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THE POSITIVE EFFECT OF THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION ON SOCIETY

The Industrial Revolution started in Britain during the late 1700’s. It made its way to America in the 18th and 19th century. It brought about a remarkable change from hand tools and handmade items to products produced by machines. The increase of production resulted in high profits for factory owners. In Britain the machines improved the work of talented artisans, and in America the machines assisted the entrepreneur’s productivity. The Industrial Revolution benefited the middle class more significantly, but impacted all lives through American history. (2) It created a demand for laborers and a production of mass products. It transpired from the inventions of machines and the production of new things. If society had missed out on the Industrial revolution, life would lack technology, transportation, the need for education, and other modern conveniences. (3) Therefore, the Industrial Revolution had a positive effect on American society.

The revolution made way for inventors. There were many inventions which were introduced during this time. Each of these had a huge effect on the changing of American society. Inventions became alive with newer and faster ways to produce products and transport goods. People’s lives opened up to new functions, and a commerce system was born. James Watt improved the steam engine during the second half of the 18th century, which facilitated factory growth by introducing a transportation system. In essence, the starting force of the industrial revolution was the steam engine. (9) An article published by the North American Reviewstates that “Five great causes enter into, and combine to create, the wonderful development of the century’s commerce. They may be stated in five words: steam, electricity, invention, finance, peace.” (6) Each of these items had an effect on the society from the cities to the mountains. In The Strength of the Hills, Frank P. Woodbury stated that “in the presence of these forces life will be transformed.” He wrote about the demand for the mountain people to supply labor to work on the railways, mines and factories. He mentioned the changes and power that the industrial revolution would bring to the mountain people. (5) These same ideas would bring about similar effects to all of society.

With the inventions of the loom, cotton gin, and sewing machine, there was an increase of production in the textile industry. (3) In the article A Century of International Commerce it is stated that the machines in the factories produced many more times the items a single man could make with his hands. Due to the production of more goods, other requirements became necessary; the factory system, the need for labor, transportation, communication, and financial systems. All of these are examples of what started a domino effect. Without each one of these, the US would not have gotten to the next level within the industrial revolution. (6)

The birth of the factory system brought about the need for labor, which in turn provided society with options. More jobs were needed to operate the machinery in order to produce the products. The options provided to the people were location, different ways to earn a living, and the way a life is lived. These options guided society to power and wealth. (4) Factories multiplied, which lead to competition and produced “the general spirit of enterprise”, as described by George S. White in The Benefits of the Factory System. White wrote that even though some employers abused their employees because they were allowed too much power, the employees or laborers were the real power. He articulates that the community has the right to complain, and the employers should expect protest if mistreatment is present. (4) The corrective actions of the employers will lead to universal advancement and benefit the society. In the article Effects of Machinery, the question is posed; is machinery an evil. The author responds with; “No doubt, like every other great power, machinery may be converted into an instrument of great oppression. But it is not such naturally. In itself it has been always, and, under well regulated Governments, it always will be a source of great good, of good almost unmixed. The evils necessarily incident to its introduction, are slight, partial, and transient. They reach only the surface of society, affect but small portions of the community, and speedily pass away.” The author then affirms that the positive impact of machinery surpasses the negative effects that are felt by society. (7)

As production began to increase, products needed to reach the consumers. The transportation system improved. Railroads and steamboats were built. The first steamboat built by Robert Fulton would help ship goods across the Atlantic Ocean. Lands across the ocean could possess America’s products. The locomotive was built by George Stephenson, which transported products to locations for many more people. (2) With the expansion of railways, commerce increased 40 percent by 1840 and continued to increase throughout the following years. (6) This allowed prices of goods to decrease. More goods were transported and sold; therefore, more people could afford to pay. The explosion of the railroad gave way to the movement of passengers and products to different destinations. (1) These transportation innovations provided shipping power on both land and sea; but also provided safety and accelerating speed. (6)

Inventions that aided the people to spread news quicker and more precisely presented another positive to society. The telegraph invented by Samuel F. B. Morse provided communication through a wire in the speed of light. In the Invention of the Telegraph by Alonzo B. Cornell, he states that after the National Democratic Convention in 1844, the event was telegraphed to Washington. People were shocked by how speedy and accurate the system worked. This event removed the doubts felt by the people. (8) Larger businesses previously went through many challenges to communicate across the organization. This invention allowed the business men to spread information faster about prices and markets. Workers could see machines were improving, and they could receive important news that previously had been delivered by a horse man. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, creating a much better and faster way to communicate across America, which allowed managers to keep in contact. This led to new methods of management and an efficient production of methods in business. (3)

During this time a new development occurred which allowed electricity to be used effectively. Michael Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction in 1831. His discovery was the driving force behind the electric motor. His thought on electricity, magnetic fields, and nature of fields inspired other inventors. (10) Thomas Edison later introduced the system of electric lighting. These inventions impacted society by allowing the first multinational companies to be established, which would later promote the electrification of cities. With the lighting of homes and workplaces, work and socialization could take place at different times, thus expanding and changing people’s schedules. This also led to improved household appliances, like the refrigerator and the microwave. Nationally and internationally, electricity became an improvement in people’s domestic lives, social lives, working routine, and productivity levels. (11)

The Industrial Revolution emerged from inventions that brought about a factory system, a commerce system, a transportation system, and a communication system. Each of these influenced a new way of life. These achievements encouraged human progress, which inspired the opportunity of individuality. It is best stated in an article written by Richard T. Ely, who writes: “Again, this material economic life of ours, this production of goods, this buying, selling, and getting gain, it must ever be remembered, is not an end in itself. It is but a means to an end. It is the basis of our higher life, and is to be valued merely as such.” When was this written? What is the source? I do not find a reference for Ely in your listing? He goes on to say that with this Industrial Revolution our society finds growth in eight areas which are divided into language, art, science and education, family life, social life, religious life, political life and economic life. Even though there were hardships during the industrial revolution society was impacted greatly by the individual’s inspirations for an advanced life. The individuality demanded changes to the social system. Abolition of child labor, improved working conditions for women, factory inspections and sanitary regulations were just a few of the improvements made by society. (12) Another affect on society was the interest of science. The people began to thrive for the knowledge of the unknown. This curiosity lead to stronger industries, but most importantly produced more questioning human beings.(3) In the Benefits of the Factory System it is stated that “the more he studies and understands the works of nature and Providence, the greater will be his admiration of the display and application of wisdom and goodness.” (4) This quote gives a sense of strength, peace and intelligence which leads to the conclusion of an improved society. From this one can establish that the Industrial Revolution had a positive effect on the success of the American society.

Andrea Mewhinney

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