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The Industrial Revolution Influence on American Life Term Paper

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Updated: Mar 27th, 2020


The Manifest Destiny signifies the times and popular expansion ideology of the United States during the mid-nineteenth century. John Gast (Greenberg 1) best exemplifies the Manifest Destiny. In 1872, he came up with a painting that signified the victory that the U.S. had achieved about two and a half decades earlier (Greenberg 1).

The painting was known as “American Progress”, which went on to become a popular literature and a historical piece for not only explaining how the U.S. came to be, but also showing key linkages in industrialization and the present American ways of life. This paper begins by reviewing the details of the painting. The paper argues that the growth of the physical territory of the United States and its influence on social, political, and economic life were realized because of the industrial revolution of the 19th century.

In the “American Progress” painting, the captivating features are a briefly dressed woman and the symbol of flying. The image forms the center of the painting, with other details being minute in proportion to the woman’s image. The use of a woman instead of a man is also captivating, given that many of the expansionist, industrialist, and prominent figures of the nineteenth century America were male.

It also appears that the woman’s clothing is almost falling off. Nevertheless, the use of a woman plays an important part in the painting. It shows that the expansion of America brought civilization to many places that were primitive.

The woman’s figure also brings out a clear fact that the Manifest Destiny was gendered; it was not a universally applied concept. Instead, it had particular notions and implications for male participation and female participation. Both genders played critical supplementary roles to each other’s duties, which ended up influencing the subsequent American way of life (Greenberg 3).

The woman’s figure brings out the idea of domestication, which formed the understanding of the Manifest Destiny. In the mid-nineteenth century period, Americans understood their domestic way of life as the only sustainable and appropriate form of civilization. It was, therefore, moral to go with expanding the territory not only for selfish interests, but to share the fruits of domestication too. Many saw the growing of the country’s size as peaceful.

Expanding from the Atlantic sea to the Pacific would signify a natural eventuality of a destiny achieved in a domesticated and restrained way. This was not to say that the only witnessed forms of expansion were smooth, peaceful, and early. On the contrary, there were struggles and forceful conquests championed by the aggressive expansionists, who did not hold the same ideology as depicted by the American Progress painting.

Features of American Progress and Manifest Destiny

As depicted in the painting, the progress of America westward was driven by leading pioneers, farmers, miners, wagons, and railroads. In all, or part of it, the depiction narrates the early features of the Industrial Revolution by highlighting its key influences and indicators (Mountjoy 19).

The remaking of the Western Hemisphere to fit the American ideals required force and fueled the growth of the Industrial Revolution. It ushered in a population increase within the United States territory and led to affirmations that the American way was the preferred way of life. Even after notable failures in the expansion, such as after the U.S. – Mexico war, there were still notable powers within the U.S. that held and continued to promote expansionist ideas (Hausladen 65).

Nevertheless, expansion still progressed under a different form, without necessarily taking over territories. It was the growth of commercial enterprises and the development of commercial empires fueled by the Industrial Revolution that developed an expansive North American influence (Greenberg 5).

The growth of railroads ushered a new kind of influence that was similar or part of the Manifest Destiny, albeit at a different scale of realization. By 1950, much of the eastern side of the territory had well-constructed railroad networks. It was the American thing to do, according to the belief of having a right to expand, to expand railroads in the rest of the country. America was embracing a federalist economic vision, whose main idea was the expansion and control of an industrial empire.

The vision of a federal government that controlled and promoted the development of industries was lucrative for a number of reasons. The northern geography was not as plain and easy to till as that of the south. Therefore, for the north side, industries were more probable than agriculture. At the same time, the northerners felt that their role in nation building lay in the active development of a textile industry. It would go on to benefit the entire country.

The south would provide the cotton, while the northerners, who were already industrialists, would process it for the markets, thereby helping other settlers in the west to see the benefit and embrace American industrialization and commerce (Nelson 104). It is not surprising that the southerners would feel left out under this arrangement.

After all, they were the ones contributing the raw materials to fuel the northern side’s industrialization. Ultimately, the era was shaped by two visions held by the northerners and the southerners respectively, where the reconciling feature was industrialization.

The invention of the cotton gin ushered the prominence of cotton in the American economy. At the same time, the use of manual labor in factories was diminishing in favor of industrial manufacturing. Trade, cultivation, and the use of cotton and its products became a vital force in the economy. Progress would be measured by the presence and the use of American cotton. Many people went on to depend on the early cotton industry, with division of jobs, as facilitated by the emerging national market economy (Hausladen 71).

Without industrial technologies, the change from hand to industry, manufacturing would not have occurred. Everything was made in cottage industries before the 19th century. Artisans and their small sized operations subjugated the economy and produced finished goods for local customers.

Trade was limited by the availability of commodities. Families went on to dominate and own the means of production in the country due to the household nature of cottage industries. This explains, partly, the reasons for inclusion of a woman as a symbol of America in the American Progress painting. Production depended on seasons. It was structured according to tasks that would be completed by certain people at certain times. Women would handle less strenuous tasks compared to men.

The lack of mechanization in the cotton producing areas meant that production was very slow, with slaves doing most of the work. It would take days for slaves to process several pounds of cotton (Gomez 133). At the time, cotton was not very profitable due to the work involved in producing it.

Other crops like tobacco and rice were more lucrative. The lack of infrastructure for transportation meant that commercial transport was only available through waterways. Areas served by major waterways would benefit from early trade, while those not served would remain behind. As of 1820, the railroad had not yet featured in the map of America.

Ways of life changed as a free trade environment prevailed between 1815 and 1850. It was the changes in manufacturing that revolutionized America. Families no longer claimed the biggest stake in production. Businesspersons assumed the role brought by their ability to trade and organize factors of production. Businesspersons grew their influence by adding workers in their production centers.

At the time, wages featured prominently as part of the American people, with clear differences emerging between business owners and employees. Road development became an economic incentive to develop barren lands (Winder 300).

Specialization of labor

It is in the north where industrializers resided and they were the first initiators of the industrialization of America. They embarked on the development of factories as a motivation for increasing their fortunes. They were few at the time and mainly relied on few mechanized processes and many manual laborers.

The laborers performed specialized jobs and were unskilled or slightly skilled. New machinery was a premium feature of the production process and determined the early competitiveness of the small factories created by the early industrialists.

The ease of scale expansion of textile processing led to large-scale textile factories, which ended up being a leading industry by 1840. Previously, Americans relied on British imports of textile, but mega-factories at the time, low cost labor, and constant cotton production ensured that the American cotton industry became better than the British one (Mountjoy 43).

Given that the early industries were expansions of previous cottage production centers, most early businesses in the production sector employed close relatives and were keen to improve their positions within the business. Ordinary workers also progressed from being unskilled to gaining skills. When there were opportunities, they would move on to become supervisors in factories. This became the first instance of the management profession emerging in America, without necessarily being owners of the business.

Work was time-based according to the available rates of production for the sake of guaranteeing production quotas and better management of employees, who could number more than one thousand in a given establishment. The transport network served as a motivating factor for development, which was the main reason for the expansion of the railroad network.

Railroads played an important part in industrialization because they could access areas that steamboats and canals could not. Growth in commerce initially called for the development of railroads to extend the reach of canals. People transported goods via steamboats and then moved them through the railroads, which played a great role in the development of the telegraph as a means of communication.

Working in factories had to be according to production schedules. It, therefore, required a workforce that was dependable and self-disciplined. Most laborers ended up only working within their positions for their entire working life, never rising to management levels because of the differentiation of work.

Gender rifts

Meanwhile, the ongoing competition and economic transformation of the 1840s and 1850s were creating gender rifts. Men had the occupational choice of choosing a career and going on to succeed in it. Moreover, men had to choose to concentrate on being dominant and choosing dominant practices or going on with the intellectual resources to increase their technical knowledge. Work life became separate from home life.

The female gender was associated with domestication because women did not take part in labor as much as men did. On the other hand, the male gender went on to serve as the face of industrialization. Men had to compete with other men, instead of only focusing on virtue, honor and service. The competition brought about the review of the male concept to encourage men to embrace masculinity to combat the challenge posed by other men. It could also be explained by a growing relevance of commerce and marketing (Greenberg 8).

Men spent their days at their workplace and left the women and children to be the main power holders at home. Men were the main source of income for the families. They had to embrace their masculinity and strive to ensure their families had food and later on had the comforts of modern life brought by industrialization. At the same time, homes and families became private and hidden from the rest of the world.

The consequences of coping with urban life and its economic challenges also prompted most men to accept birth control ideas and women used birth control to reduce pregnancy rates. Living within ones means became a motivating factor for small families. Women focused on making the home a center for female power.

They became the guardians of morality for the nation. However, there were differences in the kind of powers that women held, given that women still had to perform manual jobs constantly to supplement income and produce food in the lower income families, especially in most farming families.

Leisure activities

Laborers mainly engaged in boxing and other fight-related hobbies. On the other hand, merchants mainly took to exclusive men’s clubs. Other men took to political professions. There were also voluntary occupations that attracted members from across the class and background, or occupational divides.

The competitiveness of men ushered in a competitive sporting culture, where men from different occupations could interact and entertain themselves while participating in sports. Other unifying factors for men were political parades, elaborate rituals, alcohol consumption, and many other social features that signaled get together moments after working in factories that dominated the Manifest Destiny industrial revolution era in America (Greenberg 12).

Increasing justifications for expansion

In the 1850s, various publications in American continued to influence the Manifest Destiny and were responsible for the recruitment of many men to fight in Central America (Greenberg 29). Canada had already been a target of expansion in the 1830s, where many Americans believed that the entire continent should one day subscribe to their constitution.

Many of the excursions by Americans were only in spirit and actual conquests beyond the United States were limited. Mexico remained a popular target for its proximity, with Americans in Texas often moving into Mexico’s states. Cuba was also a lucrative target for its sugar and slaves, which Americans saw as important ingredients to the ongoing Industrial Revolution in the north (Gomez 15).

Central America also presented gold revenue prospects and fueled a gold rush that prompted Americans to develop transportation infrastructure to link it back to the United States. There were proposals to build a canal in Nicaragua, but it never came to fruition.

Meanwhile, the development of the Panama route ensured that immigrants would travel to the United States in thousands. It was important for Americans to find outlets for the products of the industries in the north, in as much as they were championing for liberty in their expansionist endeavors.

After serving as a motivator for expansion, the Manifest Destiny in the late nineteenth century became a justification for the already expanded territory and American trade and industrial influences (Mountjoy 20). The dollar diplomacy and good neighbor roles of the United States in its foreign policy approaches are all later symbolisms showing how American was and its ideals are responsible for bringing sanity and prosperity to other nations (Mountjoy 115).

Early problems of industrial revolution

According to Rice (40), the relationship between humans and machine became blurred in the mid-nineteenth century. The effect of mechanization on society remained unclear. At the same time, labor groups emerged to pity the exploited workers or producers who were ill-treated by the owners, often described as heartless.

It was appalling to think that managers would continue to become rich with every growing effort of the workers, while workers would retain their wage rates. These were simply concerned about the relationship between head and hand or mind and body, which would inform discourse at the time (Rice 41).

While wage workers were being more laborious, their employers were becoming more technical and there were calls for the establishment of a union between the two for the sake of improving the prosperity of the nation. Discussions in schools and in public on health and body focused on encouraging men and women to withstand the effects of industrialization by improving both minds and bodies.

There were concerns that there would be health problems in society with the increasing input of workers being mental, rather than manual. The growth of physical education as a field of study and practice began in the 1830s and moved on to the later years of the century. These were the consequences of the growing influence of market and manufacturing, transportation in the century (Rice 97).

Notable direct contribution of industrial revolution to the way of life

Indeed, growth in mental labor contributed to the major gains of the Industrial Revolution period in the late 19th century. Automatic signals, air brake railroad were just some of them.

The elevator, structured steel buildings were others, all brought about by the need to accommodate people in confined geographical areas, where they could participate in economic activities with ease. Motion pictures were invented at the time for entertainment purposes, with refrigerators ushering in the age of preserved food.

Many Americans were flocking to cities at increased rates. While the number of cities with more than ten thousand people was only nine in 1820, many more had surpassed that figure by far, decades later. New York had half a million people by 1860 (Mountjoy 100-109). The northeastern side of the country became the most urbanized, with commercial centers sprouting up in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.

The south remained less urbanized compared to the west and the east. Many people were flocking to the cities to get employment, start businesses, extend their businesses or take part in other emerging economic activities, such as education and health provision. Cities had adequate transport and communication infrastructures and they became destinations for industrial products.

Their growing population also provided economies of scale for various businesses, such as books and magazine publishing sectors. There was substantial growth in the demand for household items like lamps, which were mainly used by city dwellers. This was the case in the cities all over the United States.

The overall society was urbanized. At the same time, constant immigration of foreigners ensured that America remained multicultural. Increased commercialization and the free trade market caused an improvement in the quality of life in the high and middle classes, while the poor became poorer.


Although it was hailed as a peaceful and beneficial process, the expansion of America took violent turns signified by wars and confrontations that took place in various parts of the 19th century. This essay began with a discussion about the symbolic significance of the “American Progress” and then proceeded to explain the features of the Industrial Revolution and its place in American liberty ideology.

The details that began as a desire to bring civilization to barren lands ended up becoming a movement of industrial dominance that transformed cities, transport networks, gender roles, and scholarly discourse in the span of a century. Notably, it was after the gain of industrial dominance that the northeast side of the nation began to wield political influence. The influence spread west and south as a later form of the Manifest Destiny.

Works Cited

Gomez, Laura E. Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race. New York: New York University Press, 2007. Print.

Greenberg, Amy S. Manifest Manhood and the Antebellum American Empire. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Print.

Hausladen, Gary. Western Places, American Myths. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2003. Print.

Mountjoy, Shane. Manifest Destiny: Westward Expansion. New York, NY: Infobase Publishing, 2009. Print.

Nelson, Mac. Twenty West: The Great Road across America. Albany: State University of New York, 2008. Print.

Rice, Stephen P. Minding the Machine: Languages of Class in Early Industrial America. London: University of California Press, Ltd., 2004. Print.

Winder, Cordon m. ‘Following America into the Second Industrial Revolution: New Rules of Competition and Ontario’s Farm Machinery Industry, 1850–1930’. Canadian Geographer 46.4 (2002): 292-309. Print.

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