3 May 2011
How the Industrial Revolution Affects Today
The Industrial Revolution that rocked America's economic and social structure was a magnificent tool of change. The massive influx of industry that it brought with it changed the lives of millions of people. The Industrial Revolution marked a turning point in American history. Almost every aspect of daily life was influenced in some way. “For the first time in history, the living standards of the masses of ordinary people have begun to undergo sustained growth…Nothing remotely like this economic behavior has happened before” (Robert E. Lucas, 1997). Steam power, machine-based manufacturing, water power, improved communication, and railroads were just the tip of the iceberg as far as technological innovations went. The effects spread throughout Western Europe and North America during the 19th century, eventually affecting most of the world. The impact of this change on society was enormous. The changes, both positive and negative, of this industrialization can still be felt today in modern America. The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain during the 1700s. It started spreading to other parts of Europe and to North America in the early 1800s. By the mid-1800s, industrialization had become widespread in Western Europe and the northeastern United States. The Industrial Revolution created an enormous increase in the production of many kinds of goods. Some of this increase in production resulted from the introduction of power-driven machinery and the development of factory organization. Before the revolution, manufacturing was done by hand or simple machines. Most people worked at home in rural areas. A few worked in shops in towns as part of associations called guilds. The Industrial Revolution eventually took manufacturing out of the home and workshop. Power-driven machines replaced handwork, and factories developed as the best way of bringing together the machines and the workers to operate them. As the Industrial Revolution grew, private investors and financial institutions were needed to provide money for the further expansion of industrialization. Financiers and banks thus became as important as industrialists and factories in the growth of the revolution. For the first time in American history, wealthy business leaders called capitalists took over the control and organization of manufacturing. Historians have disagreed on the significance of the Industrial Revolution. Some have emphasized that the importance of the revolution was in the great increase in the production of goods. They argue that this increase did more during the 1800s to raise peoples standard of living than all the actions of legislatures and trade unions. Other historians have stressed the negative parts of the revolution. They point to the overcrowded and unsanitary housing and the terrible working conditions created by rapid industrialization in the cities. The period in which the greatest economic and technological progress occurred was between the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 20th. During this period the nation was transformed from a primitive agricultural economy to the foremost industrial power in the world, with more than a third of the global industrial output.
1 Early Industrialization
American Industrialization was facilitated by a unique blend of geographical, social, and economic factors. The post-Revolution American population remained low compared to its European counterparts. Some industry existed throughout the North with a little manufacturing carried on in European-like guilds in small towns. Most manufacturing, however, took place in homes in rural areas. Merchants distributed raw materials to workers in their homes and collected the finished products. The merchants owned the raw materials, paid for the work, and took the risk of finding a market for their...