In the 30 years after the Civil War, the United States blew by Great Britain to become the greatest economic power in world history. That is a well-known period in history, when titans like Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and J. P. Morgan walked the earth.
But as Charles R. Morris shows us, the platform for that spectacular growth spurt was built in the first half of the century. By the 1820s, America was already the world's most productive manufacturer and the most intensely commercialized society in history. The War of 1812 jump-started the great New England cotton mills, the iron centers in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, and the forges around the Great Lakes. In the decade after the War, the Midwest was opened by entrepreneurs.
In this book, Morris paints a vivid panorama of a new nation buzzing with the work of creation. He also points out the parallels and differences in the 19th century American/British standoff and that between China and America today.
"The author is at his best when he focuses on the people behind the technology. . . . Morris' research is thorough. . . . Ambitious." (Kirkus)
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Couldn't put it down!
I was basically looking for something to fill in my gaps in knowledge of 19th Century history, and was expecting this to be informative but dry. Instead, I was surprised how much I loved this book! We get histories of the major players in the American industrial revolution, what they innovated and what effect their mass production had on society. I learned about company towns that sprang up in Massachusetts, New York and Ohio. The author quotes (often British) observers of this societal leap forward as varied as Frances Trollpe, Isabella Lucy Bird, and Dickens himself. The history begins with Marc Brunel's pulley block factory in Portsmouth, England which started the British industrial revolution, then continues on with his son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, considered one of the greatest Britons of all time. Then we move to America where the idea of mass production gets applied to nearly every possible commercial product possible. The author always notes how each industry changes American lives, whether the change occurs in war, transportation, clothing or diet. This book perfectly synthesizes in-depth information while taking the widest view possible. The eventual supremacy of the U.S. over Britain is always alluded to, but it is finally dealt with by examining the condescending attitudes toward American ingenuity that prevailed in Britain throughout the 19th Century. However, although Americans were incredibly adaptable, they also had the advantage of starting out in the comfortable position of Number Two, enabling them to develop others' long-gestating ideas, if not outright stealing them. The author then jumps ahead to the 1950s and 60s when Japan managed the same trick with the U.S., and today when China has begun to steal intellectual property from its close partners Germany and the U.S. You won't find many history books with a point of view that so clearly draws parallels between two centuries ago and today. This book was as thrilling as the time it evoked.
- Martin A. Perea
How our industries started