The American Industrial Revolution
By Brooks Shannon
March 4, 1999
From the clothes we wear to the cars we drive, industry has shaped our way of life and is often taken for granted. Today's modern America evolved the way it did because of Industrialization. Modern America did not explode into existence overnight - industrialization was a struggle that lasted well over one hundred years in this country. An efficient work force, good transportation, and entrepreneurs contributed to the success of the American Industrial Revolution.
People are by far one of the most essential parts of industry. People help to develop products, produce them, and bring them to the marketplace. They are the driving force today just as they were over two hundred years ago. The American work force enabled the Industrial Revolution to grow and thrive.
American citizens began to move their workplace from the home to the factory. Before the rise of factory manufacture, production was mostly based in the home - especially for textiles (Hindle and Lubar 49). When Samuel Slater helped to build one of the first working textile mills in 1790, he used children to fill his labor force (Hindle and Lubar 63). At this time the average age for a child to begin work was 14 - since Slater was from England, known for its use of child labor, children from the ages of 7 to 12 were put to use (Hindle and Lubar 63). Eventually the families of the children used began to dislike the usage of their children in the mills; they claimed that they could be better used on the farm (Hindle and Lubar 63). Due to this, Slater switched to using young women in his labor force (Hindle and Lubar 64). Other mills soon sprung up and followed this practice of using women as laborers. The Lowell mills in Massachusetts
were especially well-known for the good treatment of the women they employed, many of whom left the farms they lived on to gain social and economic freedoms (Faulkner and Kepner 441). By the 1830s, of the 400,000 women employed in New England, over one-third worked in textile mills (Riegel and Long 196).
Immigrants helped to considerably enlarge the labor force of the 19th century. Early in the American Industrial Revolution, labor was needed which could not always be provided by the citizens of the United States - thousands of immigrants per year were needed (Hindle and Lubar 41). Thus, immigration was encouraged in the beginning since it offered a vast wealth of labor at a cheap cost (Savelle 404). Despite a slow start, immigration became one of the chief factors of the Industrial Revolution. From 1783 to 1815, only 8,000 immigrants came to the United States; from 1815 to 1860, over 2,598,000 came (Weisberger 81). This influx of people helped tremendously to increase the labor force; in 1859, there were 1,311,246 laborers in the United States, and by 1900, there were 7,085,309 laborers (Savelle 395). Railroad and canal construction began to increase the demand for labor as well between 1830 and 1850 (Morison, Commager, and Leuchtenburg 451). Subsequently, many of these immigrants took manual-labor jobs, helping to fuel the industrialization of America (Weisberger 82). The pay for these jobs was meager for an American laborer, but the immigrants found these wages quite attractive (Weisberger 82). A Pennsylvania coal miner during the Industrial Revolution could expect to earn $40 per month - in comparison, Swedish farmhands of the time commonly earned around $33.50 per year (Weisberger 82). These immigrants also tended to stick together with their own countrymen, with the Swedish making up a sizeable percentage of lumbermen in the western United States, and the Welsh and Cornish immigrants employed heavily in the copper mining industry (Weisberger 82). A good portion of the labor force on the transcontinental railroad was composed of Irish in the east and Chinese in the west (Faulkner and Kepner 472). Italians tended to be prominent in the manual labor force also. Of the 12,500 people who constructed the Erie Canal, 10,500 of those were Italian, and be 1897, over 75% of the construction workers in New York City were Italian (Weisberger 85).
The work force in America, compromised of both Americans and immigrants from many varying countries, was essential in the development of industry. They allowed products to be produced on a much larger volume at a faster pace. The need for a larger market beckoned on the horizon, calling for scattered settlements to be connected with one another to form a broader market. Goods and people needed to swiftly travel between cities, leading to transportation developments. Good transportation allowed the Industrial Revolution to move west.
Waterways, such as rivers and canals, were the main form of early transportation. During the colonial times, rivers were and important means of transportation. One of the first freight boats to appear in wide use on the rivers was the Durham boat, which was first used on the Delaware River in 1750 (Hindle and Lubar 111). The long, narrow boat could carry 15 tons of cargo and required 4 or 5 crew members to push it along with poles (Hindle and Lubar 111). Sailboats were also used, with the Hudson River sloop used commonly (Hindle and Lubar 111). The biggest problem that the early boats posed was the fact that they had a difficult time travelling upstream (Hindle and Lubar 111). Due to this, Robert Fulton developed one of the first working river steamboats on the Hudson River in 1807 (Faulkner and Kepner 468). Very quickly the steamboat took hold in industry - by 1840, over four-fifths of the water traffic in the Mississippi River basin was that of steamboats (Faulkner and Kepner 468). The northern United States relied on this traffic to haul its meat and grain to the market, as did the southern areas for its cotton (Faulkner and Kepner 468). The largest obstacle with river and lake travel in general was the fact that not every city or town had access to a waterway. Canals later helped to bring water transportation to distant locales. One of the first constructed was the Santee Canal in 1800, connecting Charleston, SC to Columbia, SC (Hindle and Lubar 115). As the United States learned that the horsepower to haul a one-ton load twelve miles on a road could haul 100 times that, two times as far, on a canal, a surge in canal construction began (Morison, Commager, and Leuchtenburg 209). By far the most well known and influential canal, however, was the Erie Canal. Construction on the canal was started on July 4, 1817 (Morison, Commager, and Leuchtenburg 209), and by the time it was completed in 1825 (Morison, Commager, and Leuchtenburg 448), it ran 363 miles - from Albany, NY to Lake Erie (Hindle and Lubar 115). The canal opened up the eastern markets, particularly in New York City, to such states as Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois (Morison, Commager, and Leuchtenburg 448). Due to the canal, the cost of shipping these goods dropped fifty percent, and the time to ship them was one-third less (Morison, Commager, and Leuchtenburg 209), allowing industry to expand westward. Despite the successes of the canal system, which reached close to 3,300 miles by 1840 (Hindle and Lubar 115), canals proved to be useless during the winter freeze (Morison, Commager, and Leuchtenburg 261) and quite slow since horses and mules were the common motive power on the canals (Hindle and Lubar 115). Something better was needed.
Railroads were able to greatly decrease shipping time and increase western production. The early railroads began development in the 1830s, with such lines as the Baltimore and Ohio and the line from Charleston, SC to Hamburg, SC (Faulkner and Kepner 469). From this time forward, factory construction paralleled railway construction - the factories and their increased output needed access to markets which were often times a considerable distance away (Rosenberg and Birdzell 150). In the beginning days the railroads either acted as connections between large cities, such as New York and Philadelphia, as a network spreading out from a large city to attract rural trade, such as in Boston's case, or as long roads west to attract business from that area (Morison, Commager, and Leuchtenburg 211). The main rise of American railroads, however, started in the early to mid 1850s, with the completion of the Hudson River Railway from New York City to Albany and the Pennsylvania Railroad from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh (Morison, Commager, and Leuchtenburg 450). Towns that had canal access saw a shift from canal shipping to rail shipping (Morison, Commager, and Leuchtenburg 450), and towns which previously had no major western commerce links, such as Savannah, Charleston, Baltimore, Boston, and Portland, saw railroads connecting them to the western United States by the Civil War (Faulkner and Kepner 471). The great iron roads began to produce interweaved, regional economies, allowing farmers to become more specialized due to the broader marketplace, and the iron industry boomed (Hindle and Lubar 148). Anthracite coal was in high demand as well, for use in the production of iron rails and farm implements, which the trains then hauled west (Hindle and Lubar 108). The transcontinental railroad, completed in May 10, 1869, brought forth the ultimate bond between the east coast and the west coast, and among other benefits, allowed major expansion in the western cattle industry with the introduction of the refrigeration car (Nevins and Commager 344). From 1860 to 1910, an average of 4,500 miles of new track was laid each year (Faulkner and Kepner 471), with the United States claiming 240,831 miles of track in 1910 (Savelle 396). This was more mileage that Europe had as a whole - the industry employed over 1,700,000 people - 4.4 percent of the American employed workforce - and compromised one-tenth of the total invested wealth of the nation (Faulkner and Kepner 471).
As industry expanded, so did transportation. The introduction of railroads meant all-season travel was possible - across the country, no less. This period of travel was also cut down from weeks at times to mere days. Products could move faster, and distant markets opened up, allowing for more specialized products to be produced. The entrepreneurs had been the driving force of the Industrial Revolution, and were able to continue its forward pace with ease. The entrepreneurs introduced numerous innovations and increased public enthusiasm for the Industrial Revolution.
Immigrant entrepreneurs brought the Industrial Revolution itself to America. The main reason this transfer of technology occurred was simply that the Industrial Revolution had occurred years before in England. Great Britain initially tried to enact legislation preventing mechanics from going to the United States, but the legislation tended to be ineffective as mechanics and other manufacturing experts often disguised themselves as farmers and laborers to get across the Atlantic (Hindle and Lubar 24). For the most part, every mill or machine shop in the United States that used machines regularly employed an English mechanic, whom were very valued and well-paid (Hindle and Lubar 25). The majority of these skilled immigrants came from Germany, Great Britain, Scotland, and Ireland (Hindle and Lubar 25); from 1773 to 1775, over 500 British immigrants told the United States customs that they worked in the textile industry - from 1824 to 1831, however, over 5,000 claimed to work in the textile industry, with 153 of those machine-makers (Hindle and Lubar 65). One of the most influential immigrants, however, was Samuel Slater, who helped to develop the first successful textile mill in America (Hindle and Lubar 61). During the 1700s, a bounty was given for the introduction of cotton textile machinery in the United States (Hindle and Lubar 61). Samuel Slater responded to the offer with a letter claiming he was a "manager of cotton spinning, etc, in which I flatter myself that I can give the greatest satisfaction, in making machinery, making good yarn, either for stockings or twist, as any that is made in England; as I have had the opportunity, and an oversight, of Sir Richard Arkwright's works, and in Mr. Strutt's mill upwards of eight years." - Samuel Slater (Faulkner and Kepner 415). Slater later arrived in New York City, at the age of 21, in 1789 and in 1790 produced, along with Almy and Brown, an effective waterpowered cotton mill (Hindle and Lubar 62) from memory in the area of Pawtucket, RI ("The History of Cranston Print Works" 1). During the mill's development, Slater designed a waterpowered carding machine and spinning frame, two machines used in the production of yarn (Hindle and Lubar 62). The Almy, Brown, and Slater mill would set the stage for other mills and factories to come. An example of this would be the woolen textile mill English immigrants Arthur and John Scholfield developed in 1793 (Hindle and Lubar 65). They were among the first to perfect wool-spinning machines that were water-powered (Hindle and Lubar 65). Their factory eventually failed but the spinning technology it used spread throughout Connecticut (Hindle and Lubar 65). Lastly, among the more notable immigrant entrepreneurs is Alexander Graham Bell, of Scottish origin (Nevins and Commager 295). In 1876 he developed the telephone, which has become very commonplace in today's world (Nevins and Commager 295).
Innovations made life easier and increased public support for the Industrial Revolution as well. Entrepreneurs were the key in new products and inventions, and their shifts from challenge to challenge helped the Industrial Revolution along (Hindle and Lubar 153). A flexible banking and legal system also made dealing with ever-present failures much easier (Hindle and Lubar 153). From 1860 to 1900, over 676,000 patents were issued by the United States (Nevins and Commager 294). Eli Whitney was one of the first people to produce a product that radically changed the way work was done. His cotton gin was developed in 1793, and was used to remove the seeds from harvested cotton (Livesay 23). The machine itself was patented on March 14, 1794 but proved too easy to copy as the design was quite simple (Hindle and Lubar 81). Nonetheless, the cotton gin caused a surge of raw cotton north to the mills - in 1792, 138,328 pounds were produced, and in 1796, 1,601,000 pounds were produced (Savelle 218). When Whitney died in 1825, the southern cotton crop had grown to over 200 million pounds (Livesay 34). Another innovation to help boost farm output and make farming easier was the McCormick reaper, first developed in 1831 (Livesay 57). Before reapers came about, it would take six people to harvest two acres a day (Livesay 56). The reapers cut this time down to mere days for a whole field, but early reapers tended to tangle wet grain and damage dry grain (Livesay 57). Cyrus McCormick fixed those problems, and the people took notice - in 1840, 2 units were sold; 1842, 6 units; 1843, 29 units; and by 1868, over 8,000 units were sold (Livesay 57). In 1851, the reaper went on to win a Grand Council Medal at the Crystal Palace technology exhibit in London (Livesay 76). Gustavus Swift took advantage of the new transcontinental railroad and in 1876-1877 developed the first refrigerated rail car (Sobel and Sicilia 72). It allowed meat to be transported considerably cheaper to the east, since the animals were slaughtered before loading, as opposed to being slaughtered after they arrived at their destination (Sobel and Sicilia 72). Swift also pioneered the usage of a "disassembly" line to make the butchering and slaughtering process more efficient (Sobel and Sicilia 72). Samuel Morse's telegraph became important as well. It was patented on June 20, 1840 and became very popular (Hindle and Lubar 86). In 1843 its power was displayed as it was used to transmit presidential nominating conventions to Congress from Baltimore, MD (Hindle and Lubar 86). Later, in 1866, the Associate Press showed the advantages of science by spending $6,000 to transmit a speech across the Atlantic on newly laid undersea cables (Nevins and Commager 295). Other important inventions included Elias Howe's sewing machine (Faulkner and Kepner 415), Portland cement, and Charles Goodyear's vulcanized rubber (Nevins and Commager 294). Henry Ford created a craze in America with his automobile as well, which was perfected on June 4, 1896 (Livesay 167). Ford Motor Company was founded in 1903, and used an assembly line to produce vehicles with parts that were manufactured by the company itself (Livesay 167). By 1927, Henry Ford's net worth had increased from $28,000 to $715 million (Livesay 175). By far the most popular inventor and entrepreneur in American history, however, was Thomas Edison. Born in 1847, towards the end of his life Edison averaged one patentable device ever two weeks (Livesay 134). His inventions helped impact the lives of common people, as well as industry, with such products as the electric light, phonograph, motion pictures, electric traction motors, batteries, two-way telegraph wires, and the mimeograph machine (Livesay 134). Edison set up a research facility in Menlo Park, NJ between 1876 and 1878, which led to future independent research laboratories (Sobel and Sicilia 11). It was here where electric lighting was developed in late December 1879 (Livesay 151). Edison also developed power-generating apparatus under the Edison Electric Light Company, which had been formed in the fall of 1878 (Livesay 151). The company was later managed by J.P. Morgan, who later consolidated a number of electric manufacturing and delivery firms into General Electric (Livesay 152). In all, manufacturing rose considerably during the American Industrial Revolution - from manufactured goods making up 22.78% of exports in 1865 to 31.65% of them in 1900 (Gordon 58). Total trade also doubled in that time frame, to 12% of the total world trade (Gordon 58).
In conclusion, one can see that the American Industrial Revolution was indeed helped along by the work force, good transportation, and entrepreneurs. Without sharp, brilliant minds and a sense of "Yankee ingenuity", the Industrial Revolution might not have fared as well as it did in this country. Had it not have, the United States might not have become one of the most influential world powers that it is today. The economy would not be as rich - imports would no doubt exceed exports, and nor would the world itself be as rich; many of the contributions and developments that we have made simply would not have happened. Quite possibly, we wouldn't be wearing the clothes we wear and driving the cars we drive.