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Twain coined the phrase "Gilded Age"

Hannibal experienced a prolonged period of economic success and prosperity throughout the second half of the 19th century, referred to as its "Gilded Age".

The advent of the railroad reinforced and expanded the city’s purpose as a trade and transportation center. Lumber mills had existed in

      Hannibal during its first couple of decades, but the construction of the westbound Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad attracted investors from

         other states to set up shop in the "Bluff City". In the mid-1800s, the abundant white pine forests of Wisconsin and Minnesota supplied

             millions of feet of timber each year. Lumber companies in these northern areas would lash together their cut logs into massive floating

                 rafts—some as large as sixty-four by twelve hundred feet in size—and float their stock down the Mississippi river to Hannibal.

                   Immense profits waited for those companies that could provide finished lumber to the South during Reconstruction and to the West

                      as migration spread in that direction; with the river and the railroads, lumber could be sent in either direction from Hannibal.

By the end of the Civil War, six major lumber firms had been established in Hannibal, and their success spawned many imitators. In its heyday of the 1870s and ’80s, the lumber business produced more than 200 million linear feet of finished lumber per year in Hannibal. This did not include another dozen smaller firms providing sash, door and window products. Hannibal grew to over eleven thousand residents in the late 1870s and rose to become the fourth largest manufacturer of finished lumber in the country. This unprecedented prosperity sparked new industry and strong economic development in Hannibal.

Clockwise from top left: Lumber Baron William J. Dulaney, c1890; the endless acres of finished lumber produced by the Cruikshank Lumber firm, c1880; Sumner McKnight's ingenious invention that allowed locomotives to be backed into the river for loading logs; loggers directing "traffic" on the Mississippi River.

The influence of wealth was expressed throughout Hannibal in public buildings erected during this time, grand structures designed to "uplift the masses". Architecturally, buildings from this era tended to hearken back to Classical, European-influenced design. The big business of lumber was also reflected in the proliferation of majestic churches and expansive homes, especially along Fifth Street, which became known as “Millionaires’ Row.”  [For more about the Victorian architecture of this time period in Hannibal's history, visit "Hannibal's Historic Districts" section of this website.]

Hannibal Free Public Library, 1902

Abundant wealth was generated in Hannibal during Reconstruction and into the turn of the twentieth century. Hannibal’s affluent citizens enjoyed the lavish lifestyle of the Victorian era, living in beautifully appointed mansions and traveling the world. Hannibal was considered a cosmopolitan midwestern city with sophistication and culture.

Attendees at Fifth Street Baptist Church, c1905

Hannibal also remained competitive with other Midwestern cities in staying at the front of the technology curve. The Wabash Bridge opened for train and other transport business in 1871, one of the earliest bridges to cross the Upper Mississippi. The city established both the first phone service in Missouri in 1879 (beating St. Louis by only a matter of hours) and the first electric trolley (streetcar) system in the state in 1890. The latter event was made possible after a $20,000 bond issue was approved in 1885 to finance the construction of a generating plant and eleven light towers distributed across the city, providing the entire downtown area with municipal electric service beginning in May 1886.

Hannibal's first electric streetcar, 1890

The Cruikshank sisters prepare for a parade in front of the family's mansion on "Millionaires' Row" (Fifth Street)

Hannibal's own Samuel Clemens, writing

under the pseudonym "Mark Twain", published The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today with friend Charles Dudley Warner in 1873. The term came to be used to describe the wealth, prosperity, and,in some cases, the greed and excess

of Americans in

the late 1800s.

Hannibal's Lumber Barons