Industrialization of the United States

US historical travel topics:
Indigenous nationsPre-Civil WarCivil WarOld WestIndustrializationPost-war

Industrial development in the United States began already in the 18th century (see early United States history). However, the years from 1865 to 1945 were momentous, as the USA rose from an agrarian nation of 35 million citizens, to the world's dominant superpower, and the home of 140 million people, mostly through immigration. The Old West was colonized, and mass production, automobiles, electric lighting, and popular culture such as Hollywood movies and jazz (see The Jazz Track) created the modern American lifestyle.


Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water.W. C. Fields

The late 19th century was named The Gilded Age; and saw a rising class of capitalists and intellectuals, among continued poverty, widespread corruption, and racial tension in the wake of the emancipation of slaves. The Progressive Era starting around 1900 brought political reforms, such as antitrust laws, labor rights, women's suffrage, as well as the prohibition of alcohol, which was repealed in 1933. The "war on drugs" has its origin in the prohibition era and the time immediately afterwards, though the actual term was not used until the Nixon era.

World War I was followed by the Roaring Twenties, an economic boom brought to halt by the 1929 stock market crash that led to the Great Depression. The New Deal policies of the 1930s included infrastructure projects which transformed the American scenery. During the interwar years the US started intervening in some low level domestic conflicts and civil wars throughout Central America and the Caribbean, mostly to ensure stable dictatorships favorable to the US and American business interests primarily in bananas and other agricultural products. This era gave rise to the term "banana republic" and some of the same patterns could be seen after the war with a cold war background.

As World War II in Europe began in 1939, the United States was a non-belligerent supporter of the Allies. The Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 marked the beginning of American involvement in the Pacific War, and after Germany also declared war on the US shortly thereafter, the American Armed Forces became officially engaged in the European theater as well. In 1944 the Allies, mostly Americans, landed at the D day beaches and helped bring the war to an end by May 1945 (Europe) and September 1945 (Japan) respectively. While industrial output continued growing throughout the 1950s, the rise of the automobile as well as a growing trend of suburbanization that originated from returning soldiers building houses in the suburbs drastically reversed some of the earlier trends and also led to political changes, among them the civil rights movement and following that, the decline of liberalism and progressivism in the American political landscape.

In sports this era saw the rise and consolidation into "Major Leagues" of Baseball as well as the setting of the first rules of American Football, a sport initially almost exclusively played by high-school and college amateurs. Basketball was also invented in this era and Ice Hockey consolidated into a sport played mostly in the Midwest, the Northeast and Canada, but their public attention was low and their attendance figures were dwarfed by "America's pastime", Baseball. Radio and railroads made nationwide leagues at least a theoretic possibility and by the beginning of the 20th century Major League Baseball franchises could be found in most of the Northeast and Midwest, playing the first "World Series" in 1903. Professional football originated mostly in and around Ohio and by 1920 a league that would later become the NFL and included teams such as Green Bay or the Chicago Cardinals (now playing in Arizona) crowned its first champion but was mostly ignored by major newspapers, radio stations and the public at large.


The United States has too many remnants from the Industrial Revolution to mention in a single article. This is a compilation of cities and other places of great historical importance, where the industrial heritage is more or less visible today. Many of them are in the north-east, and can be seen on the American Industry Tour from Boston to Chicago.

As the American frontier was closed during the late 19th century (with the exception of Alaska), the early 20th century was the Golden Age of American cities. Since the 1940s, much of the population has migrated to suburbs, as many city centers decayed. During the 21th century, some American city centers have been revitalized, due in part to rising gas prices that make living in the suburbs uneconomical, and decreased crime rates that make the city center attractive again. The trend of re-urbanization appears to continue resulting in better public transport systems in and between many cities.

In the mid-19th century, America became world leading in railroads, and later in urban rail. However, from the 1930s, the General Motors Streetcar Conspiracy had many rail lines closed down, to promote automobile use. Ever since then, America has been the land of the automobile, with rail travel lagging behind. Even today of roughly one billion automobiles in the world 250 million are driving around on American streets. Getting around the United States without a car can thus be difficult.

New England

New England had already developed some industries during the Colonial era, but industrialization really took off during the Civil War.


The Mid-Atlantic had thriving industrial cities even before the Civil War. Their productivity helped bring the Union to victory. Many immigrants from Ireland, Italy and Eastern Europe settled here. The manufacturing crisis beginning in the 1960s hit the Mid-Atlantic hard, but high-tech, service and hospitality industries have emerged, and many industrial buildings have been redeveloped for other purposes.


The rich natural resources, such as grain, iron, coal, wood and hydroelectric power, together with the Great Lakes and the Mississippi river system, allowed the Midwestern cities to boom during the Industrial Revolution. Since World War II, manufacturing has declined, and the region is today known as the "Rust Belt", with high unemployment and urban decay.

The South

After the American Civil War, the federal government organized the South under the Reconstruction program. Reconstruction briefly brought the civil rights guaranteed in the constitution to (almost) all (male) citizens, including African Americans. However by 1876 Reconstruction had ended and the South was firmly in the grab of the old white landowning elite from the antebellum era. Though slavery was abolished, racial tension continued, and under "Jim Crow laws", African-Americans remained as second-class citizens until the Civil Rights revolution during the 1950s and 60s. There was a civil rights movement throughout the 19th and early 20th century, however it was less successful than in the 50s and 60s (owing in part to different attitudes among white Northerners) and more focused on lifting African Americans up from poverty through education and economic development than on achieving political participation. The most notable result of the early civil rights movement was their defeat in the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case that established the notorious "separate but equal" rule in 1896 and was overturned in 1954 in the ruling on Brown v. Board of Education.

Industrialization generally came late to the South; however, the oil industry in Texas boomed starting around 1900. The New Deal targeted the South, especially through the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The West

California became the Land of Opportunity; more civilized than the Wild West.


See also

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, February 13, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.