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"The purpose of this blog is to generate discussions about historical issues. Students, enthusiasts, and friends are all welcome to join by reading and participating with comments. I hope to generate interest in history and offer help to the perplexed." Caleb Johnson

Saturday, March 3, 2012

American Industrialism


Although we live in a time of suburbs, renewable energy sources and a largely service-based economy, America used to be the world’s leading manufacturer. General Motors, US Steel, Standard Oil, and the B&O Railway all represent a time when American industrialism was at its height. But how did it all get started? Why was America able to dominate global industry? What events took place that led America to the forefront? The answer lies in the past.

Andrew Jackson Captures New Orleans

When the industrial revolution hit America in the early 1800’s, the water-powered mill industry sprang up among the many rivers that thread the New England hinterland. Fostered by high tariffs, the industry grew despite attempts by foreign nations to flood the market with cheap goods. Vast natural resources were unleashed when the United States captured New Orleans in 1812, opening up the expansive Mississippi River valley to exploitation. In 1825, the Erie Canal opened, linking the Great Lake economies of Chicago and Detroit to the Atlantic Ocean through New York City. American industrialism was on the rise, but it met an unexpected boost through a traditional destroyer-war.

Ford's Model T
While America’s Civil War killed over 600,000 men and damaged over $100,000,000 of the nation’s southern economy, it acted as a catalyst for northern industry. Factories made cannons, steel ships, locomotive engines and uniforms for the Federal army. By the war’s end, the northern economy was better than when it started. Due to war and famine in Europe, immigrants flocked to the western Atlantic seaboard, eager to share in peace and prosperity. Large cities grew larger and factories were supplied with cheap labor and ready markets. This advent of urbanization and massive immigration resulted in social unrest and the rise of labor unions. While most workers involved in the factories lived their lives making little, a few rose by innovation and pure hard work. Andrew Carnegie started out earning $1.20 a week at a factory, but ultimately sold his share of his steel company for $300,000,000. Other captains of industry, such as JD Rockefeller, JP Morgan, Henry Ford, Eli Singer, and James Duke, led America into greatness to match the European powers.

Two reasons the US was able to harness industrialism on such a large scale were population and natural resources. The fact that the US straddles an entire continent and hosts one of the world’s largest populations secures its ability to compete globally due to its mere size. Granted, this subject is much larger than one blog post, but I have attempted to outline the main points. Indeed, I left many issues out for the sake of space and attention, but there are important issues I skipped and pains I didn’t mention. What do you think?

11 comments:

  1. Just the fact that we had the freedom invent serves as a big reason, I think. I remember Mr. Ken O'Connor saying that the steam engine was one of the biggest reasons for American industrialism. But I don't quite remember why. Maybe you know?

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  2. The steam engine was the machine that replaced the water mill engine. Steam pressure can be harnessed and applied to multiple gears which can power saws, drills, and wheels. The first locomotive, "Tom's Thumb," was also steam powered. So yes, the steam engine was a large factor in the industrial equation.

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  3. You always come up with interesting topics. Thank you. :-)

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  4. There are two other reasons that I can think of that contributed to American industrialism: America's ingenious spirit, and a high standard of living. Obviously an ingenious spirit led to inventions which increased productivity or led to new materials and products, while a high standard of living led to people having the time and money to invest in new products.

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    1. I agree with what you say about America's ingenious spirit, however, I am not certain I understand your thinking on the point "Higher standard of living". At this time in America, much of the industrial revolution was fueled by immigrants, who came from slumish villages where you never could obtain an education, no one else in the village had the knowledge to even try to help you if you had any spare time you were not starving. America to them was almost a fairyland, the government actually had to care for the people, even if they did a crummy job of it, it was not totally corrupt. These growing number of people did not have a high standard at all, they were happy with where they were. Of course, a bit more money and food would have been welcome, however, this was still better than what they had come from. I believe you meant something more along the lines of wanting to be the best they could, or the pursuit of happiness.
      :-)
      ~hannah

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  5. The post Civil War population growth also made a contribution to American Industrialism. America's population almost tripled after the war, leading to an increasing need for goods, services and more land to settle and make use of. Many people headed West to take advantage of the surplus of natural resources that would be used to help spur the growth of American industrialism. This westward expansion also led to the expansion of railroads from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

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  6. One of the many factors that contributed to American Industrialism is the American Dream. In the Founding Documents it states very clearly "the pursuit of happiness". America is was one of the only countries that gives people the potential to do and be anything they desire. For example, if you wanted to be President, there were no social restrictions except that you be born an American Citizen, you did not have to be rich, or be related to the previous President or even anyone famous, this system gave many people the drive to want to excel and be the best. Of course, this idea did not only pertain to office-holders, Andrew Carnegie began as a minimum wage child-laborer,and his company was bought for 300 million dollars. When people have the ability to be the best, someone will always rise up and be their best and sometimes succeed in being the best in America and even the world. That is one of the many reasons that fueled the industrial revolution.

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  7. What events took place that led America to the forefront? I believe that some events were freedom from Britain, completion of the transcontinental railroad and the space race. Freedom from Britain was important because if we were not free, the US could never have grown because they would have been under rule from Britain. The completion of the transcontinental railroad was important because it allowed Americans to travel across the country, allowing the western states to collaborate with the Eastern states, which so allowed the economy to prosper because the products from the Western states could go to the Eastern states. Finally, the Space Race was a major event that led America to the forefront because:
    1. It created many jobs.
    2. It led to many inventions, including epoxy, fiberglass cloth, Teflon, Nonstick cooking spray, Kevlar, Nomex, and Mylar. Many of these inventions are used nowadays, and also it led to the invention of model rocketry. :)
    3. It created a huge economic jump because NASA had to buy billions of dollars worth of materials from privately owned companies.

    3.

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  8. Well, as you said, the reasons why the US was such a big manufacturer was because of immigrants, the War, tariffs, great businessmen, natural resources, and size (in population and massiveness). I think another possible factor was the determination, and later, the unity of the nation that resulted after the Reconstruction. That, along with the growing population, led the nation to grow in their development as a nation and as an economy. Without these, things commonly debated such as tariffs, immigrants, and natural resources could have not been utilized, preventing their benefits.

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  9. An important part of the industrialism that still plays a huge role today were (and still are) labor unions. Labor unions were a very influential part in creating the new feeling of industrialism in America. They allowed people to learn to fight for their “working rights” since the conditions in the factories of that time were so terrible. It could be said that the poor conditions were used to save money for the factory and allow for more development, but the small money that would be gained is far less important than the health and safety of employees. They started an idea of demanding rights for employees. While labor unions now create images of powerful, ruling, over demanding empires; they were a necessary part of industrialism that’s still around today.

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  10. Along with population and natural resources, one of the greatest factors in America's domination of industry was the freedom that each citizen had. In America, a man could not only dream of his life goals, he could pursue them. Such liberty was not taken lightly by the citizens of the United States. Men grasped their opportunities, and some rose to positions of power. With the knowledge that they could pursue their dreams, people were inspired to be their best. Great scientists, inventors, and businessmen, along with others, excelled in their fields, bringing our nation to the domination of global industrialism.

    -Julia

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