The old century adage, “all that glitters is not gold,” caught my attention, for this particular assignment. It explains the subject of the Industrial Revolution in a nutshell. Even though it may sound wonderful to say that the “New Industrialization Era” created more employment opportunities, and increased production in many areas of labor; it did not imply that it would come without negative consequences or unforeseen circumstances.
Before I further elaborating on the subject, let us take a short glimpse of the era between1870 to 1900; the time frame during which the Industrial Revolution took off like a skyrocket. It was a great moment in American history! As a result of this Revolution, America’s wealth surpassed that of the four wealthiest countries (England, France, Germany and Russia) of that time (early 1900s).
Prior to its emergence, Alexander Hamilton (first Secretary of the Treasury), figured Industrialization would provide a great opportunity for combining agriculture and industry. His point of view was objective and provided a bright outlook on America’s future. Whereas President, Thomas Jefferson, argued that the American’s fight for independence was to “allow people to live as ‘virtuous farmers.’ Earning their livelihoods from the soil.” Who could have blamed Thomas Jefferson for feeling attached to Mother Earth? He, like many other Americans, were set in their ways, and used to toiling by hand, day and night, to produce the many things they used or consumed on a daily basis?
The Industrial Revolution began in Britain in the late 18th Century. It was common in France, Germany, and England, where rules of “Industrialism” had already been created. It was a time where so many things blossomed out of nowhere, in America. These included, but were not limited to: emergence of factories, mega-cities, increased availability of goods and products, new technology
(inventions galore), industrial machine-related injuries; child labor; massive immigration of other nationals into the US; academic opportunities; the emergence of socio-economic classes, and the formation of organized labor. It was also a (covert) method of forcing the South to end slavery (by moving slaves from the fields to the factories).
The Industrial Revolutionary period was one, which created a sudden impact in society, its industries, and way of living for human beings. These changes provided limited choices (such as lifestyle), because of their precipitated occurrence, and the unskilled nature of many workers. This period of time was in itself a revolution, which gained as much steam as the locomotive propelled by coal. It was a period of time, which many saw as promising (i.e., better life, future and security), but which carried its unforeseen consequences. The Industrial Revolution’s growth was so rapid, that many were unable to keep up with the times. It was the best opportunity for wealthy opportunists to increase their wealth, and for scientists to make their creations glitter.
Scientists were inventing all sorts of devices to make jobs and life easier and increase productivity. To mention a few, there was Thomas A. Edison, who invented the phonograph, so the employer could record messages to his employees. Edison also invented the light bulb, which replaced candles; whose fumes stained walls and its flames were hazardous and often dim. In 1764 James invented Hargreaves, invented the “Spinning Jenny” which increased the production of thread, and subsequently the production of textiles. Women no longer had to produce yarn or thread at home, they now could produce either in massive quantities. In 1775, James Watt created the first reliable Steam Engine. Alexander G Bell invented the telephone in 1876, and improved communication between individuals. Samuel F. B. Morse created an encrypted form of messaging called “Morse Code,” in 1836, and the associated instrument for its transmission, the telegraph. Morse Code was widely used by the Army, Navy, and Aviation, in years to follow. Many of these inventions were often seen as a sign of wealth.
Making America great has always been the goal of every American Leader. The Industrial Revolution was indeed the perfect time to lead the nation towards that particular goal of making “America Great.” It was a great opportunity for the wealthy, to become wealthier. Robert Owen (textile manufacturer turned reformer), and those like him shared a common belief: that the Industrial Revolution would create a river of machinery, owned by wealthy individuals, whose goal was to massively produce goods at the expense of their drowning workers. In essence, they believed that, Industrialization was a means of economic exploitation of the poor, while the wealthy became wealthier.
Andrew Carnegie came to America to build himself an empire, with not one penny in his pocket. Carnegie used a Vertical integration system to gain economic wealth. He was mainly interested in the steel industry and ended up buying companies which helped him produced steel. Since these factories require coal to produce the steel, Carnegie bought out coal mines and eventually rail road companies to ship the coal to his factories. Carnegie appeared to have a work ethic a hundred times more refined than his business counterpart, John D. Rockefeller.
Rockefeller used a Horizontal integration system to attain wealth. He was the founder of the Standard Oil Company, in 1870. Rockefeller didn’t stop there. In 1882, he managed to somehow purchase oil stock. That same year, the Standard Oil Trust was established; “it controlled 90% of the nation’s oil-refining industry.”
Seeing that Mexico was a “gold mine,” for many years, he literally sucked the oil out of Mexico, until (then) president Lazaro Cardenas expelled Rockefeller from Mexico in 1938. It was discovered that Rockefeller was trying to monopolize the petroleum industry at the expense of Mexico. Once Lazaro Cardenas got Rockefeller out of Mexico, Mexico was able to create its current oil enterprise, Petroleos Mexicanos—PEMEX
The US government saw that Rockefeller was monopolizing the petroleum industry, and in 1890, Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act. Its function was to protect consumers from being abused in the marketplace, and to preserve a competitive, and honest environment.
Rockefeller never achieved the status of being a well-known philanthropist, as was Andrew Carnegie, for he was shrewd and tried all means to an end at the expense of any individual. Carnegie, on the other hand was considered a “blessing” for America, for he contributed much of his wealth to have concert halls, hospitals and libraries. It was a covert way of recycling his wealth into organizations, which benefited only the wealthy. During the days of Carnegie, it was only the upper classes, which could afford to go to the library, attend a play or concert, or go to a hospital for care. Despite all this, Carnegie was a beloved figure in the US history because of his philanthropic actions; though he didn’t treat his employees as well (i.e., exploiting them to work long hours, at very low wages, etc.)
This author strongly disagrees that the positive, short and/or long-term effects of the Industrial Revolution, supersede its negative implications. My contention is that what might seem like a “positive” change, is usually accompanied by consequences which affect humanity in many ways. The book, “Out of Many,” and excerpts from “Lecture 17” re-iterate the positive aspects of the Industrial Revolution. These include (but are not limited to): mass production, new inventions and technology, creation of jobs, job opportunities for farmers & immigrants, an opportunity to achieve the “American Dream,” and above all to rise this great country, America, to be number one in this planet. Why shouldn’t the US be raised to that level, people felt?
The negative consequences brought forth by the Industrial Revolution, were those of over-populated cities, which caused the annihilation of farmlands, so as to make way for factories and lucrative buildings and businesses. This urbanization and industrialization encouraged the migration of so many foreigners; however, being poorly skilled, many of them had to accept menial wages, direly ill or dangerous working conditions; working without protective gear; and poor, over-populated cities, where communicative diseases were frequently spread among the inhabitants. There was no sewer system or method of getting rid of waste or contaminated water; thus, people began to protest and revolt. Their goal was to bring about change (i.e., sewage systems, better working conditions, protection for employees, and working children, etc.).
In Chicago, exists a monument at Haymarket Square, which symbolizes the rioting which took place by protesters, disgruntled with employment conditions (long hours, child labor, poor working conditions, etc.). The Haymarket Riot, as it is called, took place on May 4, 1886. Riots began as a result of police brutality, when workers implemented a strike (on May 3, 1886) against the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company. On May 3rd, two workers were killed by police officers.
Such were the economic conditions for the poor back then, that they were obligated to bring their children to work for menial wages, The US thought it was a great concept to implement; since they were following the modus operandi of the British. During the 1870-1900’s, there was no such thing as “Labor Law,” to protect adults or children. Thus, employers were not held accountable for injuries, death, or dismemberment sustained as a result of carelessness, accidents, or mechanical malfunctions. Employees saw children as being “indispensable,” since they were small, and could perform “important” duties such as crawling or squeezing into tight spaces where they were asked to wash machinery parts inaccessible to adults.
These children were exploited, over-worked, and poorly paid. Besides this, the children were exposed to dangerous chemical fumes, which were often inhaled, came in contact with the skin, and created physical and/or mental illnesses which often stayed with them for the rest of their life. There were no laws to protect children against abuse or employment at an early age. Neither were there compensatory laws to protect individuals who severed a limb due to defective machinery; or the loss of a child who might have gotten stuck inside a machine, which accidentally “ate” him/her up. On the other hand, if a parent were killed while on duty, the child would then be homeless, and would be called a “street Arab.” If employees complained about wages, working conditions, compensation for wrongful death or dismemberment, the US Government would side with the employer, and putting the blame on the employee for being careless.
The US Government always sided with the wealthy employer, because of hefty taxes levied against them. Pretending to be oblivious of job-related incidents was easier than conducting an investigation and creating legislation or organizations to protect the employee. The end result of these conflicts was a high rate of unemployment, which employers resolved, by hiring immigrant workers who were willing to perform any job they were asked to do (including risking their life), for lesser wages than their US counterparts. Americans scorned upon immigrants; their belief was that Immigrants were inferior to them. This brought about the issue of racial tension and slavery, to the surface once again.
America had revolutionized, but at the expense of cheap labor. It was merely the already wealthy Americans, who benefited the most from their investments, because they had the power to purchase, employ, and reap the wealth from their investments. As a result of the Industrial Revolution, the US became the third country (in human history), to rule the world; with Spain dominating the 16th Century, and England dominating the 19th.
Back in the South, 90% of the workforce was composed of African Americans. In the Piedmont Community (in southern Virginia, central North & South Carolina, northern Alabama & Georgia), the workers became number one, in producing yarn and cloth; surpassing that of New England in production. Looking at the wages of these workers, compared to others, would you say America was Great if it was so unfair and unequal? A Southern black woman earned $120; while a white woman $220 (per year for both). Black males earned an annual income of $300, which was at, or below poverty levels.
In 1886, Samuel Gomper, founded the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Terrence Powderly, established an organization, Knights of Labor, which also protected the interests of employees. Their belief was that a “strike” was the most powerful weapon to use against an employer. It was the most essential weapon to make the employer’s veins bleed to death. However, company owners fought back with “scabs” (now called “temps”), who were often hired to continue “business as usual.” Gompers restricted women and Blacks from joining the AFL, since it was his belief that “God” wanted them to stay home and “serve their men.” Neither Gomper or Powderly succeeded in their mission in “organized labor” because neither realized that as long as wages remained the same, it was the owners who got wealthier by raising prices on their products.
In conclusion, this author believes that the Industrial Revolution had its pros and its cons; it is all a “matter of relativity,” as Einstein would say. If you ask a wealthy person and another of limited means whether the Industrial Revolution was beneficial or detrimental to their way of living, they would both reply differently. To the wealthy person, it would be beneficial to his company, since increased productivity increases the amount of revenue, as more of the product is made available to the consumer once ready, willing and able to purchase.
On the other hand, for the poor, factory worker, it would be an exciting and innovative moment in time, but simultaneously a frightful and apprehensive one. It would be “exciting” in that it’s something relatively new (thus “revolutionary), has no antecedent in the US, and therefore it was “frightful” to think that the US economy would plummet, if everything associated with the Industrial Revolution, failed.
The Industrial Revolution would also be seen as “frightful,” were a piece of machinery viewed as a “several competitive workers.” Any time there is competition, involving increased productivity, efficiency and preciseness, there is always room for layoffs and job loss. When you are over worked and under paid, bringing your child to work to make “ends meet,” and one day, upon getting to work, you stumble upon one of these “colossal metal monsters,” there’s no other sentiment but to feel threatened and intimidated.
It is customary that employers provide their employees with the “positive” aspects of a new machine, product, or procedure. It’s only with time, that pitfalls and dangers involved are discovered. By then, the use of safety standards would be futile, because a human life or limb, are irreplaceable. Thus, a revolutionary (Industrial) Revolution is bound to bring about positive change, but along the way, it sweeps away, like a torrential storm, the lives of those who can’t keep up with the demands brought about by change. Charles Darwin (naturalist, biologist, geologist)
is often quoted as saying that life is a matter of “The Survival of the Fittest.” I disagree in part with this quotation. A proverb suitable to end and support my disagreement with Charles Darwin’s quotation, is as follows: “Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.”