What Were the Advantages and Disadvantages of City Life in the 1800s?

The population of U.S. cities tripled between 1870 and 1900 because of the advantages perceived to come from living in the city, including modern conveniences, such as indoor plumbing and the telephone, higher salaries, increased job opportunities and greater opportunities for amusement. However, city life in the 1800s also often came with overstressed sewage systems, rapidly spreading disease and squalid living conditions.

The introduction of modern inventions, such as the telephone, electricity and indoor plumbing, to major cities in the 1800s made those cities seem glamorous and modern. Construction of highways and bridges made cities accessible, and the introduction of elevators and skyscrapers made it possible for people to live comfortably on high floors. The development of department stores allowed more mass-produced goods to be sold, and mass production made prices come down. The population volume in large cities created more jobs, and the need for people to fill those jobs caused salaries to go up. Cities also boasted theaters, sports facilities and amusement parks for the enjoyment of their inhabitants.

At the same time, however, 19th-century cities grew so quickly that sewer capacity could not keep up with the growth. In some cities, such as New York, many homes were not even connected to the sewers. When raw sewage flowed through a city, diseases followed quickly, including cholera, malaria, smallpox, tuberculosis, typhoid and yellow fever. Tenements built in poorer areas tended to overcrowd the residents, encouraging the spread of these diseases and creating a generally squalid atmosphere.