The Formation of American Industry


The Formation of American Industry

Workers from U.S. Steel company going on strike in 1919.

            During the late 1800s, the American Industrial Revolution began to erupt. Population, factories, the number of workers, patents, and even the Gross National Product all increased by at least 150% by the 1900s (Visions of America, 16.1.1). Big names and inventions, Alexander Graham Bell developing the telephone and Thomas Edison’s invention of the lightbulb for example, began to reshape the Nation. But with all the vast improvements the industrial revolution brought came with a price. Workers endued terrible working conditions, never ending hours, and insulting low pay in the factories. Fearful of losing their job, factory workers either had to deal with these conditions, or join a union to hope for changes in the workplace.

            In the gilded age of America, industrialism brought many changes that impacted workers everywhere. One change was new technology in the workplace. This new technology allowed jobs that required an amount of skill to be completed by a worker with little or no skill. A perfect example of new technology was an invention made by Jan Matzeliger in the shoe making industry. With Matzeliger’s Lasting Machine, workers were able to attach the sole to the top of the shoe with ease. A job that once required skill and craftmanship, now could be done with one hand (16.1.1). Allowing factories to increase their production as well as cut costs.

            The addition of new inventions added anything but simplicity to the industry. Workers faced many difficulties in factories. Long hours, poor wages, and dangerous working environments were just a few challenges they faced. Factory workers were required to work long, extensive hours, sometimes even over twelve hours a day, six days a week with little to no breaks. In combination with threatening working environments; poor ventilation, lighting, space, and safety protocols for example, was a recipe for disaster. Injuries or even death became a norm for industrial workers and the wages, which did not include any benefits, healthcare, or living expenses, didn’t reflect the work that was being completed.

            Cruel floor managers also challenged factory workers. They implemented strict rules like no talking while working, harassed and were sexist to the women, racist to African-American workers, and were not liable of injuries that occurred on their watch. Perhaps the most vicious quality of some floor managers was the abuse of power. Firing an employee for no logical reason happened far too much. These were some of the reasons that influenced workers to develop and join unions.

            Unions are organizations that represented and protected workers. Joining a union was incredibly risky, and some employers even hired spies to expose labor organizers, so they could fire them and put them on blacklists (16.3.3). Though without risk, there is no reward, and the many benefits workers found in unions were worth the risk. Unions brought representation to workers by lobbying legislators to pass laws that protected workers, established safety standards, and gain them the ability to negotiate improved wages.

            Although unions were good for the employee’s, unions were the opposite for some of the employers in the late 1800s. With all the laws that passed that protected employees, job security for example, meant that all the power big businesses had, was slowly being eliminated. Causing those employers to find unions objectionable and even dangerous because workers could go on strike, forcing them to conform to their demands. An example of this happened in Flint, Michigan when the workers with the United Automobile Workers had a sit-down strike in one of the GM plants. With the workers occupying the plant, production came to a halt, putting pressure on management to find a resolution. Strikes, like these, and having to follow rules made unions seem dangerous to employers during the industrial revolution.

Work cited

Keene, Jennifer D., Cornell, Saul, and O’Donnell, Edward T. Visions of America: A History of the United States, Volume2, 3rded. 2019.

5 thoughts on “The Formation of American Industry

  1. Very well written post. How terrible, not only did you have to work in unsafe conditions you had to worry about always being on the chopping block. There were nothing to stop the cruel floor managers for firing at will. After the union was formed especially the automotive union they protected employees even when they should have been fired, so I can see why employers feared unions. They took away power and also at times took advantage of companies. The amount of new technologies that have reduced jobs still happens today as well as dangerous jobs. Its much better with all the OSHA regulations.

  2. This blog post does an amazing job summarizing chapter 16! You paid great attention to detail and relayed everything you learned nicely. Personally, I cannot imagine working in the conditions these people endured every day. What these people went through was unnecessary, and was absolutely avoidable. During this time, large business owners were focused solely on making a profit and they did not care about their employees. Reading about the terrible things that happened to workers in the past makes me appreciate the safety and comfort of my job. Great post Mitchell!

  3. You did a very good job discussing some aspects of the Industrial Revolution. I believe all the new technology and machines could have been such a great help for workers if the people hired were treated correctly. Instead, employers took advantage of the ability to hire women and children, treat them badly, and give them little pay. It was such a shame people were treated so poorly in the workplace. If I was a worker back then, I think I would have joined a Union. You clearly explained the pros and cons of being part of a Union. I also liked how you gave a recent example of the sit-down strike in Flint that many students could easily understand.

  4. I think everything you wrote in regards to the benefits, but also the downside of technology and having to retrain the workforce is still true, even today. It is hard for someone to find a job in which there is little use of technology. From smart phones, to TVs, to tablets, computers, and even cars. Machines in industrial factories now are obviously more advanced than those during the gilded era and with every update or change of equipment means having to take time to retrain the workforce. This also equates to lost dollars.

  5. I enjoyed reading this post as it was very well written and gave detail. It is hard to think that people had to go through so much just to not be overworked and beaten down. Today, many battles have already been fought for us by people in the past, so we don’t take in the reality of what use to be before people fought back and created unions. There are still and always will be more battles to fight to get what is right, but this does a great job of emphasizing this significant time in history. Employers should never be able to put their employees through such harsh conditions as there use to be. No one should fear for their life as they go to work each day. Again, this post was well put together and emphasized the points of the Industrial Revolution.

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