United States History Honors Period II
7 June 2018
America Changes Essay
Technological developments throughout the 1800s allowed America to evolve into a more advanced and powerful nation. A great example of one of these great technological advancements was the innovation shown in the transportation industry during the 19th century. Innovations in transportation revolutionized life in America for many years to come. Four prime examples of this technological improvement in America include the invention of the railroads, the development of bridges, the construction of roads and canals, as well as the use of steamboats. In the piece America on the Move, Joan Mentzer argues “Steam locomotives were lauded as the best and most powerful means of transport between cities and over long distances. … By the end of the 19th century, steam engines in the bellies of ships and locomotives had changed the landscape and the lives of Americans” (Mentzer). As a result of the railroads built all around the country, Americans were able to travel from place to place with amazing never seen before efficiency. A massive number of people could fit on each train, allowing the masses to quickly and safely travel long distances. The invention of the railroad opened up the west to a vast number of Americans. Cargo could also be transported on these trains, allowing for greater social and economic development. In the study “The Role of Bridges in Urban Evolution,” Miklos Loren studies the role of bridges in the emergence of cities. From the examination of 12 major rivers in the U.S. during the early part of the 19th century he observes, “Our theory is that a bridge is useful as it lets you trade with the other side of the river and it reduces the trade costs between the two sides of the river” (Koren). Bridges led to the emergence of cities that are still thriving today. Population and income in cities with bridges was higher because of greater economic opportunities. During this period prior to the development of cars it was important for businesses to be located close to a bridge to reduce transportation costs. The successful design of bridges was critical for the expansion of a transcontinental railroad. They allowed trains to cross rivers and canyons which previously were obstacles to expansion. Roads and canals had a vital effect on the speed of transportation during the nineteenth century. Mentzer explains, “The vast and impenetrable landscape made travel difficult and as a result people tended to live very local lives. But over the next hundred years, roads were built, canals dug, rivers improved, and rails laid, which allowed Americans to spread out and conquer the continent” (Mentzer). Road construction was one of the first improvements in American infrastructure. Major cities were often connected by post roads which at first were little more than dirt trails but later were improved with gravel or wooden planks. Canals helped link up the interior of the country. In 1825, the Erie canal opened which allowed for the transportation of food, goods and people between New York City and the expanding western frontier. The First National Road was the first federally funded road it stretched from Cumberland, Maryland to Columbus, Ohio and served as an important transportation link. Mentzer observes, “The first commercially successful steamboat was tested on the Hudson River in 1807. Steamboats were soon introduced on most navigable rivers. They allowed commerce and travel both upstream and down and encouraged trade by lowering costs and saving time. By 1830, steamboats dominated American river transportation” (Mentzer). Steamboats were instrumental in assisting in the exploration, settlement and expansion of the American continent. Steamboats helped stimulate the agricultural economy by providing better access to markets at a lower cost. The growth of steamboats spurred the growth of port cities which in turn required merchants, bankers and warehouses to support the movement of people and goods.
Communication is the cornerstone of any great society. Without effective communication, a nation could fall apart. Not only do people need to communicate with one another, but diplomats, war generals, and journalists all need quick access to information. Without fast access to information, new conflicts could break out and problems could arise. Through great technological advancements such as the telegraph, the typewriter and newspapers, America has experienced tremendous growth and change during the 19th century. Regarding the invention of the telegraph, History.com argues, “Rather than taking weeks to be delivered by horse-and-carriage mail carts, pieces of news could be exchanged between telegraph stations almost instantly” (History.com Staff). Because of the incredible speed of the telegraph’s transmissions, the invention and introduction of the was able to completely revolutionize the way that wars were fought. Information and news about battles and diplomatic developments could be transmitted almost instantaneously, rather than taking weeks for the news to travel by land. The telegraph also transformed the way that journalists and newspapers worked. Newspapers would often feature old, outdated, or even inaccurate details about stories prior to the telegraph being introduced. Another important invention of the 19th century was the first publicly-available typewriter. Juan Pablo explains in his article “Invention of the Typewriter,” “Stenographers and telegraphers could take down information at rates up to 130 words per minute, whereas a writer with a pen was limited to a maximum of 30 words per minute (the 1853 speed record)” (Pablo). The typewriter had an incredible impact on America because it was able to increase the speed at which writers could produce content and publish it to the world. Writers and journalists could write at an astonishing speed and sometimes quadruple their word per minute count. This allowed content to be put on paper at a much faster rate, which caused the spread of information to happen much quicker than before. Another revolutionary invention of the nineteenth century was the newspaper. Robert Karolevitz in his article “American Newspapers of 1800-1860” for the University of Illinois argues that nineteenth century newspapers had a small staff and a small circulation. They were often affiliated with a political party and focused on delivering that party’s view. Aided by the invention of the telegraph, the creation of the Associated Press, and faster printing presses, newspapers were able to deliver news in hours rather than days or weeks (Karolevitz). As the United States continued to expand westward newspapers helped deliver news to not only in the cities but in the rural areas as well. Because of the increased speed at which the news could be delivered it helped link the country like never before and led to unprecedented circulation. Newspapers played a major political role in the United States during this period. Because many were influenced by their sponsorship their news and editorial reporting was biased. As a result, they were influential and helped shape the national landscape politically and economically during the first half of the 19th century. The number of newspapers published during this era grew exponentially and no longer were just targeted towards the elite class. This allowed for the creation of new papers that were intended specifically for working men, free blacks, women, immigrants as well as for particular religious denominations, professions, or political causes. This furthered the influence that newspapers exerted during the first half of the 1800’s.
The invention and development of the cotton gin, the steam engine, and interchangeable parts had a significant impact on the technological changes and advancement in the 19th century. Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin had a massive impact on the cotton industry and caused a spike in the South’s economy and exports. The cotton gin was a wildly important invention that would cause massive changes in the demand for land and slaves. In the article “Historical Significance of the Cotton Gin” Martin Kelly explains, “The cotton gin made the cotton industry of the south explode. Before its invention, separating cotton fibers from its seeds was a labor-intensive and unprofitable venture” (Kelly). As Kelly describes, prior to the cotton gin, it simply was not worth it for plantation owners to be a part of the cotton industry. The process of obtaining cotton fibers was so unsuccessful and unworthwhile that most farmsteads would not bother to invest in the costly procedure. As a result of Eli Whitney’s invention, the cotton industry blew up. Plantation owners simply needed slaves to work the fields, and then they had a very profitable business. For the reason, the cotton gin was also responsible for an enormous expansion of the demand for slaves in the South. Kelly demonstrates, “From 1790 to 1860, the number of U.S. states where slavery was practiced grew from six to 15. From 1790, until Congress banned the importation of slaves from Africa in 1808, the slave states imported over 80,000 Africans” (Kelly). In less than a century, the number of slaves in the United States had increased exponentially. Unfortunately, not only did the cotton gin cause a revolution in the growth of the profitability of cotton, but it caused massive growth in the demand for slaves. Slaves were imported in masses from Africa, and even after the slave trade was banned, the growth of the slave population continued to multiply. Without slavery, the cotton industry would not have grown so rapidly. Even with the cotton gin to help speed up the process, it likely would not have been as profitable for the plantation owners if they were forced to abandon slavery. This would cause the South’s economy to strongly rely on slaves and the cotton gin, which is one of the main reasons the South was so reluctant to give up slavery in the Civil War. Another struggle that the plantation owners encountered was the difficulty in finding land to expand onto. Kelly clarifies, “Thanks largely to the cotton gin, growing cotton became so profitable that plantation owners constantly needed more land and slave labor to meet the increasing demand for the fiber” (Kelly). The production of cotton was so profitable and worthwhile that plantation owners wanted to expand their cotton farms, and for that to happen, they needed more land. The lack of space for expansion in the South would eventually lead to Andrew Jackson’s infamous expulsion of Native Americans in the Trail of Tears. The South was so desperate to fully take advantage of the booming cotton industry, it became hungry for more land, and was willing to do anything to free up more space. The cotton gin was responsible for vast technological changes in America during the 19th century. The steam engine was an incredible advancement that allowed for faster and cheaper transportation, which would lead to increased mobility and a stronger connection between distant locations. The advancement of the steam engine would allow for both people and goods to be shipped and transported long distances at incredible speeds. In her article “How the Steam Engine Changed the World” Heather Whipps writes, “The United States was the pioneer in shipping, putting a passenger steamship on the water in 1807. That landmark trip, a 150-mile journey from New York to Albany on a ship called The Clermont, took 32 hours to complete” (Whipps). The steam engine allowed quick access and connections between locations that were once considered strenuous commutes. The Clermont demonstrated the innovative potential that the steam engine offered and would lead to the explosive use of steam engine in the future of the United States. Not only was transportation quick and easy, but it allowed factories to be built anywhere, not just along fast-flowing rivers. The book “The Steam Engine of Thomas Newcomen” by Rolt and Allen discusses, “By the early 1800s, high-pressure steam engines had become compact enough to move beyond the factory, prompting the first steam-powered locomotive to hit the rails…” (Rolt and Allen). As a result of the steam engine, goods could finally be transported efficiently and quickly over land, and it didn’t even require the muscle of a human or animal. Industrial factories no longer had to rely on the power of rivers or the wind, thus they could move almost anywhere. This would also benefit workers, as factories could move into urban areas and cities, where an abundance of people and workers were available. Thus, more jobs were created, and the economy was boosted further by this innovation. Interchangeable parts caused a technological revolution in America that would change the social structure of workers, would cause a growth of mass production, and would cause smoother repairs. In the “Interchangeable Parts” article, History.com explains, “Machines took over most of the manufacturing work from men, and factories replaced craftsmen’s workshops” (History.com Staff). As a result of the increased use of interchangeable parts, experienced craftsmen were no longer necessary to make precise parts, they could be replaced with interchangeable ones that were manufactured by machines. Cheaper, unskilled workers could be used to control the machines, causing the costs for the parts to go down. As a result, the social structure of the workers completely changed. Factory workers were unvalued and paid very little for their repetitive and tedious work. The factory owners made all the money. Skilled and educated craftsmen started to go out of business because they couldn’t keep up with the high demand or compete with the lower prices of the mass production factories. In his article “Eli Whitney and Interchangeable Parts” Nate Sullivan writes, “Nearly identical parts that can be easily mass produced and replaced. These parts are then fitted together to create various products like firearms, furniture, clocks, and a host of other complex objects” (Sullivan). Interchangeable parts allowed for the start of real effective mass production. Mass production allowed for the prompter manufacture of parts at more economical pricing. Mass production started to defeat the competition as it delivered everything that consumers desired: faster manufacture and inexpensive prices. Sullivan describes interchangeable parts by looking at the manufacture of a rifle, “The rifle was constructed as one unique piece. If a part broke, there was often not always a replacement piece available. Interchangeable parts made rifle repair simple and inexpensive because the damaged piece could be easily replaced” (Sullivan). As a result of the development of interchangeable parts, repairs went much more smoothly. Instead of a machine or business being out of order for weeks while waiting for a replacement part to be crafted, a cheap interchangeable part could be used to complete the repair smoothly and swiftly. Production could continue at a constant rate and never decelerate. As a result of the creation of the cotton gin, the steam engine, and interchangeable parts, much technological advancement occurred in the 19th century.
Among all of the impactful changes that happened during the 19th century in America, women’s role in society is certainly one that stands out. Educational reform, prison reform, and the abolition movement were among some of the most impactful social changes of the 1800s. During the 19th century, the United States would go through a massive social transformation. The emerging technologies of the steam engine and the factory system caused a rise of mass labor and put a new emphasis on the worth of individuals. This trend would lead to the progress and advancement of education in America. Lawson and Arnove’s encyclopedia entry titled “Western Education in the 19th Century” reads, “Some countries, such as France and Germany, were inspired by a mixture of national aspiration and ideology to begin the establishment of public educational systems early in the 19th century. Others, such as Great Britain and the United States, under the spell of laissez-faire, hesitated longer before allowing the government to intervene in educational affairs” (Lawson and Arnove). Governments were not sure whether to privatize education or allow it to become a public, government-funded system. Other nations around the world started implementing the ideology that governments should be responsible for the education of the youth, and eventually, America would follow. Making education a government-operated program would redefine the scope of what education could become. The article argues, “Schools were expected not only to promote literacy, mental discipline, and good moral character but also to help prepare children for citizenship, for jobs, and for individual development and success” (Lawson and Arnove). The nineteenth century was a pivotal point in America’s educational history, as schools were finally beginning to teach useful life skills and moral skills rather than simply English, science, math, and history. Schools could finally begin teaching skills and abilities that people would find useful immediately after graduating and entering the real world. Being familiar with the Pythagorean Theorem doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to get a job or be able to succeed in the workforce. Schools had to not only properly teach students their traditional curriculum, but they had to prepare them for the real world ahead of them. The article explains, “Pestalozzi believed that children’s nature, rather than the structure of the arts and sciences, should be the starting point of education” (Lawson and Arnove). The authors point out that the most important thing in education is the student, and the content and curriculum should revolve around the student body. After all, what point is it teaching irrelevant content that doesn’t apply to the students? Pestalozzi was able to point out that the child is the starting point of education. The teacher determines the child’s potential, and the arts and sciences are added to the child’s foundation, not vice versa. The nineteenth century was a major time for prison reform in America. Dorothea Dix was an excellent example of a social reformer that fundamentally changed the way America’s prison systems worked. Encyclopaedia Britannica’s article on Dorothea Dix explains the inhumane treatment of the insane and mentally disturbed, “They were incarcerated with criminals, irrespective of age or sex. They were left unclothed, in darkness, without heat or sanitary facilities; some were chained to the walls and flogged” (Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica). When Dorothea visited a mental health facility in Massachusetts, she was shocked to find the terrible treatment of the mentally disturbed people. Many of the insane people in the facility had done nothing wrong, but they were treated inhumanely as if they were prisoners of war. Dorothea Dix then dedicated her life to be a social reformer and calling out for change. She travelled around and spoke to many legislators and people of power until she would finally be listened to. Another major social reform during the nineteenth century that greatly impacted America was the abolition movement and the seeking to emancipate slaves. The movement of the freeing of slaves would heavily impact the country and would be the primary argument during the American Civil War. One of the first abolitionists was William Lloyd Garrison who used his paper, Liberator, to spread the word about the need for emancipation the slaves. John Faragher in his work, Out of Many, explains that Garrison’s “… approach was to mount a sweeping crusade condemning slavery as sinful and demanding its immediate abolishment” (Faragher 373). In addition, many northerners heard of the horrors of slavery from abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass, the Grimké Sisters, and Sojourner Truth. These speakers gave detailed accounts of the abuse suffered by slaves at the hands of their masters. In 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which became a widely read novel and supported the cause of the abolitionists. The abolitionists joined with women looking for suffrage. This became an overall push for equality in this era. However, Faragher notes, “although abolition groups raised the nation’s emotional temperature, they failed to achieve the moral unity the had hoped for, and they began to splinter” (Faragher 375). Therefore, even though the abolitionist movement was not successful early on in freeing the slaves, it did bring up the problem and helped to fuel the divide between Northern states and Southern states. Threatened by the Northerners desire to abolish slavery, the Southern states were very anxious about admitting any state into the Union which would be free of slavery. These tensions would ultimately lead to the Civil War.