Industrialization after the Civil War


The Industrial Revolution that occurred in the 19th century significantly changed America’s way of life and had a profound effect on the subsequent world economy. Industrialization is the process by which a society transforms from an agricultural-based economy to a manufacturing-based entity. It spurred the country’s economic growth, eventually becoming the leading industrial power by 1920. The Industrial Revolution transformed all aspects of American life, whether economic or political as well as altered the fabric of society altogether.

The purpose of this paper is three-fold. First, it takes into account three significant aspects of the Industrial Revolution from 1865 to 1920. At this point, it not only dwells on economic issues but also, briefly looks into other facets such as the society and politics. Secondly, it describes five groups that were affected by industrialization. This part goes on to explain how each group was affected by the transformation. Finally, it gives rise to ways on how industrialization influenced the life of the average-working American during this era.

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Impact on Society, Politics and the Economy

There was a massive transformation of the United States during the period of industrialization. As the nation once relied on the United Kingdom in terms of agricultural commodities, it then became an independent superpower globally in terms of economic growth. Generally, economic growth until 1870 was focused more on land transformation and cultivation. After several decades, there was a shift in terms of economic activity from crop production in farmlands to the manufacture of various commercial products in the cities (Bensel, 2000).

After the Civil War, there was an upward spiral of steel production brought about by technological advancements. New technology, such as the Bessemer method was introduced in the steel production process (Parish, 2013).

Another important aspect of industrialization was the decrease of unemployment rates. A growing number of large factories that offered opportunities to the unemployed were also observed (Rees, 2015). Furthermore, the poor had access to increased opportunities that, in turn, elevated the living standards of the average American (Perman & Taylor, 2010).

However, as years passed, the gap between the poor and the rich continued to widen slowly, and this gave birth to the concept of social stratification. There were large shifts in the economy and society and it was molded by external factors and cynic intentions. Native-born Americans especially in the cities were of higher priority than immigrants in terms of wages, job opportunities and education. Issues on racism, gender and ethnicity also arose (Bensel, 2000; Hirschman and Mogford, 2009).

Finally, industrialization had political repercussions. The political implications of industrialization were the rise of the United States as a world economic supremacy (Rees, 2015). There was also political conflict with regard to industrialization. In a span of two years, the United States was recognized as an international gold standard following massive reconstruction of the economy and society. Military disbursements decreased as cotton production continued in the southern areas, and this eventually resulted to greater political stability for the entire nation (Bensel, 2000).

Impact on Major Groups

Various groups were affected by the Industrial Revolution. These included women, children, immigrants, the labor force, and the African Americans.

Women were involved in five types of working conditions during the Industrial Revolution. These included domestic work, agricultural work, factory work, manual labor, street-selling, mining and prostitution. Women employed in factories were forced to work for long hours under damp and humid conditions. They were also exposed to harmful chemicals such as lead, thus they were prone to numerous respiratory diseases. Despite such risks, women were paid with very low wages, which were relatively insufficient to pay the bills at home and purchase the necessary supplies. Prostitution also became a widespread problem because of poverty. It was regarded as the bridge for single women to earn higher wages than what they normally receive from working domestically or in factories (Working Women Editors).

Married women were obliged to work aside from doing household chores and taking care of their children. Nonetheless, they were paid with lower wages due to the fact that they regularly obtain support from their working husbands. Husbands, in turn, normally refuse to help their wives with regard to the chores at home for they do not wish to be humiliated with regard to their status. Women were also maltreated physically by their husbands if they failed to handle family concerns efficiently (Pinchbeck, 1981).

Young children were also forced to work under rigorous conditions. They normally worked at least 10 to 14 hours daily with short breaks in between shifts and with lower wages. This resulted in their limited accessibility to proper education. Children who work in factories were frequently exposed to toxic chemicals and fumes, thus, they were prone to numerous chronic illnesses. They were also exposed to possible accidents due to complex machinery and equipment (Eastern Illinois University)

Immigrants in the United States experienced poor living conditions as well during the Industrial Revolution. Since factories were widespread during this period, there was a greater demand for unskilled workers. They generally hire young immigrants to do such scrupulous jobs because of their willingness to be paid lower than the minimum wage. Moreover, they have no choice but to work under mediocre conditions compared to the native-born Americans (Hirschman and Mogford, 2009).

African Americans, in turn, became the major solution to the large labor demand in the United States during the Industrial Revolution. Most of them were brought by various merchants and traders from the Atlantic and in numerous tropical areas.  They were subjected into slavery, not only because of their complexion, but also in their ability to accept meager jobs. “Blacks” were stereotyped then as “slaves” and as such, the concept of racial discrimination began (Goucher et al., 1998).

The Industrial Revolution caused a great change in terms of increased urbanization in the society and labor alterations from agriculture to factories (Hirschman and Mogford, 2009). The labor force was exposed to low wages and forced to work under poor and unsafe conditions (Parish, 2013). This brought about the formation of labor unions and laws to forbid poor working conditions.

Impact on the Average American

During the period of industrialization, the life of the average American was altered in numerous ways.

There was a significant increase in the number of cities, expelling people from the rural areas to the newly formed centers (Rees, 2015). Population growth in the cities was more than half of the entire population of the United States from 1880 to 1920. Large factories that were built during this period were situated in the cities, where labor demand was at its highest. Nonetheless, a great number of people living in the cities were immigrants from Africa and Europe (Hirschman and Mogford, 2009).

In addition, most people were displaced from their land to give way to expansive economic activities. Labor shifted from agriculture to industry which enabled production to move from the traditional home setting to factories. This eventually led to the relocation of a great number of people living in the rural areas to small towns and large cities where most of the industrial centers are located (Majewski, 1986; Bensel, 2000)

Around 2.3 million workers were assigned on the railway and railroad areas from 1880 to 1920 for the purpose of improving the transportation sector. Some of the workers were not just immigrants, but also, native-born Americans. During the late 19th century, railroad construction became widespread in the cities. Furthermore, in 1880, the telegraph became the only mode of long distance communication, aside from mails being sent to the post offices. The telephone, in turn, was introduced to the communications sector in 1920 (Hirschman and Mogford, 2009). At this point, industrialization led to advancements in transportation and paved the way for effective communication to happen in the urban and rural areas.

Industrialization has also led to increased job opportunities that helped improve the standards of living of an average American. Native-born Americans were employed in better jobs specifically in the areas of business, trade, education, health and public service. Such jobs required higher educational credentials, of which most immigrants were not able to have due to their mandatory employment in low-paying jobs. Indeed, the recruitment of workers in these respective areas was also subjected to ethnic and racial discrimination (Nardinelli, 2008; Library of Congress).

Finally, industrialization altered the economic and financial structure of the average American (Perman & Taylor, 2010). There was growth in terms of the production of goods and services and the proportion of investments also increased. Several middle-class people borrowed money with the aim of increasing their wealth and financial investments. They also had enough funds to buy expensive goods like clothing and chinaware. Traders sold various products in large quantities at relatively cheaper rates during this period, with the aim of making greater profits. New investors, innovators, managers and businessmen also arose and took higher risks in terms of their finances (Bensel, 2000; St. Rosemary Educational Institution, 2017).


It can be perceived that the Industrial Revolution changed every aspect of the society. Cultural practices were eroded, social statuses were born, and the United States became a global superpower. The Industrial Revolution caused positive effects on the standards of living of the average American. This was due to increased employment in higher-paying jobs, greater opportunities to gain more profits through business investments, and various improvements in transportation, communications and trade. However, the process was marred with adverse effects such as the abuse of labor in women, children, immigrants and African Americans. There was inequality in terms of wages paid to these groups of people as compared to the native-born Americans due to issues on racism, gender and ethnicity. Consequently, industrialization after the civil war resulted had both positive and negative repercussions in the United States.



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