Economic History of the United States

By Chester W. Wright | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXI
THE GROWTH OF MANUFACTURING INDUSTRIES, 1815-1860

Introduction. The growth of manufacturing was one of the significant features in our economic development during this period, not simply because of the rate of growth but also on account of the changing character of manufacturing owing to the introduction of factory methods and the reactions of both of these factors upon the social and political life of the nation.

The Chief Causes of Growth. The factors affecting growth were numerous. As a basis for understanding them, one must recall the earlier analysis of the conditions that determined such development of manufacturing as took place in the colonial period. Some of those conditions checked the growth of certain lines of manufacturing and some were a stimulus to the development of other lines. The influence of these same conditions is strongly reflected in this later period as well. However, new developments were constantly tending to change the older conditions and the net result was to give an added stimulus to manufacturing.

Foremost among the causes of growth was the increase in population. This, on the one hand, created a greater demand for manufactured goods. under the existing conditions, many manufactures if produced at all had to be made within the country. On the other hand this population provided a greater supply of labor for manufacturing and of raw materials upon which these industries were built. The growth in the country's wealth and the rising standard of living also served to increase the demand for manufactured goods, both domestic and foreign. Two of the outstanding obstacles to the growth of manufacturing in colonial times, the relative scarcity of labor and of capital, still continued to check growth; but the changes taking place somewhat modified their effects. Most important were the improvements in technological processes and the introduction of laborsaving machinery. The new machinery not only decreased the amount of labor required but in many cases made it possible to substitute relatively unskilled labor for the skilled labor which had been particularly scarce. At the same time, by decreasing the cost of production, it served to increase the demand for many of these products. On the other hand it made necessary the use of more capital, which was supplied in part by the increasing wealth of the country. More and more of the steadily accumu-

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