Manufacturing history in the United States



For a long period after the settlement of the American colonies their industries were mainly agricultural. The growth of commercial interests was restricted by English laws. The colonies were permitted to trade only with the mother-country, even their trade with one another being made illegal. And the products of America were largely carried in English ships. After the Revolution this state of affairs ceased to exist. The shipping interests of America rapidly extended, its commerce spread to all parts of the habitable world, and in the early years of the nineteenth century the business of importation and exportation grew with extraordinary rapidity.

Up to this period the main industries of America were in harmony. The excess products of the farm, the forest, and the mine needed a market, which could be found only in foreign lands. Articles of comfort and luxury were demanded in return, and these also had to be sought for abroad. The commercial population of America grew rich through this double duty of carrying home products abroad and bringing foreign products home. Tariff charges, or taxation of imports and exports, militated against both these interests, and were restricted to the absolute demands of revenue. The call for protection of American productive interests was as yet too feeble to be clearly heard.

Only very slowly did the manufacturing interests of the United States develop, and a home market for the products of mine, forest, and farm grow up. The restrictive policy of England had borne even more severely on this than on the commercial interest. During the long colonial period manufacturing industry languished, discouraged by these restrictions, and at the opening of the Revolution it was of minor importance as compared with the other industries of the country. The establishment of American independence removed the legal restrictions which had been imposed by the jealousy of English manufacturers, but there remained the influence of an overpowering competition. The vast capital, the abundant machinery, and the skilled labor of English workshops depressed,. by their unequal rivalry, the infant manufactures of America, the cost of ocean-transportation and the small duty-charges being insufficient to overcome the difference in advantages for production. There was no hindrance to the minor trades, which required labor on the spot, and iron and some other branches of general manufacture made some progress, but the competition was too severe for any rapid growth of the manufacturing industries on this side of the ocean.

The conditions attending the second war with Great Britain changed this state of affairs, and tended to the special encouragement of American manufactures. The commercial restrictions established by England and France, which cut off America from both its buying and its selling market, the embargo and non-intercourse acts, which intensified this difficulty, and the disturbance to commerce by the war that succeeded, had the tendency to force America to consume nearly all its products at home, and to produce by home labor, as fully as possible, the much-needed articles which had previously been received from the workshops of England and the Continent. As a consequence, the manufacturing interests of America grew and diversified with a rapidity that was in decided contrast with the slowness of their preceding development, and by the close of the war a marked and important advance had been made. The manufacture of cotton, for instance, increased from ten thousand bales in 1810 to ninety thousand bales in 1815, nearly enough iron was made to supply the country, and several other branches of manufacture were highly prosperous.

With the close of the war, however, competition again came into active play. The country was flooded with English goods, at a price and of a quality which American goods could not rival. The high rates of labor which followed the war added to the discrepancy in price, and many American manufacturers were ruined, while the remainder sustained themselves only with great difficulty. Congress was called upon to remedy the evil which had thus suddenly arisen. Protection of American industry against foreign competition became necessary, if our workshops were to continue in existence, and to the old party cries a new one was added, that of protective tariff.





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