The rise of Industrial America

The rise of Industrial America


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MAY 10, 1869 = Completing one of the greatest engineering feats of the 1800’s; the meeting of the Central Pacific RR and Union Pacific RR in Promontory, Utah

This photo was taken after the completion of the first Continental rail line in America. More than 6000 Chinese immigrants from the west, thousands of other Civil War veterans and Irish immigrants from the east took enormous risks as they blasted tunnels through the mountains. Although the railroads paid all their employees poorly, Asians usually earned less than whites. The immigrants’ working conditions were miserable, for example, the railroad hired them to dig tunnels through a granite mountain. For five months of that year, the Chinese lived and worked in camps surrounded by banks of snow. The total snowfall reached over 40 feet. Hundreds of the men were buried in avalanches or later found frozen, still clutching their shovels or picks.


During the 19th century, the United States grew tremendously and transformed from a struggling farm based nation to the leading industrial power in the world. Its manufacturing output exceeded that of its three largest rivals; Great Britain, France, and Germany. The rapid growth of the U.S. Economy, averaging 4% a year, was the result of a combination of factors:

1 The abundant labor supply, supplemented yearly by the arrival of hundreds of thousand of immigrants between 1865 and 1900.

2 A growing population, combined with an advanced transportation network, made the United States the largest market in the world for industrial goods.

3 Capital was plentiful, as Europeans with surplus wealth recognized a good investment and joined well to do Americans in funding the economic expansion.

4 The development of labor-saving technologies increased productivity. Over 400,000 new patents were granted by the federal government from 1860 to 1890.

5 Business benefited from friendly government policies that protected private property, subsidized railroads with land grants and loans, supported U.S. manufactures with protective tariffs, and refrained from either regulating business operations or heavily taxing cooperate profits.

6 Talented entrepreneurs build and manage vast industrial and commercial enterprises.