United States trade history: Status at the turn of the twentieth century

The great dominating fact that forces itself upon the attention of the outer world when America is mentioned is our commercial progress. It stares every commercial nation in the face like a haunting spectre. The foreign trader, economist, or statesman cannot read his local newspaper without being startled by new proofs of the irresistible invasion of his markets by American merchants. The great powers that have lived in the comfortable delusion of everlasting security against the inroads of harmful trade competition, have these few years been rudely awakened from their repose. Wars for territorial conquest have not ceased, but the weapons and aims have taken on a new and pacific-looking aspect. Where kings used to fight for kingdoms and keep shifting the frontier lines on maps, the captains of industry and princes of trade now cross the seas on grand crusades of commerce, with national markets and new fields in the remotest quarters of the most primitive old world for their battle-fields, and the practical civilization of neglected races for their aim and reward. What may be the chief stimulating causes of this striking expansion of American commercial mission-work it is not our province to ascertain. The chronicles of progress are our present concern. Enough for the immediate purpose that the broad field be fairly surveyed, not microscopically, for that would be as unprofitable as it is impracticable, but surveyed from the standpoint of an observant patriot, proud to see how the throbbing inventive and productive activity of his country - the youngest in the family of great nations - is astounding the elder branches by the boldness of its triumphal march along the highways of the old world.

Statistics may be uninviting to the general reader, though they can be so presented as to unfold the real fascination existing in the simple facts of our progressive life. It is only by comparing past and present data that we can rightly see and comprehend our progress, or retrogression. To attempt to convey an adequate realization of our commercial advance during the decade between any two censuses without citing figures, would fail in the main object of the effort, which is to enable the reader to get a firmer grasp of the situation by working out for himself the salient facts.

The first broad view of recent trade growth is best gained by a deliberate study of the following statistical statement, showing the increase of our export sales of manufactured goods in foreign markets. Two points are to be kept in mind; first, the increase of population from sixty-two millions in 1890, to seventy-six millions in 1900; and, second, note that foodstuffs are not included in the statement, unless the single item of malt liquors may come under that head.

This table shows the exportations of principal manufactures, arranged in the order of magnitude, in the fiscal year 1900, including all whose value in that year exceeded $1,000,000, and compares the exports of 1890 with those of 1895 and 1900:

Articles Exported: 1890. 1895. 1900. Iron and steel $25,542,208 $32,000,989 $121,858,344 Oils, mineral, refined 44,658,854 41,498,372 68,246,949 Copper manufactures 2,349,392 14,468,703 57,851,707 Leather 1 2,438,847 15,614,407 27,288,808 Cotton manufactures 9,999,277 13,789,810 23,890,001 Agricultural implements 3,859,184 5,413,075 16,094,886 Chemicals, drugs, etc 5,424,279 8,189,142 13,196,638 Wood manufactures 6,509,645 6,249,807 11,230,978 Paraffine and wax 2,408,709 3,569,614 8,602,723 Fertilizers 1,618,681 5,741,262 7,218,224 Scientific instruments 1,429,785 2,185,257 6,431,301 Paper 1,226,686 3,953,165 6,215,559 Tobacco manufactures 3,876,045 Not stated 6,009,646 Fibres, vegetable 2,094,807 2,316,217 4,438,285 Bicycles Not stated 1,912,717 3,551,025 Books, maps 1,886,094 1,722,559 2,941,915 Carriage, horse cars 2,056,980 1,514,336 2,809,784 Starch 378,115 366,800 2,604,362 Spirits, distilled 1,633,110 2,991,686 2,278,111 Malt liquors 654,408 558,770 2,137,527 Clocks and watches 1,695,136 1,204,005 1,974,202 Musical instruments 1,105,134 1,115,727 1,955,707 Glass and glassware 882,677 846,381 1,933,201 Paints and colors 578,103 729,706 1,902,058 Gunpowder, explosives 868,728 1,277,281 1,888,741 Brass manufactures 467,313 784,640 1,866,727 Soaps 1,109,017 1,092,126 1,773,921 Marble and stone man. 729,111 885,179 1,677,169 Zinc manufactures 156,150 237,815 1,668,202 Wool manufactures 437,479 670,226 1,253,602

Here are the total imports for the same years, important to consider alongside the above statement. In 1890 we imported, value in round numbers, $789,000,000, our exports being $68,000,000 in excess of our imports. In 1895 we imported $732,000,000, our exports being $75,000,000 in excess. In 1900 we imported $850,000,000, and our exports were $1,394,000,000, being $544,000,000 in excess of our imports.

The immense export trade in foodstuffs matches that in manufactures. Fewer manufactured goods come from Europe in payment of its annual debt to us for the means of life. How deep an inroad the United States has been making into European markets may be estimated by the increasing rumors of retaliatory measures, and the time will undoubtedly come when our traders will have to encounter new obstacles to progress. Meanwhile American makers of steel rails and bridges have triumphed over English and all other competitors in every part of the world. American contractors have constructed electric street railways in England, and various American manufactures of iron and steel are underselling British products, not only in neutral markets, but also in the United Kingdom. Recent reports of the rapid exhaustion of England's coal supply have added to the prevailing alarm. The advantage which American manufacturers have gained is due not merely to the superiority of our natural resources as respects the deposits of iron ore and coal, but also to the vast scale upon which our industries are organized, and the superiority of their appliances.

While the old world is growing alarmed at the prospect of diminished natural resources, we possess literally inexhaustible riches in mines, quarries, and the yield of the earth's surface. Of iron alone our store passes comprehension. Its importance is eloquently stated by a recent writer, who shows that "in the dependence of civilized man upon iron, he is but following nature, in whose realm nothing lives, moves or exists without it. It is in the water which bubbles from the earth; it is in every drop of blood which flows through the veins of life; it is in the rocks and soil under our feet, in the vegetation about us, and in the heavens above us. The meteors which fall from the skies are composed almost entirely of iron. It is known to exist in large amounts in the heavenly bodies, and the gases of which iron is composed are found to make up largely the masses of vapor which float in the firmament, and which, by the forces of nature, are solidified into worlds.

"The use of iron in the United States is in its infancy. Its consumption is progressing each decade with a cumulative force. Fifty years ago, one hundred pounds were consumed in the United States annually, for each one of its inhabitants; ten years ago, there were three hundred pounds for each person, and to-day we are consuming iron at the rate of four hundred pounds yearly for each one of our seventy-six millions of inhabitants."

Great Britain has been a great producer of iron ore, supplying many of the world's markets with the raw material and manufactures of iron. It now furnishes about seventeen per cent. of the world's output, and the United States produced nearly thirty per cent. Germany comes next with twenty-one per cent.

The well-worked coal-field of Great Britain cover 9,000 square miles; those of Germany, 3,600; Russia, 27,000; India, 35,000; France and Belgium, 3,200; those of the United States, 194,000. They are exceeded only by the coal-fields of China and Japan, which are estimated at 200,000 square miles.

The State of Pennsylvania produces more coal than any state or country in the world, with the exception of Great Britain. There were 73,066,943 tons of bituminous coal mined in 1899, and 54,034,224 tons of anthracite. A great deal of the bituminous coal was made into coke, so that 12,196,570 tons of coke were produced, and 52,895,383 tons of coal shipped to market.

Cotton is another staple product with a gratifying record. From 1870 to 1880 the crop ayeraged about four million bales per annum, which has been more than doubled since 1890.

"The cotton belt covers 24 degrees of longitude and 10 degrees of latitude. Excluding from the count the greater part of Virginia, more than 100,000 square miles of western Texas and the whole of Kentucky, Kansas, Missouri, Utah, California, Arizona, and New Mexico, the cotton-growing region measures nearly 600,000 square miles, almost one-third of the total area of settlement in 1890 of the United States. The 20,000,000 acres planted in cotton occupies barely five acres in every 100 of this extensive region. Scarcely fifty per cent. of this territory is in farms, and not more than one-fifth has at any time been tilled. This section contained in 1890 a population of over 8,000,000 whites, and something over 5,000,000 negroes, in all 13,651,006, every 100 of them producing 53 bales of cotton,"

The value of the cotton crop in 1897 was nearly $320,000,000, and each year we are manufacturing more of it for our domestic trade, while our exports continue enormous. The cotton-seed industry has grown rapidly, a hundred new mills having been erected during nine months of 1900.

The total corn crop of the world in 1898 was 2,634,000,000 bushels, of which the United States produced 1,924,000,000. We grew in the same year 675,000,000 bushel of wheat towards the whole world's total of 2,725,000,000. Our area for growing cereal crops is unlimited. The vast Northwest has been experiencing a period of low prices, yet it shows a yearly average market value of about $900 for each farm in Minnesota, North and South Dakota, in cereal crops, exclusive of cattle and dairy products.

"Half of Minnesota's nearly 40,000,000 acres are still unfarmed. Of the two Dakotas, only 19,000,000 acres are occupied, with four times that extent still waiting the further advance of civilization. Not a tithe of the mineral wealth of the Mountain States has been developed. Alaska, reached by numerous steamship lines from Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland, with its boundless wealth of auriferous rivers and mountains, is an outpost of this Northwest belt. Large areas of fertile but arid land in Montana, Washington, and northwestern Dakota, now useful only as pastures for cattle and sheep, may easily be converted into fruitful fields by a scientific system of irrigation, for which nature affords abundant facilities in the mountain streams and in the artesian basins which underlie the Dakota plains."

Our exports of flour promise to exceed the exports of wheat.

The American farmer is cheered by the assurances of competent authorities that he has now a new money-making crop at hand if he cares to seize the opportunity. He is urged to cultivate sugar.

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