Transportation & Manufacturing Advance Post-Civil War

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about post-Civil War transportation and manufacturing advances. We will examine the developments that led to these advances and observe how the resulting changes impacted American society.

The 'Second' Industrial Revolution: The Post-Civil War Boom

Imagine that you had lived during a time in which tremendous industrial advances took place. Say you were born in a log cabin on a farm, but by the time you were an adult you were living in a bustling town, complete with a railroad, manufacturing companies, and an increasingly urban feel. This would be a pretty remarkable change, no? This is the type of transformation that gripped America in the years following the Civil War.

In fact, it has sometimes been called the Second Industrial Revolution (the 'original' Industrial Revolution took place during the second half of the 18th century and into the early 19th century). This was a period characterized by tremendous advances in steam technology, machine tooling, and other manufacturing innovations. We could say a 'Second' Industrial Revolution took place in the decades after the Civil War, between 1865-1914. This period coincides with the 'Gilded Age', a term coined by Mark Twain to describe not only the outward societal progress of the era, but also the inner decay that was not always visible. There was definitely corruption and unpleasant social trends taking place during this time, but the focus of this lesson is on industrial advances. Let's learn how and why industrial advances took place following the Civil War.

A typical 19th century American steam locomotive.

Transportation Advances

The growth of the railroad had a lot to do with the post-Civil War industrial boom. In fact, it is probably the single most significant factor. Even before the Civil War broke out, Americans had dreamed of a continuous rail line linking the East with the West. Though the bloody Civil War threatened to derail this dream, it was finally realized in 1869 when the final spike (a golden one) was hammered in the line at Promontory Point, Utah, marking the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad. This line, constructed by the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads, was a marvel of engineering and opened the West up to development. Business soon sprang up alongside the railroad route, and because of this, towns and cities were established.

This photograph captures the ceremony marking the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad.

The decades following the Civil War were a sort of 'golden age' for the railroad. New technology enabled the construction of faster, more powerful, and safer locomotives. Also, during this time railroads started being constructed out of steel, instead of the iron used previously. Steel rails meant locomotives could pull more cars, which meant greater productivity for commercial trains and cheaper fares for passenger trains.

Manufacturing Advances

Oil and steel were key components of the post-Civil War industrial boom. In oil and iron rich regions like Pennsylvania, industrialists like John D. Rockefeller and others devised smart business strategies to cheaply transport natural products (like oil and iron ore) to locations were they could be turned into commercial products such as steel and gasoline. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company was a giant of a corporation that grew to become the world's largest oil refinery. Based in Ohio, this company was in an ideal geographical location to become a hub for American industry. It had connections to Pennsylvania and the North, as well as the Midwest.

A Standard Oil refinery in Ohio.

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