Early Industrialization in the Northeast

A timeline shows important events of the era. In 1807, Robert Fulton builds the first successful steamboat; an illustration of a steamboat traversing a waterway is shown. In 1813, Francis Cabot Lowell founds the Boston Manufacturing Company; an engraving of the Boston Manufacturing Company buildings and environs is shown. In 1819, a bank panic leads to depression. In 1825, the Erie Canal opens; an early nineteenth-century map depicting the western United States is shown. In 1831, Cyrus McCormick invents the mechanical reaper, and the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad begins service; a drawing of McCormick’s mechanical reaper is shown. In 1838, Samuel Morse first demonstrates the telegraph; an illustration of a telegraph is shown. In 1841, P. T. Barnum’s American Museum opens in New York City.
(credit “1807 photo”: Project Gutenberg Archives)

Northern industrialization expanded rapidly following the War of 1812. Industrialized manufacturing began in New England, where wealthy merchants built water-powered textile mills (and mill towns to support them) along the rivers of the Northeast. These mills introduced new modes of production centralized within the confines of the mill itself. As never before, production relied on mechanized sources with water power, and later steam, to provide the force necessary to drive machines. In addition to the mechanization and centralization of work in the mills, specialized, repetitive tasks assigned to wage laborers replaced earlier modes of handicraft production done by artisans at home. The operations of these mills irrevocably changed the nature of work by deskilling tasks, breaking down the process of production to its most basic, elemental parts. In return for their labor, the workers, who at first were young women from rural New England farming families, received wages. From its origin in New England, manufacturing soon spread to other regions of the United States.

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