The Industrial Revolution (1820-1870) was of great importance to the economic development of the United States. The Industrial Revolution itself refers to a change from hand and home production to machine and factory. This helped increase America’s growth. However, the industrial revolution truly changed American society and economy into a modern urban-industrial state. Industrialization in America involved three important developments. First, transportation was expanded. Second, electricity was effectively harnessed. Third, improvements were made to industrial processes such as improving the refining process and accelerating production. The government helped protect American manufacturers by passing a protective tariff. Industrial expansion and population growth radically changed the face of the nation’s cities. Noise, traffic jams, slums, air pollution, and sanitation and health problems became commonplace. Mass transit, in the form of trolleys, cable cars, and subways, was built, and skyscrapers began to dominate city skylines. New communities, known as suburbs, began to be built just beyond the city.
Commuters, those who lived in the suburbs and traveled in and out of the city for work, began to increase in number. Many of those who resided in the city lived in rental apartments or tenement housing. Neighborhoods, especially for immigrant populations, were often the center of community life. In the enclave neighborhoods, many immigrant groups attempted to hold onto and practice precious customs and traditions. Even today, many neighborhoods or sections of some of the great cities in the United States reflect those ethnic heritages. The industrial revolution also had a major impact on immigration. The ideal of success in business and prosperity fueled the rise in immigration. Immigrants came in search of riches but they were soon to find out that wealth was not what they received. The industrial revolution brought huge numbers of new immigrants from every part of the world. By the end of the century, nearly 30 percent of the residents of major cities were foreign-born. Their arrival to America brought the laborers that the industries and factories needed. Their arrival also created unsightly racial and ethnic tensions.
Most immigrants were lured to America by the promise of affluence even though they were doing just fine in their own countries. American industries, seeking cheap labor, kept recruiting agents on watch abroad and at American ports. America also experienced many political changes due to Industrialization. The land-owning class (aristocrats) was replaced by the industrial class (capitalists) as the leaders of governments. A laissez-faire policy took the place of mercantilism. Laissez-faire meant free trade without interference from the government. Mercantilism, or the government policy of controlling overseas markets, meant that nations were strengthened by government control of its economic interests. The right to vote for both men and women was expanded. The industrialized or developed countries quickly became the strongest powers of the world. Countries were either thought of as developed or underdeveloped. By the end of the 19th century, the United States replaced Great Britain as the leading industrial nation in the world.
In the 20th century, the Industrial Revolution would spread to almost every part of the world. New types of economic systems developed. For example, capitalism expanded in the United States; socialism in Great Britain and France; and communism in the Soviet Union. As the Industrial Revolution expanded, industrial nations sought new markets for their goods in other parts of the world. Capitalist nations became imperialist nations, extending their rule over other countries or territories, causing problems which led directly to World War I. Because machines replaced people in methods of production, the standard of living grew higher as more goods were produced. Workers tended to grow dependent on owners. Owners could hire and fire workers for any reason. The working conditions and wages were horrible which lead workers to form labor unions, an association of workers that pushed for benefits and reform. This was not an easy thing to do because labor unions were usually outlawed by the government. Many riots took place between striking union workers and the police.