The effects of industrialization on american democracy

The Effects of Industrialization on American DemocracyI’ve been on a bit of a history kick lately. They say you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been, right? There are arguably a lot of crazy twists and turns going on in our country right now. And sometimes when that’s the case, it can be good to take a look back at where we’ve been and how far we’ve come since then.

Industrial revolutions don’t happen every day, but it’s been said that we are staring down a fourth one — a 21stcentury technological revolution, of sorts — as network-aware devices become a substantial part of many businesses 20 years into the 21st century.

The first industrial revolution took place from roughly 1760 to 1840. It was a formative time for the United States, during which we saw many historical events that changed America.

With so much changing for American businesses, it’s only natural to think that significant changes in the political atmosphere would coincide. So, what were the political effects of the Industrial Revolution?

Urbanization and the Emergence of the Developed World

As late as the 1730s, most of Europe and America was an agrarian society. People relied on farming the land to make money, which they used to buy the things they needed. However, with the introduction of the spinning loom, steam engine and other early machines, people were increasingly able to do more with less.

This led to increased development. A machine could now accomplish the work of several farmhands, so displaced workers went looking for work in the city. The jobs they found were available at newly built factories, aiding in the advancement of industrial technology.

What Are Some of the Drawbacks of Industrialization?

In economic terms, industrialization is the social and economic transformation of human society from agrarian to industrial.

From approximately 1760 to 1840, the United States transformed from an agrarian society, in which the economy is established on the society's ability to produce and regulate crops, to an industrialized society; this period is better known as the Industrial Revolution. During this period, many processes, traditionally performed by hand, were mechanized.

Although processes were largely simplified by the introduction of new methods and machinery, industrialization introduced new problems. Its environmental drawbacks include the pollution of air, water, and soil that can result in significant deterioration of quality of life and life expectancy.

Because of industrialization, there is a significant separation of labor and capital. Those who own the means of production become disproportionately rich, resulting in high-income inequality.

The migration of workers, the separation of family members, long working hours, and overcrowding that result from industrialization can lead to social tension and diseases due to poor nutrition and stress.

  • Industrialization is the marked transformation of a society from agrarian to manufacturing or industrial.
  • Industrialization contributes to negative environmental externalities, such as pollution, increased greenhouse gas emission, and global warming.
  • The separation of capital and labor creates a disparity in incomes between laborers and those who control capital resources.
  • Industrialization also contributes to the deterioration of health among workers, crimes, stress, and other societal problems.

By far, the biggest negative effect of industrialization is on the environment. Pollution is the most common by-product of industrialization.

However, the degradation of ecological systems, global warming, greenhouse gas emissions, and the adverse effect on human health have garnered widespread concern.

Because many industrialized companies are often not forced to pay damages for the environmental harm they cause, they tend to impose a major negative externality on human society in the form of deforestation, extinction of species, widespread pollution, and excessive waste.

In the United States, Congress appointed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue limits for toxic air emissions, rules to phase-out ozone-depleting chemicals and their proper disposal, and other major tasks to reduce environmental risks.

Financially, industrialization results in a wide gap between the rich and poor due to a division of labor and capital. Those who own capital tend to accumulate excessive profits derived from their economic activities, resulting in a high disparity of income and wealth.

Industrialization typically leads to the migration of workers to cities, automation, and repetitive tasks. Due to these factors, factory workers tend to lose their individuality, have limited job satisfaction, and feel alienated. There can also be health issues, brought on by dangerous working conditions or simply factors inherent in the working conditions, such as noise and dirt.

Rapid urbanization brought on by industrialization typically leads to the general deterioration of workers' quality of life and many other problems for society, such as crime, stress, and psychological disorders. Long working hours usually lead to poor nutrition and consumption of quick and low-quality foods, resulting in increased incidences of diseases, such as diabetes, heart attack, and strokes.

Social and Political Impact of the Second Phase of the Industrial Revolution

By the year 1900, the impact of the Industrial Revolution was felt across the United States. Practically every aspect of everyday life had altered dramatically over the past century.

Enormous fortunes had been made by the owners of factories, natural resources (notably oil), and business networks such as railroads.

People who once were scattered among scores of small farms in the countryside were now living in cities, working for employers who in many respects viewed their employees as living parts of a complex machine called the factory.

Those who still lived in rural areas used new machinery and chemicals to raise crops or livestock that would be transported to faraway markets. In the United States, 40 percent of the population lived in cities, up from just 6 percent in 1800. In the next twenty years, the majority of Americans would be found residing in urban areas.

Such profound transformations hardly went unnoticed. The reality of the Industrial Revolution was reflected in changes in government and politics, as well as in new social organizations that were established independent of the government.

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Social and Political Impact of the Second Phase of the Industrial Revolution: Words to Know


A social philosophy that advocates voluntary associations among people as a form of self-government, as opposed to central governments dominated by a monarch or other central figure.


A system of organizing a society's economy under which ownership in machines and factories is private, rather than public.


A form of government in which all the people own property, including both land and capital, in common.

Labor union:

A voluntary association of workers who join together to apply pressure on their employer for improved pay, shorter hours, or other advantages.


A business large enough to be able to control the price of a product without regard to competition.


A monthly payment made to employees who retire from a company after reaching a certain age or after working a certain number of years for that company.


A political and economic system in which the people control both the government and also major elements of the economy, such as owning (or tightly regulating) factories.

Social work:

Efforts to alleviate a variety of problems often encountered by poorer people, such as unemployment, poverty, and lack of housing.


The refusal to work by members of a labor union who aim to close down a factory or other facility as a means of putting pressure on the employer to grant higher pay or other improvements in work conditions.


Workers who take the places of employees who are on strike. They are hired by company owners in an effort to defeat strikers.


A tax on imports.

Society in the industrial era

In 1914 automobile giant Henry Ford (1863–1947) made headline news when he started paying workers $5.00 a day—roughly double what other manufacturers were paying at the time. The average non-Ford laborer earned less than $800 a year for a six-day workweek.

(Ford paid his workers better in part so they could afford to buy the cars they were making, generating more sales—and profits—for Ford.

) Calculated in 2003 dollars, in 1914 a Ford worker earned around $28,000 a year while a typical worker earned around $14,000 a year.

The life of a typical worker at the turn of the twentieth century was difficult. Pay was low, hours were long, and working conditions were brutal and often wildly unsafe. The dangers of factories were dramatized at 4:30 p.m.

on March 25, 1911, when a fire broke out inside the Triangle Shirtwaist Company located on the top three floors of the Asch Building in New York City. There, five hundred employees, mostly Jewish immigrant women aged thirteen to twenty-three, sewed women's shirts.

Fueled by all the fabric, the fire spread rapidly to all three floors of the factory. Within fifteen minutes, 146 women had died. Many jumped to their deaths; others tried to slide down elevator cables, but lost their grip; many were burned to death.

Firemen tried to rescue the women, but their ladders reached only to the sixth floor, one floor below the factory, and women jumping from the windows tore through fire nets as they plummeted, holding hands in groups of three or four.

The combination of low pay for long hours (ten hours a day, six days a week was typical) and unsafe working conditions was characteristic of the second phase of the Industrial Revolution. In addition, workers who lost a job suddenly found themselves without any income. Paid vacations and health insurance were unknown.

When a person grew old and wanted to retire, it was necessary to have personal savings to live on; companies did not pay pensions to retired employees. Nor was work steady. If employers lacked orders for products, workers were told not to come in. No work, no pay.

A worker who fell ill was not paid for that day and might lose his or her job to someone who could work. Many workers went for weeks every year without work, or pay, because his or her employer had shut down during a slow period.

Even for higher-paid middle-class occupations, such as accountants, for whom daily life was more comfortable, economic disaster was often as close as one missed paycheck.

Housing conditions in the cities were often as dismal as those of the factories. Multiple families crammed into two- and three-room apartments, often without natural light or ventilation. Indoor plumbing was rare except in the homes of the middle class (such as those of doctors).

People seldom bathed or washed their hair (once a month would have been common for working-class women in 1900).

Sometimes, as in the case of cigar makers in New York City, tiny apartments were also the workplace, where the father and mother devoted one room to rolling tobacco leaves into cigars, used the other room for living and sleeping, and had a small kitchen off to the side.

Most working families needed the pay of both father and mother—and sometimes the children as well—to avoid starvation or being thrown into the street when the rent went unpaid. Work often began at a young age: thirteen, ten, or even six. The census of 1900 showed that almost 20 percent of children aged ten to fifteen who lived in urban areas worked full time.

In many respects, people living on farms were not much better off. Their incomes also were low, and they lacked modern things that provided comfort and enjoyment.

On the other hand, farm houses were not crowded together, and farmers were able to grow their own food. But many farmers were subject to losing their farms to the banks that had loaned them money to live on until their crops came in.

If the crops failed because of drought or plant disease, farmers became refugees headed for the city to find work.

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The workers respond

Almost from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the people most directly affected by industrialization had responded. One initial approach was taken by the Luddites in England, who tried to wreck the new textile machines they blamed for the loss of their traditional jobs (see Chapter 4).

But the most widespread, and eventually the most effective, approach to fight the leaders of industrialization was to form a labor union.

Unions are organizations of workers who have banded together to bargain with an employer for higher wages, shorter hours, and other improvements in their working conditions.

The reasoning behind a union is that an individual worker can easily be dismissed, but a large group of workers stands a chance of success by threatening not to work until their demands are met.

To What Extent Did the Industrial Revolution Change American Social, Economic & Political Life?

The Industrial Revolution, which reached the United States in the 19th century, profoundly reshaped American culture and had a significant impact on subsequent global history.

If the American Revolution spurred the birth of a nation, the Industrial Revolution marked that nation’s growth into maturity.

The Industrial Revolution altered all aspects of American life, from the economy to politics and the fabric of society itself.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, America possessed a predominantly agrarian economy and generated wealth through the trade of tobacco, and resources such as lumber, minerals, fur and fish.

England, rich in resources thanks to its colonial acquisitions, benefited from a series of technological breakthroughs to become the world’s first industrial power in the late 18th century. Though the English attempted to monopolize their technology and skilled labor through legislation, industrialization spread throughout Europe and reached America.

The Second Industrial Revolution, which took place roughly between 1870 and 1914, established the United States as the world’s foremost industrial power.

Most 18th century Americans lived in self-sustaining rural communities. The Industrial Revolution witnessed the evolution of large urban centers, such as Boston and New York City, and spurred a massive internal migration of workers. The Industrial Revolution also stimulated the rise of unskilled labor.

Prior to the 19th century, most Americans not employed in agriculture performed some kind of skilled trade. The advent of industrial production removed the necessity of apprenticeship for craftsmen and commoditized labor itself.

The Industrial Revolution also created a wide availability of cheap commodities, which engendered a consumer culture that marked the end of many rural Americans' subsistence lifestyle.

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The American Industrial Revolution announced the arrival and predominance of capitalism, an economic principle that Adam Smith theorized in “Wealth of Nations,” and that Karl Marx elaborated upon in his magnum opus, “Capital.

” The factories that sprang up in the Industrial Revolution illustrated the capitalist principle of wage labor, in which workers disavowed ownership of the means of production in return for an hourly wage. This process concentrated wealth in the hands of industrialists, whose fortunes became tied to the fluctuations of a consumer market.

During the Industrial Revolution, capitalist America, with its large population and vast natural resources, became an economic juggernaut that took advantage of a vast internal and international consumer market.

The political implications of the American Industrial Revolution included the rise of the United States as a global economic power, the clash between traditional culture and modern progress, and the passage of labor-related legislation.

The Civil War represented a conflict between an agrarian society, which relied upon slave labor, and an industrial society in which paid employees fueled a consumer economy. The expansion of the American economy had international repercussions, including the opening of relations with Japan and spurred rapid territorial growth.

Urban workers also became a vocal political class, and encouraged the passage of legislation such as the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act.

About the Author

Douglas Matus is the travel writer for “West Fort Worth Lifestyle” magazine, and spent four years as the Director of Humanities for a college-prep school in Austin.

Since 2005, he has published articles on education, travel and culture in such publications as “Nexus,” “People's World” and “USA Today.

” Matus received an Education Pioneers fellowship in 2010 and an MFA from CalArts in 2011.

The Political Economy of American Industrialization, 1877–1900

by Richard Franklin Bensel. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. xxiii + 549 pp. Index, notes, figures, maps, tables. Cloth, $70.00; paper $25.00.

ISBN: cloth 0-521-77233-8; paper 0-521-77604-X.

Reviewed by Robin L. Einhorn

In this large and impressive book, Richard Franklin Bensel argues that the key to American industrial development in the late nineteenth century was the Republican Party. Although he frames his study as a contribution to comparative political economy (using the U.S.

case to explore how “democracy” and “development” could coexist), Bensel actually takes aim at two influential views of U.S. history in particular: interpretations of economic growth and business history that downplay politics; and interpretations of political and electoral behavior that downplay economic policy issues.

In the late-nineteenth-century United States, he argues, industrialization depended on active government promotion, and politics was dominated by debates about economic policy. As he has done in two previous books, Sectionalism and American Politics (1984) and Yankee Leviathan (1990), Bensel also emphasizes the significance of sectional conflicts.

Historians who focus on local class conflicts—over wages in the industrial belt, cotton-crop liens in the South, grain marketing in the West—miss the redistributions that were organized into partisan politics more directly: the “intersectional redistributions” that favored the industrial Northeast and Great Lakes regions over the South and West.

The Republican Party promoted capital accumulation in the industrial belt by intensifying the regionally uneven development of the U.S. economy.

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Three major policies dominate this narrative: the protective tariff, the gold standard, and the unregulated national market. The Republican Party championed these policies, in no small part by locating them in different branches of the federal government.

Congress crafted tariffs, or what Bensel calls the “tariff policy complex,” whose real significance was that it built support for the Republican Party.

Tariffs on raw wool won support from the wool growers of the Great Plains, while tariff revenues funded the massive pension system for Union veterans, which won support throughout the agricultural regions of the North. Bensel comes close to dismissing the economic significance of industrial “protection” altogether.

“The tariff certainly had economic effects, some of them very important, but the importance of protection for national development lay primarily in its politics,” as the centerpiece of a policy complex that “underpinned the Republican developmental coalition” (pp. 463, 466).

Politically, the tariff subsidized the gold standard and the unregulated national market, which Bensel casts as more significant economically but less popular. For these reasons, they could not be entrusted to Congress. Presidents and treasury secretaries defended the gold standard, which encouraged reinvestments of industrial profits in the U.S.

economy, despite the huge support for silver and other inflationist strategies reflected in Congress. After the Union victory in the Civil War created the national market, the Supreme Court defended and expanded it by striking down the mostly state-level laws that tried to raise barriers (for example, discriminating against out-of-state firms) “almost as fast as they were erected” (p. 321).

Most of us are familiar with the “battle of the standards” of the late nineteenth century, if only for its role in the Bryan campaign of 1896. Bensel charts this battle in party platforms and in Congress, but his analysis of the administration and defense of the gold standard (chapter 6) is simply fascinating.

Anyone could tell whether this effort was successful: the United States was on gold if the Treasury could redeem paper and silver in gold on demand. But, under the Bland-Allison Act (1878) and the Sherman Silver Purchase Act (1890), the Treasury had to buy and coin large amounts of silver it was never able to circulate in the economy.

Thus, defending the gold standard required the government to store vast numbers of silver dollars. By 1890, the Treasury was holding enough to fill 1,000 freight cars. “The United States,” as Bensel explains, “in effect, was operating a price support program for silver producers” that was only “partially disguised as an inflationary strategy” (p.

393) and that Nevada representatives compared to the protection the tariff granted to the iron producers of the Northeast and Midwest.

Thus, to the story of the fight over whether the United States should have been on gold or silver, Bensel adds the story of how the executive branch (under Republican presidents and the gold Democrat Grover Cleveland) kept the nation on gold—despite congressional opposition, the fiscal drag of silver purchases, and repatriations of European capital whenever the silver agitation heated up.

The Effects of Industrialization on American Democracy

We like to imagine that we live in the most innovative era in history. After all, we’ve experienced the digital revolution. We’ve seen the power of computers grow at warp speed. We can’t get enough of smartphones and robotics and online everything.

But it was our great-grandparents who really lived through the most astounding period of technological change in human history. It was known as the industrial revolution.

It got off the ground in the early 1800s when water power was harnessed to run machinery in the textile mills. The next step was steam power, which revolutionized both industry and transportation.

By the end of the century, electricity was bringing changes that had never been dreamed of.

One of the biggest transformations of the era was the shift in population from farms and rural areas to cities. Cities had been centers of commerce, now they became the home to vast  manufacturing enterprises and the exploding population of workers needed to man them. America became an urban society.

Industrialization transformed the production of goods. Machines performed tasks rapidly, precisely, and without rest. Advances in automation and metal working enhanced productivity.

One of the effects was to create what we call the consumer culture. Things people used to make at home or buy from craftsmen were suddenly available cheaply because of mass-production. No more homespun cloth or homemade soap. Now there were record players, typewriters, Kodak cameras, and machine-made furniture. The Sears Roebuck catalogue became the Amazon of its day.

Manufacturing output in the United States in the early 1900s was more than twenty times what it had been before the Civil War.

Transportation changed utterly. First, the steamboat. Then the locomotive. Electric streetcars meant that folks could suddenly commute to work. That gave birth to the first suburban sprawl.

Communication was transformed. It’s hard to appreciate the difference that the telegraph made, but it was the first real way to communicate at a distance. The stock ticker—you’ve probably heard about ticker tape parades—was a telegraphic device that consolidated the national financial markets. The telephone took it all to a whole new level.


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