Changes on Farms, in Factories, and in Cities
Frameworks for America's Past
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What were some of the ways that growing
 industry changed America after the Civil War?

1.  Mechanization changed farms

   Mechanization means the increasing use of machines.  One example of mechanization on farms is the mechanical reaper shown in the photo.  It was invented by Cyrus McCormick in 1831 to harvest wheat.  The machine was in use on farms by the 1850s, and was especially useful on the large wheat farms of the Great Plains.

That reaper did the work of 6 men!

   The mechanical reaper could harvest wheat about as fast as six men using the hand held cutting blades shown in this photo.  So mechanization decreased the need for labor (workers) on farms, while allowing farms to produce even more food than before.

The result: farms could grow larger

   The photo shows a very large mechanical reaper in a wheat field around 1900.  Notice how large this farm is.  It is much larger than could be easily handled without the help of machines.  (Tractors were just beginning to replace work horses about this time.)

2.  Factories grew larger

   Factories were also changing as more machines came into widespread use.  This photo shows rows of machines in a large textile (cloth making) factory in Massachusetts. 
Many factories grew large enough that they could produce and sell products not just in one area, but in national markets (all over the country).


3.  Cities grew as industry expanded

   Cities were growing very rapidly as a result of industrialization.  Factories usually located in cities.  That increased the demand for labor (workers) in cities.  Americans - including millions of new immigrants - moved into cities looking for jobs and better opportunities.
   This photo shows a downtown Chicago street around 1900.  Notice the trolley on the tracks in the street, and the fact that horse-drawn wagons and carriages were still common.  Automobiles would begin appearing just a few years later.

Click here to see a larger version of this photo

4.  Railroads helped create national markets
   Railroads played an important part in all of this growth and change.  Here's why:
  • Railroads connected farms to cities near and far.  That provided a way for farmers to sell their crops more easily.
  • Railroads moved raw materials to factories.  That includes natural resources such as wood, coal, copper, and iron ore.
  • Railroads carried the products made in factories all over the country to markets where the products were sold to consumers.
   All of this meant farms and businesses could easily sell their products anywhere in the country, rather than just locally.  The term for this is national markets.  The drawing below shows the city of Chicago, Illinois, about 1870.  Notice the railroad tracks and warehouses all along the waterfront.  The cut-away drawing in the next image shows a special railroad car designed with ice water tanks.  That made it possible for meatpacking companies in Chicago and other cities to ship meat products long distances.

5.  Consumers had more access to
better products at lower prices

    The changes on farms and in factories helped improve life for most Americans dramatically
.  Industrialization gave consumers (shoppers) access to more and better products than their grandparents had ever dreamed of.

   The photo shows a large department store in Philadelphia in 1905.  By that time, there were also businesses like Sears, Roebuck & Co. that were selling products all over the country through mail order catalogs.

Click here to see a larger version of this photo 

A new way to shop: the Sears mail order catalog

   The Sears company you know today was started in 1893 as a mail order business.  The company printed catalogs that customers could get by mail, then flip through the pages to see the thousands of items the company sold.  The catalog included everything from sewing machines to toys, tools, books, furniture, clothing, and more! 

   The customer filled out an order form, and sent it together with the payment by mail to Sears.  The company warehouse in Chicago sent the items directly to the customer by mail.  This was great for people in small towns and farm areas, where the local stores often had higher prices and not much selection. 

   The local stores, of course, were not happy about the mail order catalogs, because people were often ordering products by mail rather than shopping locally.  The page shown below is from the 1899 Sears catalog.

The photos and Sears catalog page are from the Library of Congress.
The Sears warehouse image and the railroad car images are public domain graphics courtesy Wikipedia.
Some images have been edited or resized for this page.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright 2010, 2017 by David Burns.  All rights reserved.  As a guide to the Virginia Standards of Learning, some pages necessarily include phrases or sentences from that document, which is available online from the Virginia Department of Education.  The author's copyright extends to the original text and graphics, unique design and layout, and related material.