How did the American Revolution get its start? “The transition from an agricultural to an industrial economy took more than a century in the United States, but that long development entered its first phase from the 1790s through the 1830s.” (Economic Growth and the Early Industrial Revolution) Britain’s Industrial Revolution started in the mid-18th century but we fell behind. This is due to the abundance of land and scarcity of labor in the New World, which decreased interest in expensive investments in machine production. This, however, did not discourage a man named Samuel Slater. He opened the first industrial mill in the U.S. in 1790 with a design that nearly completely mirrored a British model. “Slater’s pirated technology greatly increased the speed with which cotton thread could be spun into yarn.” (Economic Growth and the Early Industrial Revolution) His technology, along with the factory system, rise of wage labor, and the market revolution are attributed to starting the American Industrial Revolution.
A lot of good and bad came out of the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution created many jobs and increased the standard of living. There were now opportunities that were beyond American citizens’ wildest dreams. People from the west could communicate with their families that they left behind back east. People could travel large distances through rail roads in a much shorter time than ever before. People started to acquire more of a consumerism mentality, in which they wanted to own more things. With more consumption comes more business and a better economy, but there were also negative effects to the Industrial Revolution. People like John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford, etc. grew their wealth and power by being ruthless. Andrew Carnegie, for example, used vertical integration, allowing himself to control every stage involved in steel production. John D. Rockefeller used horizontal integration to get rid of his competition. This allowed their businesses to become the some of the biggest monopolies of all time. This enabled these big corporations to drive their prices up. Between paying their workers very small wages and price gouging consumers, they became very rich.
Who were the workers? People of all ages, races, and gender worked in these big factories. Children as young as five years old worked in these terribly dangerous factories for sometimes as little as $1 per week, due to no minimum age limit. What affects did industrialism have on workers? Workers were required to work 12-14 hours per day 6 days per week. There were no sick days or vacation and no benefits. The factories were extremely dangerous and there were no employer liability in the case of injury or death on the work site. Men felt demasculinized and like they had no value. They felt that they had no control of their lives. There was also no set currency. Some workers were paid in store credit, “scrip”, which means that they couldn’t even choose where to buy their food. Foremen were permitted to beat the workers even without reason, which furthered their feeling of worthlessness. Workers lives revolved around work. They felt like that was all there was to life, because they didn’t get free time. All of these factors led to the creation of labor unions.
How did labor unions benefit the workers? Labor unions gave workers a safe place to air their complaints and gave workers a sense of hope. One of the more well known labor unions was the Knights of Labor (KOL). The Knights of Labor’s main goals were equal pay, better safety conditions, child labor laws, shorter hours, benefits, and some sort of compensation for retired, injured, or killed workers. The KOL did use strikes and militant labor when necessary, but it was not their first course of action. “Most employers saw unions as threats to their profits and freedom to run their businesses as they wanted. Many hired spies to expose labor organizers so they could fire them and put them on blacklists.” (Visions of America, 487) Labor union leaders were often arrested once they were discovered. “To overcome employer hostility, the organization (KOL) adopted a policy of strict secrecy that necessitated holding meetings in clandestine locations.” (Visions of America, 494) One unique and well thought out aspect of the KOL was that it welcomed all members. It welcomed women and African Americans unlike most other labor unions at that time. This was a method to stop employers from firing workers that were members of labor unions. The idea was that the more people that are in labor unions, the less potential workers employers have to choose from. With all things considered, the Industrial Revolution was very much a period of sinners and saints.
Amadeo, Kimberly. “5 Reasons Companies Go Vertical.” The Balance. Accessed January 19, 2018. https://www.thebalance.com/what-is-vertical-integration-3305807.
“Economic Growth and the Early Industrial Revolution.” Ushistory.org. Accessed January 19, 2018. http://www.ushistory.org/us/22a.asp.