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The First Industrial Revolution In America History Essay

Cars, ships, telephones, and even the clothes that were wearing all have many things in common. Without any one of these things, life as we know it just wouldnt be the same. They are being used all around America at every moment. These vital inventions also have roots from the First Industrial Revolution in America.

Taking place from 1790-1870, the revolution innovated the textile, cotton, factory, farming, and communication industries among many other aspects. It redoubled the economy and rapidly became a part of American life. The revolution is most commonly described as a time in which “American production changed from goods created by hand at home to goods created by machines in factories” (“First American…”).

The American Industrial Revolution ironically started in England and spread to America by a British man named Samuel Slater. In England, James Hargreaves invented the Spinning Jenny in 1764; it could spin many threads at once, unlike the normal spinning wheel, which could only spin one thread at a time. Richard Arkwright created the Water Frame (pictured on next page) in 1769, which was an improvement of the Spinning Jenny; it could spin 100 threads at once and was powered by water (“First American…”). With their superior hold on the textile market, England ensured their continuing success by passing “laws prohibiting the export of the new machines and the emigration of mechanics who knew about them” (Hindle and Lubar 60). Samuel Slater “was apprenticed to Jedediah Streutt, who has been an associate of Richard Arkwright” (Hindle and Lubar 61). Slater, very learned in machines, memorized the designs of the Water Frame and “passed himself off as a farmer in order to board a ship for the United States” (Hindle and Lubar 61). “With the support of a Quaker merchant, Moses Brown, Slater built America's first water-powered cotton spinning mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island” with his memorized designs in 1793 (“Samuel Slater”). Slater soon became known in America as the "Father of the American Industrial Revolution" and the "Father of the American Factory System." However, in England he was better known as “Slater the Traitor” (“HISTORY”).

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The New England region was primarily where American factories were built. It was favored above any other region because of the many rivers than could power machines and the growing population. (“First American…”). In Massachusetts, Francis Cabot Lowell began the “factory system” in America. “The factory system is a method of producing goods that brought people and machines together under one roof” (“First American…”). For most people, this system was very foreign and strange; Americans were so used to hand making goods in the comfort of their own homes. Lowell hired young women and children not only so that he could pay them less, but also because it gave them a chance so have a regular job. “Lowell girls” (pictured) had to work 12 tedious hours per day and 6 days per week (The First…). Many factories often had poor working conditions, such as dim lights, loud machines noises, little ventilation, low quality food, cramped sleeping quarters, particles in the air that could chronically harm employees, and dangerous machines that were known to take fingers and even limbs off of employees. As more people swarmed to work in factories, cities grew and America gradually turned from a rural society to an urban one.

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Cotton was required for these factories, but “was a very labor intensive crop that took many slaves to plant, harvest, clean, and process it” (“First American…”). On March 14, 1794 Eli Whitney, an American inventor, created the cotton gin (short for engine) in an attempt to ease the work that southern slaves did. However, the cotton gin was such a huge success that it intensified the issue of slavery instead (Constable 301). An average slave could only clean about one pound of cotton per day, but the cotton gin could clean 50 pounds in the same amount of time if one person was using it (“First American…”). Since slave owners now only had to use one slave to clean the cotton, the rest could be put to work elsewhere, thus reviving the South’s economy and slavery.

Whitney also popularized interchangeable parts. Before Whitney had introduced interchangeable parts, each rifle was individual and a part of one rifle couldn’t be used for another. Whitney made many identical parts that could fit into any rifle that he made. Whitney made repairing and creating rifles much faster, easier, and cheaper than before (“First American…”).

There was also a surge of efficient transportation during the First American Industrial Revolution. The main inventions include steamboats, railroads, and clipper ships. The establishment of the Erie Canal and the National (or Cumberland) Road were also a vital part of the revolution.

Robert Fulton was an American engineer and inventor that successfully introduced steamboats to America in 1807. Steamboats were an immediate success because they were much faster and cheaper than the previous boats. John Fitch also tried to introduce steamboats to America in 1787. However, the ride was very unpleasant; some passengers were covered in soot by the end of the ride (Howard).

Many railroads were created during the revolution, helping American trade and connecting the removed West to the rest of the country. The most famous of these railroads was the Pacific Railroad, completed in 1869. However, this railroad is today known as the First Transcontinental Railroad because it was one long railroad that connected the east to the west. “By 1829, the steam engine had been invented” (“First American…”). It quickly replaced past train engines. Unfortunately, many people did not trust steam engines because they were known to be faulty and dangerous (“First American…”). Railroads were “the driving force behind the Industrial Revolution” and made shipping immensely quicker and became the primary method of land shipping and travelling (Olson 210).

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(Pictured: “Travel times, 1790 and 1860. The time required for travel continued to decrease with new technologies and continuing construction” (Hindle and Lubar 148-149).

“Clipper ships, which were developed during the 1830s, were even faster, sometimes traveling up to 20 miles per hour compared to around 8 miles per hour for the typical merchant ship” (Transportation…). For this reason, clipper ships were preferred over steamboats for a time. Clipper ships were swift and narrow, sacrificing cargo space for speed. But in the 1860s, steamboats improved so that they could travel faster and carry more than clipper ships (“First American…”).

In 1817, construction of “Clinton’s Big Ditch,” or the Erie Canal began. The Erie Canal was a very ambitious project; it aimed to connect the Great Lakes with the Hudson River. It took 8 years to complete the canal, but it was well worth it. When it opened, New York’s economy boomed with the shipping prices drastically cut.

The Cumberland Road, approved by President Jefferson in 1807, was the first road in America built entirely from federal funds. The road goes from Cumberland, Maryland to Vandalia, Illinois and is 620 miles long. This milestone in government was opened in 1818 (“First American…”).

Farming and communication methods were also innovated. In 1834, Cyrus McCormick created a grain reaper and in 1836 John Deere created a steel plow. Both of these inventions made farm work easier and faster than before. In 1844, Samuel F. B. Morse created the telegraph and Morse code, which would allow communication from far away.

All of the named inventions are the most famous inventions from the revolution. There were thousands of practical inventions created and invested in, like the cash register and the type writer; there was even a company that only made inventions. All of the inventions from the First Industrial Revolution in America had a few important things in common. They were all practical and efficient and made work faster, easier, and cheaper (“First American…”).

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Just like the revolution had a rainbow of inventions, a rainbow of significant outcomes followed it. In the Lowell Mills, women and children got regular jobs and could sustain their selves with their own paychecks. Also at the Lowell Mills, the first factory strikes were held. (Pictured) Though unsuccessful, they foreshadowed more to come in American history. Interchangeable parts were momentous and are still in use today, such as if we crack a phone screen, break a car window, or a certain part of a computer malfunctions. Also, with the establishment of factories, people rushed to cities, transforming America from an agrarian society to an industrial one (“Industrial…”). The revolution also powered the economy of both the North and the South. Factories, inventions, and new transportation enforced the North’s economy while the cotton gin and other farm related inventions redoubled the South’s. As an unfortunate result of the factories, the environment was threatened. For the first time in American history, pollution became a large issue and organizations were created in an attempt to counter the destruction of the environment (“The American…”). Several companies were created during the revolution. And there can’t be a company without a boss; thus the millionaire class was born for the first time in America. Even today, there are many pieces of art that are still influenced by the revolution-even a specific style of art called steampunk. Lastly, America was economically strengthened; it was now a world power ready to take on future challenges.

What if Britain’s laws forbidding machines and mechanics that knew about the machines from leaving England actually worked? And furthermore, what if America couldn’t be influenced by any English machines? As if an evil, technology-hating wizard cast a spell upon the land of America that turned English machines to dust and erased machine related memories from English mechanics. Well, the answer would simply be that there wouldn’t be an Industrial Revolution. Early machines were literally illegally stolen from England and later American inventions were based off of English inventions. Most inventions at this time period were just tweaked and perfected past inventions. The only industrial-like things that would happen at this time period would be Whitney’s cotton gin and interchangeable parts, but those two alone cannot be classified as a revolution. Obviously, Britain would have to release the law eventually and other countries would influence America, but it would be a while until they could. And in this absence of technology there was…the Civil War. Whitney’s cotton gin makes the South more protective of their slaves and the lack of industry in the North means that there isn’t as much money flowing in Northern veins. Since money and industry were huge advantages for the North during the Civil War, I would venture to say that in this situation, the South would win the war, allowing slavery to run rampant. But, when industry finally does reach the North and they become a powerful industrial giant, I believe that the North will finally defeat the South and vanquish slavery from America.

What if Eli Whitney never existed? In other words, what if some idiot had a time machine and went back in time and prevented Whitney from ever being born? Whitney created the cotton gin, redoubling the South’s economy and the issue of slavery along. He also introduced interchangeable parts, leading to mass production and assembly lines. The South without Whitney would forever be inferior to the North economically. This would lead to the South running out of money faster than before during the Civil War. Since the South ran out of money without the circumstances of this situation, they would be dirt poor and most likely surrender even sooner than they did. Also, the lack of Whitney’s contributions would stifle the Second Industrial Revolution in America. It would be a while until someone else introduced interchangeable parts to allow products like the Model T to be mass produced on assembly lines. This would lead to America being less of a world power in the coming years.

I love technology. I couldn’t go a day without it and function properly. I also honestly believe that no one else in America could either. Technology and history both interest and fascinate me, so I’m always eager to learn more about it, which is why I chose the First Industrial Revolution in America as my topic. My new knowledge on this topic made me think in ways that I’ve never thought before. When I learned about the revolution in middle school, it was a very brief overview. I would have never guessed, much less thought, that pollution in America originated from the revolution. As a middle school student, I only thought that the revolution was just some little gears grinding and nails and cotton popped out of a machine. However, the revolution is so much deeper than I thought it was; it united the west and the east and allowed America to become an industrial giant that would soon match and later be superior to Europe. For me, it is very hard to believe that there weren’t any factories in America before the revolution. It just shows how paramount the First Industrial Revolution in America really was.

Engines of Change: The American Industrial Revolution, 1790-1860 is honestly a mediocre book. It does have the advantages of being painstakingly detailed and wonderfully illustrated, but it unfortunately stumbles around with its words, phrasing things oddly, as if it hasn’t been edited. The book also has a layout frighteningly similar to a school textbook (although that isn’t affecting my critique). For much of the time, the book explains the European Industrial Revolution instead of the American one. It is also hard to distinguish main points from small details. For all of these reasons, I would not recommend this book to future students; there are much better books about the revolution.

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Works Cited

Constable, Sally, ed. The American Pageant. 13th ed. N.p.: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print.

"First American Industrial Revolution Review." YouTube. YouTube, 30 Dec. 2010. Web. 08 Dec. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMKttQic1uY>.

Hindle, Brooke, and Steven D. Lubar. Engines of Change: The American Industrial Revolution, 1790-1860. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1986. Print.

"HISTORY." HISTORY. Maypole Promotions, n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2012. <http://www.samuelslater.co.uk/history.htm>.

Howard, Beverly. "Steamboats and the American Industrial Revolution." Yahoo! Contributor Network. N.p., 07 Oct. 2007. Web. 09 Dec. 2012. <http://voices.yahoo.com/steamboats-american-industrial-revolution-578251.html?cat=37>.

"Industrial Revolution Video." History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2012. <http://www.history.com/topics/industrial-revolution/videos>.

Kelly, Martin H. "Industrial Revolution People, Inventions, And Events." About.com American History. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2012. <http://americanhistory.about.com/od/industrialrev/a/indrevoverview_2.htm>.

Olson, James Stuart. Encyclopedia of the Industrial Revolution in America. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2002. Print.

"Samuel Slater." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2012. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/theymadeamerica/whomade/slater_hi.html>.

The American Industrial Revolution. United Learning, n.d. Videocassette. YouTube. YouTube, 03 Apr. 2012. Web. 09 Dec. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Cvofeaj0y0>.

"The First American Factories." The First American Factories [ushistory.org]. Ushistory.org, n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2012. <http://www.ushistory.org/us/25d.asp>.

"Transportation Revolution of the 19th Century." American History. ABC-CLIO, 2012. Web. 9 Dec. 2012.


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