387 (8th)

Not in top 10

Pittsburgh, PA

Not in top 10

588,343 (9th)

Key events that shaped law and culture:

  • Between 1890 and 1925, much of the United States completed the transition from an agrarian economy to a mature industrial economy.  Many adjustments were required to fit the law to the new economic order.  During the Progressive Era (1900-1915) there was an unprecedented expansion of regulatory laws and of government’s role in the daily lives of many Americans.  Major reforms included:
  • “Good government” laws creating civil service systems and requiring selection of political candidates directly by voters rather than party caucuses.
  • Increased railroad regulation and public utility regulatory systems in which water and power companies who agreed to extensive rate regulation received officially-sanctioned status as local monopolies.
  • The addition of income and inheritance taxes to property taxes as key means of raising government revenue.
  • New conservation, product safety and workplace safety laws. 
  • The mid-Atlantic states were among the first to complete the transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy.  As a result, some parts of the Progressive-era debate started there well before 1900; but other parts of the Progressive reform agenda were enacted relatively late.
  • New York City and Philadelphia continued to grow and to play an outsized role in the affairs of their respective states.  New Jersey also became heavily urbanized.  All of the mid-Atlantic states wrestled during the Progressive era with the extent to which cities (dominated in many cases by local “bosses,” such as Frank Hague of Jersey City) should be allowed municipal “home rule” or should be closely controlled by the state legislature; the proper balance of power between employers and labor; workplace safety; and other issues produced by industrialization and urbanization. 
  • Cultural tensions between descendants of early settlers and later immigrants reached a climax in many parts of the United States during and after World War I.  Many Americans feared that German immigrants might sabotage the war effort and that a burgeoning and increasingly militant Socialist movement might undermine their more traditional vision of what American society should look like.  Such tensions developed in the mid-Atlantic states as early as the 1890s.  In 1923 New York produced one of the most prominent court cases addressing the proper limits of free speech for those who advocated radical change (Gitlow, discussed at section ___).  
Tickertape parade for New Yorker Gertrude Ederle, first woman to swim the English Channel  (1926) - courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Rural health nurse, upstate New York, early 1900s - courtesy New York Public Library

Paterson, New Jersey silk workers strike (1913) - courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Philadelphia Athletics baseball at Shibe Park (1910) - courtesy Wikimedia Commons