As we’re moving through our American timeline from craft manufacturing to mass production, I’ve rarely studied the period between Eli Whitney’s milling machine and Henry Ford’s assembly line.
The 19th century seemed to hide great strides in manufacturing because of the magnitude of other changes.
Most notably, the 19th century in America is about expansion and about exploiting rich natural resources. In 1803 alone, we doubled the size of the nation with the Louisiana Purchase, but even in the east, in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, Iron Ore was abundant and became a huge export for the US.
But it also provided rails to connect the expanding country. Further deposits discovered throughout the great lakes region, with easy transportation routes on those great lakes, accelerated growth. J. P. Morgan, then Andrew Carnegie were able to make great use of the Bessemer process to refine iron ore into steel.
We also saw the development and growth of the Oil industry as we learned how to refine the crude oil discovered in Pennsylvania. J.D. Rockefeller built his first refinery in Cleveland and took advantage of the wealth he generated to consolidate hundreds of players in the oil business into Standard Oil.
Cornelius Vanderbilt created a shipping and railroad empire that enabled us to reach further westward toward our “Manifest destiny.”
But it was our manufacturing capability that produced the iron, the drilling rigs, the mining equipment, the steamships, and the locomotives. Our first integrated factory opened in 1814, a textile mill. By the middle of the century we’re a leading exporter of all kinds of goods.
Of course, with all this prosperity on one extreme, the downside was just as significant. The expansion of slavery, the Indian Removal Act, and oppressive working conditions are all dreadful events we wish we could forget, but we’re compelled to never forget.
In the second half of the century, new technologies emerged with the wider availability of electricity, which was a much better power source for equipment in factories, and the light meant we could now exploit workers 24 hours a day.
Electricity, the telephone and telegraph, are two keys to the second major industrial revolution. More on that tomorrow.
Have a great day and I’ll see you tomorrow.