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America's History in the Making

Industrializing America

Theme 1

After the Civil War, the development of improved industrial methods and the arrival of masses of immigrants eager for factory jobs launched a new era of mass production in the United States.

After Reconstruction, the nation turned its efforts toward economic recovery and expansion. America's abundant supply of natural resources, such as coal and oil, encouraged investment, as did a favorable patent system that protected the rights of inventors. Much of this investment came from abroad—from already industrialized countries such as Germany, Great Britain, and France—whose entrepreneurs looked for new investment opportunities in the United States. These investors put money into the work of mechanics and engineers with the expertise to develop new, more efficient ways of mass-producing consumer goods. New forms of factory organization, which allowed business owners to achieve economies of scale, proliferated across the nation's industrial areas. These economies of scale benefited the United States by allowing business owners to specialize in the production of goods and manufacture them in large quantities to distribute throughout the nation or export abroad. As a result, the cost of mass-produced goods went down as their quantity and variety (though not necessarily their quality) went up. Industrial profits rose. An expanding system of transcontinental railroads—alongside of which a communication network of telegraph and eventually telephone lines went up—facilitated the growth of national markets to distribute these goods. The invention of pressure-sealed cans and refrigeration increased the availability of foodstuffs, thereby improving the quality of life for many of the nation's city-dwellers.

Primary Sources