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Urban America Essay

The United States began as a European colony, flocked by a variety of settlers and migrants that included the Spanish, French, Dutch, and British. Most early settlements were coastal, as no one had dared yet to venture into the untamed barrier that was the Appalachian Mountains. 1 There were thirteen original colonies, and all of them led primarily rural livelihoods, relying on small-scale farming to produce their own needs. Candles, soap, food and beer were made in the home, and what they could not make they traded with other homes for their own.

Small cities, centers of trade, were already in existence, but even up until the late 18th century, only 5% of the population at the time resided in these areas. 2 As the small cities began to trade with other more established countries, the economic life was gradually boosted. Soon, industries began to develop. Specialized operations such as saw mills and shipyards opened business. Iron manufacturing also began developing. Patterns of economic development would prevail from these early beginnings and would gradually become stable in the 18th century. 3.

By the end of the 18th century, however, the United States was still predominantly rural. A census in 1790 revealed that 95% of the population lived in the countryside. 4 The South was particularly heavily countrified, mostly retaining its slave-supported staple crop plantations and 1. “An Outline of the American Economy,” From Revolution to Reconstruction – an . HTML project, Internet, available from http://odur. let. rug. nl/~usa/ECO/1991/ch3_p3. htm, accessed 15 February 2007, 3. 2. “United States People,” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia, available from http://encarta.

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msn. com/encyclopedia_1741500824_10/United_States_People. html, accessed 15 February 2007. 3. “An Outline of the American Economy”, 3. 4. “United States People”. other agricultural economies it had flourished on. 5 Cities were centers for trade, political power and religious authority. Society here was organized according to economic status. Most shops and businesses were located at the center, and so the rich class comprised of merchants, lawyers, and manufacturers built their townhouses at walking distance from where they worked, as well as to the docks, and offices.

The middle class lived a little further from this area, and the poor lived further still, in the suburbs, away from urban amenities and the general bustle of transactions. 6 When the United States obtained its independence, a new economy emerged, directly resulting from the provisions of the newly adopted U. S. Constitution. It unified the states into a “common” market, and so no taxes and tariffs were levied on interstate commercial exchanges, while providing for uniform bankruptcy laws across states and fixed rules on patents and copyrights. 7 The nation was fast shifting.

Soon after independence, it rapidly began towards modernization. Under the new constitution, the economy grew rapidly, and the Americans enjoyed a huge market within its borders. The Industrial Revolution, which was already raging in Britain by then, was slowly creeping in. The inventions from Britain were patronized by the Americans, even creating their own versions. They encouraged mechanics and other knowledgeable people to move in. Although Britain wanted to keep their skilled sector from migrating to its former colony, but the __________________

5. “Agriculture Rules the South,” From Revolution to Reconstruction – an . HTML project, Internet, available from http://odur. let. rug. nl/~usa/H/1990/ch1_p8. htm, accessed 15 February 2007. 6. “United States People,” Encarta. 7. “New Nation’s Economy,” From Revolution to Reconstruction – an . HTML project, Internet, available from http://odur. let. rug. nl/~usa/ECO/1991/ch3_p4. htm, accessed 15 February 2007. bounties had proved too enticing. And so, America eventually gained the skilled manpower and technology that fueled its own industrialization.

The Americans embraced industrialization fully. They excelled in mechanization and were noticed for it. It was not long before the United States became the leader in manufacturing, fueling the second wave of the Industrial Revolution that began in its former mother state. 8 With industrialization came the construction of factories of textiles, cotton processing, as well as the creation of various machines and gadgets. The most important means of communication at the time, the telegraph, was invented by Samuel F. B. Morse.

9 Geographical expansion began with the establishment of the railway, all made possible with the manufacture of iron, and later on, steel. Cities bustled with modernization and jobs, attracting more and more people from rural areas, as well as overseas. The wealth of the United States in this era, as well as the possibilities presented by a young, sparsely populated nation aroused the ambitions of Europeans. Thus began the urbanization of America. 10 With the prosperity enjoyed by the people, standards of living became higher. Employment increased as industries were created.

Communication improved with the invention of the telegraph and the telephone. The development of city transportation such as trolleys and streetcars expanded city boundaries, and people no longer saw the need to live near their jobs. They had more choices about where to live, and the well-off established separate neighborhoods for themselves on the city borders or in the country, seeking out neighbors with similar status. __________________ 8. “Industrial Revolution,” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia, available from http://encarta.

msn. com/encyclopedia_761577952/Industrial_Revolution. html, accessed February 15, 2007. 9. “An Outline of the American Economy”, 9. 10. “Industrial Revolution”, Encarta. Gradually, residential areas were moved outside the center of the city, which became the business district. The middle class also lived outside the city in housing developments in “model towns”. 11 Meanwhile, the poorer folk, fresh from the countryside and from foreign shores, had to contend with less than ideal housing within the city.

Landlords who converted former houses into subdivided apartment buildings took advantage of their plight by charging rent for the poorly maintained and unsanitary flats. The poor pounced on the offer, nevertheless, lured by the promise and proximity of work. As the nation continued to grow and prosper, problems and humanitarian concerns began to multiply in many areas. Internal and external migrants poured relentlessly, transforming towns into cities. In the period within 1830 to 1890, the major cities of New York, Chicago and Philadelphia had already sustained over a million inhabitants each.

This population growth spurt outpaced the capacity of local governments to provide clean water and sanitary services, especially in poorer areas, which deteriorated city conditions. 12 Meanwhile, the abuses in commercial transactions needed attention. Railway operators either overcharged or undercharged shippers irrespective of distances, high tariffs were being imposed. The city governments were also guilty of corruption. 13 Among landlords and employers, high rents, low wages, and inferior services were common practice. Many suffered in poverty and misery despite the economic upsurge.

__________________ 11. Atterbury, Grosvenor, “Model Towns in America,” Scribner’s Magazine, July 1912, 20-35, available in http://www. library. cornell. edu/Reps/DOCS/atterbur. htm, accessed 15 February 2007. 12. “United States People,” Encarta. 13. “An Outline of American History,” From Revolution to Reconstruction – an . HTML Project, Internet, available from http://odur. let. rug. nl/~usa/H/1990/ch6_p6. htm, accessed 15 February 2007. Aside from low wages, employees also experienced discriminating treatment from factory owners and supervisors.

Some owners believed that poor families who are not employed in factories become lazy and immoral, even criminal. Women laborers were not believed to become immoral, but they were not at all expected to get promoted in the factory ranking, and were required to live in boarding houses that imposed rules on proper decorum. Over all, workers were looked down upon by their bosses. Although their economic prospects were limited by their employment status and nevertheless condescended upon, factory workers were paid wages for their services.

Though the cotton industry contributed to the growth of the economy, it also promoted the spread of slavery. Slaves, unlike factory workers, are totally owned by their bosses, both the labor and the person. They were not free; they did not go home after a day’s work. They tended the fields during the day and served in the households of their masters during the night. Slaves were of African descent, and they were treated unequally and demeaned because of their race. 14 Although there were free blacks in the North, they were treated no fairer by the whites.

Discrimination in every aspect of society was launched at them, the only other as equally oppressed people being the Irish. The Irish were among those who were forced to live in overcrowded slums featuring no toilet facilities at all, high disease and mortalities, and rampant crime. 15 Crime was also becoming of the deteriorating conditions in the cities. Robbery, theft, __________________ 14. The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, “Why A Factory? ” National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Internet, available from http://invention.

smithsonian. org/centerpieces/whole_cloth/u2ei/u2materials/eiSessay_fact. html, accessed 15 February 2007. 15. “United States,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, Online copy, available from http://www. britannica. com/eb/article-77728/United-States, accessed 15 February 2007. and prostitution were commonplace occurrences. Although murder was uncommon in the states in the 19th century, it was high in the cities. Modern-day offenses like organized crime, and the sale and use of contraband also proliferated. 16

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