The Growth of American Industries

(adapted from Building the United States, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: 1971)


A raw material only becomes important to people when they find a use for the material. Oil is a good example of this. Even before the European settlers arrived in America, the Indians knew about the oil that seeped from the ground into the streams. To them, the oil was not important for they had little or no use for it. In the early 1800's, farmers in Pennsylvania knew about the same oil. Some used it to grease wagon wheels while others bottled it and sold it as medicine. But oil was still not an important resource.  However, in the 1850's, when people discovered that they were able to bum oil in lamps, it became an important resource. A new oil industry was started. In this reading, you will learn about the rapid growth of the oil industry, and other industries in the United States after 1865.

The United States Had Two Types of Industries

Before 1865, most American factories made consumer goods, or products that were sold directly to the people. Clothing factories, shoe factories, meat-packing plants, and flour mills made consumer goods needed by Americans. Most of the fac­tories that made consumer goods were small and hired just a few workers.

During the 1850's, heavy industry began to grow rapidly in the United States. Heavy industry made such products as machinery, iron rails, and engines. These products were bought by other factories or other industries. Most heavy industry was located in the Northeastern part of the United States.

Why American Industries Grew

The Civil War helped both types of industry to grow in the United States. Factories became larger and needed many more workers. But the growth of industry in the United States was not caused by the Civil War alone. After the war, American industry grew larger and stronger than ever before. Six things helped the United States to grow into a great industrial nation, or a nation of factories and businesses.

  1. The United States had large supplies of raw materials, or the things needed to make manufactured goods. These raw materials in­cluded coal, iron, oil, and lumber.

  2. The United States had a large and growing population. As a result, industry had plenty of workers and plenty of customers to buy the consumer goods they produced.

  3. The United States had good railroad systems and river systems. Raw materials and manufactured products were shipped cheaply by railroads or by boats to all parts of the nation.

  4. The people of the United States had the large amounts of money needed to build new industries and businesses.

  5. The United States had many skilled inventors and scientists. These men were able to develop the machines and the manufacturing methods, or ways, to make American factories successful.

  6. The United States government did many things to help American industry grow. The government passed a high tariff to keep for­eign manufactured goods out of the country, and it kept taxes low to encourage people to build factories and businesses. And the government made it easy for immigrants to enter the United States because they worked in American factories for low wages.

The Iron Industry Grew and Changed

After 1865, iron and steel manufacturing became one of America's most important industries. Before 1865, iron mills used charcoal as fuel. This meant that iron mills had to be located near forests to get wood. After 1865, however, the iron industry's fuel was coal or coke, which is made from coal. Iron mills then moved to places like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where coal and iron were located close together.

Iron broke easily. But steel, a harder metal which was made from iron ore, was too costly to make. Then, in the 1850's, William Kelly, an American, and Henry Bessemer, an Englishman, developed a new way of making steel cheaply. Later, another way, called the open hearth method, was developed which made steel-making even cheaper and easier. By 1890, the United States was the leading steel­making nation of the world.

The Oil Industry Developed Rapidly

One of the newest American industries was the oil industry. Before the Civil War, farmers in Pennsylvania used oil to grease their wagons. Other men put oil in bottles and sold it as a medicine. During the 1850's, people discovered that they were able to burn oil in lamps for lighting.

In 1859, the first oil well was drilled at Titusville, Pennsylvania. Other oil fields were discovered in Ohio, West Virginia, and later in the southwestern part of the United States. Oil lamps soon were used to light American homes and cities. In later years, other important uses were found for oil. Oil was used in factories to oil machines. Soon, American oil was being sold all over the world.

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Other Large Industries Developed

The meat-packing industry also grew into a large industry after 1865. The invention of the refrigerator car, a railroad car which was kept cold inside, helped the meat-packing industry to grow. Before the refrigerator car was invented, live animals had to be shipped to market. However, only part of the animal was used for food. The refrigerator car made it possible to kill the animal and to ship only the meat to market. Chicago and Kansas City became the leading meat-packing centers in the nation.

New inventions also changed the flour-milling industry. New ways of grinding grain were discovered which produced a much finer flour. Minneapolis, Min­nesota, became the flour-milling center of the United States. Other industries such as the shoe industry, the clothing industry, the sugar­refining industry, and the clock industry also grew rapidly. New machines and manufacturing ways helped these industries grow.

Inventions Helped America to Grow

Many other inventions changed American industries and American life. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. Thomas A. Edison perfected the electric dynamo, which produced electric power, and the electric light. Christopher L. Sholes invented the typewriter. And Cyrus W. Field invented a cable, which was placed at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and allowed telegraph signals to be sent between the United States and Europe.

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Summing Up

After 1865, industry grew rapidly, and the United States became a great industrial nation. Iron and steel, oil, and other industries became very important. Many inventions helped industry to grow.

The Task:  complete a puzzle based this reading. Show your teacher when you are done.