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Why is it called 'The Gilded Age'? Title explained for new Julian Fellowes series

Why is it called 'The Gilded Age'?
How did The Gilded Age get its name? (Image credit: Sky)

Why is it called The Gilded Age? That's the question everyone is asking as The Gilded Age launches on HBO and Sky Atlantic.

According to the HBO synopsis, The Gilded Age refers to "a period of immense economic change, of great conflict between the old ways and brand new systems, and of huge fortunes made and lost."

This name is used to describe the late 19th century, from the 1870s to about 1900 and during this time American wages grew much higher than those in Europe, especially among skilled workers.

As a result of this, industrialization needed an ever-increasing unskilled labor force, and millions of European immigrants entered America during this time. 

It also saw plenty of cultural issues like prohibition, education, and discrimination towards racial groups as well as economic issues like tariffs and money supply. 

Factories, railroads, and coal mining were particularly significant during this time with railroad track mileage tripling between 1860 and 1880, and growing even further still in 1920.

In addition to this, The Gilded Age saw significant historical achievements such as Alexander Graham Bell receiving a patent for the first telephone and Thomas Edison demonstrating the first practical incandescent light bulb.

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The new TV series begins in 1882 in New York, introducing us to young Marian Brook (Louisa Jacobson), the orphaned daughter of a Union general who moves into the home of her thoroughly old-money aunts Agnes van Rhijn (Christine Baranksi) and Ada Brook (Cynthia Nixon). When Marian moves in, she's exposed to a social war between one of her aunts, a scion of the old-money set, and her stupendously rich neighbors, so there's lots going on!

It was created by Downton Abbey's Julian Fellowes, but he has revealed that it's not a prequel to his much loved period series. He said: "The Gilded Age is about a period much earlier than Downton Abbey. It’s 1880s New York and its various types and things that were going on there."

The Gilded Age premieres in the US on HBO on Monday, Jan. 24 at 9pm. It will then launch in the UK on Sky Atlantic on Tuesday, January 25 at 9pm.

Lucy Buglass
Lucy Buglass

Lucy joined the WhatToWatch.com team in 2021, where she writes series guides for must-watch programmes and the latest TV news. Originally from Northumberland, she graduated from Oxford Brookes University in 2016 with a degree in Film Studies and moved to London to begin a career writing about entertainment.


She is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic and has a huge passion for cinema. She especially loves horror, thriller and anything crime-related. Her favourite TV programmes include Inside No 9, American Horror Story and Black Mirror, but recently she's loving everything about Apple TV's Severance