The rise of industrial capitalism in the late 19th and early 20th century challenged nearly every concept that people used to explain the way the world worked. The proliferation of the wage system, the rise of the corporation, hyper-urbanization, and the shift from farm to factory left people questioning all they had known to be true.
Factory workers worked longer hours and made less. One in every 26 workers in the country would be injured or maimed while working. Farmers worked more, planted more, and harvested more, only to discover that they too made less. No matter how much they grew, the price for the products kept falling. African Americans had been promised freedom only to find themselves trapped in institutions meant to recreate their bondage.
Natural resources, which had one seemed inexhaustible, were on the verge of running out — trees, soil, animals, land. Filth and toxic waste poisoned water systems. The air, thick with pollution, shortened the lives of all who lived nearby.