The American Industrial Revolution fostered an increase in the quantity and diversity of consumer goods produced by American businesses, though small businesses employing artisans suffered. In its second phase, the revolution grew to include new businesses mass-producing such items as electric lights, telephones, pharmaceuticals, and automobiles, and by the end of this phase, technological and business supremacy had passed from British to American companies.
For many modern scholars, the use of the term “revolution” to describe disruptively abrupt changes in science, technology, and industries is problematic. Some claim that “Industrial Revolution” is a misnomer, because technological change, with its concomitant socioeconomic influence, has been a gradual, cumulative process, rather than sudden and discontinuous. These scholars prefer to speak of an industrial evolution. Even those comfortable with the idea of an industrial revolution often disagree about where, when, and for how long such revolutions occurred.
For example, Lewis Mumford, a social critic and historian of technology, argued in his Technics and Civilization (1934) that the first industrial revolution occurred in medieval Europe, when extensive use was made of water and wind power. Others have found fault with the traditional view of the British Industrial Revolution, which several scholars see as extending from 1750 to 1850, for how can “revolution,” which implies sudden change, be properly applied to a process that took a century to complete? Indeed, others argue that the process of modern industrialization was not really perfected until well into the twentieth century.
Similar disagreements exist among scholars over the meaning of the American Industrial Revolution. Several analysts associate this revolution with the change from craft technologies, practiced by artisans working on farms and in small businesses, to specialized machines, operated by technicians in large factories. These analysts believe that the transformation occurred largely between 1790 and 1860. Others assert that the American Industrial Revolution encompasses the advent of the system of
Those who question the use of “revolution” to describe this American transformation, which took over a century and a half, have a point. However, no one has yet been able to supplant this widely used term, acceptable to ordinary people and to many scholars, to denote the radical transformation of American society from an agrarian nation to one that was increasingly urban and populated by factory workers who mass-produced goods using ever more sophisticated technologies.
The timing of the American Industrial Revolution was crucial: It began after the Revolutionary War, when the British Industrial Revolution was already well under way. Thomas Jefferson, who favored an America of self-sufficient farmers, was appalled by the dehumanizing effects of the British Industrial Revolution, but Alexander Hamilton, who favored an America of big businesses and large factories, used his “Report on Manufactures” (1791) to show that Americans were already forming businesses based on new technologies. He urged the federal government to nurture these businesses with protective tariffs.
Despite Hamilton’s examples of early American industrialization, scholars have traditionally given the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution as the
The Slater mill’s success stimulated the construction of other cotton mills throughout New England, and American inventors adapted British inventions in woolen mills. They also created their own technologies: For example, their water-powered shearing machines accomplished in a single day what it had taken hand shearers three weeks to do. During the early decades of the nineteenth century, water-powered textile technologies spread to the states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware. A congressional report in 1816 was significant, because its data indicated that factory-produced cottons and woolens had by then exceeded homespun goods.
An important event in the evolution of American textile industrialization occurred in Lowell, Massachusetts, during the 1820’s, when a successful system for turning raw cotton into finished cloth at a single site became operative. Besides pioneering comprehensive integrated industrial systems, the
The American Industrial Revolution comprised much more than advances in textile manufacturing. Just as iron was replacing wood as a principal material in structures and certain products, steam began to replace waterpower as a principal power source. Although the steam engine had been developed in England, Americans such as Oliver Evans improved it, and entrepreneurs such as Robert
John Stevens, who had been a builder of steamboats, became even more well known as a proponent of steam-powered
The success of the railroads also stimulated another American industry, iron and steel manufacturing. This industry experienced a transformation from blacksmith shops and local forges to iron mills and the large-scale factory production of iron and steel products.
Several scholars believe that it was at such
By the time of the Civil War, the United States had more than 140,000 manufacturing businesses worth over $1 billion. These businesses produced nearly $2 billion worth of goods and employed more than one million men and 250,000 women. Although textile businesses were the largest, other companies manufactured shoes, clocks, chemicals, and many other consumer goods. The McCormick steam-powered factory in Chicago produced reapers that helped harvest the crops that fed northern soldiers during the Civil War.
American products such as the McCormick reaper and the Colt revolver won prizes at such international world’s fairs as the 1851 London Exhibition (the Crystal Palace), and these international prizes fostered the development of markets for American-made products in European and other countries. American inventors, with their “Yankee ingenuity,” were becoming famous for creating such labor-saving devices as apple-peeling machines and eggbeaters. As Hamilton had predicted in his “Report on Manufactures,” the United States had overcome its handicap of scarce labor by making increasing use of mechanical power to create a new system of manufacturing.
During this phase of the American Industrial Revolution, both old and new businesses grew through industrial expansion and systematization into large corporations that used the
Some scholars see three major new technologies as fundamental to the second phase of the American Industrial Revolution: the internal-combustion engine; devices for the generation, distribution, and use of electrical power; and the creation of many advanced chemicals, such as dyes and pharmaceuticals. During this period, steam-powered facilities replaced water-powered ones, then steam power began to be replaced by electric power. Some corporations became so powerful that their workers unionized, seeking a remedy for low wages and deleterious working conditions. Certain scholars emphasize the change from the American system of manufacturing to modern mass production as the most important transformation in this phase of the American Industrial Revolution.
Because of the large numbers and great variety of businesses that developed during this period, not all could survive in the increasingly competitive marketplace. Those that were most likely to succeed were those that created products for which there was a significant demand and that they could manufacture efficiently and market effectively. For example, a “bicycle boom” occurred at the end of the nineteenth century, and Albert A.
For many scholars, the culminating figure in thesecond phase of the American Industrial Revolution was Henry
Because assembly-line workers found their repetitive tasks so boring that they quit their jobs in droves, in 1914, Ford introduced the eight-hour workday and forty-hour workweek, and he increased salaries to $5 per day, far higher than what other businesses offered. So successful was the
Hawke, David Freeman. Nuts and Bolts of the Past. New York: Harper & Row, 1989. Traces the evolution of water-driven mills into steam-powered factories through case studies of such businesses as clock-making. Bibliography and index. Hindle, Brooke, and Steven Lubar. Engines of Change: The American Industrial Revolution, 1790-1860. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1986. This extensively illustrated survey explores the forces behind American industrialization. Suggested readings and index. Hounshell, David A. From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984. This book, which won the Dexter Prize of the Society for the History of Technology, emphasizes the evolution of mass production technologies, particularly as experienced by businessmen, managers, and engineers. Illustrated, with a bibliography and index. Hunter, Louis C. A History of Industrial Power in the United States, 1780-1930. 3 vols. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1979-1991. Hunter’s massive work has been called essential reading for anyone interested in the technological and industrial development of the United States during the two phases of the Industrial Revolution. Each volume contains many maps, illustrations, charts, tables, and appendixes. Extensive notes and indexes. Kasson, John F. Civilizing the Machine: Technology and Republican Values in America, 1776-1900. New ed. New York: Macmillan, 1999. Highly praised work that attempts to integrate technology, business, and culture. Index. Smith, Merritt Roe. Harpers Ferry Armory and the New Technology: The Challenge of Change. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1977. The primary source for an understanding of the origin and development of the American system of manufacturing. Well documented, with an index.
Automation in factories
Thomas Alva Edison
Ford Motor Company