The Gilded Age was a time when Americans made tremendous leaps forward in business. We became an urban nation. We reformed our government and expanded voting rights. We were compassionate. We were readers and our writers helped us understand both the good and the bad in society.

However, it was not a happy time for everyone. Thousands of poor suffered in terrible conditions. Fleeing poverty in other nations did not guarantee wealth in this one. Immigrants faced polluted, dangerous cities and long work for little pay. Horatio Alger may have written novels that celebrated the American Dream, but not everyone was able to make that dream come true. Many Americans simply were poor their entire lives.

The idea that hard work would lead to upward social mobility and success ran directly counter to the Social Darwinists who argued that success was a matter of survival of the fittest in the same way that animals and plants in nature thrived or failed. Humans and businesses were no different. The strongest were successful, and success was a sign of superiority. Dreams had nothing to do with it.

What do you think? Is the American Dream achievable?