First American Industrial Revolution

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The first American Industrial Revolution started in the late 1700s and went all the way through the mid-1850s. Though the revolution started in Britain it eventually made its way to America. Samuel Slater is often given credit for the start of the American industrial revolution in light of the fact that he opened the first industrial mill in the U.S.

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The economy also began to rapidly change due to so many new things being invented, as well as the constant social and economic advances. The Industrial Revolution is what caused a shift from handmade to machine-made products, this large amount of increased productivity and efficiency brought a higher standard of living. (Alchin, Linda)

The Embargo Act of 1807 is what pushed America to the realization of the need for economic independence. The Embargo Act prohibited exports and limited all foreign trade. This had a huge impact on American society and took a toll on the American economy. Nonetheless, this helped benefit America in the way that the lack of foreign goods forced the United States to start producing their own goods, thus furthering the independence of the United States. Following the Embargo Act was the War of 1812, the second battle between Britain and the United States. Before the War of 1812, the United States depended heavily on foreign countries, but due to the Embargo Act of 1807 that would no longer be possible. This conflict established the factors America lacked and emphasized the necessity for changes in transportation and communication. (Causes and Effects)

Because of this severe need for improvements in things all across the board countless amounts of new products were invented. From the Lowell System, which reformed the textile industry, to inventions like the Cotton Gin, which revolutionized the cotton industry, all these inventions helped shape the society we live in today. This was a time of immense innovation and many of the products seen today are byproducts of these inventions from the Industrial Revolution.

The Lowell System, created by Francis Cabot Lowell, was a result of the thought that all steps of manufacturing should be done in one place. It created a way to control the structure of labor by hiring women between the ages of 15 and 35. A typical workday for these women lasted about 12 hours and they were also encouraged to educate themselves while working at the mills as well as participate in intellectual activities. These educational opportunities were provided to help workers move onto better jobs after they were finished working at the mills. This system was specifically designed to minimize the dehumanizing effects of industrial labor by doing things such as paying in cash, hiring young adults instead of children, and offering employment for only a few years. (What Was The Lowell System)

In 1793, Eli Whitney invented the Cotton Gin which changed the cotton industry forever. Before the Cotton Gin, the process of farming cotton was difficult. Cotton needed to be picked by hand and then the seeds needed to be separated from the cotton also by hand. This was a very vigorous and time-consuming process. With the Cotton Gin they could just put the cotton in the machine and turn a handle and the seeds would be separated from the actual cotton.

This invention allowed farmers to make cotton their main crop and furthermore made cotton a cash crop. Cotton became (HOW MUCH MORE PROFITABLE???) and cotton production became much more efficient too. The cotton gin became so popular that it massively increased the demand for slaves and land. (27 Industrial Revolution)

Though the sewing machine itself was not invented by Elias Howe, he patented the first lockstitch sewing machine. This machine combined three of the main elements from sewing machines that had been previously invented. The Lockstitch sewing machine aided in the mass production of sewing machines and clothing. Howe’s invention revolutionized the sewing industry, it freed women from some of the dullness of their everyday lives, as well as made it possible for the people of America to own more than one piece of clothing. This prompted one of the most significant expansions of the manufacturing industry and created millions of jobs, specifically for women in the advancing world. (Elias Howe)

As a result of all these technological advances, America realized they needed a more efficient way to communicate. In 1844, Samuel Morse created one of the first forms of long-distance communication in the Telegraph. The Telegraph would transmit messages to a receiver, then that receiver would have to interpret the messages produced from the machine because they were in morse code. This innovation allowed the news media and the government to communicate much more quickly. The Telegraph also produced the first wire news service, The Associated Press. (The Invention of the Telegraph)

With so many things changing in the United States, there were two more advances in the farming industry. The McCormick Reaper and the Steel Plow revolutionized the farming industry. The McCormick Reaper, created by Cyrus McCormick, sped up the process of harvesting wheat and other small crops. This saved immense amounts of time, and also saved a lot of labor that would have needed to be done. The amount of wheat that could be harvested before limited food supply and the actual size of the farm, but the McCormick Reaper helped get rid of those restrictions. (Cyrus McCormick) John Deere invented the steel plow in 1837.

He created this plow due to the fact that the soil in the west was very different than that in the east, and all the wooden plows kept breaking. This Steel Plow was the first step towards modern farming equipment. John Deere revolutionized the farming industry by developing and marketing the world’s first Steel Plow. (John Deere)

There were also advances in transportation during the industrial revolution. Two of the most popular ways for transportation was by waterway and by road. Transportation by waterway was very inexpensive which helped with westward expansion. Canals were widened and deepened which made it easier for boats to pass. The Erie Canal was Roads were greatly improved as well, with turnpikes being created to help make transportation simpler. These advances made travel safer and allowed the transportation of goods to be more efficient. (Industrial Revolution Research)

All of these inventions played a huge role in the history of America. The North and the South were impacted very differently though. Many factors like population, geography, social structure, job opportunities, and labor force are what differentiated the North from the South. These factors and different beliefs are what drove a wedge between the two regions.

In terms of population, the North’s population seemed to increase much more than the South’s population did. Due to the influx of immigrants coming over to America and settling in the North the South did not see nearly as much of an increase in the population. The South did not have the same employment opportunities that the North had to offer. While the South was made up of mainly white Americans and enslaved Africans, the North had immigrants coming in from places like Ireland and Germany and settling in New York City, Chicago, and Boston.

As the divide between the North and South became more distinct so did the change in geographical features. The North started to focus more on infrastructure and the expansion of cities due to the increasing population. The population nearly doubled between 1820 and 1840 because of the increasing urbanization during the Industrial Revolution. The South, on the other hand, mostly consisted of farms and was a very agrarian society. Cotton, the South’s cash crop, was creating soil exhaustion and is what developed the need for westward expansion.

The Social Structure in the North and South also differed greatly. In the South, the gap between the rich and poor sharply increased. At the top of the white Southern Hierarchy was the planter elite, which made up less than 1% of the society. Smaller farmers who did not own slaves were at the bottom. The majority, or 76.1% of people in the South, were non-slaveholders. (US History) In the North, the middle class began to emanate. Before, there were two major classes in the North: aristocrats and low-income commoners. The middle class consisted of people who had extra money to spend on unnecessary goods that would in turn help boost the economy. The rising middle class also had larger amounts of free time to spend working on reforms.

Depending on where you live, in the North or the South, the job opportunities were also very different. The North had places like textile mills and factories. They had more opportunities for jobs as a result of factories specializing in the division of labor or dividing a job into many small tasks. This process needed more workers, creating more jobs. The North produced more machinery and tools. The South had a smaller range of job opportunities because they mostly focused on the production of cotton, which eventually became very profitable.
In the North, the majority of people worked in factories.

Because factories only required simple repetitive movements, unskilled labor was on the rise. The number of Americans working in the manufacturing industry increased by 800%, between the years 1820 and 1840, for the reason that working in a factory could be considered unskilled labor. The South became more dependent on slave labor with the invention of the Cotton Gin. Slaves were very expensive, which made the valuable, and the southerners could not afford to have them working in the dangerous conditions of a factory. (A.U.C.)

Without the Industrial Revolution, America would not be the same today. So many of these things played a huge role in making America what it is today. From the technology to the structure of society, the First Industrial Revolution had such a large impact on the U.S.
This Revolution created accelerated urbanization in America. Before the 20th century only 6% of the population lived in cities, but following the 20th century, 46% of Americans lived in cities. The more industrialized the United States becomes the fewer people live on farms. In 1790, 90% of Americans lived on farms, but today only about 2% of people still live on farms. Those numbers show just how much our economy and the social aspects of our country has changed. (The Industrial Revolution in America)

Another major impact of the industrial revolution was that Labor Unions were formed. They were formed because of the poor working conditions and the extremely low wages that the workers underwent. The workers that currently belong to a labor union earn about 20% more than workers that do not belong to a union performing the same job. Union workers also receive raises on a regular basis and benefits such as health, retirement, and paid sick leave. Child Labor laws also came into effects because of the harsh working conditions young children were put into. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1838 was a law put into place to establish the 40 hour work week and is still in effect today. (Matus, Douglas)

The middle class is also something that was a product of the Industrial Revolution. The middle class is considered the largest of the three classes in today’s society. Middle-Class families in the 1800s could afford to send their children to school, which lead to the emphasis we put on education for children today. In the 1800s, the middle class also had extra free time which allowed them to focus more on reforms, like the Women’s Suffrage in 1921 and Mental Health Reforms. Family dynamics changed as well before the Industrial Revolution the whole family worked to make a living. But as the revolution went on that changed and the men would go out to earn money for the family while the women would stay home and take care of the house and the children. (Class History)

This Revolution increased the social and economic divide between the North and the South as well as impacted the united states forever. It modernized so many industries and helped form the united states that we know today.  

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First American Industrial Revolution. (2019, May 08). Retrieved February 3, 2023 , from

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