Industrialism Takes Root in the United States
At the time of the American Revolution (1775–83; the American colonists' fight for independence from England) the earliest elements of another revolution—the Industrial Revolution—were taking root in the farms, workshops, businesses, and towns of the new nation. These elements included the development and use of labor-saving machines, the production of goods on a large scale, the employment of many laborers in one large operation, new management systems, and the efficient transportation of raw materials and manufactured goods. Industrialism was to have a profound effect on the way people lived in the United States, dramatically changing the nation's economy and way of life and transforming the United States from a rural (country) farming society into an urban (city) industrial society. Most historians agree that the Industrial Revolution took place over more than a century of U.S. history. The early roots that developed between the American Revolution and the American Civil War (1861–65; a war between the Union [the North], who opposed slavery, and the Confederacy [the South], who were in favor of slavery) unfolded slowly and only in certain sections of the country, but they set the stage
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Transportation and Communication Systems in the New Nation
When the United States gained its independence from England in the American Revolution (1775–83), the majority of American colonists lived within one hundred miles of the East Coast. They received manufactured goods, such as clothing, tools, and pottery, from Europe and paid for them with American raw materials, particularly timber, tobacco, fish, and grain. But as the nineteenth century began, available farmland along the East Coast of the United States was decreasing and large numbers of people began moving to lands west of the Appalachian Mountains. There were few roads in the western United States and it was highly expensive and time-consuming to transport goods there. Not only did farmers in the West need manufactured goods from the East, but East Coast merchants also needed crops from the West, and early textile industrialists needed cotton from the South. What was sorely lacking was the means to efficiently move goods where they were needed.
Most Americans understood that building transportation systems was essential to the prosperity of their new country, but the size and complexity of the job ahead of them was
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The Machine Makers
A period of rapid advances in technology started soon after the United States gained its independence in 1783 and continued through the mid-nineteenth century. It was driven by a remarkable group of inventors and innovators who created the machines that served industry. Most of these machine makers, who called themselves "mechanicians," received their training as apprentices (people who are bound to work for someone else for a specific term in order to learn a trade) in machine shops, where the tools of industry were made. In these shops, American machinists learned from each other by trading ideas and sharing their designs. Their goal was to reduce human labor by mechanizing (equipping with mechanical power) the work done in industries and on farms.
Though the nation repected its inventors, the systems by which they were rewarded, notably patents (government grants of exclusive authority to an inventor for making, using, and selling an invention), were poorly designed. Even the most famous inventors found it difficult or impossible to stop others from reproducing their creations for a profit. Part of the problem lay in the way most people conceived of invention—as the
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The First Factories
Factories are buildings or sets of buildings in which manufactured goods are made from raw materials on a large scale. Work in factories is usually accomplished with laborsaving machinery operated by wage workers, or people who work for others for pay. The entire manufacturing process, including humans and machines, is usually directed by professional managers hired by the owners or their representatives. The first U.S. factories were built around the turn of the nineteenth century. Most were located in the northeastern states, and they were usually established by a group of local businessmen who remained involved in their day-to-day operation at some level. Though these early industrialists were interested in making a profit on their investment, some expressed concern about the way their industries would shape the social world. Americans had heard about the miserable, dangerous, and unhealthy conditions for workers in British factories. Several leading businessmen hoped to create an industrial environment that was, at least in their own judgment, fair and safe for workers.
There was no existing group of workers to staff the first factories. Most Americans in the early nineteenth century were
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The Gilded Age
The foundations of industrialism (the social system that results from an economy based on large-scale industries) were established in the United States during the first wave of industrialization, or the development of industry, which occurred between the American Revolution (1775–83; the American colonists' fight for independence from England) and the American Civil War (1861–65). Even by the time of the Civil War, however, these advances were limited to only a few sections of the country. Eighty percent of the nation's factories and 70 percent of its railroad mileage were in the northern states, while the South, with its economy built around slave labor and exporting farm products, had maintained a far more rural culture, that is, a culture based on farming and country life. Even in the northeastern United States most industries were family owned and catered to a local market rather than operating nationally. The nation remained primarily rural; in fact five out of every six Americans lived in rural areas and the vast majority of Americans were farmers. Only a few U.S. cities had populations over one hundred thousand. Nonetheless, in 1860 the United States stood poised and ready to begin an era of remarkably rapid industrialization, that would transform the country into an urban society that relied heavily on industry.
The second wave of industrialization occurred between the Civil War and the...
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Railroads: The First Big Business
An increase in railroad construction between 1860 and 1900 changed the United States, helping make it the industrial nation it is today. As the chief system of transportation of goods and people, railroads were essential to American industry. Where railroads went, towns and cities with bustling new commerce arose, all dependent on the railways for shipments of food and goods. The construction of the railroads spawned huge new industries in steel, iron, and coal. No other business so dramatically stimulated and embodied the industrialization process. In The Rise of Industrial America: A People's History of the Post-Reconstruction Era author Page Smith comments: "In retrospect it appeared it had been the lack of adequate transportation, above all else, that had kept civilization moving at a mere camel's pace, or a mule's or ox's pace, prior to the railroad era … the railroads accelerated the process to a degree that the mind could hardly comprehend."
The race to build railroads in the last four decades of the nineteenth century was dramatic but not graceful. Early railroad magnates (powerful and influential people in the
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The Robber Barons
During the period of the Industrial Revolution known as the Gilded Age (an era lasting roughly from the early 1860s to the turn of the century), shrewd businessmen from humble backgrounds became multimillionaires by seizing opportunities in the country's new industries. Their fortunes quickly became legendary, inspiring many young men to leave their family farms and head for the city with hopes of becoming rich. In this era the very act of making money was idealized in the arts and media, and even in church sermons. The "rags-to-riches" story, in which an impoverished young man rises to wealth and prominence through his own hard work and determination, spread throughout the popular culture.
The inspiration for rags-to-riches dreams of this period came from a relatively small number of American businessmen who created gigantic industries unlike anything known before. They became enormously wealthy and held great influence over the economy and even over the government. Some Americans viewed them as "robber barons," a ruthless and greedy bunch that would stop at nothing in pursuit of their own fortunes. Others viewed them as captains of industry and credited them for making the United States the richest industrial nation of the world.
The robber barons came into power around the close of the American Civil War (1861–65; a war between the Union [the North], who were opposed to...
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A major result of industrialization in the United States was the transformation of the rural, agricultural nation to an urban one. At the time of the American Revolution (1775–83), when the American colonists fought England to win their independence, 95 percent of the U.S. population lived in rural areas, and most Americans were farmers. This was slowly changing by the time of the American Civil War (1861–65; a war between the Union [the North], who were opposed to slavery, and the Confederacy [the South], who were in favor of slavery), when about 20 percent of the American population, or 6.2 million people, lived in urban communities, or towns with populations of 2,500 or more. Despite this there were still fewer than four hundred communities with populations of 2,500 or more in the entire nation, and in 1850 only seven cities had populations over 100,000. After the Civil War, the population of the country as a whole increased very rapidly, doubling by the turn of the century. By 1900 the population in urban areas comprised about 40 percent of the population, or about 30 million people. At that time there were 1,737 communities with populations of 2,500 or
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Workers in the Industrial Age
During the last three decades of the nineteenth century, the majority of Americans became wage earners, people who worked for someone other than themselves. This was a first in U.S. history, as self-employed farmers had previously made up the majority of the population. Unlike farmers, industrial workers labored under the complete control of their employer. Though their grueling efforts led to great profits for the manufacturing companies, this rarely resulted in pay increases or lighter loads for the workers. In fact, keeping workers' wages as low as possible and their production high were key to the profitability of the industries. Workers were extremely vulnerable to their employers' demands because the nineteenth-century workplace was not regulated by the government. Many laborers were forced to work long hours in unsafe and unhealthy conditions. Benefits, such as health insurance or retirement plans, were almost unheard of, and the wages of many industrial workers were so low that they were forced to live in poverty. The prosperity of the golden age of industrialism did not extend to a large portion of its workers.
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The American Labor Movement
The rise of the huge and powerful railroads and other giant industries during and after the American Civil War (1861–65) signaled a loss of voice for workers. In the small, employer-owned businesses of earlier times, the worker and employer usually came to terms with each other as individuals, settling their differences and agreeing on wages, hours, and other issues through face-to-face discussions. This changed drastically in post-Civil War industry, when the owners hired professional managers to streamline the work. In the new era of mass production, in which goods are produced on a large scale, getting the most work from laborers at the lowest possible wages was a matter of company policy. With machines taking over many jobs, more labor became unskilled. Less value was placed upon the skills of the craftsmen, and workers were easily replaced. Large national labor unions arose to play an essential part in the fight for the rights and dignity of the workers. Labor unions are associations of workers formed to protect their common interests, particularly with respect to wages and working conditions.
The history of U.S. labor unions dates...
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The New South
In the period before the American Civil War (1861–65; a war between the Union [the North], who were opposed to slavery, and the Confederacy [the South], who were in favor of slavery), the South had remained a largely rural society, reliant for the most part on one crop, cotton, which was by far the nation's largest export. Southern plantations and farms supplied three-fourths of the world's cotton to textile manufacturers in both the United States and Great Britain. Attempts to diversify (give variety to) the Southern economy had nearly ceased in the decade before the war because cotton prices rose more than 50 percent, stimulating even more new cultivation. Not surprisingly, the Southern economy remained overwhelmingly agricultural. Southern capitalists (people who invest their money into businesses) invested much more money in cotton than in factories or even land. More precisely, they purchased slaves who provided the necessary labor for the cotton business. In 1860 the average slave owner had invested almost two-thirds of his wealth in the purchase of slaves.
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The Effects of Industrialism on Farming and Ranching in the West
Industrialization took on a variety of forms throughout the United States in the second half of the nineteenth century. While factories and cities developed early in the nineteenth century in the Northeast, rural life and farming remained the rule in most of the rest of the country. In the years after 1865, though, railroads began making their way across the nation, rapidly changing the nature of American farming and ranching in the areas west of the Appalachian Mountains, particularly the Old Northwest (the modern Midwest, including the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin) and the Great Plains (an area of grassland that stretches across the central part of North America eastward from the Rocky Mountains, from Canada in the north down to Texas in the south). New methods of transportation allowed more products to be grown, and new technology for farming and processing foods made it possible for farmers to grow more food. Unfortunately, it would be decades before the country's economic and political systems would adapt to the new capacity of its farms.
Railroads transform farming in the Old Northwest
Before the 1850s, the lack of transportation in all areas west of the Appalachian Mountains made it nearly impossible for farmers and ranchers...
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Reformers Take on Industry: The Progressive Era
Throughout the rapid U.S. industrialization, or development of industry, during the nineteenth century, the government had maintained a laissez-faire, or hands-off, attitude toward the economy, allowing the big corporations to do more or less as they pleased. The top leaders of the nation's industries became so powerful most people felt they controlled the nation's economy and even the state and federal governments. To those who viewed them as crooked manipulators, the top industrial leaders were known as robber barons. To others, who credited them for the nation's prosperity and technological advances, they were the captains of industry. In the last three decades of the nineteenth century, these industrialists had succeeded in creating huge monopolies (the exclusive right to produce a particular product), often by destroying their competition. Economic power was solidly in the hands of trusts—a few large corporations and business firms joined together to reduce competition and control prices. These trusts had formed through the merging of competing companies. Between 1898 and 1904, 5,300 individual companies had combined into just 318 trusts. (For more information on trusts, see Chapter 7.) Most of these large corporations were in the habit of giving gifts, usually of company stock, to key politicians in Washington, D.C., and in state governments. In exchange they expected favorable legislation for business and for the...
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Industrialism in the Twentieth Century
The scale of industrial enterprises in the United States increased during the early years of the twentieth century, making the American workplace very different from that of the preceding century. During the period of the Industrial Revolution known as the Gilded Age (the era of industrialization from the early 1860s to the turn of the century in which a few wealthy individuals gained tremendous power and influence; see Chapter 5), manufacturers in the largest industries, such as steel and oil refining, were pushed aside by enormous new factory complexes sometimes employing fifteen thousand to twenty thousand workers. These new plants produced automobiles, farm machinery, electrical equipment, textiles, and many other goods.
During the twentieth century the nature of manufacturing gradually changed. American consumers had more money to spend and wanted to be able to choose from a variety of products. To remain competitive, corporations had to respond to consumers' desires. Gradually, in the
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