America's Rise to Industrial Power Research Paper

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Americas Rise to Industrial Power

From reconstruction to the onset of the Progressive Era, the United States vastly transformed itself. Slaves were freed, although many of them continued to live austere lives under the sharecropping system. The Railroad and new farm technologies revolutionized trade and commerce, creating more efficient markets, but dangerously top-heavy and centralized ones as well. And the rise of increasingly clever advertising techniques helped companies to attract customers, while also risking their alienation and stoking their mistrust. Mark Twain called this time period the Gilded Age, for its veneer of prosperity, but jugular of suffering and exploitation. It represents one of the most dynamic, and perhaps even most definitively American, decades in the county's history.

The thirty five-years, from the Civil War's end until the end of the First World War, saw the United States race from a war torn nation to a foremost global power broker.

Not only was the U.S. recovering from a very bloody war, but, also, from the loss of a divisive, but respected President in Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was an innovative President, just as the many inventors who would rise to prominence after his death. Lincoln also foresaw what the future held: "I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. . . . corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed."

The hyper-industrialization that took place after the war emphasized the development of railroads, steel mills, and oil fields.

In fact, at the turn of the twentieth century, Los Angeles was a huge oil producing region, a la Saudi Arabia, and would give rise to "car culture" at the turn of the twentieth century.

Some of the most recognizable names in U.S. history hail from the second half of the nineteenth century: Edison, Bell, Westinghouse, Wright, and Pullman.

1865-1900 was a period of very rapid change, including the widespread introduction of the sharecropping system in the south, a legal, economic arrangement very similar to the pre-emancipation slave system. In it, the sharecroppers tilled a section of the plantation, typically growing cotton, tobacco, rice, and other cash crops and received a small portion of the plot's yield.

The efforts to circumvent the rights gained for blacks during the preceding decades were quite successful, and the country was to be segregated for another one-hundred years. The fourteenth amendment, originally drafted to give blacks more rights, was eventually used by the Supreme Court to imbue corporations with more rights.

As Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner referred to it in a book of the same name, it was The Gilded Age: a booming exterior only covered the devastated undertow.

Still, industrial and political elites in both the north and south organized the largest streak of economic growth in human history, albeit amidst an astonishing culture of corruption.

Extraordinary wealth lay in the hands of very few individuals, who drove the policy of major industries and finance, but, also, politics itself. The laborers these men used came from a number of different backgrounds: black, white, Chinese, European immigrants, and female. The Chinese were a source of opium on the west, in cities such as San Francisco. This was, after all, the time of the Opium Wars.

During the period between the Civil War and 1900, no longer was human muscle the keystone of production. Rather, steam and electricity dominated, as iron replaced wood, and steel replaced iron, although this did not necessarily make things easier for workers. In this period, oil began to light homes, streets and factories.

By 1900, there were 193,000 miles of railroad, and so railroad transported people and goods. The telephone, typewriter, and the adding machine made business more efficient. The impact of steam on industry could be felt from textile mills to sewing machines.

The machines of the latter half of the nineteenth century reshaped farming and agriculture. Whereas pre-Civil War an acre of wheat required 61 hours to be produced, by 1900 it took just 3 hours and 19 minutes. Manufactured ice allowed for the transport of food over long distances, giving rise to the industry of meatpacking.

Upton Sinclair's novel, The Jungle, would reveal meatpacking factories as dangerous and disease-ridden workplaces at the onset of the following century. Upgrades in coal drilling meant that, while in 1860, 14 million tons of coal was mined, in 1884 it was 100 million tons.

The Gilded Age saw a boom in technology. People like Cyrus McCormick, the creator of the reaper which meant quicker and cheaper grain harvesting, and John Deer, whose steel plow slightly pre-dated the Gilded Age, in 1837, sped up the Midwest's production. The inventions of the time changed the fabric of society forever. In 1876, Alexander Bell invented the telephone.

Thomas Edison began the Edison Electric Light Company in New York City, financed in part by J.P. Morgan and the Vanderbilt family. In 1879, Edison tested a carbon filament light bulb that lasted 40 hours. He filed for patent later that year. With the patent for electricity distribution, Edison was able to capitalize on his invention.

Mark Twain, "the father of American literature," also lived during this time.

As the west was populated, more than 400 million acres of new land were made available to cultivation. Between 1870 and 1910, due to new farming techniques and agricultural mechanization, the number of Americans who farmed fell by a third. One way in which this is demonstrated is by the growth of the cities during this time. The growth of the city is a significant part of the Industrial Revolution. This rise of technology and fall in the number of farmers made more efficient all related processes. To be sure, this did not always benefit the worker. For instance, while in 1866 wheat farmers yielded 9.9 bushels per acre, by 1898 the yields had increased to 15.3 bushels per acre.

Those farmers who could not afford the new machinery or pay the rates for the railroad were forced to move to the cities. In the years between 1860 and 1914, New York's population boomed from 850,000 to 4 million; Chicago's from 110,000 to 2 million; Philadelphia's from 650,000 to 1.5 million. One novel of the time read: "I see a time when the farmer will not need to live in a cabin on a lonely farm. I see the farmers coming together in groups. I see them with time to read, and time to visit with their fellows."

With a depression at the end of the century, this man's dream came true -- although not as he would have liked.

The increase in people living the cities led to issues such as overcrowding and disease.

The prosperity during this time would have been impossible without innovative inventors, astute organizers and administrators for new types of corporations, a rich land-base, and lots of labor.

During this period, immigrants from Europe and China helped to complete the workforce. Chinamen faced difficult times on the west, where they were confronted with racism and desperate work prospects and working conditions.

Clearly, despite the unparalleled wealth creation, it was a costly time for workers. For each mile of railroad built, each ton of coal or iron ore mined, thousands of them died.

The Interstate Commerce Act of 1877 was intended to regulate the railroads on behalf of patrons. "From a railroad point-of-view," one lawyer explained: "The Commission…is or can be made of great use to the railroads. It satisfies the popular clamor for a government supervision of railroads, at the same time that that supervision is almost entirely nominal…"

It is this sort of cunning which earned Wall Street the reputation of showcasing a dark brilliance.

The Central Pacific railroad started on the West Coast headed east. $200,000 dollars in bribes in Washington were needed to acquire the nine million acres of free land and $24 million in government bonds. The construction was carried out, over four years, by three thousand Irish and ten thousand Chinese. The wages were one to two dollars a day. The Union Pacific had received 12 million acres and $27 million in bonds. Both railroads were built along longer, non-sensible routes, in order to gain subsidies from the towns they passed through. Railroad construction was a costly endeavor.

The fraud of the railroads meant more control of the railroad finances by bankers. By the 1890's, the lion's share of the railroad was concentrated into six large organizations Four of these were under the partial or full control of the House of Morgan, and two other by the bankers Kuhn, Loeb, and Company. J.P Morgan linked railroads to railroads, the railroads to banks, and the banks to insurance companies. By 1900, he held 100,000 miles… [END OF PREVIEW]

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