The American Work Ethic and the Changing Work Force: An Historical Perspective

By Herbert Applebaum | Go to book overview

10
FACTORIES IN THE
NINETEENTH CENTURY

After the Revolutionary War, the young nation was a country of small farmers, artisans, small shopkeepers, servants, laborers, slaves, merchants, seamen, cartmen, carpenters, blacksmith, and all the petty trades that distinguish and represent a preindustrial society. A hundred years later, by the 1880s, the United States was on its way to becoming the leading industrial producer on earth. Other than farmers, most gainfully employed persons at the time were wage earners. After the Civil War, the factory and the mill, along with the farm, came to be the dominant means for the organization of work and the creation of products.


THE FACTORY SYSTEM

A mill or factory was a single building or collection of buildings that contained power-driven machinery and tools for the manufacture of products. It was a place for storing raw materials and finished products, and for placing machines, materials, and workers in such a way as to create a continuous flow of production.

The emergence of the factory system was not automatic. A number of problems had to be solved. These included (1) a source of power to run the machines, (2) machines to be built and acquired, (3) a means to accumulate the capital to build the factories, purchase machines, and hire workers, (4) a source of labor supply, and (5) new methods of labor control appropriate to the new factory system.

Locating a source of power was solved by building factories near falling streams or rivers. New England was blessed with many rivers and streams and thus the infant textile industry was located there. Acquiring machines was a problem because England, which manufactured such machines, prohibited the export of the machines or any drawings of them. Samuel Slater solved that problem because he had worked in England and had seen machines built and was able to re-create some of them from memory in the United States. He came to

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