Over the course of the Reconstruction Era, technology began to change the way Americans lived and worked. The period of time from around 1830 to the end of the Reconstruction Era would lay the groundwork for the Second Industrial Revolution, which would span from around 1850 until the end of the First World War.
As the nation expanded westward in the mid-1800s, government policy began to favor industrial growth over an agrarian society; Congress gave generous land grants and other subsidies to railroads and other businesses and the government kept high tariffs on imported goods which made foreign goods more expensive to boost American manufacturing. Also at this time, vast deposits of coal, iron, copper, and lead were being mined and forests were being leveled for lumber; these raw materials would propel the United States into the Second Industrial Revolution, which would also be known as the Technological Revolution for its rapid growth and expansion of different forms of technology.
One of the most important factors that spurred the Second Industrial Revolution in the United States was the Bessemer process. Developed sometime in the 1850s, the Bessemer process allowed steel to be manufactured so it would be stronger, in larger quantities, and at a low cost to manufacturers. Steel would come to replace iron as a basic building material and is still used today. In 1859, workers near Titusville, Pennsylvania discovered oil; this oil would initially be refined into crude oil and used to lubricate machinery in various industrial plants. Later, this oil would be used to power automobiles much like today. Steel and gasoline would launch the Technological Revolution forward.
Due to the boom in steel manufacturing, the use of railroads began to increase over time. Trains were used to ship people and goods around the country and helped to fuel industrial growth. The railroad system allowed for raw materials to be shipped from the mid-west and the west to the northern east coast where those raw materials would be manufactured into various products; the railroad system would allow people to traverse the ever-expanding nation, which would, in turn, lead to the growth of towns and cities.
The manufacturing of steel, and the continued manufacturing of textiles from the era of the Market Revolution, would lead to the rise of urbanization, particularly on the east coast.
The rate of urbanization was astonishing during this era; in 1860 only one in five Americans lived in cities but by 1890 one in three Americans lived in cities. The reason for this rapid rate of urbanization was due to farmers, immigrants, and African-Americans from the South would migrate to cities like New York and Chicago for economic opportunities--cities attracted manufacturing plants and other industries, and industry attracted potential workers. The rise of urbanization and the growth of cities would also lead to the rise of public transportation and the suburbs; so if you really think about it, we have the Second Industrial Revolution/Technological Revolution to blame for reality T.V. shows like "The Real Housewives of"...wherever. In any case, the new suburban areas meant that people could commute to work in the cities and were not forced to live in the cities and suffer through tenement housing and other ills. In the 880s, such public transportation as elevated trains, electric streetcars, electric subway trains, and steel bridges were appearing in many of the cities of the era, with the most famous of these being the Brooklyn Bridge which opened in 1883 and linked Manhattan to Brooklyn.
The growth of urbanization would also mean cities had to find new ways to utilize the space they had available to them, so the skyscraper was created. In 1885, Chicago architects constructed the 10-story building and by 1900 steel-framed skyscrapers towering at 30-stories loomed over cities.
Rapid urbanization would bring countless problems. Fire was a huge threat to city life and to the tightly packed neighborhoods within. In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire leveled three square miles of the downtown area, killed 300 people, and left 18,000 people homeless. Rapid urbanization would also lead to the rise of slums and tenement housing, where people who were poor lived in small apartments without heat, windows, or indoor plumbing and were at great risk of contracting cholera and other diseases. As a result, settlement houses like Jane Addams's Hull House and organizations like the Salvation Army were established to help the urban poor.
The topic of the Second Industrial Revolution is a long one and would be better explained if broken up into multiple posts. This post was largely about the rise of the Technological Revolution and of urbanization; other posts in this series will include inventions and innovations, the transportation boom, the rise of businesses and unions, immigration, and education reform. So, make sure you follow along here at the blog or "like" the Facebook page for notifications of when new content gets posted for more information on American history!