Factory System And The American Society

Factory System And The American Society

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In the late 1700s through the mid-1800s, there was a new type of revolution that was starting and this was of better technology. Many people started ideas while others just improved on those ideas. Many of those inventors are that of Eli Whitney, Jethro Wood, John Deere, Cyrus McCormick, Robert Fulton, Samuel Slater, and Francis Lowell. (Tindall 417).
The primary beginning to the revolution was with cotton and the way it was picked and spun. From the beginning, cotton was picked by hand and from there had to be separated in order to get the seeds from the fibers. Once it was just the fibers, it had to be spun and shipped to those who would use the cotton to make clothes, bags, etc. Most cotton plantations had slaves so it was more hands to pick the cotton since one person was only able to pick and separate around a pound for an entire days work. Many people wanted cotton but it was rare and expensive due to the tedious work to separate the fibers. However, at the plantation called Mulberry Grove in coastal Georgia, the widow of Nathanael Greene, Catharine Greene, took over the property and made a vital decision that would change the world. A newly graduate of Yale, Eli Whitney, was visiting a fellow graduate at the plantation when Catharine Greene approached him with an idea. She suggested to Eli Whitney that he should come up with a solution, any solution at all, for taking the seeds from fibers so more work could be done in a day’s time. Ten days later, Eli Whitney had a working model of what the world would know as the ‘Cotton Gin’, short for engine. This machine made it possible to separate fifty times more cotton than a given person in a day. With the spread of the Gin, cotton was now ‘the king’ of the industry and therefore a vital trade for the economy. (Tindall 417-418).
To help boost the revolution as well, others began improving some equipment. Jethro Wood, for example, took the wooden plow used by farmers and made an iron one with removable parts. This was extremely helpful because if one part of the plow cracked, the farmers would not have to get a new one, just change the part. John Deere improved on Jethro Wood’s iron plow by making the steel plow.

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John Oliver improved on John Deere’s plow by reinforcing the plow even more with steel and iron making farming even easier for the farmer. (Tindall 419). Another gentleman by the name of Cyrus Hall McCormick made a vital invention during this time. He made what was known as a grain reaper. Most farmers could use a hand-held sickle and harvest half an acre a day. But with the McCormick reaper, two people could harvest twelve acres a day. A definite improvement for farmers, same as the cotton gin was. McCormick moved to Chicago in 1847 and built his own manufacturing plant to produce more and more reapers and mowers. With his great idea and success, he inspired more people to improve on his idea. People took the reaper idea and made a machine that would also separate the grains of wheat from the straw. All these definitely helped the economy of the time. Mass production caused the prices to drop which meant they were now easily affordable, actual grown products or machines, therefore income rose. (Tindall 420).
With the growing economy, many people travelling west demanded better road systems. The roads at that point were typically gravel or just worn paths on the ground and there was a movement to make paved roads. Turnpikes, or tollgates, were put up to fund for the new roads and in turn connected many cities which greatly improved travel. (Tindall 421-422). Since the road system had only really begun, bridges had not necessarily been perfected so what travelers would do was travel down a road until they reached a river and float down the river on flatboats until their desired destination. Just like everything else in America at this time, the way people travelled the waters was enhanced. Two men by the names of Robert Fulton and Robert L. Livingston created the river steamboat. The steamboat was able to move people and their possessions up or down a river cheaper and with less force than the roads. When people would travel the flatboats from Pittsburg to New Orleans it took nearly 6 weeks. The steamboats definitely quickened that pace. (Tindall 423-424). Along with the steamboat, railroads and ocean transportation helped push the trade along and made living easier. The railroad first was in England but was quickly added to Baltimore, Charleston, and Boston. Even though traveling on the railroad was risky behavior at first, it still helped with the westward expansion. And the ocean transportation helped because the clipper ships could move products from New York to San Francisco in as little as 84 days. (Tindall 426).
Waltham, Massachusetts in 1813 was the first factory to be born on American soil and this was by Francis Lowell. It was the first place to have spinning and weaving by power machinery under one roof. The factory could produce full cloth from raw materials. With all of these new editions to the world, the quest to get rich quick went in full force. Most of the men in the east headed off to California to find riches that had been found there before, leaving their women behind. Because of this overflow of women, there was nothing more for these women to do but to be hired on in factories. And factories liked to hire them because of their agility when working with the machines and that they could be paid less money than men. These women were referred to as “Lowell Girls”.(Tindall 433-434).
Several years had passed and Germans, Irish, etc, came over to America to create a better life for themselves. At this point, several other factories had been established and more and more people were looking for a job. The term organized labor came about because people who had a certain skill would get together and do a specific job that went with their skill. A lot of the time, these workers complained of an inhospitable work environment and worked for change. In the case of Common Wealth v. Hunt, Hunt sued for a better work environment. The result was that workers were not able to demand better pay, better place to work, and they also had the option of working or not. Because of this new option, many decided to go on what is known as a strike to get what they wanted from their employer. The strike of 1860 greatly affected many. In 1861, the civil war broke out and shoes were in limited supply because of the strike so soldiers were forced to glue their shoes together. As they walked they would have to come across rivers, and the water would dissolve the glue and their shoes would break apart. Many soldiers had to go barefoot. (Tindall 451-452).
From the inventions previously stated, many of them fit into Henry Clay’s American System. Henry Clay, Senator and member of the Whig party, wanted America to grow and prosper. (u-s-history.com). Henry Clay wanted Americans to have a better road system which basically meant a higher tariff, and more things that would make America grow. (Baxter 16-17). But as stated before, there were tollgates that people had to go through when traveling the newly changed roads. Americans were able to buy land and products for less money and made a better income because of it. There was also a whole new availability for jobs that allowed Americans to prosper as well. (Tindall 421-422).

Tindall, George Brown. America: Seventh Edition, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc,
2007.
Baxter, Maurice. Henry Clay and the American System. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky,
1995.
“Politics and Public Service Henry Clay 1777-1852 “The Great Compromiser.” Accessed 27
October 2008 http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h321.html
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