The Growth of the American Economy: An Introduction to the Economic History of the United States

By Robert G. Albion; Harold F. Williamson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 21
The Heavy Industries Since 1860

INDUSTRIALISM CAME OF AGE in the post-war decades, and the heavy industries laid the foundations for the new economic structure.1 Peripheral in their position and importance in the agricultural economy of the earlier years the heavy industries occupied a position of central importance in an economy resting solidly on iron and coal. The capital equipment of our industry assumed a scale, complexity, and cost in comparison with which that of the period before 1850 has the appearance of small-scale working models. In the new industrial technology man was changed from a direct manipulator of materials and tools to a pusher of buttons, reader of dials, and puller of levers controlling giant mechanisms, a metamorphosis that proceeded fastest and furthest in those branches of manufacture concerned with the production of metals and heavy equipment.2 This is the period when blast furnaces were raised 100 feet in the air, making pygmies of the men who served them; of trains of rolls extending hundreds of yards and capable of reducing in a single operation an eight-ton ingot to a ribbon of sheet steel several feet wide and many hundreds long; of cranes powerful enough to carry the heaviest locomotives; of ore-handling equipment that emptied freight cars by turning them upside down.

In organization as in equipment the heavy industries did much to introduce the age of giantism. If the trust was conceived in oil, it came of age in U. S. Steel and Anaconda Copper; although bituminous coal resisted the consolidation in wide sectors, in the anthracite field there early developed one of the most compact and powerful monopolies the country has known. Concentration of ownership and control, far from universal, was peculiarly characteristic of this field of enterprise. The heavy industries, dispelling the haze of anonymity that clouded industrial growth of the earlier years, contributed their full share of colorful personalities to the new age of big business: Carnegie and Schwab in steel; Daly, Heinze, and Guggenheim in copper; Frick in

____________________
1
For the period covered by this chapter there is a dearth of specialised literature dealing with the history of particular industries. The standard general work on manufacturing for this as for the earlier period is V. S. Clark, History of Manufactures in the United States ( 1929 ed.) , Vol. 2 ( 1860- 1893); Vol. 3 ( 1893- 1928). Washington, D. C.: Carnegie Institution, 1929.
2
For a stimulating discussion of the implications of electricity for the industrial age ahead, me Walter N. Polakov, The Power Age: Its Quest and Challenge. New York: Covici, Friede, Inc., 1933.

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