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Major Forms of American Entertainment in the 1800s

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It’s incredible to fathom just how much the American society has advanced and adapted over its life span. For only being present around 250 years, we have achieved a rather fantastic history of rich culture and experiences. Over these years, the United States of America has gone through a good amount of changes and alterations. This being executive and citizen lifestyle related as well. For example, the mid 1800’s saw the rise of the Industrial Revolution. This was an innovative movement in which new machines and inventions reformed the ways our society produced profitable products and performed employment responsibilities. This era meant extreme changes for the United States of America. Farmers whom normally worked based off the season, were now working time clocked shifts at factories. Women who normally would not participate in farming, were similar working at factories as well. One may believe that time clocked jobs are so common, but in the 1800’s it was just beginning to gain popularity amongst the states. It just goes to show just how different the lifestyles of post-colonial Americans were as opposed to modern American lifestyles.

Children and young teens are in contact with a plethora of advanced technology and tools that are aimed at consumer profit. These being products sold with extreme entertainment value, such as video games and films. Young men and women of modern America have adapted to utilizing these entertainment methods more and more over the years. For example, there are now video game tournaments present within our society, due to the rising popularity and competitiveness of video games. In addition to video games, media entertainment such as television shows and professionally produced films have also been utilized as core entertainment methods. Media streaming services such as Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix have accumulated over 100 million subscribers in recent time. Our modern methods of entertainment do not just stop there, we also have physical sports that have been around for over a hundred years, such as American baseball or football. The American family has taken advantage of the safety precautions given by modern society, such as not having to worry about hunting for one’s own food and making one’s own clothing. These are just a couple of the processes that people of the modern world no longer must complete, due to the easily available mass product and increased technological advances. One living in the 1800’s may have to wait up to several weeks to deliver a written message to a companion, where as in today’s time we have the ability to instantaneously project our messages, and across that entire world at that. Because of these entertainment methods being so easily available and widespread amongst the population, many younger citizens have accepted the perspective that experiencing entertainment in general is an important and even crucial aspect of living a good life.

It’s incredible to think of a time where the only form of entertainment available, was really just reading different forms of media. Examples of these forms of medias usually spanned from newspaper prints to full novels. Furthermore, to compare the limited entertainment methods of people of the 19th century to the plethora of entertainment methods available to people in modern time would be a vastly diverse and intuitive study. Besides finding visual leisure in writings, there is no similarities concerning entertainment in modern time and the 1800’s. The times have changed, to say the least. Back in the 1800’s most people’s form of entertainment was just reading.

Some of these readings included primitive newspapers and novels. Newspapers became widely accessible to the public, as one of the first major forms of entertainment in the united states of America. If it was not for the mass production of a certain revolutionary invention in 1830, even that would not have occurred. This invention was known as the penny press. The invention of the penny press was possible due to the shift from manufacturing hand crafted products to steam powered products. This product in specific, was printing. The penny press newspapers were famous for not only being the first form of widely sold newspapers, but also for being a cheap source of news containing coverage of crime, tragedy, adventure, and gossip. These penny papers were known for representing the crudest from of journalism due to the interesting gossip that was reported, sometimes not being completely honest reports. Another important aspect of the penny pressed newspapers was that they were extremely cheap to the public and very affordable, the average price for a penny press was one cent per paper. Most of contemporary papers sold to the public for around 6 cents each issue. This allowed even the poorer classes to enjoy the newspaper.

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It’s imperative to note, that even though money was worth much less in 1830 (the time period of the rise of newspapers) one cent in 1830 would amount to 27 cents in 2017. That is incredibly cheap. Because of the widespread interest in newspapers around this time period, soon after newspaper companies began to pay more attention to the content that they served. They realized that most people enjoyed reading stories about police and criminal cases. Most of the revenue for these penny press newspaper companies did not actually come from selling the newspaper itself, but more so from the use of advertising out other companies. This is how they were able to sell these newspapers so inexpensively, as other newspaper companies relied heavily on subscriptions to finance their activities. These subscriptions were more often than not, very expensive. This rise in the interest of newspapers gave birth to a plethora of other newspaper companies, started by ambitious business men whom wanted to make profit. Later on, in the 1800’s, around 1851, one of the most famous penny press papers were initiated. This was started by two men, George Jones the publisher and Henry Raymond. This paper began as “The New York Daily Times” but was later changed to “The New York Times” in 1857. If that sounds familiar, it is because “The New York Times” is one of the most popular newspapers in the world, even in modern times now. This newspaper was famous for attempting to incorporate journalistic standards that are common in today’s time, in addition to having high quality writing and reporting.

“We shall be Conservative, in all cases where we think Conservatism essential to the public good; —and we shall be Radical in everything which may seem to us to require radical treatment and radical reform. We do not believe that everything in Society is either exactly right or exactly wrong; —what is good we desire to preserve and improve; —what is evil, to exterminate, or reform”. — New York Daily Times, 1st issue, 1851.

This quote exemplifies the independent stance on public issues that the New York Times held amongst its newspaper issues and journalistic views in general. This idealism held by The New York Times helped made it a great paper to read due to people having the ability to debate over its specific content, without ever feeling like it the content was wrongly biased. The penny press newspapers are also changed political and demographic qualities of the early United States of America. Americans truly did not have much to enjoy themselves with before the time of newspapers, but once these were installed into our national system, newspapers took hold as one of the first commonly widespread forms of entertainment.

Another important source of entertainment in the 1800’s was novels. The first most famous writer of this time period was none other than Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849). Although he only lived to be 40 years old, his impact on the literary movement was substantial. Poe was an American writer, literacy critic, and personal editor. He was best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, exemplified through his poetry and short stories. Poe has been regarded as one of the most influential symbols of the inclusion of romanticism in the US and also American literature in general. Poe was considered the first writer to expand on the detective fiction genre of literature as well as the emerging genre of science fiction. Although Poe never made that much money, his work is praised as some of the best writings in American history today. Many people around the early U.S enjoyed his work thoroughly, such as his poetry work in ‘Temerlane and Other Poems’ of 1827. Another extremely famous writer was Herman Melville (1819-1891). Herman Melville was a lot a poet, as well as a novel writer. He is best known for his influence on the American Renaissance period of literature. Some of his best works include ‘Typee’ (1846) as well as the incredibly famous ‘Moby Dick’ (1851). Most of his writings included the concept of being a common sailor at sea, combined with the exploration of personal philosophy. Many Americans all around the united states of the 1800’s took to the book stores to purchase novels and poetry works by these two famous writers, amongst many other literacies works. Novels and poetry were some of the major forms of entertainment for people of this time period.

In conclusion, it was almost unbelievable to compare the lack of entertainment options with the leisurely options the Americans of today have when compared to those of the 1800’s Americans. Before 1800, there was not much for Americans to do at home for fun besides converse, but with the introduction of penny press newspapers, Americans were able to to converse about ‘modern’ issues in real time. Americans were also able to thoroughly enjoy themselves with fictional novels, due to the rise of famous writers and poets during the mid 1800’s. Although the only real options Americans had for entertainment was reading, perhaps this simplistic view of relaxing and being entertained was the reasoning as to the productivity of working people during this time period, as compared to the overall laziness of people today.

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Major Forms of American Entertainment in the 1800s. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 8, 2023, from
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