United States Industrial Revolution of the 19th century



[TAKEN FROM AN ARTICLE TITLED "American Supremacy: Industrial; Commercial; Financial; by One Hundred American Writers," WRITTEN BY SENATOR CHAUNCEY M. DEPEW, IN THE EARLY PART OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY.]



OUR own country is peculiarly the pride of the nineteenth century. It has been the most complete example ever presented of the working out under favorable conditions of the principles and opportunities of civil and religious liberty. The marvelous development of the United States cannot be attributed solely or mainly to climate, to soil, to the virgin forests, or to unlimited and unoccupied territory. South America, Central America, and Mexico were as well, if not better, equipped in these respects. The garden of Eden, that fertile and fruitful portion of Asia, which for ages was the seat of empire, civilization, art, and letters, and for centuries the hive from which swarmed the conquerors of Europe, has returned to aboriginal conditions of desert and wilderness. Every industry whose growth is a feature of our progress is the expression and witness of the beneficent principles of our freedom and liberty of individual action.

The stories of battles and conquest, of the founding of dynasties and the dissolving of empires, of the sieges of cities and the subduing of peoples, which constitute the body of written history from the beginning of recorded time, are in ghastly contrast to the glorious, beneficent, and humanitarian picture of the achievements of the nineteenth century.

A philosopher has said that he is a benefactor of mankind who makes two blades of grass to grow where only one grew before. We celebrate harvests in inventions and discoveries where existed only Saharas. We find that the nineteenth century has not only added enormously to the productive power of the earth, but, in the happiness which has attended its creative genius, it has made the sunlight penetrate where the sunbeam was before unknown.

A little more than a hundred years ago the first cotton-mill was running with 250 spindles. Whitney invented the cotton-gin, which created the wealth of the Gulf States and made the cotton industry over all the world tributary to them. Other inventors improved the machinery, and the single mill of that period has expanded into 1,000, and the 250 spindles have increased to 21,000,000. In 1794 the first wool-carding machine was put in operation, mainly under the impulse of American invention. There were in 1895 2,500 wool manufactories. The production of textile fabrics in this country supports about 600,000 employees. At the beginning of the century a few thousand tons of iron were manufactured. In 1899 the United States produced over 13,000,000 tons of pig iron, being more than any other country; while in the manufactured products of iron and steel we are also in the advance of nations.

These astonishing figures give only the basic results of production, for from them collaterally flow car-building, the miracles of the sewing-machine, of the vast employment and earnings of machinery manufacturing, of building and building materials, of the manipulation and composition of other metals, as silver and gold and copper and brass, of the singularly rapid rise of American glass interests, of the incalculable demands made upon furnace and mill and shop for railway appliances, of the immense production of utensils useful in domestic life and in agriculture, of the great supplies of material comprehended under the name of dry-goods, and of the machinery required for the telegraph, the telephone, and the creation of electrical energy.

The twentieth century will be a truth-seeking century. The nineteenth has been one of experiment. Invention and discovery have made the last fifty years of the nineteenth century the most remarkable of recorded time. Nature has been forced to reveal her secrets, and they have been utilized for the service of man. Lightning drawn from the clouds, through the experiments of Franklin, has become the medium of instantaneous globe-circling communication through the genius of Morse, of telephonic conversation by the discoveries of Bell, and the element of illumination and motive power by the marvellous gifts of Edison. Steam, which Fulton utilized upon the water and Stephenson upon the land, has created the vast system of transportation which has given the stimulus to agriculture and manufacturing products by which millions of people have been enabled to live in comfort where thousands formerly dwelt in misery and poverty. The forces of destruction, or rather the powers of destruction, have been so developed that, while the nations of the earth are prepared for war as never before, the knowledge of its possibilities for the annihilation of life and property is so great that peace has been maintained among the great powers of Europe, and our war with Spain was shortened by the scientific perfection of weapons and the skill of those who used them. Physical progress and material prosperity have led to better living, broader education, higher thinking, more humane principles, larger liberty, and a better appreciation in preaching and in practice of the brotherhood of man over all the globe.

The nineteenth century has closed with civilization more advanced in the arts and in letters than in the best days of Greece or Rome or the Renaissance; with the development in mechanical arts, in chemistry and in its appliances, in agriculture and in manufactures, beyond the experience of all preceding centuries put together. The political, social, and productive revolutions and evolutions of the period mark it as unique, beneficent, and glorious in the story of the ages. It has been the era of emancipation from bigotry and prejudice, from class distinctions and from inequalities in law, from shackles upon the limbs and padlocks upon the lips of mankind. It has been conspicuously the century of civilization, humanity, and liberty. As its presiding and inspiring genius looks proudly over the results, he may well say to the angel of the twentieth century, "You can admire, you can follow, but whither can you lead?"

The imaginary line drawn on the thirty-first day of December, 1900, between the past and the future cannot stop the wheels of progress nor curb the steeds, instinct with the life of steam and electricity, which are to leap over this boundary in their resistless course. The twentieth century will be pre-eminently the period for the equitable adjustment of the mighty forces called into existence by the spirit of the nineteenth century, and which have so deranged the relations of capital and labor, of trades and occupations, of markets and commercial highways. There will come about a oneness of races and nationalities by which the moral sense of civilization will overcome the timidity of diplomacy to prevent or to punish the repetition of such atrocities as have been perpetrated in Armenia. The Turk will either adopt the laws and recognize the rights of life, liberty, and property commonly recognized among Christian nations, or his empire will be dismembered and distributed among the great powers of Europe. Militarism, which is crushing the life out of the great nations of the Continent, will break down because of the burdens it imposes and the conditions it exacts. The peoples of those countries, groaning under this ever-increasing and eventually intolerable load, will revolt. They will teach their rulers that that peace is not worth the price which can only be maintained by armaments which are increased on the one side as rapidly as on the other, so that peace depends upon an equilibrium of trained soldiers and modern implements of war. They will discover closer ties of international friendship, which will strengthen year by year, and in the camaraderie of international commerce they will come to maintain amicable relations with one another before tribunals of arbitration and under the principles of justice. The world will discover, as we found in our own country in our Civil War, and again in 1898, that a free people quickly respond to the call of patriotism to meet every requirement of war in defence of their nation, and that armies of citizen soldiers, when the danger is past, resume at once their places in the industries of the land. The twentieth century will realize the prophecy, "They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks."

The pessimist has proved with startling accuracy that with the exhaustion of fuel supplies in the forests and in the coal mines, the earth can no longer support its teeming populations, and that we are rushing headlong into anarchy and chaos. The twentieth century will find in the methods of the production of electrical power an economy of fuel and an increase of force which will accelerate progress and conserve our storage of supplies. Transportation both by land and by sea will be done solely by electricity. The same power will run the mills, the furnaces, and the factories. It will revolutionize and economize the processes of domestic life. It will shift and alter centres of production to places where electrical power can be more cheaply evolved, and that power will be utilized at long distances from its sources.

The hospitals of the world reached their highest and best conditions in the nineteenth century for the care and cure of the sick and the injured. The hospitals of the twentieth century will perform this work as well, if not better, but they will also be schools of investigation and experiment. It is the peculiarity of each generation that it accepts as a matter of course that which was the astonishment and wonder of its predecessor. The antiseptic principle, which has made possible modern surgery - the discovery of a surgeon still living,- is the commonplace of our day. So are the wonderful revelations which came through the trained brains and skilled hands of Pasteur and of Koch. Systematic and scientific research under liberal and favorable conditions will make the hospitals of the twentieth century the very sources of life. As the Gatling gun and the mitrailleuse enable the explorer in central Africa to disperse hordes of savages and open up unlimited territories for settlement and civilization, so will the leaders of the hospital laboratory produce the germicides which will destroy the living principles of consumption, of tuberculosis, of cancer, of heart, nerve, brain, and muscular troubles, and of all the now unknown and incalculable enemies which give misery and destroy life.

Continuing concentration and centralization of capital in great enterprises and in every field of production will be compelled by small margins of profit and the competition of instantaneous and world-wide communication. At the same time labor, more skilled, better educated, more thoroughly organized, finding a larger purchasing power in wages, and intelligently commanding its recognition by international compacts, will improve its condition, will find the means of quick and peaceable settlement with capital, and the relations of these two great forces will be much more beneficent and friendly.

Artists, whether with brush or chisel, or upon the lyric or dramatic stage, will require for success profounder study, broader experience, and more universal masters; but they will secure these essentials in schools at convenient centres, not only of countries, but of territorial divisions of countries. The great artist who can produce a picture which will rank with the works of Raphael or Titian and of the best exponents of modern schools will receive as adequate reward as ever for his masterpieces, and at the same time the processes of copying by the assistance of nature and chemistry will be so accurate that, with a copyright, his revenues will be increased, and his picture, perfect in every detail and expression, as well as in its general effect, and cheaply reduplicated, can be the delight, the inspiration, and the instruction of millions of homes.

Then there will be an increase in socialistic ideas and tendencies. The aim will be for a full and complete experiment of the principles of State paternalism and municipal communism. As we face the future we have no doubts as to the result, nor do we doubt that the inherent vigor of nations is greater as their institutions rest upon the liberty of the individual; yet, like the French Revolution and the theories and experiments which carried away the best thought and the highest aspirations of our own country in the earlier years of the century, the popular tendency is for the trial of these methods of escape from ever-present poverty and misery and old-age disability. Human nature, however, has in all ages manifested itself in the social organization according to its lights and its education. Light and intelligence both accompany opportunity and experiment, and control them; and the twentieth century will close with the world better housed and better clothed, its brain and moral nature better developed, and on better lines of health and longevity. It will also exhibit increased and more general happiness, and the relations of all classes and conditions with one another will be on more humane and brotherly lines than we find them as we look back.

Let us reckon American manufacturers from the infancy of the cotton and wool production in 1794 at practically zero on the one side, and on the other Europe, with the accumulated capital of over a thousand years and the accretion of the skill of all the centuries. The race-course of progress was open to the Old World and the New. Father Time kept the score, and Liberty said, "Go." To-day, after one hundred years, the American farm has become the granary of the world; the American loom and spindle and furnace and factory and mill supply the wants of 76,000,000 people in our land, and we exported in the fiscal year ending in June, 1900, domestic merchandise to the enormous value of $1,370,000,000. Europe, pushing forward on a parallel course, finds herself outstripped at the close of the century by this infant of its beginning in agricultural production, in manufactured products, in miles of telegraph and of railway, and in every element of industrial and material production and wealth. She finds one after another of her industries leaving her to be transplanted to this country, even with the conditions of labor, which makes up ninety per cent. of the cost of all manufactures, nearly fifty per cent. in her favor. American inventive genius has cheapened the cost of production on this side of the Atlantic to the advantage of American wages, and the principles of the Declaration of Independence have done the rest. Our population has grown from 3,000,000 to 76,000,000; our accumulated wealth, from less than $100,000,000 to about $70,000,000,000; the number of our farms, from probably about 100,000 to 5,000,000; our agricultural products, from just sufficient for the support of 3,000,000 people to an annual commercial value of $4,000,000,000. The workers upon our farms have increased from about 400,000 to 9,000,000; the operatives in our factories, from a handful to 5,000,000; and their earnings, from a few thousand dollars to $2,300,000,000. The increase in wages has been correspondingly great. Ever since 1870, it has been sixty per cent., and the purchasing power of money has enhanced about the same. Our public school system was very crude at the beginning of the century, and the contribution of the States for its support very small. Now we spend for education annually $156,000,000, as against $124,000,000 for Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria, and Italy combined.

It is easy to see that Europe, with its overcrowded populations, its more difficult and almost insoluble problems, and with the limitations imposed upon development and opportunity by its closely peopled territories, must advance in wealth and material prosperity and the bettering of the condition of the masses by destructive revolutions or by processes which are painfully slow. The United States, with a country capable of supporting a population ten times in excess of that with which the new century opens, with its transportation so perfected that it can be quickly extended as necessity may require, with its institutions so elastic that expansion strengthens instead of weakening the powers of the government and the cohesion of its States, will advance by leaps and bounds to the first place among the nations of the world, and to the leadership of that humanitarian civilization which is to be perfected by people speaking the English tongue.





Return to The Great Republic by the Master Historians (Vol 4)