The late 1800s were a time of great change for the United States. Before the Civil War, most people lived in small villages and worked on farms. Life revolved around the home, where most of a family’s necessities were produced. Families raised livestock and grew much of their food. They made candles for light and even made their own clothing. After the war, businessmen created new inventions that made life easier and more efficient. Factories and mills could quickly produce clothing, shoes, and other items. Many people, hoping for an easier life, left their farms and villages to find work in factories in cities. Most of them learned that an easier life isn’t necessarily a happier one.
- In the twenty years following the Civil War, the U.S. population almost doubled, going from 40 million to 76 million. Immigrants from Europe came to America in search of prosperity. Many of them became factory workers.
- Steel is much stronger and more stable than iron, but making it was slow and expensive until Sir Henry Bessemer developed a process for converting iron into steel. His invention fueled America’s steelmaking, which quickly became the nation’s largest industry. Iron ore was taken from the Lake Superior area to mills in Chicago and Pittsburgh. Coal from Pennsylvania and West Virginia fueled these factories.
- Assembly lines were a large part of the success of factories. Each person worked on one part of a finished product. For example, in a shoe factory, one person made the heels while another made the soles. This system was monotonous for the workers, but ensured a fast, efficient process. Meat and foods, clothing, furniture, and other goods were processed on assembly lines.
- Families made all of the food they ate at home from scratch until the 1880s when Dr. John Kellogg introduced the first ready-made breakfast cereal, Corn Flakes. Charles W. Post began making Toasties, a similar cereal. The two men competed against each other and made advertisements to sell their products. Both the companies started by these two entrepreneurs still make cereal today.
- Before Internet shopping, people ordered products from catalogs. Aaron Montgomery Ward started one of the first mail-order companies and published a catalog so people living in rural areas could order products from factories. Sears, Roebuck and Company opened soon after.
- Monotonous: repetitive, dull
- Efficient: well-organized, competent
- Entrepreneur: someone who starts business ventures
Questions and Answers
Question: What negative consequences happened because of the coming of factories?
Answer: When people moved to cities, they spent less time with their families, often working long hours in harsh, unsafe conditions. These people also lived in small, cramped apartments where disease was common. Children were left alone or sometimes worked in factories too.
Visit Scholastic to learn more about children working in factories.
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