The First American Frontier: Transition to Capitalism in Southern Appalachia, 1700-1860

By Wilma A. Dunaway | Go to book overview

6
DIGGERS OF THE COUNTRY: INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION FOR EXPORT

The Distorted Industrialization Process

By 1860, there were 6,019 industrial enterprises in Southern Appalachia, employing 23,357 laborers. However, industrialization as it unfolded in Southern Appalachia differed fundamentally from the historical process that characterized core regions of the nineteenth-century world economy. Rather, the region's industrial development was stunted and distorted, as evidenced by three historical trends. Because Appalachian industries were capitalized at lower levels than other American manufactories, these regional enterprises exploited smaller labor forces to generate outputs at the same levels as average medium-size firms nationally (see Table 6.1). Second, regional industries developed unevenly, with heavy concentration into a few geographical areas and few spinoffs outside those small enclaves. Third, the region's industry developed primarily around the production of export commodities that involved the manufacture of agricultural surpluses and the processing of timber and mineral ores for distant markets.1


Low Capitalization of Industries

Significantly, capital investments were made in the region's antebellum manufacturing at a per capita level that was only one-half the national average. Even though Southern Appalachia was not far behind the Midwest in its average capital investments in 1860, nearly three-quarters (159) of the region's counties were characterized by capital investments in manufacturing that fell below averages for the South as a whole (see Map 6.1). Moreover, 48 (22.3 percent) of those laggard counties had minimal industrial development, as evidenced by the investment of less than $3.00 per capita into manufacturing enterprises.2

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