American History

Impact of Industrialization on the American Society

After the Civil War, the United States experienced tremendous growth of its economy as it entered its second Industrial Revolution. The period generalized as the time between 1870 and 1914 marked a major turning point for the United States as it improved and created problems for the American society. The country was awash with plenty of natural resources, a growing supply of cheap labor from immigrants coming from Europe and African Americans, as well as an influx of workers moving from the rural areas to urban life to work in factories and to operate industrial machinery (Gildemeister, 2009). Consequently, the period after the Civil War experienced major changes in the transportation sector and technological advances such as the development of automatic signals, the elevator, and structural steel, as well as the phonograph and motion pictures among others. In essence, the American Industrial Revolution was the culmination of modern civilization propelling the birth of unions, a rise in immigration, and technological innovations.

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Growth of Trade Unions

After the massive scale of industrialization and the expansion of the transportation system, the United States experienced a rapid increase rural, urban migration as workers moved to work in factories. However, the concentration of factory workers was exposed to longer working hours and dangerous work conditions (Mink & O’Connor, 2005). Workers in the factories received very little compensations in terms of wages. The inhuman working conditions combined with little compensations spurred the propagation of labor unions with the objective of fighting for better wages, improved working conditions, fewer working hours, better medical access, and compensation for the injured workers. Unfortunately, the imbalance in power between the industry managers and laborers made it hard for the labor movements. Nonetheless, the creation of the American Federation of Labor in 1886 was a significant date (Gildemeister, 2008) as it marked the legitimacy of organized labor unions as a recognized component of the American society. In fact, labor unions saw more hope as the American Federation of Labor started focusing on improving wages of workers and the working condition of its members.


Before the Civil War, the United States was predominantly an agricultural society, where most American farms relied on family labor and did small-scale farming. However, after the Civil War, and with the emergence of Industrialization, farming evolved into large-scale farming as the communication and transportation sector expanded. According to Hirschman and Mogford (2009), the need to operate the factories and farming machines as well the demand for labor saw an influx of workers moving from the rural areas to the urban centers. Consequently, the expansion of the transportation sector opened doors for easy movement of people point A to B. With these changes, many Europeans suffering from poverty saw the United States Industrial Revolution as an opportunity to migrate to the U.S. and work along the railroads, factories, as well as farms. Similarly, immigrants from other parts of the world such as Africa crossed the Atlantic to work in the new country, which they viewed as a land of opportunities.

Technological Innovations

Arguably, technological innovations were one of the most significant aspects of the industrial revolution. In fact, the industrial revolution and subsequent developments were made possible because of the technological innovations. Inventions such as the first liquid-fueled internal combustion engine were developed (Fagerberg, Mowery, & Nelson, 2006). Consequently, as America’s boundaries expanded, new forms of communication to cover great distances were invented to keep up with this growth. As the railroad expanded, the telegraph grew along as railroad stations doubled up as telegraph stations. Other technological innovations that came along with industrialization included innovations in food processing, preservation, refrigeration, and grain milling among others.

Specific Groups affected by Industrialization

Within a span of a few decades after the Civil War, the United States was transformed from a predominantly rural agrarian society to a full industrial economy with large metropolitan cities. Before the industrial revolution, most people lived in large isolated agricultural household and small towns, where they did some small-scale farming to sustain the livelihood of their families. However, during the industrial revolution, the life of the American citizens improved in several ways and created problems for others as well. In particular, some of the specific groups of people that were largely affected by industrialization included workers, African American, and women and children among others.


As U.S. citizens migrated from the rural areas to the urban cities to seek employment in the factories, they encountered various problems. Firstly, a majority of the workers were unskilled and willing to do any work for as long as they were paid (O’Connor, 2005). Lack of skills to operate the machinery and the factory equipment also led to workers sustaining injuries and sometimes death. The working conditions were also poor and unsafe as employers focused more on making profits and not on the health and safety of its workforce. Consequently, a long line of unskilled laborers, employers could set wages as low as they wanted and forced them to work for longer hours of up to ten hours a day.

Women and Children

Before the Civil War, women did not have paid jobs. Rather, they stayed at home and took care of the household needs. However, after the Civil War and with the Industrial Revolution, majority began working in factories and accepted lower pay to meet the cost of living that had gone up with the revolution (Mink & O’Connor, 2005). Virtually, working afforded women new opportunities and exposed them to new dangers. Children were left at home to fend for themselves as the absence of mothers led to increased neglect cases, and infant mortality rates increased. With the introduction of female workers, several political changes were proposed as women began fighting for their role in the society. Consequently, prior the revolution, children were never expected to work in factories, but after the Civil War, many mothers began to encourage their children to work in factories and farms. Although the move though intended to help with the household expenditure, it brought up an epidemic of child labor.

African American

After the Civil War, the majority of the African American people took up work in the factories and farms. Unfortunately, compared to their white counterparts, black Americans were paid less (Mink & O’Connor, 2005). In reality, the African American people were treated as property, and some were sold as property and labored without pay. Additionally, African Americans suffered segregation after the Civil War and fought for an extended time to win their freedom. In fact, the black Americans did not enjoy any benefits from the changes brought about by the Civil War.

Virtually, the Industrial Revolution affected everything on its path including farmers, workers, women, and children, as well as African Americans who did not enjoy any benefits of the industrialization. Nonetheless, apart from the negative effect that industrialization had on the American society, it also had a positive effect. The revolution brought the trade unions that helped fight for the rights of the U.S. citizens. It also brought along the technological innovations that provided the basis of the current technological changes in the modern society.


Fagerberg, J., Mowery, D. C., & Nelson, R. R. (2006). The Oxford handbook of innovation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gildemeister, G. A. (2008). The founding of the American Federation of Labor. Labor History, 22(2), 262-268.

Hirschman, C., & Mogford, E. (2009). Immigration and the American industrial revolution from 1880 to 1920. Social Science Research, 38(4), 897-920.

Mink, G., & O’Connor, A. (2005). Poverty in the United States: Vol. 1. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO.

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