The Impact of the American Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution, although not perceived as a single event, but rather a string of events, inventions, progressions, and improvements to society, ushered in an era of unprecedented growth. The turn of the century brought with it rapid progress never before seen in American history.

The Industrial Revolution itself caused the turning of a new page for Americans, after the horrors of the Civil War and Reconstruction ravaged much of the country. The effects of the Ind. Revolution reverberated into every aspect of American life, and had profound effects on the growing politics of the maturing nation, the economic infrastructure, and the social events of the time.

The rapid industrialization and growth of cities and labor forces in United States due to the Industrial Revolution caused a great transformation in the politics of the time. Cities were growing at such fast rates that governments did not have the capacity to solve all the problems required of them at the time. Homes were simple shanty-houses, with poor insulation and structure; waste was not pumped to sewage, but rather thrown in the street; children were allowed to play outside in the streets, next to dead horse carcasses.[1]

Politics of cities and urban areas were often run by corrupt politicians, or political machines, which were influenced by large businesses, corporations, or single parties. Social groups were also in turmoil, causing outbreaks of violence and destruction. The dissatisfaction with the economic conditions in factories also caused a number of riots and strikes, which needed to be dealt with. Thus, problems were amassing, and the government needed ways in which to deal with them.[2]

As an answer to this plea for help, a new political ideology known as “progressivism” was born, and grew from the Industrial Revolution. At this time of unprecedented and wild outgrowth of industry, progressives believed that society was able to overcome the obstacles set before them, in the form of child labor, fair wages, class structure, political machines, etc. However, progressivism was not the only ideology that grew from the bosom of the Revolution. The rapid industrialization of the East called for the influx of raw materials, and workers.

To answer that call, the United States adopted a foreign policy of imperialism, or the policy of extending the rule or authority of an empire or nation over foreign countries, or of acquiring and holding colonies and dependencies. The adoption of this policy marked the beginning of the United State’s crusade to acquire more land. After several conflicts, and excursions, Cuba, the Philippines, Guam, and several other territories were put under U.S. control.

The Industrial Revolution is most well-known for its obvious effect on the growth of the United States economy, but it, in fact, had a more profound effect than simply nurturing the economy. Historically, the Industrial Revolution caused the single greatest change to the economic structure of the United States.

As various industries and departments of the economy sprouted across the nation, the business of each usually fell into the lap of one corporation, or company. With one company, or corporation receiving all the business in a certain field, a monopoly formed for that company, and the owners of such companies became unfathomably wealthy.

Thus, the “rise of the wealthy” began, with such people as John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, and Collis R. Huntington ruling their respective fields, holding complete control of every aspect of that business, including wages, employee base, and competition.2 At the same time, these great men’s employees began becoming poorer.

With millions of immigrants and countryman flocking to cities and factories for work, wages could be set extremely low due to job competition. In turn, a new “poor” class emerged from the Industrial Revolution. This new class, known as the “Have-Nots” will struggle often during the Industrial Revolution, until progressives work to improve conditions for the workers of factories.

The Industrial Revolution also caused a “revolution” for lower classes in respect to the affordable and availability of certain goods. Because of the invention of the assembly line, interchangeable parts, and cheaper labor wages, products such as automobiles, furniture, and “luxuries,” as they would have been called before the Revolution, were finally affordable for families of lower economic class.

Henry Ford, the great automobile manufacturer, proclaimed in 1903 that “[he] will build a car for the great multitude.” He succeeded, and was producing the Model T for $950, allowing the car to evolve from a luxury item, reserved only for the well-to-do, to an essential item for the ordinary worker.[3] This evolution, along with many other items, transformed the economic lifestyle of the lower classes during the Industrial Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution, and the centuries following it, faced much social tumult, strife, and change. The Industrial Revolution itself embodied and was testament to the growing ideology of “social Darwinism” and “survival of the fittest.” The belief that only the strong and driven should be awarded for their work appealed to the many successful business tycoons of the era, but was often a point of contention for society as a whole.

Much of the population, who did not share in the great new wealth of the Revolution, fought against the ideal, and offered alternative visions and beliefs. It was at this time that “socialism” gained ground in the United States, and grew into political and economic machines.

The teachings of communism and socialism, which sprouted from Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, paved the way for socialism, and called for the removal of “bourgeoisie,” or the extremely wealthy, ruling economic class. Such ideas fed the socialist fires in America, but the teachings would have no real effect until the rise of Communism in Europe in the mid-20th century.[4] The Industrial Revolution also caused social change on the ethnic and racial scale as well.

Due to the high rates of immigration to cities from various countries around the world, communities of each ethnicity, nationality, or race formed in the cities, creating close-knit neighborhoods.

In any given city, there could be a community for African-Americans, Irish, Scottish, British, Scandinavians, Japanese, Chinese, Italians, Jews, etc. This had numerous effects on the social complexion of the United States. Sometimes, the results of having such communities was positive, like the economic and cultural support that the communities provided to the immigrants who were thousands of miles from their native lands.

However, the communities did not come without their issues. Often times, conflict broke out between rivaling communities, over the issue of nationality, race, ethnicity, or religion. These disputes often transitioned into competition for jobs and work, which lasting effects on the survival of families and communities.[5] Everything aside, the Industrial Revolution helped guide the United States to the gilded age of the “melting pot,” or “Chef Salad.”

The gilded age of America, brought on by the Industrial Revolution, caused the single greatest transformation of American life, politically, economically, and socially. The growth the revolution brought matured the nation’s politics, and caused a great shift in the focus of the nation’s government, and the general involvement of the federal government in state and local governments.

The economy, obviously, grew into the most well-renowned in the world during the time of the Industrial Revolution, and secured the United States role in the changing world as one of the great leaders and powers. The Revolution also brought upon great social change in America, a result of the Great Immigration, an event that ensued the Industrial Revolution. These changes, although perhaps not perceived as such, would drastically change the course and structure of the United States for the next several centuries, and become a basis for the great nation as it continued to grow, and mature throughout history.

BibliographyBellis, Mary. “Henry Ford.” Accessed March 12, 2013., Alan. The Unfinished Nation: A Concise History of the American People. 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010.Cowling, Mark, and Karl Marx. The Communist Manifesto: New Interpretations. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998. Accessed March 12, 2013.

Mack, Pamela E. “Social Impacts of the Industrial Revolution.” modified September 3, 2012. Accessed March 12, 2013.

Watson, Archibald R., ed. The City of New York Law Department Report. New York City, NY: Lecouver Printing Company, 1910. Accessed March 12, 2013.———————–[1] Archibald R. Watson, ed., The City of New York Law Department Report(New York City, NY: Lecouver Printing Company, 1910)], accessed March 12, 2013. [2] Alan Brinkley, The Unfinished Nation: A Concise History of the American People, 6th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010) 2 Alan Brinkley, The Unfinished Nation:

A Concise History of the American People, 6th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010) [3] Mary Bellis, “Henry Ford,”, accessed March 12, 2013, [4] Mark Cowling and Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto: New Interpretations (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998), [Page #], accessed March 12, 2013,

[5]Pamela E. Mack, “Social Impacts of the Industrial Revolution,”, last modified September 3, 2012, accessed March 12, 2013,