THE GROWTH OF INDUSTRY
*Until the eighteenth century, there were no factories as we know them to-day. Everything was made in the home or in small shops by hand. However, in the 1700s in great Britain a number of inventions were created for the textile industry. Instead of powering looms and spinning wheels by hand or with foot treadles, spinners and weavers now could power their equipment with water wheels. Such mechanisation, or the use of machines (such as the spinning jenny, the water frame, and the power loom), made it much faster, easier, and more cost-effective to produce textiles.
*In time, water power would be replaced by steam. Between 1765 and 1785 James Watt developed the steam engine. Originally used to pump water out of deep mines, the steam engine was later used to power textile mills, locomotives, and more.
*This expansion of machinery into different types of trades to make them more efficient ultimately changed society so completely that it was called a revolution—the Industrial Revolution.
*In 1793, Samuel Slater, a British-born American citizen who had once worked in a textile mill in Britain built the first successful water-powered textile mill in the United States in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. By 1814 there would be about 240 textiles mills in the United States, most of them in Pennsylvania, New York, and New England.
*One thing that helped the Industrial Revolution take off was the concept of interchangeable parts. Eli Whitney usually gets credit for this idea, which he tested when he offered to sell 10,000 guns to the federal government, to be delivered in just over two years. Whitney realised that if he made the parts of each gun exactly alike, they could be swopped among guns easily, without having to worry about custom-fitting each piece. Whitney was not actually able to make this idea work, and took over ten years to make the guns, and even then the parts were not really very interchangeable, but other people would take this idea and do it right, perfecting it by 1824. Now almost every factory works on the idea of making identical parts and assembling them exactly the same way every time.
*Eli Whitney also invented the cotton engine, or cotton gin. Before this invention, cotton was not important in the south because short-staple cotton, the kind of cotton that was easy to grow in most of the south, was full of seeds that were too much trouble to extract, taking one day for one worker to produce one pound of clean cotton. The water-powered cotton gin, however, let one worker monitoring the machine produce one thousand pounds of cotton in the same amount of time.
*Whitney got a patent on his machine, giving him the sole right to make, use, or sell the machine for a period of time. Anyone else who wanted to make one had to pay a fee (although, in truth, this patent was often violated, and Whitney did not make much money).
*The cotton gin is important because
1. It made cotton easy to produce and therefore profitable.
2. Southerners began to depend on cotton, because it was so cheap and easy to produce.
3. Southerners began to look for more land, and settled Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.
4. Many, many more slaves are sold and the institution becomes much more important. Slavery had been becoming less cost-effective, but with cotton, it became worthwhile to have vast armies of slaves picking cotton that could then be cleaned by the cotton gin.
*Farmers also improved their production thanks to two other inventions. In the 1830s, John Deere invented a steel plough, which could cut through heavier soil than old iron ploughs. This was especially important in the sod of the Midwest. The Virginian Cyrus McCormick (or possibly his farmer) invented the mechanical reaper, making it much easier and faster to harvest grain.
*There were also important changes in transportation at this time.
*Roads were vastly improved. Roads were once improvisational things, cut through forests and laid down across logs. These bumpy roads were called ‘corduroy roads’ after the ridged cloth. However, in the early 1800s, people began to build roads to last. Henry Clay’s National Road from Cumberland, Maryland to Columbus, Ohio was begun in 1811 and is still there to-day, as US Route 40. Some states and private companies also built turnpikes, or toll roads blocked off by a pike.
*River travel was also important. Flatboats and keelboats had always been important for river commerce, but they were slow, and often could only go one way down the river. Robert Fulton did not actually invent the steamboat, but he often gets credit for doing so with the voyage of the Clermont in 1807. Now, goods and people can move on rivers much faster, and can easily go both ways. People also build artificial rivers called canals to connect existing rivers together and to the seacoast. The most famous of these was the Erie Canal built by the State of New York to connect the Great Lakes with Albany and the Hudson River and thus with New York and the Atlantic Ocean.
*Most important was the invention of the railroad. The first American railroad was begun in 1828 and ran from Baltimore, Maryland to the state of Ohio, and was called the Baltimore & Ohio, or B & O railroad. Railroads made it possible to ship more goods and people farther and faster than any other form of travel yet known, and will eventually put most canals out of business.
*The 1800s also saw a rise in communications. From 1790 the US Post Office increased its services from 75 post offices to 8,450 in 1830. Mail, newspapers, and other literature were all carried by railroads across the country at relatively rapid speed. The old days of waiting weeks, months, or even years for information from far away were largely over.
*After the War of 1812, the United States began to change how they did business, and this was called the Market Revolution.
*In the northeast, more and more of the economy began to depend on factories and manufacturing, and factories became more centralised and self-sufficient. A single mill could now do all the work in the production of cloth—washing, spinning, weaving, and dyeing cloth all in one place. Many of these factories employed women, which was new—women had rarely worked outside the home before (which meant, in part, that the would now work for less money than men and were less likely to cause trouble for their bosses). However, women who had not been trained in the production of what a given factory might make could still work in these factories because of specialisation—every person only does a single job, over and over. It takes little skill, and also has little dignity. Eventually women would be replaced by Irish immigrants, who would work even cheaper.
*These factories were funded by banks, through investment capital. Capital is money and property used by a business to produce things; investment capital is money spent on such a business in hopes that it will make more money from the profits.
*The problem was that many banks invested more money than they had, because the government did not regulate the banks in any meaningful way. Banks printed their own paper money, redeemable at the bank for specie, but no-one checked to make sure they had the gold to back it. Therefore, many banks spent more money than they had, and could not always pay back their debts. Consequently, bank notes, or paper money issued by banks, might not be worth the face value. A note was only worth as much as people thought the banks would pay back.
*Although some of the Industrial and Market Revolutions affected the entire country, they had the biggest impact on the North.
*In the Northwest, John Deere’s steel plough and Cyrus McCormick’s reaper made farming easier and thus more profitable. Furthermore, transportation improvements, especially the railroad made it easy to ship wheat, beef, and pork back east, where western food fed the growing cities of the industrial north.
*In the Northeast, factories were built in cities or else in villages where cities then grew up around them. This process of developing factories in known as industrialisation. To get jobs in the factories, more and more people moved into the cities.
*Because so many people moved to the cities to work in factories, the North’s cities grew immensely. New York City grew from 33,000 people in 1790 to 131,000 in 1820 by which point it had become America’s largest city and had reached 516,000 by 1850.
*These cities were crowded, filthy, and disgusting. They had poor police forces, fire departments, and sewer systems, if they had these things at all. Diseases such as cholera were rampant, so that in some years thousands of people died at a time.
*Because the factory owners wanted to make money as efficiently as possible, and because there were no real laws governing the treatment of workers, workers were treated poorly. They might work twelve-hour days or more, six days a week, with no health care and no vacations. Women and children worked alongside men in dangerous conditions where many people will killed or injured each year.
*In response, many workers joined labour unions. These were groups of workers who would work together to get better conditions, or sometimes just to keep things from getting worse when owners would try to cut pay or lengthen hours. If their demands were not met, unions would strike, leading to the end of work at a given factory so that its owners could not make money. The first of these labour unions was the National Trades Union, founded in 1834. However, labour unions died out in the late 1830s and 1840s. A depression made workers to desperate to keep their jobs to protest anything, and many courts ruled that union resistance was illegal. However, unions will be back one day.
This page last updated 15 September, 2003.