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Industry and Commerce in the Early 19th Century

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In the 19th century, America had a basic economy and small industry. It was also a new country, with few customs and traditions. It had not had time to acquire any, because it was still so new. America has grown a lot since then, and a lot of the steps we have taken to get to today's bustling economy and immense industry took place in the nineteenth century. Commerce and industry contributed to America's nineteenth century identity because it provided the framework for a larger economy in the future, helped drive western expansion and growth of cities, made an improved transportation system necessary, and forced many new inventions onto the market

In the early 1800's, seaboard ports were the largest centers of commerce. These were small towns, with basic transportation systems. Most of the goods exported were either simple products or seafood from the nearby ocean. Many farms surrounded the seaboard ports. The growing conditions were not too favorable, as the fields were muddy most of the time. Seaboard ports were an essential part of the local trade.

In 1820 we had at least one half million separate family economies trading with several thousand local economies. On small family farms, family members spent the majority of there time working to produce for there families own use. Each family farm was like its own economy, with free time and the stock of produce shared, jobs assigned to each family member, and chores expected. On farms with slaves or larger plantations, planters established routines and enforced them with rewards and punishments. Today's more unified economy is much better than the separate economies of the nineteenth century.

The local industry exchanged flour, lumber, bricks, furniture, wagons, coffins, shoes, and ironware, all of which were produced at small mills and shops. All materials were produced locally; even the iron was smelted in town. In addition to craftsmen, jobs were available as lawyers, bankers, land office officials, tax collectors, sheriffs, teachers, and politicians.

The local product exchange included food items such as butter, preserved food, honey, wine, whisky, and fruit, as well as cloth and clothing. Some farmers took place in labor exchanges. During the idle winter months, farmers could sell there workers to mills, other farmers, or the state or county for roadwork. During harvest time, farmers needed more labor than they could supply. In the north lumbermen, petty tradesmen, and children were recruited. In the south women and young slaves were hired. Relatives and neighbors also helped.

As the eastern portion of America started to become more populated, many people began to feel the urge to move west. From 1800-1825, the country began to expand toward the Mississippi River. The commercial prosperity of the 1790's, caused by the connection between seaboard ports and England, began to decline at the same time.

After 1825, the nation continued to expand west, but more importantly it also began to become connected with railroads and canals. The first railroad charter in North America was granted to John Stevens in 1815. In 1826 Colonel John Stevens, considered by many to be the father of American railroads, debuted his locomotive steam engine on a circular experimental track constructed on his estate in Hoboken, New Jersey. In 1869 the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads met in Promontory, Utah, and the first Transcontinental Railroad was completed.

The most critical canal was the Erie Canal, because it allowed the entire great lakes region access to an ocean port. The canal was completed in 1825, and although it was enlarged many times between 1835 and 1862, it was originally 364 miles long, 28 feet wide at the bottom, 40 feet wide at the top and 4 feet deep. Without the Erie canal, the entire great lakes region would have a much more difficult time in transporting there goods.

Factories started to become more efficient as machinery was improved. Two of the most important inventions that helped start the new inventions were steam, and the improved water wheel. From these new sources of power came the steam engine, and large flour mills. The improved efficiency caused the number of factories to grow. In 1860, 41.1% of the labor force had non-agricultural jobs. Compared to 28.2% in 1820, there was a 12.9% increase in factories over 40 years. The power driven machinery let workers produce a lot more than before it was invented.

Although the improved efficiency of the factories seems like it would have no downside, the growth of high capacity factories destroyed the businesses of skilled craftsmen who worked out of there homes. The home based craftsmen could not compete with the factories. Although the quality was usually much better,



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