Born January 19, 1813
Died March 15, 1898
British engineer, inventor
"I had an immense advantage over many others dealing with the problem of reducing the cost of making steel inasmuch as I had no fixed ideas derived from long-established practice to control and bias my mind, and did not suffer from the general belief that whatever is, is right."
Henry Bessemer devised a quicker, more efficient way of making steel, which led to steel replacing cast iron as the metal of preference in making railroad tracks, military weapons, and structures like bridges and skyscrapers. His invention, the Bessemer furnace, or converter, enormously raised the annual production of steel in England and helped move along the Industrial Revolution, a period of fast-paced economic change that began in Great Britain in the middle of the eighteenth century. One of the first to adopt Bessemer's steelmaking process wholeheartedly was American industrialist Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919; see entry), who...
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Born November 25, 1835
Died August 11, 1919
Scottish-born American industrialist
"I would as soon leave my son a curse as the almighty dollar."
Andrew Carnegie's name is synonymous with the steel industry. Starting from poverty, he built an enormous fortune by utilizing a new process for making steel and creating the largest steel-manufacturing company in the United States at precisely the time the world was turning from iron to steel to build railroads, skyscrapers, machine tools, and automobiles.
Carnegie was the son of a poor Scottish weaver. After immigrating to the United States with his family, he began a swift, steady rise to overwhelming business success, living out the ultimate rags-to-riches story. Carnegie held varied and diverse jobs in his career: he was a textile factory worker, a telegraph messenger boy, a telegraph operator, a railroad supervisor and then railroad owner, and finally an owner of steel...
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Born July 30, 1863
Died April 7, 1947
American engineer, automobile manufacturer
"You can do anything if you have enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is the yeast that makes your hopes rise to the stars."
Henry Ford symbolized the fruits of the Industrial Revolution, a period marked by the widespread replacement of manual labor by machines, by standardizing parts and machinery and utilizing the moving assembly line to efficiently mass-produce cars. To many, he was a folk hero: from a modest beginning on a farm near Detroit, Michigan, where he attended a one-room schoolhouse, he built an enormous enterprise that was for a time the largest manufacturer of automobiles in the world. At one time, a brand-new Ford Model T cost just less than three hundred dollars, a price low enough that Ford's own workers could afford to buy one for their families. It was Henry Ford who put ordinary American workers into cars, which had previously been luxuries for the wealthy.
(The entire section is 4084 words.)
Born November 14, 1765
Little Britain, Pennsylvania
Died February 24, 1815
New York, New York
American engineer, inventor
"What, sir? You would make a ship sail against the wind and currents by lighting a bonfire under her decks? I pray you excuse me. I have no time to listen to such nonsense.
—Napoléon Bonaparte, emperor of France, reacting to Fulton's proposal for a steamboat.
Robert Fulton was an American engineer and inventor who developed the first commercially successful steamboat, or a boat powered by steam, thereby transforming the transportation and travel industries and speeding up the Industrial Revolution, a period of fast-paced economic change that began in Great Britain in the middle of the eighteenth century.
As a child, Fulton enjoyed building mechanical devices, taking on such projects as rockets and a hand-propelled paddle wheel boat. His interest turned to art as he matured, and at the age of twenty-one, Fulton left the United States to...
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Born January 27, 1850
Died December 13, 1924
San Antonio, Texas
English-born American labor leader
"Conscious that we are right in our movement to secure better conditions for the workers; conscious that we are entitled to it, to a continual larger share of the ever-increasing production and the productivity of the laborer, we shall continue the struggle for better homes and better surroundings."
Samuel Gompers, longtime leader of the American Federation of Labor, an organization of trade unions, had an enormous influence on the direction of the organized labor movement in the United States. As much as any single individual, he steered organized labor away from European-style socialism (the philosophy that government should own, or at least control, business activities) to focus instead on unionism (forming associations of workers who negotiate with business owners for higher wages and improved working conditions) "pure and simple," with a concentration on issues like shorter hours and higher pay. At...
(The entire section is 3001 words.)
Born May 27, 1836
Roxbury, New York
Died December 2, 1892
New York, New York
"I can hire one-half the working class to kill the other half."
Jay Gould earned his fortune by means of financial manipulation, using investments in western U.S. railroads to gain a virtual monopoly on rail traffic to the southwestern quarter of the United States, giving him almost exclusive control over the rails in this region. He was one of the Industrial Revolution's so-called robber barons—owners of businesses that stifled competition in industries while amassing enormous fortunes. His business tactics and unethical behavior in pursuit of wealth made him widely disliked, both personally and professionally. But Gould's fortune did not survive even one generation. His son George took over the business upon Jay Gould's death and, through an overly ambitious expansion plan, lost control of all the railroads by 1918.
The story of U.S. railroads includes a long list of rogues, people who are dishonest or...
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Hill, James J.
Born September 16, 1838
Rockwood, Ontario, Canada
Died May 29, 1916
St. Paul, Minnesota
Canadian-born American railroad magnate
"The wealth of the country, its capital, its credit, must be saved from the predatory poor as well as the predatory rich, but above all from the predatory politician."
James J. Hill was a Canadian-born visionary who built not only a railroad linking the upper Midwest of the United States with the Pacific Ocean, but he helped populate the region with farmers recruited from Scandinavia. His career encompassed the whole range of events that comprised the Industrial Revolution, a period marked by the widespread replacement of manual labor by machines that began in Great Britain in the middle of the eighteenth century, including technology, population shifts, and political struggle. Although he was one of the most successful railroad builders of his era, Hill tangled with President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919; see entry) over the issue of his railroad monopoly—and lost.
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Jones, Mary Harris (Mother Jones)
Born May 1, 1830
County Cork, Ireland
Died November 30, 1930
Silver Spring, Maryland
Irish-born American labor organizer
"I live in the United States, but I do not know exactly where. My address is wherever there is a fight against oppression.… My address is like my shoes: it travels with me.… I abide where there is a fight against wrong."
Once a teacher and dressmaker, Mary Harris Jones, otherwise known as Mother Jones, became a legendary labor organizer and champion of workers' rights. At a time when women were denied a role in politics, Jones played an active part in helping to correct the excesses of the Industrial Revolution, a period marked by the widespread replacement of manual labor by machines that began in Great Britain in the middle of the eighteenth century.
In the U.S. Senate, she was denounced as the "grandmother of all agitators" (someone who stirs up public feeling on controversial issues). Among poor workers, she was fondly called "Mother Jones." People who saw her stand...
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Born May 5, 1818
Died March 14, 1883
German political philosopher, writer
"The worker has become a commodity, and he is lucky if he can find a buyer. And the demand on which the worker's life depends is regulated by the whims of the wealthy and the capitalists."
Karl Marx was a writer and political philosopher who responded to the rise of the working class with a theory of popular revolution that inspired generations of would-be revolutionaries in the industrialized world and beyond. He advocated the abolition of capitalism (private ownership of goods and services) and all private profit, by means of violence if necessary. Known as Marxism, his ideas inspired the famous Russian Revolution in 1917, and two of the world's largest countries, Russia and China, came to be governed by people who claimed to follow Marx's teaching.
Despite having many of his original ideas proved wrong, or distorted and misrepresented by governments claiming to be Marxist, Marx was one...
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Born February 15, 1809
Rockbridge County, Virginia
Died May 13, 1884
"The reaping machine from the United States is the most valuable contribution from abroad, to the stock of our previous knowledge, that we have yet discovered."
—London Times, 1851, commenting on Cyrus McCormick's major invention, the mechanical reaper.
American inventor and businessman Cyrus McCormick is widely credited with inventing the mechanical reaper, a machine for harvesting grain crops, which greatly expanded the amount of work one farmer could accomplish, revolutionizing U.S. agriculture.
Anyone who eats a bowl of cereal for breakfast or a sandwich for lunch has been affected by McCormick. It was McCormick who took a design developed by his father, Robert McCormick, for an automated reaper, improved it, and sold it to farmers across the United States. In a larger sense, McCormick brought the benefits of the Industrial Revolution, a period marked...
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Morgan, J. P.
Born April 17, 1837
Died March 31, 1913
"If you have to ask how much it costs, you can't afford it."
J. P. Morgan built the largest private bank in the United States, and he used his enormous financial clout to assemble some of the largest corporations in the world. He demonstrated, perhaps more than any single individual, the power of finance in the economy of the Industrial Revolution, a period of fast-paced economic change that began in Great Britain in the middle of the eighteenth century.
It is widely believed in the United States that the president is the most powerful man in the country, elected by the people in the world's most powerful democracy. But in the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth century, Morgan, a banker, arguably held more power over the nation than the president held over Morgan.
So great was Morgan's financial influence that the government depended on...
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Morse, Samuel F. B.
Born April 27, 1791
Died April 2, 1872
New York, New York
"What hath God wrought?"
—First long-distance telegraph message, transmitted from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, Maryland.
Samuel Finley Breese Morse gave his name to a long-dominant means of communicating via telegraph—Morse code—and is credited with inventing the telegraph used in the United States. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was persuading the federal government to help pay for construction of a demonstration telegraph, a critical step in launching a new era of instantaneous communications across long distances.
There was little about Morse's first four decades that would have suggested that his name would be linked to an engineering accomplishment that changed the way the world communicated—and even foretold the era of E-mail over the Internet. Nevertheless, it is Morse who is credited with inventing Morse code, a method of communication...
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Muckrakers, The: Jacob Riis, Upton Sinclair, Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell
Born May 3, 1849
Died May 26, 1914
Born September 20, 1878
Died November 25, 1968
Bound Brook, New Jersey
Born April 6, 1866
Died August 9, 1936
Born November 5, 1857
Hatch Hallow, Pennsylvania
Died January 6, 1944
"I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."
—Upton Sinclair, on the public reaction to his 1906 novel The Jungle.
Jacob Riis, Upton Sinclair, Lincoln Steffens, and Ida Tarbell were the best-known of the so-called muckrakers, crusading journalists active from about 1890 to 1910 (and in...
(The entire section is 4866 words.)
Born May 14, 1771
Newton, Montgomeryshire, Wales
Died November 17, 1858
Newton, Montgomeryshire, Wales
"I know that society may be formed so as to exist without crime, without poverty, with health greatly improved, with little, if any misery, and with intelligence and happiness increased a hundredfold; and no obstacle whatsoever intervenes at this moment except ignorance to prevent such a state of society from becoming universal."
As the owner of a cotton mill, Robert Owen was an early industrialist who envisioned a more humane way of running factories, which he called cooperatives, as well as a system of education for workers. Sometimes called England's first socialist, one who believes in the collective ownership of business, Owen was an idealist (someone who places ideals before practical considerations) who brought his ideas to the United States, but eventually failed to make a permanent mark.
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Rockefeller, John D.
Born July 8, 1839
Richford, New York
Died May 23, 1937
Ormond Beach, Florida
American businessman, philanthropist
"I know of nothing more despicable and pathetic than a man who devotes all the hours of the waking day to the making of money for money's sake."
John D. Rockefeller built his fortune in the oil business from the ground up. His phenomenally successful Standard Oil Company dominated the oil industry for nearly forty years and became one of the first big trusts (monopolies) in the United States. The federal government, under President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919; see entry), attacked the Standard Oil Trust in court, and succeeded in forcing it to split into separate companies in order to stimulate competition.
When Rockefeller died just six weeks short of his ninety-eighth birthday, he was thought to have amassed a personal fortune worth $5 billion (about $50 billion in 2002 prices). Increasingly throughout his life, his interests turned to philanthropy (goodwill to fellow people, especially...
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Born October 27, 1858
New York, New York
Died January 6, 1919
Oyster Bay, New York
"The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life."
Theodore Roosevelt was the twenty-sixth president of the United States, serving from 1901 (after the assassination of President William McKinley [1843–1901]) until 1909. An extraordinary individual by any measure, Roosevelt took strong action to curb the powers of so-called corporate trusts, or monopolies, that had been built up as the Industrial Revolution blossomed in the last decade of the nineteenth century. In so doing, Roosevelt set the precedent for modern government regulation of business.
Before he was president, Roosevelt had been a deputy sheriff in North Dakota and a war hero who led his men into withering enemy fire during a cavalry charge in the Battle of San Juan Hill, in Cuba, during the...
(The entire section is 3798 words.)
Born June 5, 1723
Died July 17, 1790
Scottish economist, philosopher
"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities but of their advantages."
Adam Smith is often regarded as providing the theoretical justification for the Industrial Revolution, a period of fast-paced economic change that began in Great Britain in the middle of the eighteenth century. His masterpiece, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (familiarly known by its abbreviated title The Wealth of Nations, 1776), was published just as the Industrial Revolution was gaining momentum in England. In it Smith argued that economic competition, rather than government regulation, was the best way to assure the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Despite this belief,...
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Born June 9, 1781
Died August 12, 1848
British engineer, inventor
"I put up with every rebuff, and went on with my plans, determined not to be put down."
George Stephenson was a largely self-taught engineer who developed the steam blast locomotive, or railroad engine. Stephenson became the leading manufacturer of railroads and locomotives in England at the height of the Industrial Revolution, a period of fast-paced economic change that began in Great Britain in the middle of the eighteenth century. The Industrial Revolution resulted in many changes in societies where it took place, especially England. One of those changes was to open new prospects for success and wealth to people born into modest circumstances.
Such was the case with Stephenson, whose father worked in a coal mine and who himself spent his childhood working to earn money for his family. By the time Stephenson died, however, at age sixty-seven, he had achieved wealth and fame as the foremost...
(The entire section is 2159 words.)
Born January 19, 1736
Died August 25, 1819
Scottish engineer, inventor
"The problem of which Watt solved a part is not the problem of inventing a machine, but the problem of using and storing the forces of nature which now go to waste."
—Andrew Carnegie on James Watt.
James Watt is often credited with inventing the steam engine, but this distinction belongs to others. Instead, he adapted the invention of others to make the steam engine a practicable means of providing power to operate a wide range of machines. Such machines were the hallmark of the Industrial Revolution, a period of fast-paced economic change that began in Great Britain in the middle of the eighteenth century. In this sense, James Watt could be described as the father of the Industrial Revolution.
Watt's steam engine was the one innovation that did the most to change the way human beings lived and worked after about 1750. Watt's contribution was to increase the...
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Tesla, George Westinghouse and Nikola
Born October 6, 1846
Central Bridge, New York
Died March 12, 1914
New York, New York
Born July 10, 1856
Died January 7, 1943
New York, New York
"George Westinghouse was a man with tremendous potential energy of which only part had taken kinetic (moving) form.... When others would give up in despair, he triumphed."
—Nikola Tesla on George Westinghouse.
George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla were highly intelligent inventors who together were responsible for a major turning point in the Industrial Revolution, a period of fast-paced economic change that began in Great Britain in the middle of the eighteenth century. Tesla developed a generator, a machine that converts mechanical energy into electrical energy, which...
(The entire section is 3571 words.)
Born December 8, 1765
Died January 8, 1825
New Haven, Connecticut
"He can make anything."
—Catherine Greene, recommending Eli Whitney to planters who needed a machine to comb seeds from cotton.
Eli Whitney is well known as the inventor of the cotton gin, a device that pulled cotton from the seed and influenced the course of American history in ways that are both obvious and subtle. The Industrial Revolution, a period of fast-paced economic change that began in Great Britain in the middle of the eighteenth century, could be said to have started influencing life in the United States in April 1793. It was in that month that Eli Whitney, a young graduate of Yale University, first demonstrated a machine for extracting the sticky, green seeds from bolls of cotton. It was a called a cotton gin (gin being short for engine).
The cotton gin had two enormous consequences for American history. First, it revived cotton as...
(The entire section is 2694 words.)