Nineteenth Century Industrialization in the United States
During the second half of the nineteenth century, the United States experienced an urban revolution unparalleled in world history up to that point in time. As factories, mines, and mills sprouted out across the map, cities grew up around them. The late nineteenth century, declared an economist in 1889, was “not only the age of cities, but the age of great cities.” Between 1860 and 1910, the urban population grew from 6 million to 44 million. The United States was rapidly losing its rural roots. By 1920, more than half of the population lived in urban areas. The rise of big cities during the nineteenth century created a distinctive urban culture. People from different ethnic and religious backgrounds came into the cities and settled down in large apartment building and tenement houses. They came in search of jobs, wealth, and new opportunities. Urbanization brought a widening of the gap between the poor and the rich. Nineteenth century American industrialization relied upon poverty and immigration for its success. Industrialization grew due to an increase of workers and cheap labor.
The ideal of success in business and prosperity fueled the rise in immigration. Immigrants came in search of riches but they were soon to find out that wealth was not what they received. The industrial revolution brought huge numbers of new immigrants from every part of the world. By the end of the century, nearly 30 percent of the residents of major cities were foreign-born. Their arrival to America brought the laborers that the industries and factories needed. Their arrival also created unsightly racial and ethnic tensions. Most immigrants were lured to America by the promise of affluence even though they were doing just fine in their own countries. American industries, seeking cheap labor, kept recruiting agents on watch abroad and at American ports. “From 1820 to 1900, about 20 million immigrants entered American ports, more than half of them coming after the Civil War. The tide of immigration rose from just under 3 million in the 1870s to more than 5 million in the 1880s, then fell to a little over 3.5 million in the depression decade of the 1890s, and rose to its high-water mark of nearly 9 million in the first decade of the new century. The numbers declined to 6 million in the 1910s and 4 million in the 1920s, after which official restrictions cut the flow of immigration down to a negligible level.” (Tindall, 938) Immigrants thought of America as a land of opportunity and felt that they only needed to make to trip across the ocean to become successful. The “roads paved with gold” theory led to the downfall of the vast majority of immigrants. They came with huge aspirations but ended up working for extremely low wages and living in awful living conditions.
Immigrants working for low wages and their constant availability was necessary for industrialization’s success. Without the...