The Industrial Revolution marked the age of invention and the birth of capitalism, which was great for some. However, it was not a prosperous time for everyone. It was a period of hard labor and dangerous working conditions. Industrialism created new freedoms for many, especially women but still created restrictions of freedom for others.
Before industrialism, farming was the way of life. It was the source of income and survival. Working the land and raising livestock was the way of the South. Land ownership itself was a source of pride, because not everyone was able to purchase land. Therefore, the industrial revolution threatened their very existence with the rise of “big businesses” as railroads were laid throughout country land.
The railroads initiated the first wave of change because, with the development of the railroad and the laying down of the tracks, there was the need for workers. The trains required coal for fuel, and therefore coal-mining emerged. This opened the door to Chinese immigrants to lay the tracks and use dynamite to build the tunnels; which was extremely dangerous work. Coal mining also created jobs, but subjected its workers to dangerous working conditions.
There were also the inventions of mass-productions machines, which gave birth to factories. These factories created thousands of new jobs that would openly accept men, women, children, and immigrants. This marked the change of attitude toward the role of women, as they gained new freedoms in society. As the industries began to boom, women assumed new roles on the farms, in schools, and even in the factories. Women were doing some of the same hard labor that had been previously only for men.
They were working the farmland, opening schools, or working long hours in factories. Another industry that evolved was the clothing industry, and women were preferred to work the stores to sell merchandise. Women adapted well to the changes and proved they were able to handle the workforce. Becoming a large representation of the workforce, women found themselves working as teachers, office workers, or as department store sales clerks commonly.
Because of the railroads and steamboats, there was freedom of expansion open to everyone to travel and be a part of this industrial revolution. Many migrated to be part of this capitalistic move, yet the truth was there were many problems. The factories were full, but the workers were only paid about fifteen cents a day. They worked extremely long hours and were exposed to harsh conditions.
Many were immigrant and some were children. This caused concern to grow for unfair labor practices. In one sense, it was the opportunity to gain wages. In another, it wasn’t very prosperous. Many died during the expansion movement, but business kept on going.
There still existed the restrictions of freedoms for Blacks, Native Americans, Mexican Americans, and Chinese. Segregation became more defined. For example, blacks had to ride in certain cars on the railroads and not allowed to sit with others. Although Chinese built the transcontinental railroads and worked the gold mines, laws were passed to prohibit Chinese from seeking professions that competed with Whites.
There were informal restrictions placed on blacks in other ways; from the way they could speak to a white person or look at a white person to even stepping off the sidewalk to allow a white person to pass. Although women were acknowledged for their role in the workplace, they would be paid approximately forty cents less than men.
The effects of the industrial revolution can still be felt today. Capitalism still thrives. The fight for equality continues. Hard work is part of our character, and the pursuit of happiness is still part of the American dream.