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 II
Heavy Industries Before 1860

THE HEAVY INDUSTRIES IN THIS COUNTRY, as in Europe, are largely a development of the past century. Their growth has been consequent to the introduction and spread of the techniques and organization of production associated especially with the Industrial Revolution and stemming particularly from the indirect method of manufacturing that steadily replaced the older face-to-face relation between fabricator and consumer. So long as manufacturing was organized on the basis of fireside industries, handicrafts, small shops, and local markets, the term "heavy" could hardly be applied either to the capital investment, to the products of manufacture, or, with a few exceptions, to the equipment used. Even in certain mill industries the often massive equipment of mill wheels, gearing, and so forth, incidental to the use of water power was customarily constructed on the spot by local craftsmen and gave rise to no specialized branch of heavy industry. With the introduction and spread of steam power, machine production, and the factory system, all this was changed. The emphasis on mass production on an ever-expanding scale called for larger and stronger equipment, higher speeds of operation, and more massive power plants not only in the fabrication but also in the handling and transportation of materials, raw, semifinished, and finished. To handle things in large volume was to handle them more efficiently and cheaply, and the whole scale of industrial equipment moved upward. A new group of industries arose to supply and equip, not consumers, in the ultimate sense, but producers, with goods ranging from raw materials at one end to intricate machinery at the other. Ores and coal, the major nonferrous metals, iron and steel manufactures in their primary forms, the rails and rolling stock of railroads, and the more massive forms of industrial machinery and equipment, including that of the heavy industries themselves--all these are properly described as products of heavy industry.


The Iron Industry in an Agrarian Economy

The basic heavy industry of the new industrial age was, of course, the manufacture of iron and steel.1 Even as organized and conducted in

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1

The principal older work in this field, J. M. Swank, The History of the Manufacture of Iron in All Ages ( 2nd ed. Philadelphia: The American Iron & Steel Association, 1892), has many limitations for the present-day student. The best

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