The Industrial Revolution in America: Inventions & Effects

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Patricia Chappine

Patricia has a Ph.D. in Progress, History and Culture as well as a master's degree in Holocaust and genocide studies. She has taught heritage of the western world and U.S. history.

The Industrial Revolution in America left a lasting effect on nearly every aspect of society. In this lesson, learn about the inventions that changed America, discuss the lasting effects of these changes, and take a quiz to summarize the key points.

What Was the Industrial Revolution?

The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain in 1750. At the beginning of the 19th century, America was mostly an agrarian (agricultural) society. Approximately six out of seven workers were involved in some type of farming. In 1820, the United States started to shift from an agricultural society to one based on wage labor, which was called the American Industrial Revolution. As the number of states increased from 16 to 34 in 1860, the percentage of farmers decreased to half of the workforce.

During the same decade, the population soared from five million to 30 million. The main influences for industrialization were the Embargo Act of 1807 and the War of 1812. The Embargo Act was enacted by Congress to cease the export of American goods and restrict the importation of certain British products. This created a greater need for America to produce goods domestically. Also, when America and Great Britain went to war with each other in 1812, the lack of adequate transportation and communication caused great difficulties for both sides.

Industrialization in the United States began by borrowing technology from English inventors and innovators. The first textile factory to use a water-powered spinning machine was started by Samuel Slater, a British immigrant, in 1790. Soon, American technology surpassed the British machines they had copied. Besides an influx of British technology, several other key features led to the manufacturing boom after 1860.

The use of large deposits of coal in states such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia created a source of fuel for factories. Innovations in railroad technology and communication contributed to the creation of more jobs and allowed goods to be sold to the greater market. The increase in factories led to a higher demand for workers. Competition between businesses to cut costs and win customers led to a drop in prices overall. The money supply could not keep up with the production, which ultimately caused high interest and less credit availability.

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Theodore Roosevelt & the Progressives: Definition and Political Agenda

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:02 What Was the…
  • 2:20 Railroad Industry
  • 4:00 Steel Industry
  • 4:51 New Inventions
  • 6:08 Industrial Factory
  • 7:12 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

The Railroad Industry

The need for better transportation was essential for the United States. Miles of roads and new canals were built to connect the vast open areas of America. The steamboat was an important means of transportation in the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. However, the railroad quickly overshadowed the steamboat in the transportation revolution.

In 1830, the U.S. only had an estimated 100 miles of track. The railroads expanded rapidly after that. By 1860, 27,000 miles of track were built, and by 1900, 193,000 miles of track were completed. Importantly, these new tracks connected the eastern and western United States, made selling goods more affordable, and allowed a network of national supply distribution.

Railroad entrepreneurs competed ruthlessly with each other. For example, Jay Gould of the Union Pacific Railroad was often depicted as a greedy villain for his business practices. In order to keep his profits up, he drove many smaller railroad companies out of business, cut rates for large companies, offered rebates to powerful clients, and gave free passes to political leaders.

These unsavory business practices hurt small farmers and business owners who often paid excessive rates to make up for the rebates given to the wealthy. The federal government responded by enacting the Interstate Commerce Act in 1887. This legislation outlawed monopolies, rebates, and short-distance rates and established a committee to police the railroad industry.

The Steel Industry

Since the rapid growth of the railroad industry required large amounts of steel tracks, the steel industry also profited during the Industrial Revolution. Andrew Carnegie was involved in the expansion and streamlining of the American steel industry. A Scottish immigrant who moved to the U.S. in 1848, his first job was bobbin boy in a textile factory. He eventually became one of the wealthiest men of the 19th century.

By investing his earnings in the railroad industry, Carnegie made enough money to build his own steel mill. His mill operated on the principle of controlling every aspect of production to ensure maximum cost efficiency and output. By 1900, Carnegie Steel was the largest industrial corporation the world had ever seen.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it now
Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account