The Industrial Revolution was of great importance to the economic development of the United States. The first Industrial Revolution occurred in Great Britain and Europe during the late eighteenth century. The Industrial Revolution then centered on The United States. The Industrial Revolution itself refers to a change from hand and home production to machine and factory.
The first industrial revolution was important for the inventions of spinning and weaving machines operated by water power which was eventually replaced by steam. This helped increase America’s growth. However, the industrial revolution truly changed American society and economy into a modern urban-industrial state. Mechanization, as seen in Western society, is the result of a rationalistic view of the world.
After the development of factories during the Industrial Revolution, the nineteenth-century factory remained essentially a job shop, with various machines placed randomly about in corners and on different floors, their individual motions controlled by a large wheel, often placed in the basement.
Steam power, available since the invention of the steam engine by James Watt, was “transmitted vertically through the factory building from the basement to the top floor: primary belting transferred motion to secondary shafts, which in turn transmitted power via pulleys to individual machines”. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, with the widening of the railroad network, the accelerated growth of metropolitan areas, and, in America, the mechanizing of many complicated crafts, the influence of mechanization was already reaching deeper into life.
The Industrial Revolution spanned the industrialization of society with its three major aspects: the division of labor, specialization, and mechanization.
Each of these three factors helped to create the modern industrial society with the vision of mass production and the assembly line. The Industrial Revolution transplanted from England to The Untied States caused what was, by the 1850s, known as the “American system of manufacturing”. In the United States, the first factory system appeared in Waltham and Lowell in the 1810s and 1820s in the textile industry.
The factory system then spread to the chemical and metallurgical industries in the 1840s and to all market-oriented industries by the 1860s and 1870s. This American model of manufacturing, which included mass manufacture by power-driven machinery and interchangeable parts, was dominated by machine processes.
Machine processes dictated the nature and organization of production, although there was no uniformity in production layout or methods between different industries. For example, in the textile industry, machines almost immediately created a sequential manufacturing process that was characteristic of that industry. In iron manufacturing, however, a standard factory layout, because of the new machines, took a long time to develop and there was little uniformity in factory organization until the end of the 19th century.
The mechanization movement, which began in the Industrial Revolution, had a significant impact on how people worked. The next great change in the organization of work occurred as a result of the development of scientific management and the assembly line. The assembly line illustrates the fundamental principles of mechanization: standardization, continuity, constraint, and the reduction of work to simple labor.
Taken together, these principles form the core of industrial culture in the mid 20th century in the United States. Also, these fundamental principles form the basis of the “American production system,” which until recently, was the undisputed leader in global manufacturing. The concept of assembly line production is so familiar today that we sometimes forget that, until the early 20th century, it was relatively unknown. In an assembly line, workers attach the same parts day after day along a conveyor belt knowing that all of the parts taken together will complete the entire product.
There is a disassociation between the worker’s job and the final product for the workers no longer make the entire product–instead, they work repeatedly on one tiny portion of the manufacturing process. There were two key developments that led to the possibility of the assembly line: standardized parts and the factory system of work.
Both of these developments occurred in Europe but the merging of these two was done to the greatest success in the United States. The first use of an assembly line was in the shipbuilding industry in England in 1807. Marc Brunel designed and Henry Maudsley built a series of machines to saw, drill, mortise, recess, turn, and shape wood to make wooden blocks for ships. In all, they used forty-five machines to produce three different ranges of blocks.
The Portsmouth block-making operation demonstrated the possibility of using a number of machines to build a product, each designed to carry out a single operation and arranged sequentially to complete all the necessary operations to build a product.
The assembly line was not accepted by the workers in England. England, at that time, was dominated by craftsmen who were very resistant to the prospect of non-craft production. In addition, the worker population was very steady in England and workers tended to stay in the same occupation for life. These factors impeded the spread of this system to other production facilities.
The assembly line next appeared at The Springfield Armory where Blanchard used Brunel’s concepts to develop the principles of sequentially arranged, single-purpose machinery. Blanchard rediscovered Brunel’s methods and applied them to the manufacture of metal parts. Blanchard developed fourteen machines to build his guns, and, by the end of 1826, he had eliminated the use of skilled labor in making gun stocks.
However, this assembly line was not the well-oiled machine that we think of today; yet, it represented a major step in the start of the American dominance of manufacturing methods. By the 1850s, the system of interchangeable parts combined with specialized machines was being referred to as the “American system” of manufacturing. The new manufacturing technology spread first to the production of the sewing machine, then to the bicycle industry, then to the automobile industry. The sewing machine industry at the time was filled by three manufacturers:
Wheeler and Wilson, Brown and Sharpe, and Singer. Wheeler and Wilson completely adopted the armory method of manufacturing and Brown and Sharpe focused on designing and constructing special tools and machines for the sewing machine. Although Wheeler and Wilson first outsold Singer and Brown and Sharpe, by 1867, the largest company in the sewing machine industry was Singer. By 1867, Singer dominated the industry and used predominately a European (craft-based) approach to manufacture. However, as Singer continued to grow and demand for its machines outstripped the availability of skilled workers, Singer began to use special-purpose machinery.