|Industrial Revolution in New England|
|(Continued from: Early America)|
Early New England settlers were farmers by necessity. New England's geography makes it difficult for farming, but its many rivers and creeks with their potential for water-power make it fine for industry. Water-powered grist mills, sawmills and other small industries thrived. (You can still see grist mills in operation at the Wayside Inn, in Sandwich and Chatham on Cape Cod, and in other places.)
Then, in 1789, across the open sea from England, came a young man named Samuel Slater (1768-1835) who had worked in the new and revolutionary English cotton-spinning factories.
Though it was against British law to export technical information of the spinning machines, which were making Great Britain the world's wealthiest textile producer, Slater slipped out of the country with knowledge of English spinning machine design and took ship for New England.
Arriving in Rhode Island he, along with Moses Brown and William Almy, established a cotton-spinning mill at Pawtucket, based on his knowledge of English machine design. The mill revolutionized the weaving of textiles in the New World, and set the stage for New England's great weaving industry.
Slater's knowledge of continuous production and the principles of industrial management allowed him to create the successful "Rhode Island System" of industrial production. Soon he went on to manufacture machinery to sell to other cotton mills.
Eli Whitney's cotton gin (1794) greatly improved the efficiency of cotton preparation and thread quality, speeding expansion.
Throughout the 19th century, as New England's clipper ships and whalers swept through the world's oceans, land-bound New Englanders exploited the region's waterpower resources to run their new mills, and industrial towns sprang to life along New England's rivers.
An important aspect of the new New England industrialism was Slater's concept of inviting entire families to move to factory towns. Next to the factories houses were built for the new workers. Company stores and company-financed civic buildings filled the streets of the new towns, which were founded on the wealth from weaving.
From some of the factories it was not textiles but machinery, firearms, shoes, watches, and instruments that marched out the doors on their way to the markets of the world.
New England inventors and engineers gained a reputation for ingenuity that survives today, and samples of "Yankee ingenuity" are still proudly displayed.
New England's commercial success brought New Englanders wealth and sophistication. Boston, chief city of the region, was proud to call itself the "Athens of America." But times change, and changing times brought changed circumstances to the region in the next century.
Next: The 20th Century
—by Tom Brosnahan