The Industrial Era: Influence of Henry Ford, Rockefeller, Sears, and Roebuck

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Innovation in America has never been more important to today’s economy and society because of the stepping stones in creativity and ingenuity during the industrial era. The Industrial era is considered to be one of the greatest times of production and change in the quality of life for many classes, especially the working class who are the sole people driving this era. Without the working class and the ingenuity of so many people from Rockafeller to JP Morgan, the United States would not look the way it is today. The Industrial era marked a turning point for creativity and the way things are accepted as seen when “men who know nothing of proportion, strength, elasticity, pressure, torsion, volume, or density, get out an idea and patent it, or advise it and get it introduced, and then users get the effect by adoption.”

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The industrial era in America not only altered the lifestyles of many but also offered solutions to many questions that had afflicted society for numerous years. These advancements not only affected the 19th-century industry but also began paving the way for the modern technology we have today. Throughout the industrial era, innovation impacted the American economy, and some of the ideas and strategies used at the time that was revolutionary. Some people that come to mind that are behind this idea innovation are Henry Ford, Rockefeller, and Sears and Roebuck. It was the entrepreneur’s inventions and ideas that impacted American society and the economy.

During the American Instudrial era, Innovation and inventions were some of the important factors of this big idea of how it led to the American Super Economy and how innovation sparked in society. The basic definition of innovation is the introduction of something new. From new thinkers to new technological advancements, the Industrial era was a new way of thinking. During this time “the culture of innovation, supported by quick patenting and wide licensing; the way good ideas radiated and refracted off each other”. Some of these ideas were the beginning of opportunity, but these ideas also had negative implications, especially for the lower class. By 1900, more than a third of America’s people lived in cities, and city populations were growing twice as fast as the population as a whole. In the city, the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor was growing exponentially. “Driving it all was the sense of opportunity—Lincoln’s ‘prudent, penniless beginner’ could strive to become an independent businessman. What Lincoln had not foreseen was that exploiting American innovation would require larger-scale enterprises than he could have imagined”. These larger-scale enterprises expanded the American economy and gave America a new meaning to manufacturing and the open market as seen today.

Sears and Roebuck seemed to have the right idea when beginning their business in the late 1800s. Their main focus was the urban farmer since they did not have the privilege of being able to come into the city to buy the goods they may need. Sears and Roebuck were famous for its catalog, but with the high interest of the company expanded from catalogs to retail. “Their approach was cautious as well as unconventional. Even though the company enjoyed the mail-order business, retailing was an entirely different field, one with which Sears’s management had no experience”. Companies would take risks like Sears and Roebuck did to help increase their consumer base and increase profits. Until the early 1990s, the company seemed to be doing very well considering the revenue and earnings reported that equaled up to billions of dollars. Not only did the invention of the catalog and direct shipping to consumers clear the way for Amazon and eBay today to just name a few, but “The company’s strong economic profile through the depression and rapid new growth thereafter, combined with a spectrum of innovations in merchandising and store design, elicited widespread attention” was the thing that made Sears and Roebuck so innovative. The way Sears and Roebuck made their company led to it becoming doomed to fail. As seen later in the 1900s, Sears and Roebuck faced massive debt. This would eventually lead to the downfall of the company, but the most important factor was the invention of the catalog and how it shaped the way American consumers buy products to this day. With the rising of technology during the industrial era the increase of the consumer market. Retail, even though it was not as successful for Sears and Roebuck, it still was something never done before and has changed not only the consumer market, but the way retail and buying anything is to this day.

Henry Ford, one of the most important people to impact the economy, has made our society dependent on cars for our everyday lives. From going to the mall to driving to work or school, cars have never been a more important part of our society. In the early 19th century, only the wealthy had access to automobiles, and they only used them to show off the money they had and ride in them for the fanciest of occasions. This was because of the extreme prices of cars during the 19th century. Cars were not common and seeing one was a symbol of wealth. With these high prices, not many people could afford them, especially not the working class. Henry Ford during his early years of the automobile business “has practically perfected an automobile tractor, upon which he has been working for a long time, and that within a few years he expects to develop an immense new plant at Dearborn, Mich”. This was just the beginning of the long-lasting legacy Henry Ford had created. This article, which the quote is taken from, is seen as ironic because on the back of the newspaper there were huge ads for Buick, which would be met with the overpowering competition of the Model T. Henry Ford revolutionized the automotive industry with the success of the assembly line. Ford’s main goal when starting the ford enterprise was to produce cheap cars for common Americans to use, and not just the wealthy. Ford’s goal was achieved because of interchangeable parts and the decrease in production cost due to mass production. This impacted the American economy in a positive way and helped expand the consumers market as they were now able to afford an automobile for a very reasonable price. Henry Ford’s ideas and innovation helped bring the industrial era into something even closer to the 21st century. Another part of Ford’s innovation was that he was able to “instead of putting money into machinery, tools, and equipment, the parts are manufactured outside, brought in and assembled”. This again also helped decrease the cost of the car. Ford also kept things very simple in his car to keep the price down. There was only one paint color, black to help with this. These interchangeable parts made these cars very easy to repair and also helped increase production. Henry Ford’s innovations and ideas have shaped the way the American economy is and his company has impacted the way consumer cars are manufactured which is still done similarly today.

John D. Rockefeller was an important person in the role of the economy from the oil industry to the idea of trusts in the corporate world. In his early life, he was an avid entrepreneur like his father. William Rockefeller, John D. Rockefeller’s father, led his family from the depths of not being able to put food on the table to be able to buy one of those fancy cars that nobody else could afford. Rockefeller throughout his childhood also developed his lifelong commitment to order and reliability as seen through many of his values which he held throughout his career. As it says in John D. Rockefeller: an Ironic Success “Rockefeller approached business very aggressively. To bring order to the oil industry, he had to ensure the dominance of the market”. Rockefeller’s most important contribution to the reshaped American economy was his management style and his creation of trust. The simplest definition of a trust is a legal agreement that a person gives property to another person to hold onto for the future. Another innovation that Rockafeller created was when “he realized that he could not personally run the huge company Standard Oil had become. In a nation where most business owners had previously run small concerns dominated by the owner’s personality and style, corporations needed many intermediate managers”. When Rockefeller realized that he could not manage his companies by himself, he built a structure of managers who would communicate and help run the company. With the creation of these types of leadership positions in a company, fewer people needed to own a company to get paid better than ever before. But remember that Rockafeller had tight control of his companies which made him and his family so successful. Today, these jobs have become as common as American corporations. These jobs and rising entrepreneurs were best described by Rockefeller as ‘A company of men, for example, we’re specialists in manufacture. These were chosen experts, who had daily sessions and study of the problems, new as well as old, constantly arising”. With the help of Rockefeller and his innovations of trust and the way a company can be run has impacted not only the economy but also society in America.

The Industrial era was a time of new ideas and innovation which has impacted the way the American economy and society is today. Without Sears and Roebuck, Henry Ford, and Rockefeller, the united states would not be where it is today. These are just a few of the many people who impacted the American economy in a positive way. Eurntroprenuers are the foundation of the technological advancements we have made. Rockefeller put it in the best words, ‘Useful things, beautiful things, are admirable: but frills, affectations, mere pretenses of being something very fine, bore me very much’. The ability to make whatever someone wants can be the beginning of something great. Google, Amazon, and Apple would not be here without innovation and goes to show how important creativity in education is necessary so that the next generation can leave a lasting mark on not just America, but the world.

Bibliography

  1. ‘A New Ford Enterprise.’ Scientific American 113, no. 1 (1915): 17-19. http://www.jstor.org/stable/26022315.
  2. ‘American Innovations.’ Scientific American 42, no. 6 (1880): 82-83.
  3. Chernow, Ron. 1998. Titan: the life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.
  4. Jewett, H. M. ‘MANUFACTURE OR ASSEMBLY OF PARTS.’ Transactions (Society of Automobile Engineers) 11 (1916): 471-84. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44579845.
  5. ‘John D. Rockefeller: an Ironic Success.’ In American History, ABC-CLIO, 2019. Accessed March 8, 2019. https://americanhistory.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1187731.
  6. Longstreth, Richard. ‘Sears, Roebuck and the Remaking of the Department Store, 1924-42.’ Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 65, no. 2 (2006): 238-79. doi:10.2307/25068266.
  7. Morris, Charles R. The Tycoons: How Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould, and J.P. Morgan Invented the American Super Economy. 1st ed. New York: H. Holt and, 2005.
  8. Sears, Roebuck and Company. 1897 Sears Roebuck Catalogue. New York :Chelsea House Publishers, 1968.  
24 May 2022

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