MAJOR FACTORS of Industrialisation of the United States, 1870-1900



Today, United States is basking in the rays of technological and economical achievements. But it happened neither in a day nor the way was smooth. The industrial revolution that started in England, soon found its way to the United States, where it was embraced and made the best use of, to grow and prosper. Industrialization first started in the late Eighteenth Century in the United States, but came to a halt due to the Civil War, that broke out between the North and the South, primarily on the issue of the emancipation of the slaves. It again picked up its pace after the end of the war, when the United States was busy to reconstruct itself urging the mid-nineteenth century. Let us now divulge into the depths of the causes that opened up the door to the second phase of the massive mechanization and the development process of the United States.



Industrialization is the process in which a society shifts from a predominantly agriculture-based economy to a manufacturing-based economy (from primary sector to secondary sector). Land, labor and capital are the three major requisites for an industry to prosper. The United States had no dearth of any of these. But the history behind the Second Wave of Industrial Growth in the United States began after the Civil war period, when the society was busy in reconstructing itself. The technological developments made the tedious works easier to be performed by machines than by hands or manually. Machines and other inventions related to technological development started making lives of men easier and blotted out the monotony in work as well. The period between in the year 1870 to 1900 is also called the Second Industrial Revolution, which marked a significant shift towards its progress. Some of the factors which caused the big boom in the industrialization process of the United States are discussed below-



  1. Availability of cheap labor- 

Cheap labor, which is one of the essential requirements of economic development, was easily available in the United States during the Second Wave of Industrialization, which began in the late 19th century. It was due to the following reasons-


a) Immigration to the US- 

A large wave of people migrated from Germany, Ireland, England and from other places to the United States in search of better economic options. People from various parts of the world fled to the United States due to a variety of reasons which included the need for personal freedom, freedom from religious and political persecution, lack of land and jobs opportunities, rising taxes, crop failure, etc. The Europeans entered the United States through the eastern coast facilities while the Asians dominantly entered through the western coast facilities. However, a major part of all immigrants entered through the New York City which came to be known as the ‘Golden Door’. The economy was already stagnant. In addition to it the infusion of a large number of immigrants arose feelings of hatred, competition and suspicion amongst everyone standing in the melting point of all the ethnicity and cultural backgrounds. Such feelings led to Anti-Chinese riots. And protests led to the banning of Chinese immigrants for nearly a century. Since the immigrants entered through different ports, they began to settle near the port itself. However, many immigrants found their way towards the more inland parts. The states having sparse population lured the immigrants with job-offerings and farming lands. Many immigrants settled near the settlements that the previous settlers from their homeland had already established. When the process of settlement was over, the immigrants started to look for a job, one of the main reasons for which they came to this land. However, there were not enough jobs that could satisfy both the immigrants and native-born people. The immigrants were exploited by their employers. There were differences in payments not only among men and women but also among men belonging to different races and ethnicities.


So from this, we learn that there was an abundant availability of skilled as well as unskilled workers in the society, due to the influx of immigrants, who would work for even the meager wage that they could amass. The increase in immigration also led to an increase in demand for the available goods and substances for their daily sustenance and also for the maintenance of their families. The increase in demand led to an increase in the manufacturing arena.


During the First Phase of Industrialization between in the year 1820 to 1840, the rate of immigration was modest and the immigrants were mostly skilled workers and relatively wealthy. However, during the Second Phase of Industrialization, the immigrants were mostly unskilled and the number of immigrants increased drastically. The women and children were also employed in the general Task-Force. However, women were highly compartmentalized according to their ethnicity. The German women were mostly involved in bakeries, British and Canadian women were involved in textile manufacturing units, Irish women were mostly servants, etc.


b) The shift of society from Agriculture to Industry-

After the American Civil War had spiralled the economy downwards, farmers were facing large debts accumulated at their doorstep with agricultural prices going downwards. Their daily average wage was going down, but the average price of goods was rising. So, they moved towards the cities where they would toil similarly hard, or even harder, in the budding factories to get some more wages to support their families. Moreover, with tobacco cultivation, which was one of the main Cash-Crops cultivated by the slaves, the land was left useless after 3-4 years of cultivation. So, they had to move to other areas in search of land. So, with the large-scale of immigration that was happening on the soils of the United States made the availability of agricultural land decrease. This led to the movement of the farmers to the cities in search of job security and prosperity.

Due to the better living conditions, more children survived. This led to larger families which in turn, led to a hike on population growth. More people joined the work-force to keep the wheel of the family running.


c) Migration of African-Americans to the North- 

During the late nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries, the slaves of the South, who were being subjected to discrimination and intimidation, decided to escape to the North, in search of better job opportunities and better living conditions. Farming life was excruciating, where a lot of work brought about very little reward, sometimes not enough to feed all the dependent mouths. The factory jobs lured them to the urban centers, where they found a home in the North along with the new immigrants, which created a new cultural neighborliness for them and celebrated in activities and leisure.



2. Laissez-Faire Policy

The government followed the policy of non-intervention in the economic affairs of society. They believed in the free market system, where the prices would be unregulated, yet maintained by the market competitions of the day. They believed that government intervention would increase the cost of the products and bring monopolistic practices into the market system. This policy boosted the growth rate to achieve the economic stability. The government maintained order and security, while the market condition took care of itself. Trade was free from tariffs and government subsidies and there were no monopolistic practices in the market since the economy was based on competition. So, the manufacturing industries got a boost in their game. Laissez-Faire advocated the principle of Supply and Demand to maintain wages and prices. This promoted private investment. The northerners supported high tariffs and government subsidies to protect their business from foreign competition. But the southerners loathed Government subsidies and high tariffs. The import tariff rates were drastically increased by the Congress during the Civil-War which led the other countries to increase their tariffs on U.S. goods. This step made it difficult for the Americans to sell their Products elsewhere out of the country. Later, the tariffs were lowered and ultimately the United States became one of the largest free trading areas of the world. Therefore the approach of the Laissez-Faire policy during the year 1870 to 1900.


3. Abundant availability of Natural resources

In terms of natural resources, the United States became abundant with fertile land. Wood for building and heating purposes could be procured from the dense forest throughout the country. Huge coal deposits help in the running of the machines in the industries. The Mesabi Mountain-Range in Minnesota provided the sufficient raw material to make iron and steel. Crude oil reserves were found in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and later in Texas and Oklahoma. Another important resource that boosted the industrialization process is the availability of kerosene that fueled the American Industries. The abundance of resources found in Nature helped the rapid industrialization of the United States as the industries did not need to import them from other countries and could obtain them cheaply. The abundant supply of water in the United States helped in powering the machines in the industries.


4. Railroads

The completion of the Transcontinental Railroad Service in the year 1869, is another key factor behind the rapid industrialization of the United States in the late 19th century. The railroad served as a link between the Eastern and Western parts of the United States. For the major part of history before the construction of inland railroad service, the means of transportation were water transport and by horse or foot. However, for overland transportation, large quantities of goods could not easily be transported due to transportation being limited by horse and foot only. Improved transportation made it easier to carry bulk and/ or perishable goods easily and quickly. It also made the transportation of people cheaper and quicker.


5. Inventors and inventions

New inventions and innovations also paved the way for industrialization. Various inventions eased the transportation and communication process. The phonograph, electric generator and the light bulb invented by Thomas Alva Edison proved to be a great impetus to the industrialization process. An automated flour Mill was invented by Oliver Evans during the 1780s that displaced the traditional gristmill. He also invented one of the first high-pressure steam engines for quicker transportation. Another invention that helped in the textile industry was that of Eli Whitney in 1793, when he invented the machine that would separate the seeds of short fibered cotton from the fibres. The manufacturing industry greatly comprised with steam engines powered by coal, utilization of water wheels and machinery that were also powered by coal. The invention of the telegraph eased the process of communication and proved vital for the smooth functioning of the big industries.


6. The embargo act of 1807 and the war of 1812

Britain and France were at war with each other during the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. During that period, the United States maintained its neutral stance. This was followed by France and Britain prohibiting trade with any countries that remained neutral. This act was soon followed by French and British warships seizing United States warships. Britain also made it compulsory for ships from other countries to check at British ports before they went on to trade with any other country. These angered the United States. They passed the Embargo Act of 1807, by which they prohibited any trade with any foreign nations with the hope that it would hit the French and British economy. But this plan backfired. The home economy of the United States suffered, in turn. This suffering made the United States become self-reliant and manufacture and develop its goods within its boundaries. This policy gave a kick-start to the industrialization of the United Nations.


When the United States was involved in the war with the British during 1812, the entire eastern coastline of the United States was blocked which resulted in a sudden stoppage of every kind of trade. These two events of history made the Americans realize the importance of being reliance on self-produced goods rather than on foreign goods.


7. Early labor reform movements

During the 1830s, women and men revolted against the working conditions of the factory- low wages, strict discipline, wage cuts, unsafe working conditions and long working hours. Even though the protest movements were mostly unsuccessful and they had to accept the low wages or increased work hours, the protest movements began to take shape the later Labor Movements in the United States. These organised labor movements helped during the management and worked amicably together to address the grievances and find solutions. Their organised labor movements championed a variety of issues, either through political or cooperative ventures.


8. Use of new products

Steel began to be used in place of iron during this time, which led to many construction works, including, the industrial machines, rail lines, ships, etc. It rapidly helped spread transportation. The second new product to have been used widely during this period was the kerosene oil. During the 1850s, scientists developed a way that could convert oil into a source of fuel, which could be used for heating, cooking, lighting, etc. Electricity also began to be produced during this time itself. The first power plant was built in New York in 1882, which provided light and power to the industries. This gave a boost to the Second Wave of rapid industrialization during the 1870s. Factories could now work for longer hours and the rate of manufacturing of products also was increased. A variety of new products also found their way into the market, such as the typewriter, the electric light, the telephone, etc.


9. Shower of Investment

Banks give loans to businesses. As these businesses prospered, people began to buy shares of those industries and make investments. These investments provided the much-needed capital for the industries to expand their scope of operations.


10. The first textile factory on US soil

When Samuel Slater immigrated to Rhode Island from Britain in 1789, he set up the first textile factory in the United States. He built this factory without any notes or plans, but entirely from his memory. Francis Cabot Lowell of Massachusetts returned from visiting Britain during 1810 to 1812 and built the first power loom and the first factory with mechanical spinning and weaving facilities in the United States. The replacement of laborers by machines led to a drastic increase in the production capacity of the industries. Since the population was growing, the public demand was also increasing. Therefore, the industries produced in large quantities. They were backed by investors and bankers who invested in industries and reaped huge profits. This was the one of the main reasons that led to the rapid growth of industrialization in the United States during 1870-1900.



Industrialization of the United States brought people out of their farms and homes to work in dirty and crowded factories, where they were often paid less and made to work inhumanly for long hours with few breaks, to produce as much quantity of products as the employer wished. Evil practices, such as, exploitation of workers and child labor, began to grow their roots, since there were hardly any Federal or State Laws to protect the workers. The number of cities grew due to the influx of people from everywhere. This led to pollutions, unsanitary, overcrowded and unhealthy living and working conditions, traffic jams, etc. The cities got jam-packed with multiple-cultural and multi-ethnic population, without the proper infrastructure to support them.


Although, one of the disastrous consequences of the industrialization of the United States was the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, where wealthy people were getting wealthier gradually. The positive impacts of the process always outweigh the negatives. The number of technological advancements coupled with the rise of labor union movements that paved the way for a healthier employer-employee relationship, the development and the expansion of agriculture, the appearance of big business-houses that employ several people, the inter-mingling and interaction of different races and ethnic groups in a cordial and harmonious manner, the expansion of inland as well as overseas trade, etc., can never be overlooked for any negative effect. The wheel of development started with these kinds of revolutions and hasn’t stopped yet, making America the giant super-power that it is today.


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