Industrial Revolution in America
During the early 1800s, the Industrial Revolution dramatically changed the American way of life.
Setting the Scene
At dawn, the factory bell woke eleven-year-old Lucy Larcom. Rising quickly, she ate her breakfast and hurried to her job at a spinning mill in Lowell, Massachusetts. Years later, Larcom described her workplace:
"The buzzing and hissing and whizzing of pulleys and rollers and spindles and flyers around me often grew tiresome. . .I could look across the room and see girls moving backward and forward among the spinning frames, sometimes stooping, sometimes reaching up their arms, as their work required. "
In the early 1800s, busy factories and whirring machinery had become part of a revolution that was reaching the United States. Unlike the American Revolution, this one had no battles or fixed dates. The new revolution - the Industrial Revolution - was a long, slow process that completely changed the way in which goods were produced.
The Industrial Revolution Begins
Before the 1800’s, most Americans were farmers and most goods were produced by hand. As a result of the Industrial Revolution, this situation slowly changed. Machines replaced hand tools. New sources of power, such as steam, replaced human and animal power. While most Americans continued to farm for a living, the economy began a gradual shift toward manufacturing.
The Industrial Revolution started in Britain in the mid-1700s. British inventors developed new machines that transformed the textile industry. Since the Middle Ages, workers had used spinning wheels to make thread. A spinning wheel, however, could spin only one thread at a time. In 1764, James Hargreaves developed the spinning jenny, a machine that could spin several threads at once. Other inventions sped up the process of weaving thread into cloth. In the 1780s, Edmund Cartwright built a loom powered by water. It allowed a worker to produce a great deal more cloth in a day than was possible before.
The Factory System
New inventions led to a new system of producing goods. Before the Industrial Revolution, most spinning and weaving took place in the home. Large machines however, had to be housed in large mills near rivers. Water flowing downstream or over a waterfall turned a wheel that produced the power to run the machines. To set up and operate a spinning mill required large amounts of capital, or money. Capitalists supplied this money. A capitalist is a person who invests in a business in order to make a profit. Capitalists built factories and hired workers to run the machines.
The new factory system brought workers and machinery together in one place to produce goods. Factory workers earned daily or weekly wages. They had to work a set number of hours each day.
A Revolution Crosses the Atlantic:
Britain wanted to keep its new technology secret. It did not want rival nations to copy the new machines. Therefore, the British Parliament passed a law forbidding anyone to take plans of the new machinery out of the country.
Slater Breaks the Law
Samuel Slater soon proved that this law could not be enforced. Slater was a skilled mechanic in a British textile mill. When he heard that Americans were offering large rewards for plans of British factories, he decided to leave Britain in 1789. Slater boarded a ship bound for New York City. He knew that British officials searched the baggage of passengers sailing to the United States. To avoid getting caught, he memorized the design of the machines in the mill.
The First American Mill
Slater soon visited Moses Brown, a Quaker capitalist who had a mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The mill was not doing well because its machinery constantly broke down. Slater set to work on improving the machinery. By 1793, in Pawtucket, he built what became the first successful textile mill in the United States that was powered by water....
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