The Dawn of Innovation: The First American Industrial Revolution

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In the thirty years after the Civil War, the United States blew by Great Britain to become the greatest economic power in world history. That is a well-known period in history, when titans like Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and J.P. Morgan walked the earth.

But as Charles R. Morris shows us, the platform for that spectacular growth spurt was built in the first half of the century. By the 1820s, America was already the world’s most productive manufacturer, and the most ...

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The Dawn of Innovation: The First American Industrial Revolution

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Overview

In the thirty years after the Civil War, the United States blew by Great Britain to become the greatest economic power in world history. That is a well-known period in history, when titans like Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and J.P. Morgan walked the earth.

But as Charles R. Morris shows us, the platform for that spectacular growth spurt was built in the first half of the century. By the 1820s, America was already the world’s most productive manufacturer, and the most intensely commercialized society in history. The War of 1812 jumpstarted the great New England cotton mills, the iron centers in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, and the forges around the Great Lakes. In the decade after the War, the Midwest was opened by entrepreneurs. In this beautifully illustrated book, Morris paints a vivid panorama of a new nation buzzing with the work of creation. He also points out the parallels and differences in the nineteenth century American/British standoff and that between China and America today.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Michael Lind
To the often-told story of America's initial industrial development, Morris, the author of The Trillion Dollar Meltdown and The Tycoons, adds fresh data and insightful revisions.
Publishers Weekly
As financial writer and historian Morris (The Tycoons) makes clear in his latest book, the perfect storm of universal white male suffrage along with the evolutionary perfection of mechanized, large-scale industry, and the strength of an active and influential middle class helped usher the United States to the forefront of economic prosperity at the dawn of the 20th century. While historians have already sewn these large themes together, Morris seeks to highlight the individuals who brought about the revolution, their mechanical inventions, innovations, and technological processes-from firearms to meat-packing to plows- that drove America out of the shadow of Great Britain's industrial dominance. Often bogged down by too much detail and some clunky, modern-day analogies (he compares newly inexpensive paper to crack cocaine), Morris nevertheless breezes the reader through America's industrial trajectory, beginning in the 1820s, toward a mass-consumption society. Arguably Morris's analysis shines brightest in the final chapter as he compares the United States' past economic growth with the current hyper-expansion of China. Only then, by examining the hurdles China faces in its ascendance to economic superpower, does Morris show how truly innovative the transformation of America was and why it will be impossible to repeat in the future. Illus.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
In this historical overview, Morris (The Sages: Warren Buffett, George Soros, Paul Volcker, and the Maelstrom of Markets, 2009, etc.) asserts that American industry in its early days was far more concerned with growth and large-scale mass production than was Great Britain. "By comparison with eighteenth-century Britons, Americans were strivers on steroids," he writes. To illustrate this point, the author looks at several pioneering British and American inventors and engineers and describes key innovations in a wide range of early American industries, from clock making to furniture making. In one long chapter, Morris examines the manufacturing of guns, a topic to which he returns in another chapter. The author also briefly looks at a few major post–Civil War industrial figures, including Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, both of whom he wrote about at length in The Tycoons (2005). In a closing chapter that feels a bit tacked-on, Morris discusses how the past America-Great Britain rivalry resembles and differs from the current economic relationship between the U.S. and China. The author is at his best when he focuses on the people behind the technology--e.g., Eli Whitney, who became a "talented artisan and entrepreneur," but was, in his early career, "something of a flimflam man." While Morris' research is thorough, his prose is often long-winded. His account of naval warfare during the War of 1812, for example, hardly seems worthy of a 36-page blow-by-blow chronicle featuring multiple tables and illustrations. Other sections get bogged down in engineering minutiae; many of the highly detailed diagrams will be of interest to engineers, perhaps, but not to casual readers. An ambitious but overlong historical study.
From the Publisher
"The author is at his best when he focuses on the people behind the technology. . . . Morris' research is thorough. . . . Ambitious." —-Kirkus
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586488284
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 10/23/2012
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles R. Morris has written twelve books, including The Coming Global Boom, a New York Times Notable Book of 1990; The Tycoons, a Barron's Best Book of 2005; and The Trillion Dollar Meltdown, winner of the Gerald Loeb Award and a New York Times Bestseller. A lawyer and former banker, Mr. Morris’s articles and reviews have appeared in many publications including the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal.

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Table of Contents

Introduction ix

Chapter 1 The Shipbuilders' War 1

Chapter 2 The Hyperpower 37

Chapter 3 The Giant as Adolescent 75

Chapter 4 American Arms: Whitney, North, Blanchard, and Hall 113

Chapter 5 The Rise of the West 159

Chapter 6 America Is Number Two 195

Chapter 7 On the Main Stage 237

Chapter 8 The Newest Hyperpower 273

Chapter 9 Catching Up to the Hyperpower: A Reprise? 299

Appendix: Did Eli Whitney Invent the Cotton Gin? 319

Image Sources, Credits, and Permissions 327

Acknowledgments 329

Notes 331

Index 355

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