The Response to Industrialism, 1885-1914 / Edition 2
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University of Chicago Press
The Response to Industrialism, 1885-1914 / Edition 2

The Response to Industrialism, 1885-1914 / Edition 2

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In this new edition, Samuel P. Hays expands the scope of his pioneering account of the ways in which Americans reacted to industrialism during its early years from 1885 to 1914. Hays now deepens his coverage of cultural transformations in a study well known for its concise treatment of political and economic movements.

Hays draws on the vast knowledge of America's urban and social history that has been developed over the last thirty-eight years to make the second edition an unusually well-rounded study. He enhances the original coverage of politics, labor, and business with new accounts of the growth of cities, the rise of modern values, cultural conflicts with Native Americans and foreign nations, and changing roles for women, African-Americans, education, religion, medicine, law, and leisure. The result is a tightly woven portrait of America in transition that underscores the effects of impersonal market forces and greater personal freedom on individuals and chronicles such changes as the rise of social inequality, shifting power, in the legal system, the expansion of the federal government, and the formation of the Populist, Progressive, and Socialist parties.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226321639
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 11/28/1995
Series: Chicago History of American Civilization Series
Edition description: Second Edition
Pages: 266
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Samuel P. Hays is Distinguished Service Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh. His other books include Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency (1959) and Beauty, Health, and Permanence (1989).

Read an Excerpt

The Response to Industrialism 1885â"1914

By Samuel P. Hays, Daniel J. Boorstin

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 1995 the University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-32164-6


Industrialism Under Way

Looking back upon the rise of industrialism, the uncritical observer may interpret it primarily in terms of production statistics, the accomplishments of inventor-heroes, and the rising standard of living of Americans. More significant, however, were less obvious and less concrete changes: the expansion of economic relationships from personal contacts within a village community to impersonal forces in the nation and the entire world; the standardization of life accompanying the standardization of goods and methods of production; increasing specialization in occupations, with resulting dependence of people on each other to satisfy their wants; a feeling of insecurity as Americans faced vast and rapidly changing economic forces that they could not control; the decline of interest in nonmaterial affairs and the rise in the acquisition of material goods as the major goal in life. These intangible innovations affected the American people deeply; here lay the fundamental human drama of the new age.

The Transportation and Communications Revolution

Many factors favored industrial growth in the United States in the nineteenth century. Abundant, high-quality resources lay waiting to be developed with relatively little labor and capital. Industry could draw upon a large and cheap labor supply from Europe, where people eagerly responded when they learned of American economic opportunities. Domestic capital, derived from earlier mercantile enterprise, provided funds essential for the nation's internal development; European capital augmented domestic savings, especially for the financing of mining, railroads, and banks. Enterprisers in the United States, moreover, faced few political barriers to economic exchange: the Constitution prohibited states from imposing restrictions on interstate commerce and thereby promoted a combination of the factors of production over a vast and varied geographical area. Finally, a capable group of entrepreneurs had emerged in preindustrial America, experienced chiefly in organizing commerce, but eager to expand their operations. Americans displayed a vigorous spirit of enterprise, notably in the North, which boasted of its "Yankee ingenuity."

A nationwide transportation system constructed between 1820 and 1915 enabled Americans to exploit fully these factors for economic growth. The success of the Erie Canal in New York and the development of the steamboat set off a craze of canal building in the 1820s and initiated a revolution in transportation and communication. Railroads, first constructed in the 1830s, soon surpassed the canals in importance. Although slowed momentarily by the Civil War, railroad expansion proceeded rapidly between 1868 and the depression of 1893. Before the Civil War construction was limited to the area east of the Mississippi. Now it expanded to the Pacific Coast in the 1870s and 1880s. In the industrial Northeast new mileage produced an extremely dense and complex network. By 1915, when the railroads boasted some 250,000 miles of track, hardly an important community in the country lay outside this extensive system.

Railroad mileage grew rapidly because Americans in all walks of life visualized the economic progress that cheap transportation could set in motion. Merchants endeavored to reach wider markets by extending their transportation facilities. Before the Civil War, merchants in the seaport cities of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore promoted competitive railroad building to tap the interior Ohio Valley. The search for markets generated hundreds of similar projects throughout the country. Frequently they were financed through bond and stock subscriptions raised either from the merchants themselves or from the general public in campaigns promoted by local commercial associations. Farmers, too, eagerly contributed personal savings and often mortgaged their farms to raise funds to speed construction. Whole communities, anticipating that the key to economic growth lay in transportation, participated in the mania. When the town of Ithaca, New York, for example, bonded itself to raise funds to construct a railroad, the local editor exclaimed, "There is no reason why the direct route from San Francisco to New York may not be through Ithaca." Such enthusiasts visualized the new industry, new jobs, better markets, and rising property values that canals and railroads would create.

Cheap, rapid transportation brought all sectors of the economy into close contact with one another; factors of production could be combined far more readily than before. Previously, for example, high shipment costs often prohibited the combination of iron ore and coal located scarcely ten miles apart; now the economic distance between such resources sharply declined. Canals and steamboats lowered the cost of river transportation to less than a tenth that of land travel. Initially railroads did not lower rates further between points served by waterways, but they were faster than steamboats, free from ice and low-water barriers, and penetrated to areas that water carriers could not possibly reach.

These efficiencies stimulated economic growth not only by reducing the cost of production but even more significantly by creating a national market; the transportation and communications revolution destroyed barriers to distribution and permitted producers to sell to consumers throughout the nation. For example, before the transportation revolution, the local blacksmith's plowshares, kettles, pots, and pans cost less than similar items manufactured fifty miles away and hence subject to high shipping charges. Manufacturers were excluded from distant markets, but within their own locality they enjoyed a monopoly. Railroads in particular now eliminated these exclusive markets; they opened every part of the country to the products of modern industry and by stimulating mass consumption greatly encouraged the growth of mass production.

No less important in accelerating the tempo of economic life was rapid nationwide communication. The telegraph was operated successfully first in 1844 by Samuel F. B. Morse (1791–1872), a New England artist turned inventor. Widely used during the Civil War, it coordinated the many transactions of a growing economy as effectively as it had aided military operations. While the telegraph speeded communications over longer distances, the telephone, patented by Alexander Graham Bell (1847–1922) in 1876, replaced messengers in the mushrooming urban centers and speeded the complex administrative processes necessary for large-scale industrial management. The modern printing press, though less spectacular, was equally vital in coordinating the intricate functions of the new economy Technical innovations, such as the rotary press (1875), increased enormously the output and lowered the cost of newspaper production. Nationwide advertising, appearing first in the religious journals, the most widely circulated magazines of the day, brought producer and consumer together with a speed previously unknown. The new communication supplemented the new transportation in creating the highly integrated and complex human relationships inherent in modern industrialism.


Railroad construction in the latter half of the nineteenth century served as the most important direct stimulant to production. Lumber mills, quarries, ironworks, and carriage factories found a rapidly growing market in railways. The railroad-construction labor force reached two hundred thousand in the boom of the 1880s. The new roads, moreover, were major users of both domestic and foreign capital. The close correspondence between the ups and downs of new construction and nationwide economic fluctuations in the post-Civil War era provided evidence of the all-pervasive impact of the railroad on the entire economy. Loss of confidence in railroads so affected the money market as to trigger the depressions of 1873, 1884, and 1893.

The rapidly expanding iron and steel industry, stimulated enormously by the railroads, became the foundation of industrial America. Far outstripping the domestic supply, the demand for iron and steel constantly encouraged expansion of American mills. By 1850 railroads had become the leading industrial market for iron, and by 1875 railroad construction, reconstruction, and maintenance consumed over half of the iron produced in the United States. The demand for railroad iron, moreover, brought about the all-important technological shift from charcoal to coke in iron production. Before the introduction of the steam locomotive, rural blacksmiths, who purchased most of the iron, preferred a charcoal-fired product they could work more easily than iron smelted with coke. Coke-smelted iron was quite satisfactory for the casting of many structural shapes, as well as for manufacturing the steel used for rails, and machinery of all kinds. The use of coke, produced from coal, in place of charcoal permitted a mass production of iron and steel previously not practical. The heavy cost of transporting wood for charcoal and the decimation of nearby forests limited the size of the area from which fuel could feasibly be drawn, and consequently the size of the blast furnace. But the enormous coal fields of western Pennsylvania presented no such limitations; within a relatively small geographical area they provided the fuel needed for large-scale production. Once the new railroad market appeared, therefore, coke replaced charcoal, and huge blast furnaces and rolling mills grew rapidly in the new capital of the steel industry at Pittsburgh.

A number of farsighted entrepreneurs took up these opportunities. Few were "self-made men"; most of them built on family wealth derived from mercantile activities or earlier family ventures. This was especially the case in the iron and steel industry, where many smaller enterprises, often family-run, were overshadowed by the dramatic activities of Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919) who was an exception to the general pattern of entrepreneurs. Carnegie, a Scottish immigrant who rose from bobbin boy to steel magnate in seventeen years, rapidly expanded iron and steel production both in size and in technique to cater to the railroad industry. Carnegie, who was widely known for his ability as a salesman, cultivated the personal friendship of railroad executives and obtained heavy orders for rails, bridge steel, and other structural shapes. He led the way in organizing a vertically integrated iron and steel business. By combining in one organization the major elements of the industry, he rapidly reduced the costs of production. After bringing into his enterprise Henry Clay Frick, who owned immense deposits of coking coal in western Pennsylvania, Carnegie acquired a heavy interest in the rich lake Superior iron-ore area and purchased a fleet of carriers to bring the ore across the upper lakes to Lake Erie ports.

Railroads, then, both lowered the cost of transportation and stimulated the economy directly by their use of labor, capital, and iron. They also created the mass markets that made mass production possible. When markets were local and limited in size, there was no incentive for industrialists to produce in larger amount to realize the resultant savings in costs. But the unlimited possibilities of the new mass markets stimulated entrepreneurs to explore and develop mass-production techniques. In the iron and steel industry, for example, the size and scope of production increased rapidly; the average daily output of a blast furnace increased from no more than forty-five tons before the Civil War to more than four hundred tons in the early twentieth century. Mass production was introduced in many other fields as well, notably lumbering, flour milling, meat packing, and textile manufacturing. Larger and more efficient saws, for example, were adopted in the lumber industry. In the grain-milling industry the rolling process, first used extensively in Minneapolis, increased both the output and the quality of flour.

Mass production also depended upon improved manufacturing techniques, of which standardization of parts and processes was especially significant. Repetitive production of a standard item, independent of the vagaries of the individual craftsman, was the heart of the technical revolution. Each product had to be assembled from a given number of parts, any one of which could be replaced by an identical part. This method of manufacture was developed first in the production of guns in the early nineteenth century by Eli Whitney (1765–1825), a New Englander who earlier had invented the cotton gin (1793) while studying law in Georgia. Others soon applied the principle of interchangeable parts to clocks, sewing machines, typewriters, and many other items. The success of this innovation depended on exact measurement, provided by the vernier caliper, first made in the United States in 1851. Subsequent improvements of this device made it possible in the twentieth century to measure one ten-thousandth of an inch.

Limited at first to the mass production of parts, standardization soon invaded the process of assembling parts into finished products. Frederick Taylor (1856–1915), for example, undertook extensive time-and-motion studies to provide the basic data for standardizing assembly methods in factories. Coming from a well-to-do Philadelphia family, Taylor gave up the study of law at Harvard to become an apprentice machinist at the age of nineteen. Fourteen years later, after rising from laborer to chief engineer of the Midvale Steel Company, he organized his own firm to sell to manufacturers the idea of "scientific management" that involved techniques to promote efficiency not only in the shop but also in the office and in the accounting and sales departments. New assembly methods were first used dramatically by Henry Ford (1863–1947), who established the assembly line, or "progressive line production" in the automobile industry in 1914.

The rapid growth of the American economy depended also on an increasing specialization and division of labor. Relatively independent jacks-of-all-trades (village blacksmiths, for example) gave way to many independent individuals skilled in particular economic activities. Most striking was the separation of labor and management functions that arose slowly in agriculture but rapidly in industry. Specialized managers and specialized wage earners replaced semi-independent artisans; manual laborers no longer organized production or sold finished products. Specialized retailing replaced the general store; the jobber concentrated increasingly on a particular line of goods; investment bankers who floated stocks and bonds became separated from commercial bankers who made loans to business. The sole link among these specialists lay in the price-and-market system in which impersonal monetary values governed the relationships between buyers and sellers of labor, commodities, and credit. Those at the core of this price-and-market network, such as capitalists and business managers, possessed great power to manipulate it, while farmers and wage earners, far less capable of influencing large economic affairs, were more frequently manipulated by others. Thus, the closely knit economy of specialists gave rise to a division between dominant and subordinate, central and peripheral, economic roles.

Commercial Agriculture

The transportation and communication revolution changed agriculture as well as manufacturing. Formerly farmers had remained comparatively self-sufficient, producing much of their own food, clothing, furniture, and equipment. But just as the new national market destroyed the local blacksmith in the face of mass-produced hardware, it outmoded household production of clothing by the farm family in favor of factory-made clothing. Household industry remained longest in those areas that high-cost transportation rendered least accessible to the outside world and therefore where consumers were least able to purchase factory-made goods. Thus, home production of clothing declined sharply in the counties along the new canals of the early nineteenth century, but remained usual a few tiers away.


Excerpted from The Response to Industrialism 1885â"1914 by Samuel P. Hays, Daniel J. Boorstin. Copyright © 1995 the University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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Table of Contents

Editor's Foreword to the Second Edition
Preface to the Second Edition
Introduction: The Old and the New
1: Industrialism Under Way
2: Modernization in Values and Culture
3: Urbanization
4: The Emerging Organizational Society
5: The Reform Impulse
6: City and Country
7: Sectionalism: Economics, Society, and Politics
8: Governing in an Age of Change
9: Expansion of the American Nation
Conclusion: America's Response to Industrialism in Review
Important Dates
Suggested Reading

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