Official State of Iowa Website Here is how you know
State Historical Society of Iowa

Industrial Revolution

How does innovation impact people's lives?

In the latter 1700s, inventions in the textile industry in Great Britain were the first signs of major changes in a revolution in production that greatly altered many aspects of society. Steam-powered machines began to do what animals or people had formerly done by hand. Textile mills could produce high quality cloth cheaply and in huge quantities. Factories sprang up, creating new jobs for factory workers but driving individual weavers who usually worked at home out of business and leading to the growth of cities. Industrialization spread to the iron industry, creating greater demands for mining of ore and coal. Soon the factory system spread to the rest of Europe and the United States. For their owners, factories could create great wealth. Workers, however, often toiled for long hours for low pay under harsh working conditions.

Industrialization of Agriculture

A tremendous growth of machine-power transformed agriculture in the 19th century. Using factory-produced machinery like the steel plow, the reaper, mowers and threshing machines powered by horses, farmers were able to expand the size of their operations and produce far more than they could when farming was done by hand. The invention of the cotton gin to separate seeds from the cotton fiber made cotton-growing profitable and increased the enslavement and abuse of people in southern states. Over the long term, it greatly reduced the number of people required to produce the nation’s food and fiber. Around 1800, nearly 90 percent of Americans were farm families. Today, the number is under two percent. The growth of cities was a direct outcome of the Industrial Revolution as families left the farms to find work elsewhere.

Transportation, Electricity and More

By the mid-1800s, changes in transportation were making a big difference. Steam powered ships could travel much faster than those depending on the winds. Railroads were able to haul freight, mail and passengers long distances with greater convenience and reliability than horse-drawn vehicles. The invention of Morse code enabled rapid communication across great distances and helped draw the nation closer together. Telephones followed giving individuals the power to converse whenever they wanted regardless of whether they were together or not.

In the late 1800s, electricity began its revolution of the home and office. Light bulbs replaced smoky kerosene lamps, refrigerators replaced home deliveries of ice and electric washing machines and irons relieved some of the heavy drudgery of housework. At first, electricity was available only in towns because of the expense of stringing long lines through the countryside, but in 1936, Congress passed the Rural Electrification Act that helped to finance the creation of rural co-operatives to supply farm families with this advantage.

Beginning in the early 20th century, gasoline-powered engines led to the development of automobiles and tractors that further reduced our dependence on horses. Henry Ford built a factory that broke down the manufacture of an automobile into many small steps and allowed him to mass produce the Model-T that had a major impact on American life. Now a reliable automobile was available to the average family, providing a mobility undreamed of only a few generations earlier. Families were no longer bound to travel from town to town by rail but could drive where they wanted on short trips or even long family vacations. Farm children could attend high schools and other activities in town.

The invention of the computer, Internet and the entire digital industry is yet another stage of the Industrial Revolution, and one whose impact people are still experiencing. Who knows what another 20 years will bring?

Impact of the Industrial Revolution

With all the advantages of the Industrial Revolution that provides us with goods, services and opportunities unavailable to past generations, there are downsides, too. There is a much greater inequality in wealth, with some super-rich people while others live below the poverty level. Factories and industrialization make great demands on the environment for raw materials and often pollute the air by burning coal or the rivers with toxic dumps of toxic chemicals. Because Americans no longer produce (or even know how to produce) many of the items upon which they depend on, people are vulnerable to forces over which they have little control.

For the past 300 years, civilization has changed more than it had for thousands of years, and those changes are accelerating. What impact will those changes have on the environment and how will it affect the ability to cohabitate the globe with the natural world and other nations? The answers remain to be seen.

 

Supporting Questions

How did the Industrial Revolution change the production of goods?

How did the changes in communication and transportation affect people's lives?

What were the advantages and disadvantages of industrialization?

Industrial Revolution Teaching Guide
Printable Image and Document Guide

"Forest City-based Winnebago Industries turns 60" Newspaper Article, May 6, 2018

Image
Aerial view of Winnebago Industries

Download Resource

Description

Winnebago Industries started 60 years ago with a dozen workers building travel trailers in a facility shared with a hatchery. Today, the Forest City-based company is a leading U.S. recreation vehicle manufacturer with 4,200 employees. "There's this rich spirit of innovation…

Read More

"Rise of Industrial America, 1876-1900" from Library of Congress

Image
"Rise of Industrial America, 1876-1900," Date Unknown

Download Resource

Description

This information from the Library of Congress explains in the decades following the Civil War, the United States emerged as an industrial giant. Old industries expanded and many new ones, including petroleum refining, steel manufacturing and electrical power, emerged.…

Read More

"Iowa Inventors and Inventions from A to Z" Excerpt from The Goldfinch, 1998

Image
"Iowa Inventors and Inventions from A to Z," 1998

Download Resource

Description

This excerpt from The Goldfinch highlights six inventions that made an impact on Iowa, and in some cases, the United States.

Read More

Chicago & North Western Railway Viaduct (Kate Shelley High Bridge) at Boone Data Papers, August 1995

Image
The papers are from the Historical American Engineering Record in a report about the construction of the Chicago & North Western Railroad viaduct (Kate Shelley High Bridge) near Boone, Iowa.

Download Resource

Description 

The papers are from the Historical American Engineering Record in a report about the construction of the Chicago & North Western Railroad viaduct (Kate Shelley High Bridge) near Boone, Iowa. The viaduct, a long bridge-like structure, is one of the last…

Read More

"Progress and Unemployment" Excerpt from The Goldfinch, 1996

Image
"Progress and Unemployment" Excerpt from The Goldfinch, 1996

Download Resource

Description

This excerpt from The Goldfinch explains how inventions and other technological advances often put people out of one line of work and into another.

Read More

"Working the Environment" Essay from The Goldfinch, 1996

Image
"Working the Environment" Essay from The Goldfinch, 1996

Download Resource

Description

In this essay from The Goldfinch, the reader considers how some of Iowa's best-known industries are extractive and the advantages and disadvantages to the industries.

Read More

"Hymn for the Working Children," ca. 1913

Image
"Hymn for the Working Children," ca. 1913

Download Resource

Description

Fanny Crosby wrote poems and hymns. Throughout her life, she was described as having "a horror of wealth," but never set prices to speak, often refused money and what little she did accept, she gave away almost as soon as she got it. Crosby wrote over 8,000 hymns. This…

Read More

"Kids at Work" Essay from The Goldfinch, 1996

Image
"Kids at Work" Essay from The Goldfinch, 1996

Download Resource

Description

This essay from The Goldfinch explains how most kids in the past, like now, helped out around their homes and learned by working closely with their parents. 

Read More

Occupational Portrait of a Watchmaker, between 1840 and 1860

Image
Occupational Portrait of a Watchmaker, between 1840 and 1860

Download Resource

Description

A watchmaker is a craftsman who makes and repairs watches by hand. Peter Henlein, a locksmith and clockmaker from Germany in the 1500s, was the inventor of the world's first watch. In the United States, the railroad chose their own time standards until 1883. Standard time…

Read More

Occupational Portrait of a Blacksmith, between 1850 and 1860

Image
"Occupational Portrait of a Blacksmith," between 1850 and 1860

Download Resource

Description

A blacksmith is a craftsman who creates things out of iron. They made many things used in everyday life: nails, screws, bolts and other fasteners; horseshoes, sickles, plowshares, axes and other agricultural tools; hammers, candlesticks and other household objects. They also…

Read More

Occupational Portrait of a Woman Working at a Sewing Machine, ca. 1853

Image
"Occupational Portrait of a Woman Working at a Sewing Machine," ca. 1853

Download Resource

Description

A seamstress is a person who sews, someone who earns a living by sewing. At first, women's clothes were made at home by the ladies themselves, their servants or a professional seamstress. Fabrics, increasingly mass produced, became more affordable during the…

Read More

Occupational Portrait of Two African American Chimney Sweeps, between 1860 and 1870

Image
"Occupational Portrait of Two African American Chimney Sweeps," between 1860 and 1870

Download Resource

Description

A chimney sweep is a person who clears ash and soot from chimneys. Chimney sweeping was one of the more difficult, hazardous and low-paying occupations of the time period. In the northern United States, this trade transitioned from primarily white chimney sweeps to…

Read More

African-American Women Weaving Rug at Hampton Institute in Virginia, 1899

Image

Download Resource

Description

This photograph shows African American women learning how to weave rugs in a home economics class. Devices like the weaving shuttles and bobbins were used to make cloth and rugs in larger looms, like the one in this photo. The bobbin carried the yarns to make the cloth. The…

Read More

Sadie Pfeifer, Child Worker, at Lancaster Cotton Mills in South Carolina, November 30, 1908

Image
Sadie Pfeifer, Child Worker, at Lancaster Cotton Mills in South Carolina, November 30, 1908

Download Resource

Description

Sadie Pfeifer, just four feet tall, worked half a year. She was one of the many small children at work in Lancaster Cotton Mills tending to a row of spinning machines. Spinning machines are set up in long rows that a spinner would walk along and piece together broken ends.…

Read More

"Assembly Line at the Ford Motor Company's Highland Park Plant," ca. 1913

Image
"Assembly Line at the Ford Motor Company's Highland Park Plant," ca. 1913.

Download Resource

Description

Henry Ford and his engineers constantly searched for ways to speed up car production and keep costs low. The integration of a moving assembly line in Highland Park Plant allowed the company to do just that. From 1908-1927, Ford Motor Company produced over 15 million Model T…

Read More

Washing Machine Assembly Line in Maytag Plant in Newton, Iowa, 1949

Image
Employees at work on washing machine assembly line in Maytag plant. Newton, Iowa. October 1949.

Download Resource

Description

Employees at work on the washing machine assembly line in the Maytag plant in Newton, Iowa. During the 1950s, the laundry and kitchen appliance industry grew rapidly. Maytag was manufacturing washers and dryers for commercial self-service laundries and commercial operators.…

Read More

"More Than Just Washing Machines" Article about Maytag Plant in Newton, Iowa, June 21, 2019

Image
Newspaper article about Maytag in Newton

Download Resource

Description

This newspaper article from the Newton Daily News looks at the 60-year production history of Maytag. The Jasper County Historical Society helps preserve important objects and historical milestones of the company. 

Read More

Barrel Makers in Union, Iowa, Date Unknown

Image
Barrel Makers in Union, Iowa," Date Unknown

Download Resource

Description

Barrel making or being a cooper is a skilled trade. Everything was stored in these wooden containers; flour, grains, salted meats and fish, water, nails, beer, spirits, whale oil and many more. 

Read More

"Rise of Industrial America: Work in the Late 19th Century" from Library of Congress

Image
This article explains how jobs changed in the time of industrialization.

Download Resource

Description

This brief essay from the Library of Congress explains how jobs changed in the time of industrialization.

Read More

"First Telegraphic Message" from Samuel Morse, May 24, 1844

Image
"First Telegraphic Message" from Samuel Morse, May 24, 1844

Download Resource

Description

When decoded, this paper tape recording of the historic message transmitted by Samuel F. B. Morse reads, "What hath God wrought?" Morse sent it from the U.S. Supreme Court room in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. to his assistant, Alfred Vail, in Baltimore, Maryland.…

Read More

Building of the Boone Viaduct (Kate Shelley High Bridge), December 8, 1900

Image
Construction during the building of the Boone Viaduct in 1900.

Download Resource

Description 

Also known as the Kate Shelley High Bridge, the Boone Viaduct was completed in 1901 and was one of the highest and longest double-track railroad bridges in the United States. It is located approximately three miles west of Boone, Iowa. According to the Historic…

Read More

First Flight of Wright Brothers in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, December 17, 1903

Image
First Flight of Wright Brothers in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, December 17, 1903

Download Resource

Description

The photograph shows the first powered, controlled and sustained flight. Orville Wright is at the controls of the machine, lying prone on the lower wing with hips in the cradle which operated the wing-warping mechanism. Wilbur Wright running alongside to balance the machine…

Read More

Post Office in Solon, Iowa, ca. 1910

Image
Post Office in Solon, Iowa, ca. 1910

Download Resource

Description

Marie Beuter worked alongside Clara Chansky at the post office from 1968 to 1989. Mail service was received at irregular times due to the road conditions and weather. The first roads followed Native American trails. People rode many miles to get their mail. Postage rates…

Read More

Alfred Solbrig Sitting on His Aviator Father's Curtiss Hydroaeroplane, ca. 1912

Image
Alfred Solbrig Sitting on His Aviator Father's Curtiss Hydroaeroplane, ca. 1912

Download Resource

Description

This photograph shows Albert Solbrig, son of aviator Oscar A. Solbrig, sitting on his father's Curtiss Hydroaeroplane. Oscar built a Curtiss type flying boat powered by a 50 h.p. Roberts motor in which he made one flight. Late in the afternoon and at dusk, he was unable to…

Read More

Downtown Intersection in Front of William Crewse Drug Company in Des Moines, Iowa, 1930

Image
Downtown Intersection in Front of William Crewse Drug Company in Des Moines, Iowa, 1930

Download Resource

Description

This photograph shows the downtown intersection with a streetcar passing in front of William Crewse Drug Company in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1930. Des Moines was the second city in the nation to have electric street railway service. Other Iowa communities were also in the…

Read More

"Carrying the Load" Essay from The Goldfinch, November 1983

Image
"Carrying the Load" Essay from The Goldfinch, November 1983

Download Resource

Description

This essay from The Goldfinch explains how the railroad affected people's lives in a variety of ways during the age of industry.

Read More

Excerpt from "Getting Away From It All" Essay from The Goldfinch, November 1983

Image
"Getting Away From It All" Essay from The Goldfinch, November 1983

Download Resource

Description

This essay from The Goldfinch describes Carrie Carson's perspective of traveling by railroad in Iowa in 1893.

Read More

"Railroads in Iowa" Essay from The Goldfinch, November 1983

Image
"Railroads in Iowa" Essay from The Goldfinch, November 1983

Download Resource

Description

This essay from The Goldfinch explains how the railroad impacted people in Iowa during the age of industry.

Read More

"What Time Is It?" Essay from The Goldfinch, November 1983

Image
"What Time Is It?" Essay from The Goldfinch, November 1983

Download Resource

Description

This essay from The Goldfinch explains how on November 18, 1883, at 12 p.m. (noon), the United States railroads adopted a system for standard time zones.

Read More

Workers Assemble Recreational Vehicles at Winnebago Industries in Forest City, 2013

Image
Workers assemble recreational vehicles at Winnebago Industries in Forest City in a file photo from 2013. Company officials announced on Friday an additional plant will be opened in Waverly.

Download Resource

Description

This photograph shows workers assembling recreational vehicles at Winnebago Industries in Forest City, Iowa, from 2013. 

Read More

Assembly Line Workers Under an RV at Winnebago Industries in Forest City, Iowa, March 2016

Image
Assembly line workers Jared Maas, right, and Stan Trca work under the chassis of an RV on the Winnebago Industries assembly line in Forest City in March 2016.

Download Resource

Description

Assembly line workers Jared Maas, right, and Stan Trca work under the chassis of an RV on the Winnebago Industries assembly line in Forest City in March 2016. There was not enough room at the north plant, so work began on the new site, nicknamed "Big Bertha." The company…

Read More

Elevation of Truss, from North, with Train, Date Unknown

Image
View of the C & NW Railroad Viaduct over the Des Moines River from the north.

Download Resource

Description 

The image shows a view of the Chicago & North Western railroad viaduct (Kate Shelley High Bridge) over the Des Moines River from the north. According to the Historic American Engineering Record, this viaduct is about 3,000 feet long, 185 feet above the Des Moines…

Read More

Breaker Boys at the Woodward Coal Mines in Kingston, Pennsylvania, ca. 1900

Image
Breaker Boys at the Woodward Coal Mines in Kingston, Pennsylvania, ca. 1900

Download Resource

Description

Breaker boys worked in the coal mines. Their main job was to separate chunks of coal by hand. As coal came down the conveyor belt, they would break up the coal into common sized pieces and also separate out any things like rocks, clay and soil. Boys were usually between the…

Read More

Push Cart Vendors on the East Side of New York, New York, 1900

Image
Push Cart Vendors on the East Side of New York, New York, 1900

Download Resource

Description

This video features market scenes which show push cart vendors displaying a variety of merchandise on a busy, crowded street in what appears to be a tenement district in New York. The camera is mounted on a moving vehicle and passes horse-drawn wagons and automobiles; young…

Read More

Tenement Yard in New York, New York, between 1900 and 1910

Image
Tenement Yard in New York, New York, between 1900 and 1910

Download Resource

Description

In the 19th Century, more and more people began crowding into America's cities, including thousands of newly arrived immigrants seeking a better life than the one they had left behind. In New York City, where the population doubled every decade from 1800 to 1880, buildings…

Read More

Young Girls at Spoolers at Lincoln Cotton Mill in Evansville, Indiana, October 1908

Image
Young Girls at Spoolers at Lincoln Cotton Mill in Evansville, Indiana, October 1908

Download Resource

Description

Spoolers ran machines that combined the thread from ten to 15 different bobbins. Operating a spooling frame was not a hard job, unless threads broke and they had to tie the strand back together. Working as an investigative photographer for the National Child Labor…

Read More

Newsies in Hartford, Connecticut, March 7, 1909

Image
Newsies in Hartford, Connecticut, March 1909

Download Resource

Description

Newsies sold newspapers in the big cities. They were usually homeless orphan boys who had no other way to make money. Newsies were not hired employees. They ran their own business. Each morning they would get up and buy newspapers. Then they would find a good corner with…

Read More

People Picking Cranberries in Pemberton, New Jersey, September 1910

Image
People Picking Cranberries in Pemberton, New Jersey, September 1910

Download Resource

Description

This photograph shows some children picking cranberries in Pemberton, New Jersey. The young boy in the middle, Jim Waldine of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was just 6 years old and had been picking cranberries two years. Another boy, Sam Frohue, 9, had also been picking…

Read More

Mortaria Family Makes Silk Flowers in New York, New York, February 1912

Image
Mortaria Family in New York, New York,  February 1912

Download Resource

Description

This photograph is of the Mortaria family in their apartment in New York, New York in February 1912. The photo was taken at 8 p.m., but they were all still working at the table because their work - creating silk flowers - was not finished. The small child on the left is not…

Read More

Tenement Kitchen in Hamilton County, Ohio, December 1935

Image
Tenement Kitchen in Hamilton County, Ohio, December 1935

Download Resource

Description

Tenements were narrow, low-rise apartment buildings in the city's Lower East Side neighborhood in New York City, which were all too often cramped, poorly lit and lacked indoor plumbing and proper ventilation.

Read More

Additional Resources

How did the Industrial Revolution change the production of goods?

  • Industrial Revolution
    This webpage from the History Channel provides some important historical context about the Industrial Revolution. 
  • Profiling Portraits: Occupational Portraits of the 19th Century
    This resource from the Library of Congress provides more information about occupational portraits from the 19th Century and what they tell people about the past.
  • The Rise of the Industrial Revolution Video
    This video focuses on the development of the spinning machine by Sir Richard Arkwright in England, which led directly to the rise of the Industrial Revolution, and a new world of manufactured products.
  • The Industrial Revolution Video
    This video shows an assembly line at work during the Industrial Revolution. Beginning in the 19th Century, advances in manufacturing revolutionize the American way of life.
  • Inside Ford's Moving Assembly Line Video
    In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the moving assembly line, introduced by Ford Motor Company and led by Henry Ford on October 7th, 1913, the automaker went inside its manufacturing facilities to document the fast-paced and efficient assembly lines.
  • History of Iowa Farmers - Living History Farms
    This webpage from Living History Farms looks at the history of farming in Iowa and the people who are important to its growth. 
  • "Inside the LEGO Factory: How robots & machines make LEGO" Video
    This video focuses on the creation of a LEGO by robots and machines. 
  • Invention of the Telegraph
    This collection from the Library of Congress includes primary sources from Samuel Morse that follow his journey to creating the telegraph. 
  • Industrial Revolution and Technology from National Geographic
    This article from National Geographic highlights inventions created during the Industrial Revolution. 
  • Full of Beams: Henry Ford Grows A Car by Peggy Thomas
    This biographical story walks through Henry Ford's life and the challenges that came from it, from the failed tractor that Henry Ford made as a teenager, to the Great Depression, as well as the switch in production that came with the beginning of World War II.

How did the changes in communication and transportation affect people's lives?

  • Morse Code & the Telegraph
    This webpage focuses on the creation of Morse Code and the telegraph during the Industrial Revolution. 
  • Railroad Hotel Owney Tag - National Postal Museum
    This webpage includes a photograph of Railroad Hotel Owney Tag that is on display at the National Postal Museum. Owney was a dog that eventually became the mascot for the U.S. Rail Mail Service. 
  • Public Transit: Iowa Transit History
    This webpage from the Iowa Department of Transportation looks at the history of public transit in Iowa. 
  • A Lucky Dog: Owney, U.S. Rail Mail Mascot by Dirk Wales
    This book chronicles the travels of Owney, who arrived as a stray puppy at the Albany Post Office, and eventually became the official mascot of the U.S. Rail Mail Service and a solo national and world traveler.
  • 100 Inventions That Made History: Brilliant Breakthroughs That Shaped Our World (100 in History) by DK
    This book presents an in-depth exploration of each invention in unprecedented detail with eye-catching visuals and informative text.
  • The Revolution in Industry by John Perritano
    The book takes a look at how machines changed history. 
  • The Industrial Revolution for Kids: The People and Technology That Changed the World by Cheryl Mullenbach
    Learn about the new technologies and new forms of communication and transportation that impacted American life — through the people who invented them and the people who built, operated and used them.

What were the advantages and disadvantages of industrialization?

  • The Goldfinch: Automobile Age (November 1982)
    Explore this edition of The Goldfinch magazine to learn more about the industrialization of Iowa. 
  • "How Edison, Tesla and Westinghouse Battled to Electrify America"
    This article looks at the rivalry in the United States as to the development and implementation of electricity. 
  • Child Labor Across Primary Source Sets and the Library’s Collections
    This primary source collection from the Library of Congress looks at the history of child labor in the United States. 
  • National Child Labor Committee Collection
    This Library of Congress collection features primary sources from the National Child Labor Committee.
  • Bandit's Roost, 59½ Mulberry Street
    This is a photo collection of Jacob Riis' work capturing New York tenement life in the late 1800s.
  • Photographs of the Empire State Building Under Construction
    This collection from the New York Public Library includes general and detailed views of the Empire State Building under construction showing workers performing various tasks including positioning, welding and riveting steel, hoisting materials and supplies and operating and repairing machinery. 
  • Child Labor Laws
    This webpage and video provides historical context about the use of child labor and the development of child labor laws. 
  • Northwest Iowa's Top Industries
    This webpage includes pertinent information about Iowa's top industries in the northwest. 
  • Innovation, The Calling Card to the Future
    This webpage from Iowa Economic Development looks the industrial future of the state. 
  • Lewis Hine: Exposing Child Labor
    This is a photo collection of the work of Lewis Hine to document child labor in the Unites States for the National Child Labor Committee.
  • Kid Citizen: Congress and Child Labor
    This webpage offers educator resources about the history of child labor and child labor laws in the United States. 
  • Kid Citizen: Snap a Photo: Agent of Change
    This webpage looks at the work of photographer Lewis Hine and his work documenting child labor in the United States and its impact. 
  • The War Between Bosses and Workers by Diana Star Helmer
    This book focuses on the changes in America's big cities due to the Industrial Revolution that created labor problems. By the end of the 1800s, these problems between bosses and workers were forcing much-needed reforms.
  • The Child Labor Reform Movement: An Interactive History Adventure by Steven Otfinoski
    This book is a kind of "choose your own adventure" scenario and it deals with the issues faced by children in the workforce. 
  • Mother Jones and Her Army of Mill by Jonah Winter
    A picture book about Mary "Mother" Jones and the 100 children who marched from Philadelphia to New York in a fiery protest against child labor.

 

Iowa Core Social Studies Standards (4th Grade)

Listed below are the Iowa Core Social Studies content anchor standards that are best reflected in this source set. The content standards applied to this set are middle school-age level and encompass the key disciplines that make up social studies for fourth-grade students.

No. Standard Description
SS.4.8. Evaluate how civic virtues and democratic principles have guided or do guide governments, societies, and/or communities. (21st century skills)
SS.4.19. Explain influences on the development and decline of different modes of transportation in U.S. regions.
SS.4.20. Compare and contrast events that happened at the same time.
SS.4.23. Explain probable causes and effects of events and developments.
SS.4.24. Develop a claim about the past and cite evidence to support it.
SS.4.25. Analyze the impact of technological changes in Iowa, across time and place.