America is the land that introduced the concept of a middle class. But, when Alexis de Tocqueville, a French statesman and political philosopher, wrote “Democracy in America” after his visit to our country in 1831, he described the U.S. as a “classless” society. Perhaps his perception was skewed by the fact that we had no royal family or nobility, as was common throughout Europe at his time.
Since our inception, however, there has been a huge divide between the rich and the rest of us. Two hundred years ago (around 1800), the wealthy people of this nation were farmers with large and successful operations, like John Adams or Thomas Jefferson. A hundred years ago (around 1900), the super rich were industrialists, like Henry Ford or John D. Rockefeller. Today, they are financiers or computer moguls, like Warren Buffet or Bill Gates.
As we progressed from an agricultural society to an industrial one to the present post-industrial nation, we created a significant class of people who fell somewhere between the rich and the poor. After sociology was introduced to our students in 1907 by William Graham Sumner at Yale University, studies have been conducted to discern the differences among our social classes.
Social class studies
Perhaps the first American to attempt to define the difference among the classes was Lester Frank Ward, the first president (1909-1910) of the American Sociological Society (American Sociological Association, since the 1950s). He believed that classes were separated by wealth, health, morality, and education. Today, we know that he was correct, at least on three counts...