During the Industrial Revolution in America and Europe, there were many reasons why farmers decided to stop farming and migrate to rapidly growing urban centers. The first reason for rural to urban migration was new, lucrative opportunities in cities (i.e., factory work). The second reason was a loss of rural employment on farms because of new agricultural technologies. Lastly, farmers were sick and tired of making little profits. As farming became more automated, high yields drove down food prices, while transportation to market continued to be too high for farmers to sustain.
In both Europe and America, the Industrial Revolution created mass migration from rural areas to urban centers as people sought factory work. Before the Industrial Revolution in Europe, most Europeans lived on small farms. By the mid-1800s, 50% of the English population had migrated to big cities like Manchester, London, and Birmingham. Likewise, in America, eleven million people migrated from rural to urban centers from 1870–1920. By 1920, over half the American population lived in cities like New York City and Boston. Steam-powered spinning and weaving machines, coupled with steamboat and locomotive transportation, caused an explosion in manufacturing. The introduction of the assembly line with interchangeable parts also meant that unskilled workers could easily labor in factories.
Secondly, there was a marked loss of rural employment, which sent people packing for urban industrial centers. In England, for example, before the Industrial Revolution was in full force, the country experienced the Agrarian Revolution—an explosion of new farming technologies and techniques. This revolution meant that more crops could be grown more quickly, making many farm jobs obsolete. As the Industrial Revolution brought new...
technologies, farming jobs continued to dwindle.
In America, the effect was similar. New farming technologies sprouted up all over the nation, beginning with the cotton gin in the late 1793. Eventually, the cotton gin would be operated using steam power, revolutionizing the cotton industry and making it the most profitable market in America. Additionally, reapers and threshers allowed for a smaller number of people to cut wheat stalks faster. This meant that not as many people were physically needed for the task.
Lastly, farmers were eager to make money in big cities as they became disillusioned with the difficult task of farming. Many had suffered with little profits for too long and yearned for new opportunities. Bad weather could sabotage a crop and leave farmers with nothing to show for their hard work. Furthermore, farmers complained that it was difficult and costly to get their produce to markets. When these concerns were expressed to politicians, they often fell on deaf ears. With Henry Clay's American System, the federal government invested in railroads, canals and roadways. The allure of new industrial cities on the Eastern Seaboard was undeniable. For example, large, profitable textile mills were big draws for rural folk. The Beverly Cotton Manufactory (1787), the Slater Mill in Rhode Island (1790), and the Waltham Mill in Massachusetts (1814) made New England the "cradle of the American Industrial Revolution."