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4.3: Industrial Development in North America

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    As the Industrial Revolution began in the United Kingdom in the mid-1700s and spread across Europe, the United States was still primarily based on agriculture and natural resource production. Some of the early innovations in industry were thus based on these raw resources, such as the cotton mill and textile factories. Hydropower was the key source of energy for these early manufacturing plants and thus they were located almost exclusively in the northeastern United States, the only area with fast-moving rivers. After the Civil War in the 1860s, steam power manufacturing spread through the United States allowing the southern states to industrialize. The manufacturing core region in particular had high concentrations of industrial output (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)). Eventually, as the United States continued to industrialize, they overtook the United Kingdom by the early 20th century as the global leader in industry.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Map of the North American Manufacturing Core Region (Derivative work from original by Lokal Profil, Wikimedia Commons)

    The geography of North America shaped industrial development and regional specializations. In the Pittsburgh-Lake Erie region, for example, abundant deposits of iron fueled steel manufacturing, inspiring the name of Pittsburgh’s professional football team. In the south, textile manufacturing developed and remains a regional specialty in many areas still today. Coal from Appalachia fueled industrial development in the Mid-Atlantic States. These regional specializations, and the fact that the southern states continued to rely on agricultural production for some time, further exacerbated economic differences between the north and south.

    The Industrial Revolution shaped the pattern of human settlement in North America. As in Europe, industrial development occurred in urban areas spurring people to move from rural farming communities to the cities to find work. In 1790, around 5 percent of the US population lived in urban areas. At the end of the Civil War, as industrialization began to diffuse across the continent, around 20 percent lived in cities. By 1920, more people lived in cities than in rural areas. Today, over 80 percent of people in the US live in cities.

    In addition, industrial development spurred large-scale migration, particularly from the peripheral regions of Eastern Europe, as people moved to the US to find work. Between 1865 and 1918, 27.5 million people migrated to the US. Conditions for many of these workers was dismal and child labor wouldn’t end until 1930. Asians primarily migrated to the western United States where they were often met with strong anti-immigrant sentiment. Legislation actually limited immigration from China and Japan at the turn of the 20th century. Improvements in rail transportation further diffused both industrial development and the population of workers.

    For the past several decades, manufacturing has been declining in the United States as people have shifted to jobs in service industries, like retail and finance. Still, the US remains the world’s second largest manufacturer behind China. This process is referred to as deindustrialization and is accompanied by both social and economic changes as a country shifts from heavy industry to a more service-oriented economy.


    the process of shifting from a primarily manufacturing-based economy to service industries

    This page titled 4.3: Industrial Development in North America is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Caitlin Finlayson.

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