The Dawn of Innovation: The First American Industrial Revolution

By Martorelli, Michael A. | Financial History, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

The Dawn of Innovation: The First American Industrial Revolution


Martorelli, Michael A., Financial History


The Dawn of Innovation: The First American Industrial Revolution By Charles R. Morris Public Affairs, 2012 368 pages, $28.99

IN AN UNUSUALLY DESCRIPTIVE Introduction, Charles R. Morris labels The Dawn of Innovation an intentional prelude to his 2005 book The Tycoons. That effort followed Andrew Carnegie, Jay Gould, J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller as they helped make the United States the world's number one economic power after the Civil War. This book explores the earlier work of men who laid the foundations of that economic system that eventually overtook all others. Two concluding chapters serve as an epilogue and prologue as they summarize some post-Civil War accomplishments and ask whether China is positioned to overtake the US as the US once overtook Great Britain. These unnecessary but harmless detours do nothing to mar the author's compelling account of some familiar and unfamiliar aspects of America's economic past.

Instead of telling a chronological narrative, Morris conveys his story through a series of vignettes depicting various aspects of the evolving American economy. He ranges across space and time, describing the process of shipbuilding on the Great Lakes during the War of 1812 and the Colt Manufacturing presentation at the 1851 Great Crystal Palace Exhibition in London. In between, the book details familiar stories about textile mills and rifle manufacturing facilities in New England, and unfamiliar ones about pork processing in Cincinnati and western steamboats on midwestern rivers. In covering such a range of activities, Morris documents the distinctiveness of what came to be called the American system of manufacturing, as well as its ubiquitous nature.

Early on, Morris describes "hyperpower" Great Britain's 18th and early 19th century industrial revolution, recounting the accomplishments of more than a dozen innovators from Richard Arkwright to John Wilkinson. For several generations, that country's most creative minds took advantage of its geographic and natural resources, abundant supply of capital and high regard for commercial endeavors. …

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