Industrialization In The United States

The late 19th century was a period of a great technological development. Improved communications result in industrial revolution.

The period is marked by the activity of many inventors. A. G. Bell invents the telephone in 1876, T. A. Edison patents the electric bulb in 1879, typewriter is invented in 1867, Westinghouse’ alternating current (AC) in 1886, etc. More patents are issued by the US government between 1870-1900 than during the throughout the whole period from 1790 until 1860. Additionally, railroad boom, electrification, improved communication, telephone and telegraph link the US to the rest of the world. It is no longer a culturally isolated rural country.

Technological revolution brought about rapid industrialization of America. Businesses capitalized on the inventors’ ideas and put them to use on the market. New industries emerge, such as steel production, oil refining, transportation, finance. Capitalists known as the robber barons made a name for themselves by buying out their competitors’ businesses and consolidating them into trusts (enormous firms which controlled entire industries).

Carnegie was famous not only for his steel business, but also for his Gospel of Wealth and the idea that capitalists owe a debt to society that made them rich, help the less fortunate.

Rockefeller, president of Standard Oil, monopolized oil production by acquiring all other oil companies in existence in the US at the time, or forcing them out of business. By 1880, Standard Oil controlled 95% of oil refineries in the US, and 90% of oil refining in the world. It depressed the petrol prices by almost 80%. Rockefeller also used horizontal and vertical integration, holdings to grow his businesses, which later became a standard business practice of American corporations.

Morgan made his name as an investment banker and financier. He inherited his father’s financial business and expanded it by providing loans to promising businesses and eventually forming a financial monopoly that controlled almost all key industries in the US. Later, he purchased Carnegie’s steel business and created US Steel.

Commodore Vanderbilt consolidated several trunk lines in New York into the New York Central Railroad Co. and controlled most of railway network from NYC to Chicago and the Midwest. His was one the three wealthiest people in the history of the US.

Late 19th century is a period when for the first time in history, the majority of Americans become wage-earners working for large corporations, rather than farmers, independent artisans, or self-employed. Factories began to use F. Taylor’s principles of scientific or “stopwatch” management which minimized human interaction and chunked the workers’ tasks into small, monotonous and easy-to-repeat segments.

Labor unions uniting workers of all races, sex, skills, industries, etc. begin to form. Examples include Knights of Labor, National Labor Union, later the American Federation of Labor. However, these organizations did not gain momentum as the public opinion turned against them thanks to their methods (strikes, violence). The majority of laborers in America did not belong to a union in the late 19th century.

Industrialization allowed for mass-production of consumer goods, and made them readily available to the public. Local stores were being replaced by large chain and department stores (Macy’s, Marshall Fields) as shopping destinations for city dwellers. Some trading firms (eg. Woolworth’s, Sears) catered to those who lived in remote areas by offering shopping via mail-order catalogs. Consumer credit became available for those who could not afford to pay the whole sum in cash. Accessibility, competitive prices, greater choice and higher quality made it easy for all classes to purchase consumer goods like clothes, furniture, electronics, books, cosmetics. American consumer culture begins to rise fueled by the growth of advertising, credit and trade. The result was a vast improvement of living standards for all classes.

Overall, this period was characterized by rapid industrialization and urbanization, great technological change, industrial monopolization, and enormous income inequality.

10 October 2020
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