How the Industrial Revolution fueled the growth of cities
The period of rapid technological progress in the United States known as the Industrial Revolution may have taken place during parts of the 18th and 19th centuries, but its impact resonated for decades and influenced everything from food, clothing, travel and accommodation, especially in cities.
While American cities like Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore certainly existed before the start of the Industrial Revolution, newly established factories, factories and other mass production sites fueled their growth, as people flooded urban areas to take advantage of job opportunities. . But that’s only part of the story.
As the population of cities continued to grow, these municipalities faced the challenge of how to handle the influx of people. Problems such as the availability of housing, overcrowding, and the spread of infectious diseases had to be resolved as quickly as possible, or newly industrialized cities risked losing their citizens and the factories that employed them. Here is what happened.
WATCH: America: The Story of Us: Cities on HISTORY Vault
Origins of the Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution began in England in the mid-1700s: a few decades after the country’s first steam engines were produced. The textile industry was the first to benefit from emerging technology, such as Richard Arkwright’s “water frame” (patented in 1769), James Hargreaves’ “spinning jenny” (patented in 1770) and the mechanical loom of ‘Edmund Cartwright (patented 1786). Factories capable of mass-producing cotton fabrics sprang up all over the country.
It did not take long for British industrialists to take advantage of manufacturing opportunities in the nascent United States, and in 1793 Englishman Samuel Slater opened a textile factory in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Using technology developed in England, as well as new additions, such as Eli Whitney’s cotton gin (patented in 1794), America’s industrialization continued.
Urbanization begins in the United States
America’s so-called (or second) Industrial Revolution began in the second half of the 19th century, as the country was rebuilding after the Civil War, its bloodiest conflict to date. At the same time, waves of European immigrants began arriving in America in search of jobs, many of them in factories in industrial cities.
“After the Civil War, the United States gradually transformed from a largely rural agrarian society to one dominated by cities where large factories replaced the production of small shops,” says Alan Singer, historian at the University. Hofstra in Hempstead, New York, and author of New York’s Great Emancipation Jubilee. “Cities grew because industrial plants were labor intensive and workers and their families needed housing close to where they worked. Factories and cities attracted millions of immigrants seeking work and a better life in the United States.
But the dominance of cities didn’t happen overnight, according to Daniel Hammel, a professor in the Department of Geography and Planning at the University of Toledo and associate dean of the College of Arts and Letters. “Even during the Industrial Revolution, most Americans lived in the countryside,” he explains. “We were basically a rural nation until about 1920.”
Scroll to continue
Indeed, the 1920 US census was the first in which more than 50% of the population lived in urban areas. Even then, says Hammel, “we’re not talking about massive cities; we are talking about small colonies, in many cases of 2,500 or 3,000 people.
The 1870s also saw a rapid expansion of the country’s railway system. Prior to this period, for a city to be a manufacturing center, it had to be located somewhere with access to water, such as an East Coast port (such as New York or Boston), one of the Great Lakes (like Buffalo or Cleveland), a canal (like Albany or Akron) or a river (like Cincinnati or Pittsburgh). But thanks to the continued growth of the railroad, developed places without access to water, such as Scranton, Indianapolis, and Dayton had the means to ship and receive supplies and goods.
The industrialization of agriculture
One of the byproducts of the Industrial Revolution was a change in American farming methods and, therefore, in the amount of labor required to till the land. “At one time, you needed a large family to be able to cultivate your land,” says Hammel. “But with industrialization, especially in the early 20th century, agricultural production became more mechanized and we didn’t need as much labor in rural areas.” This prompted (or in some cases, enabled) young adults who were no longer needed on the family farm to seek opportunities in the urban factories.
The industrialization of agriculture has also affected African American farmers living in southern states, Hammel says. “All of a sudden the landowners didn’t need so many people working on their land, so they moved [the tenant farmers] out,” he notes. “And that was, in essence, the beginning of the Great Migration. From then until the era of World War II, African Americans left the Mississippi Delta in large numbers, especially to cities in the Midwest. Some of the more common city destinations included Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and New York.
More people, more problems
The Industrial Revolution caused cities to turn into towns and existing cities to swell, both in terms of population – with newcomers from Europe and rural areas of the United States – as well as their geographic footprint, now that they housed factories and other buildings needed for manufacturing.
And while job opportunities were the main draw for most new city dwellers, it left them with the problem of having to find housing. For many, this meant moving into cramped, dark apartment buildings: some of them were already considered old, while others (especially in Chicago) were hastily built and of exceptionally high quality. mediocre, notes Hammel.
But at the same time, Hammel points out that population density itself is not a problem. “There were very wealthy, very healthy people living in extremely high density,” he explains. “But if you don’t have a lot of money, the density combined with the lack of light and lack of air circulation in some of these buildings was a major issue.” Specifically, as Singer points out, it was a public health issue. “Rapid and unregulated urbanization has resulted in overcrowding, substandard housing for workers, inadequate infrastructure (including water and sewage systems) and the spread of epidemic diseases like tuberculosis,” it notes. -he.
As more was understood about how people got sick, cities created public health departments dedicated to reducing preventable illness and death through improved sanitation, hygiene , infrastructure, housing, food and water quality and workplace safety. While many of these areas are still work in progress, these societal advances were originally born out of necessity, when the Industrial Revolution fueled the growth of America’s cities.