The Progressive Era from the 1890s to the 1920s, was a major era in American history. It is most famous for political reforms, as proposed by Republicans Theodore Roosevelt, Charles Evans Hughes and Herbert Hoover, and Democrat Woodrow Wilson. The progressive era emphasized efficiency and an end to political corruption, and appealed to well-educated middle class Americans.
The progressives strongly supported education, science, and medicine, and saw ignorance as the main problem to overcome. They wanted to purify society, and most supported prohibition and woman suffrage. Jane Addams was the most prominent leader outside government.
Progressive Ideology also influenced American business, with entrepreneurs like Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and J. P. Morgan, who promoted efficiency. They also gave strong support to philanthropy and to religion, especially worldwide Christian missions.
Booker T. Washington was the leading progressive voice in the African American community.
In 1912 Roosevelt created a new party, the "Progressive Party" to run for president, but he lost and the party faded away. The 1912 party is only a small part of the entire Progressive movement.
The Progressive Era lasted from the 1890s to the 1920s, and influenced all sectors of American society. From the perspective of conservatives in the 21st century, many aspects of the drive for efficiency and against corruption win wide approval. Liberals are split in their evaluation, with many approving the growth of federal power and others opposed to the middle class moralism of the progressives.
- 1 Reform ideas
- 2 Women
- 3 Prohibition
- 4 Constitutional change
- 5 Economic conditions
- 6 Progressive Politics
- 7 Progressive party of 1912
- 8 End of the Era
- 9 Notable Progressive political leaders
- 10 Notable Progressive intellectuals, writers, advocates
- 11 See also
- 12 Bibliography
- 13 Business and labor
- 14 Foreign affairs
- 15 External links
Progressivism meant expertise, and the use of science, engineering, technology and the new social sciences to identify the nation's problems, and identify ways to eliminate waste and inefficiency and to promote modernization. The reformers of the Progressive Era advocated the Efficiency movement. Progressives assumed that anything old was encrusted with inefficient and useless practices. A scientific study of the problem would enable experts to discover the "one best solution." Progressives strongly opposed waste and corruption, and tended to assume that opponents were motivated by ignorance or corruption. They sought change in all policies at all levels of society, economy and government. Initially the movement was successful at local level, and then it progressed to state and gradually national. The reformers (and their opponents) were predominantly members of the middle class. Most were well educated, white, Protestants who lived in the cities. Catholics, Jews and African Americans had their own versions of the Progressive Movement, as exemplified by George Cardinal Mundelein, Oscar Straus and Booker T. Washington.
The Progressives pushed for social justice, general equality and public safety, but there were contradictions within the movement, especially regarding race. To many Progressives, especially in the South, black suffrage was a corrupting force (the votes were presumably purchased or controlled by ministers) and had to be minimized. The Catholics had their own version of the movement which they applied to their schools, colleges, and hospitals.
Women came to the fore in the Progressive era and proved their value as social workers. Jane Addams of Chicago was only the most prominent of many leaders. The woman suffrage movement was a key part of Progressivism. It started in the west (with California giving the women the vote in 1912 after several smaller states), and moved east. It was opposed by ethnic machines in the northeast and traditionalists in the South, but finally became law by Constitutional amendment (the 19th) in August 1920.
Prohibition of the manufacture and sale of alcohol was one of the main Progressive causes at the local, state and national level. It achieved national success with the passage of the 18th Amendment by Congress in late 1917, and the ratification by three-fourths of the states in 1919. It took effect in 1920, and was repealed in 1933. Evangelical church groups, especially Methodists and Baptists, were the main activists in favor of prohibition. They were mobilized by the highly effective Anti-Saloon League.
The Progressives tried to permanently fix their reforms into law by constitutional amendments, included Prohibition with the 18th Amendment and women's suffrage by the 19th amendment, both in 1920 as well as the federal income tax with the 16th amendment and direct election of senators with the 17th amendment. After Progressivism collapsed, the 18th amendment was repealed (in 1933).
The Progressive Era was one of general prosperity after the Panic of 1893—a severe depression—ended in 1897. The Panic of 1907 was short and mostly affected financiers. However, Campbell (2005) stresses the weak points of the economy in 1907-1914, linking them to public demands for more Progressive interventions. The Panic of 1907 was followed by a small decline in real wages and increased unemployment, with both trends continuing until World War I. Campbell emphasizes the resulting stress on public finance and the impact on the Wilson administration's policies. The weakened economy and persistent federal deficits led to changes in fiscal policy, including the imposition of federal income taxes on businesses and individuals and the creation of the Federal Reserve System. Government agencies were also transformed in an effort to improve administrative efficiency.
Almost all major politicians declared their adherence to some progressive measures. In politics the most prominent national figures were Republicans Theodore Roosevelt and Robert LaFollette and Democrats William Jennings Bryan and Woodrow Wilson. On the far left, the IWW ("Wobblies") opposed Progressivism because they wanted to destroy capitalism and progressivism wanted to strengthen it. The main labor unions, led by Samuel Gompers of the AFL, were active supporters of the progressive Movement, as were most businessmen.
Muckrakers were journalists who exposed waste, corruption and scandal in the highly influential new medium of national magazines, such as McClure's. Progressives shared a common belief in the ability of science, technology and disinterested expertise to identify all problems and come up with the one best solution.
For a more detailed treatment, see Initiatives and referendums in the United States.
Progressives moved to enable the citizenry to rule more directly and circumvent political bosses; California, Wisconsin and Oregon took the lead. California and Oregon established the Initiative, Referendum, and Recall. About 16 states began using Primary elections. Many cities set up municipal reference bureaus to study the budgets and administrative structures of local governments. In Illinois, governor Frank Lowden undertook a major reorganization of state government. In Wisconsin, the stronghold of Robert LaFollette, the Wisconsin Idea, inspired by Charles McCarthy, used the state university as the source of ideas and expertise.
Trusts were a major issue, with public opinion fearing that large corporations could impose monopolistic prices to cheat the consumer and squash small independent companies. By 1904, 318 trusts controlled about two-fifths of the nation's manufacturing output, not to mention powerful trusts in non-manufacturing sectors such as railroads, local transit, and banking. Roosevelt's Justice Department launched 44 antitrust suits.
TR moves left 1907-1912
By 1907-08, his last two years in office, Roosevelt was increasingly distrustful of big business, despite its close ties to the Republican party in every large state. Roosevelt, freely lambasting his critics and conservative judges, called on Congress to enact a series of radical new laws that would regulate the economy. He wanted a national incorporation law (all corporations had state charters, which varied greatly state by state), a federal income tax and inheritance tax (both targeted on the rich), limits on the use of court injunctions against labor unions during strikes (injunctions were a powerful weapon that mostly helped business), an employee liability law for industrial injuries (pre-empting state laws), an eight-hour law for federal employees, a postal savings system (to provide competition for local banks), and, finally, campaign reform laws. None of his agenda was enacted, and Roosevelt carried over the ideas into the 1912 campaign. Roosevelt's increasingly radical stance proved popular in the Midwest and Pacific Coast, and among farmers, teachers, clergymen, clerical workers and some proprietors, but was appeared as divisive and unnecessary to eastern Republicans, corporate executives, lawyers, party workers, and Congressmen.
Roosevelt certified Taft a genuine "progressive" in 1908 when he pushed through the nomination of his uncharismatic Secretary of War. With most northern states safely Republican, Taft easily won. He defeated William Jennings Bryan, who was running his third race, this time claiming that he not Taft was the true progressive. Taft sincerely considered himself a "progressive" because in his deep belief in "The Law" as the scientific device that should be used by judges to solve society's problems.
Taft proved an inept politician. Who could follow Roosevelt, perhaps the most charismatic national figure ever? Anyway Taft lacked the energy and personal magnetism, not to mention the publicity devices, the dedicated supporters, and the broad base of public support that made Roosevelt so formidable. When Roosevelt realized that lowering the tariff would risk severe tensions inside the GOP, pitting producers (manufacturers and farmers) against department stores and consumers, he stopped talking about the issue. Taft ignored the risks and tackled the tariff boldly. He negotiated a breakthrough treaty with Canada that would sharply lower tariffs with the nation's largest trading partner. Taft hurt himself in the Midwest, where farmers feared an influx of competitive products, and yet he never reaped the benefits because Canadians revolted against the possibility of American domination, and rejected the treaty. Pushing a new tariff through Congress, Taft on the one hand encouraged reformers to fight for lower rates, then cut deals with conservative leaders that kept overall rates high. The resulting Payne-Aldrich tariff of 1909 was too high for most reformers, but instead of blaming this on Nelson Aldrich and big business, Taft took credit, calling it the best tariff ever. Again he had managed to alienate all sides.
Unlike Roosevelt, Taft never attacked business or businessmen in his rhetoric. However he was attentive to the law, so he launched 90 antitrust suits, including one against the largest corporation, U.S. Steel for an acquisition that Roosevelt had personally approved. The upshot was that Taft lost the support of antitrust reformers (who disliked his conservative rhetoric), of big business (which disliked his actions), and of Roosevelt, who felt repudiated by his protegé.
Under the leadership of Senators Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin and Albert Beveridge of Indiana, Midwestern GOP progressives increasingly became party insurgents, battling both Taft and the conservative wing of the Republican party. The tariff issue initially brought the insurgents together, but they broadened their attack to cover a wide range of issues. In 1910 they cooperated with Democrats to reduce the power of Speaker Joe Cannon, a key conservative. In 1911 LaFollette created the National Progressive Republican League to defeat the power of political bossism at the state level, and to replace Taft at the national level. More trouble came when Taft fired Gifford Pinchot, a leading conservationist and close ally of Roosevelt, who had alleged that Taft's Secretary of Interior was in league with big timber interests. Conservationists sided with Pinchot, as Taft alienated yet another vocal constituency. Roosevelt, back from Europe, launched an attack on the federal courts, which deeply upset Taft. In the 1910 Congressional elections, Democrats swept to power and Taft's reelection in 1912 was increasingly in doubt.
TR breaks with Taft, 1911
Late in 1911 Roosevelt finally broke with Taft and announced as a candidate for the Republican nomination. Most of LaFollette's supporters went over to Roosevelt, leaving the Wisconsin Senator embittered. Roosevelt, stepping up his attack on judges, carried 9 of the states with preferential primaries, LaFollette took two, and Taft only one. Most professional Republican politicians were supporting Taft, and they proved difficult to upset in non-primary states. In a decisive move, Taft's people purchased support of corrupt politicians who represented the shadow Republican party in southern states that were overwhelmingly Democratic. Taft delegates beat back challenges to their southern delegations, proving that Taft had a slim majority at the Republican national convention. Roosevelt's people had made similar purchases in the South 1904, but this time the Rough Rider called foul. Not since 1872 had there been a major schism in the Republican party; with the Democrats holding about 45% of the national vote, any schism would be fatal. Unable to tolerate the personal humiliation he suffered at the hands of Taft and the Old Guard, and refusing to entertain the possibility of a compromise candidate, Roosevelt struck back hard. Outvoted, Roosevelt pulled his delegates off the convention floor and decided to form a third party.
Progressive party of 1912
The "Progressive Party nicknamed the "Bull Moose Party" was the third party created by Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 in his effort to punish President William Howard Taft for "stealing" the Republican nomination. Political progressivism was a powerful force at the national level, and in the first dozen years of the century Roosevelt was its most articulate spokesman. Roosevelt, trained as a biologist and naturalist, identified himself and his programs with the mystique of science. The other side of Progressivism was a burning hatred of corruption and a fear of powerful and dangerous forces, such as political machines, labor unions and "trusts" (large corporations.) Roosevelt, the former deputy sheriff on the Dakota frontier, and police commissioner of New York City, knew evil when he saw it and was dedicated to destroying it. Roosevelt's moralistic determination set the tone of national politics.
Roosevelt, Pinchot, Beveridge and their allies created the Progressive Party in 1912, structuring it as a permanent organization that would field complete tickets at the presidential and state level. At his Chicago convention Roosevelt cried out, "We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord." The crusading rhetoric resonated well with the delegates, many of them long-time reformers, crusaders, activists and opponents of politics as usual. Included in the ranks were Jane Addams and other feminists and peace activists. The platform echoed Roosevelt's 1907-8 proposals, calling for vigorous government intervention to protect the people from the selfish interests.
Many Progressives such as LaFollette strongly opposed the new party. The great majority of Republican governors, congressmen, editors and local leaders refused to join the new party, even if they had supported Roosevelt before. Only five of the 15 most prominent progressive Republicans in the Senate endorsed the new party; three came out for Wilson. For men expecting a future in politics, bolting the party ticket was simply too radical a step; for others it was safer to go with Wilson, and quite a few supporters of progressivism had doubts about the reliability of Roosevelt's beliefs. If The Bull Moose had only run a presidential ticket, it might have attracted many more Republicans willing to split their ballot. But the progressive movement was strongest at the state level, and therefore the new party had to field candidates for governor and state legislature. In Pittsburgh, the local Republican boss, at odds with state party leaders, joined Roosevelt's cause. In California, Governor Hiram Johnson and the Bull Moosers took control of the regular Republicans party; Taft was not even listed on the California ballot. Johnson became Roosevelt's running-mate. In most states there were full Republican and Progressive tickets in the field, thus splitting the Republican vote. The Socialist party, also troubled by deep internal divisions, again nominated Eugene Debs, their best stump speaker. The central problem faced by the Bull Moosers was that the Democrats were more united and optimistic than they had been in years.
Wilson the Democrat
The Bull Moosers fancied they had a chance to win by drawing out progressive elements from both the Republican and Democratic parties, That dream evaporated in July, when after 46 roll calls the Democrats unexpectedly rejected party hacks such as Champ Clark and instead nominated their most articulate and prominent progressive, Woodrow Wilson. As the crusading governor of New Jersey, Wilson had attracted national attention. As a leading educator and political scientist, he qualified as the ideal "expert" to handle affairs of state. Wilson appealed to regular Democrats, to progressive Democrats, and to independent progressives of the sort Roosevelt was targeting. Half or more of the independent progressives flocked to Wilson's camp, both because of Wilson's policies and in the expectation of victory, leaving the Bull Moose party high and dry. Roosevelt haters, such as LaFollette, also voted for Wilson instead of wasting their vote on Taft who could never win. Roosevelt nonetheless conducted a vigorous national campaign, denouncing the way the Republican nomination had been "stolen." He bundled together his reforms under the rubric of "The New Nationalism" and stumped the country for a strong federal role in regulating the economy, and, especially, watching and chastising bad corporations and overruling federal and state judges who made unprogressive decisions. Wilson called for a "New Freedom," which emphasized individualism rather than the collectivism that Roosevelt was promoting. Once he was in office, however, Wilson in practice supported reforms that resembled Roosevelt's collectivism more than his own individualism. Taft, knowing he had no chance to win, campaigned quietly, emphasizing the superior role of judges over the demagogy of elected officials. The departure of the more extreme progressives left the conservatives even more firmly in control of the GOP, and many of the Old Guard leaders distrusted Taft as a bit too progressive for their taste, especially on matters of antitrust and tariffs. Much of the Republican effort was designed to discredit Roosevelt as a dangerous radical, but the people knew the Rough Rider too well to buy that argument. The result was the weakest Republican effort in history. All three national campaigns were suspended for a while in October, as Roosevelt recuperated from an assassination attempt. (The bullet was partly absorbed by the text of a long speech in Roosevelt's pocket; bleeding and slightly dazed, he insisted on finishing the speech before being rushed off to the hospital.)
Election results 1912
Roosevelt succeeded in his main goal of punishing Taft; with 4.1 million votes (27%) he ran well ahead of Taft's 3.5 million (23%). However, Wilson's 6.3 million votes (42%) was enough to garner 435 electoral votes. Taft, with two small states, Vermont and Utah, had 8 electoral votes. Roosevelt had 88: Pennsylvania was his only Eastern state; in the Midwest he carried Michigan, Minnesota and South Dakota; in the West, California and Washington; in the South, nothing. The Democrats gained ten seats in the Senate, just enough to form a majority, and 63 new House seats to solidify their control there. Progressive statewide candidates trailed about 20 percent behind Roosevelt's vote. Almost all, including Beveridge of Indiana, went down to defeat; the only governor elected was Johnson of California. Seventeen Bull Moosers were elected to Congress, and perhaps 250 to local office. Outside California there obviously was no real base to the party beyond the personality of himself.
Bull Moose party disintegrates
Roosevelt had scored a second-place finish, but he trailed so far behind Wilson that everyone realized his party would never win the White House. With the poor performance at state and local levels in 1912, the steady defection of top supporters, the failure to attract any new support, and a pathetic showing in 1914, the Bull Moose party disintegrated. Some leaders, such as Harold Ickes of Chicago, supported Wilson in 1916. Most followed Roosevelt back into the GOP, which nominated Charles Evans Hughes. Hughes had a progressive record in New York, and sat out the divisive years of 1910-1916 on the Supreme Court, so he was acceptable to all factions. The ironies were many: Taft had been Roosevelt's hand-picked successor in 1908 and the split between the two men was personal and bitter; if Roosevelt had just waited he probably would have been nominated and elected in 1916; his schism allowed the conservatives to gain control of the Republican party and left Roosevelt and his followers drifting in the wilderness. Out in California, Johnson snubbed Hughes in 1916 and threw the election to Wilson. During the Great War, Roosevelt himself moved to the right, stressing Americanism and denouncing Wilson's weak military policies. He probably would have been the 1920 GOP nominee, but he had aged rapidly and died early in 1919, aged 60, from the effects of a tropical disease. Taft went on to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the position he wanted far more than President. Although Franklin Roosevelt attracted Ickes and a few other prominent Bull Moosers to his cause in the 1930s, two-thirds of those still politically active rejected the New Deal.
End of the Era
While there is not full agreement as to when the Progressive Era began, the end of the Progressive Era is always noted in the same year: 1920. As progressive author and founder of The New Republic Herbert Croly noted at the time, the "eclipse" of "progressivism as an effective force in American politics" was the "chief distinguishing aspect" of the 1920 election.
Notable Progressive political leaders
- Nelson Aldrich, GOP Senator; Rhode Island, conservative leader; progressive on financial issues
- Albert J. Beveridge, Senator; historian; Indiana
- William Jennings Bryan, 3 times Presidential candidate for Democrats; Nebraska
- Herbert Hoover, Government official; President; Washington
- Charles Evans Hughes, Governor, Presidential Candidate; Secty. of State; New York
- Hiram Johnson, Senator, California
- Tom L. Johnson, Mayor, Cleveland, OH
- Samuel M. Jones, Mayor, Toledo, OH
- Robert LaFollette, Governor, Senator, party boss, presidential candidate; Wisconsin
- Seth Low, Mayor; New York City
- Frank Lowden, Governor; Illinois
- George Norris, House and Senate; Nebraska
- George W. Perkins, New York City
- Gifford Pinchot, Conservationist; Governor; Pennsylvania
- Franklin D. Roosevelt, Navy official; Governor; New York
- Theodore Roosevelt, President; New York City
- Al Smith, Governor; Presidential candidate; New York City
- Henry Stimson, Secretary of War; Secretary of State; New York City
- William Howard Taft, President and Chief Justice; Washington
- William S. U'Ren, Oregon
- Booker T. Washington, Tuskeegee, AL; powerful leader of the black community
- William Allen White, newspaper editor; Emporia, Kansas
- Woodrow Wilson, political scientist; president; Princeton NJ
- Leonard Wood, General; Washington
Notable Progressive intellectuals, writers, advocates
- Henry George, author, intellectual
- Edward Bellamy, author, organizer
- Jane Addams, social worker, peace advocate
- Charles Beard, historian of US; political scientist
- Franz Boas, anthropologist
- Louis D. Brandeis, lawyer, Supreme Court justice
- Nicholas Murray Butler, educator
- Herbert Croly, magazine editor of New Republic; political commentator
- John R. Commons, economist
- Andrew Carnegie, philanthropist
- George Washington Carver, black chemist
- Robert deForest, charity organization leader
- John Dewey, philosopher
- W.E.B. DuBois, black leader
- Thomas Edison, inventor
- Irving Fisher, economist
- Henry Ford, industrialist
- Frederick T. Gates, philanthropist
- Charlotte Perkins Gilman, writer
- William Randolph Hearst, publisher
- Lewis Hine, photographer
- Walter Lippmann, journalist
- Charles McCarthy, Wisconsin Idea
- John R. Mott, YMCA leader
- George Cardinal Mundelein, Catholic archbishop of Chicago
- Vernon Louis Parrington?, historian and literary critic
- Simon Paton, economist
- Ulrich B. Phillips, historian of South
- Mary Richmond, charity organization leader
- Jacob Riis, journalist
- John D. Rockefeller, Jr., philanthropist
- Theodore Roosevelt, writer, environmentalist (and president)
- Upton Sinclair, writer
- Albion Small, sociologist
- Ellen Gates Starr, social worker
- Lincoln Steffens, Muckraking journalist
- Ida Tarbell, Muckraking journalist
- Frederick Winslow Taylor, efficiency expert
- Frederick Jackson Turner, historian of West
- Thorstein Veblen, economist
- Booker T. Washington, black leader
- Ida B. Wells, black leader
- William Allen White, editor
- Woodrow Wilson, author (and President)
- Frank Johnson Goodnow, educator
- Efficiency movement
- Fourth Great Awakening
- Fourth Party System
- Social Gospel
- Progressive Party, 1912
- Roaring Twenties
- Buenker, John D., John C. Burnham, and Robert M. Crunden. Progressivism (1986) short overview
- Buenker, John D. and Joseph Buenker, Eds. Encyclopedia of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. (2005) 1290 pp. in three volumes. . 900 articles by 200 scholars
- Buenker, John D. ed. Dictionary of the Progressive Era (1980), short articles by scholars
- Chambers, John Whiteclay, II. The Tyranny of Change: America in the Progressive Era, 1890-1920 (2000), textbook excerpt and text search
- Crunden, Robert M. Ministers of Reform: The Progressives' Achievement in American Civilization, 1889-1920 (1982) excerpt and text search
- Diner, Steven J. A Very Different Age: Americans of the Progressive Era (1998) excerpt and text search
- Flanagan, Maureen. America Reformed: Progressives and Progressivisms, 1890s-1920s (2007).
- Gilmore, Glenda Elizabeth. Who Were the Progressives? (2002)
- Gould Lewis L. America in the Progressive Era, 1890-1914" (2000) excerpt and text search
- Gould Lewis L. ed., The Progressive Era (1974), essays by scholars
- Hays, Samuel P. The Response to Industrialism, 1885-1914 (1957), old but influential short survey
- Hofstadter, Richard The Age of Reform (1954), Pulitzer Prize, but now sadly outdated
- Jensen, Richard. "Democracy, Republicanism and Efficiency: The Values of American Politics, 1885-1930," in Byron Shafer and Anthony Badger, eds, Contesting Democracy: Substance and Structure in American Political History, 1775-2000 (U of Kansas Press, 2001) pp 149-180; online version
- Kennedy, David M. ed., Progressivism: The Critical Issues (1971), readings
- Kloppenberg, James T. Uncertain victory: social democracy and progressivism in European and American thought, 1870-1920 1986 online at ACLS e-books
- Leuchtenburg, William E. "Progressivism and Imperialism: The Progressive Movement and American Foreign Policy, 1898-1916," The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 39, No. 3. (Dec., 1952), pp. 483-504. JSTOR
- Link, Arthur S. Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era: 1913-1917 (1954), standard scholarly survey
- Link, Arthur S. Wilson: The Road to the White House (1947), first volume of standard biography (to 1917); Wilson: The New Freedom (1956); Wilson: The Struggle for Neutrality: 1914-1915 (1960); Wilson: Confusions and Crises: 1915-1916 (1964); Wilson: Campaigns for Progressivism and Peace: 1916-1917 (1965), the last volume of standard biography. all 5 volumes are online free (if you have a account) at ACLS e-books
- Mann, Arthur. ed., The Progressive Era (1975), readings from scholars
- Lasch, Christopher. The True and Only Heaven: Progress and its Critics (1991) excerpt and text search
- McGerr, Michael. A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870-1920 (2003)
- Mowry, George. The Era of Theodore Roosevelt and the Birth of Modern America, 1900-1912. (1954) general survey of era
- Noggle, Burl. "The Twenties: A New Historiographical Frontier," The Journal of American History, Vol. 53, No. 2. (Sep., 1966), pp. 299-314. in JSTOR
- Perry, Elisabeth Israels and Karen Manners Smith, eds. The Gilded Age & Progressive Era: A Student Companion (2006)
- Piott, Steven. American Reformers 1870-1920 (2006). 240 pp. biographies of 12 leaders online review
- Thelen, David P. "Social Tensions and the Origins of Progressivism," Journal of American History 56 (1969), 323-341 JSTOR
- Wiebe, Robert. The Search For Order, 1877-1920 (1967) highly influential interpretation
- Blum, John Morton The Republican Roosevelt. (1954). Series of essays that examine how TR did politics
- Brands, H.W. Theodore Roosevelt (2001), biography online edition
- Clements, Kendrick A. The Presidency of Woodrow Wilson (1992) excerpt and text search
- Coletta, Paolo. The Presidency of William Howard Taft (1990) excerpt and text search
- Cooper, John Milton The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. (1983), influential dual biography excerpt and text search
- Gould, Lewis L. The Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt (1991) excerpt and text search
- Harbaugh, William Henry. The Life and Times of Theodore Roosevelt. (1963); also titled "Power and Responsibility; very good political biography excerpt and text search
- Harrison, Robert. Congress, Progressive Reform, and the New American State (2004) excerpt and text search
- Hofstadter, Richard. The American Political Tradition (1948), ch. 8-9-10 on Bryan, Roosevelt and Wilson. excerpt and text search
- Link, Arthur Stanley. Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917 (1972), standard history
- Morris, Edmund Theodore Rex. (2001), very well written biography of Theodore Roosevelt covers 1901-1909 excerpt and text search
- Mowry, George E. Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive Movement. (2001) standard history of 1912 movement
- Sanders, Elizabeth. Roots of Reform: Farmers, Workers and the American State, 1877-1917 (1999) excerpt and text search
- Wilson, Joan Hoff. Herbert Hoover, Forgotten Progressive (1965), favorable to Hoover
Business and labor
- Campbell, Ballard. "Economic Causes of Progressivism." Journal of the Gilded Age & Progressive Era 2005 4(1): 7-22
- Glad, Paul W. "Progressives and the Business Culture of the 1920s," The Journal of American History, Vol. 53, No. 1. (Jun., 1966), pp. 75-89. in JSTOR
- Kolko, Gabriel. "The Triumph of Conservatism" (1963), New left attack on Progressive reforms as dictated by big business
- Kyle, Bruce and Chris Nyland; "Scientific Management, Institutionalism, and Business Stabilization: 1903-1923" Journal of Economic Issues, Vol. 35, 2001
- Mink, Gwendolyn. Old Labor and New Immigrants in American Political Development: Union, Party, and State, 1875–1920 (1986); unions tried to restrict immigration because it lowered wage levels
- Montgomery, David. "Workers' Movements in the United States Confront Imperialism: The Progressive Era Experience." Journal of Gilded Age and Progressive era 7.1 (May 2008) online, leftist interpretation
- Nelson, Daniel. Managers and Workers: Origins of the New Factory System in the United States, 1880–1920 (1975),
- Sanders, Elizabeth. Roots of Reform: Farmers, Workers and the American State, 1877-1917 (1999), liberal interpretation
- Stromquist, Shelton. Reinventing 'The People': The Progressive Movement, the Class Problem, and the Origins of Modern Liberalism, (2006). ISBN 0-252-07269-3.
- Wiebe, Robert H. Businessmen and Reform: A Study of the Progressive Movement (1968), shows business played a major role
- Wiebe, Robert H. "Business Disunity and the Progressive Movement, 1901-1914," The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 44, No. 4. (Mar., 1958), pp. 664-685. in JSTOR
State and local, ethnic, gender
- Abell, Aaron I. American Catholicism and Social Action: A Search for Social Justice, 1865-1950 (1960),
- Buenker, John D. Urban Liberalism and Progressive Reform (1973). Urban ethics promoted Progressivism (except they opposed prohibition and were cool to woman suffrage)
- Buenker, John D. The Progressive Era, 1893-1914 (1998), in the stronghold of Wisconsin
- Feffer, Andrew. The Chicago Pragmatists and American Progressivism (1993), ideas of John Dewey and other philosophers
- Frankel, Noralee and Nancy S. Dye, eds. Gender, Class, Race, and Reform in the Progressive Era (1991). excerpt and text search
- Harlan, Louis R. Booker T. Washington (2 vol 1973, 1986); Pulitzer prize excerpt and text search
- Huthmacher, J. Joseph "Urban Liberalism and the Age of Reform" Mississippi Valley Historical Review 49 (1962): 231-241, in JSTOR; emphasized urban, ethnic, working class support for reform
- Lewis, David L. W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race: 1868-1919 (1993), 2 vol; Pulitzer Prize
- Link, William A. The Paradox of Southern Progressivism, 1880-1930 (1997).
- Lubove, Roy. The Progressives and the Slums: Tenement House Reform in New York City, 1890-1917 Greenwood Press: 1974.
- Nasaw, David. The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst (2001) excerpt and text search
- Rodgers, Daniel T. Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age (2000). influential study that stresses links with Europe online in ACLS e-books
- Starr, Kevin. Inventing the Dream: California through the Progressive Era (1986) excerpt and text search
- Thelen, David. The New Citizenship, Origins of Progressivism in Wisconsin, 1885-1900 (1972).
- Wesser, Robert F. Charles Evans Hughes: politics and reform in New York, 1905-1910 (1967).
- Beale Howard K. Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of America to World Power. (1956).
- Gillette, Jr., Howard. "The Military Occupation of Cuba, 1899–1902: Workshop for American Progressivism," American Quarterly 25 (Oct. 1973): 410–25.
- Montgomery, David. "Workers' Movements in the United States Confront Imperialism: The Progressive Era Experience." Journal of Gilded Age and Progressive era 7.1 (May 2008) online
- Burt, Elizabeth V., ed. The Progressive Era: Primary Documents on Events from 1890 to 1914 (Debating Historical Issues in the Media of the Time) (2004) excerpt and text search
- Croly, Herbert David. The Promise of American Life (1909), highly influential manifesto full text online
- Croly, Herbert David. Progressive Democracy (1914), theory full text online
- Cronon, William and David Stradling, eds. Conservation in the Progressive Era: Classic Texts (2004) excerpt and text search
- De Witt, Benjamin P. The Progressive Movement (1915), a comprehensive contemporary history of the era full text online
- Pease, Otis, ed. The Progressive Years: The Spirit and Achievement of American Reform (1962), primary documents
- Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era scholarly journal