Economic Growth: Inventions, Development, and Tycoons

The rapid economic development following the Civil War laid the groundwork for the modern U.S. industrial economy. An explosion of new discoveries and inventions took place, causing such profound changes that some termed the results a "second industrial revolution." Oil was discovered in western Pennsylvania. The typewriter was developed. Refrigeration railroad cars came into use. The telephone, phonograph, and electric light were invented.

And by the dawn of the 20th century, cars were replacing carriages and people were flying in airplanes.

Parallel to these achievements was the development of the nation's industrial infrastructure. Coal was found in abundance in the Appalachian Mountains from Pennsylvania south to Kentucky. Large iron mines opened in the Lake Superior region of the upper Midwest. Mills thrived in places where these two important raw materials could be brought together to produce steel. Large copper and silver mines opened, followed by lead mines and cement factories.

As industry grew larger, it developed mass-production methods. Frederick W. Taylor pioneered the field of scientific management in the late 19th century, carefully plotting the functions of various workers and then devising new, more efficient ways for them to do their jobs. (True mass production was the inspiration of Henry Ford, who in 1913 adopted the moving assembly line, with each worker doing one simple task in the production of automobiles.

In what turned out to be a farsighted action, Ford offered a very generous wage -- $5 a day -- to his workers, enabling many of them to buy the automobiles they made, helping the industry to expand.)

The "Gilded Age" of the second half of the 19th century was the epoch of tycoons. Many Americans came to idealize these businessmen who amassed vast financial empires.

Often their success lay in seeing the long-range potential for a new service or product, as John D. Rockefeller did with oil. They were fierce competitors, single-minded in their pursuit of financial success and power. Other giants in addition to Rockefeller and Ford included Jay Gould, who made his money in railroads; J. Pierpont Morgan, banking; and Andrew Carnegie, steel. Some tycoons were honest according to business standards of their day; others, however, used force, bribery, and guile to achieve their wealth and power. For better or worse, business interests acquired significant influence over government.

Morgan, perhaps the most flamboyant of the entrepreneurs, operated on a grand scale in both his private and business life. He and his companions gambled, sailed yachts, gave lavish parties, built palatial homes, and bought European art treasures. In contrast, men such as Rockefeller and Ford exhibited puritanical qualities. They retained small-town values and lifestyles. As church-goers, they felt a sense of responsibility to others. They believed that personal virtues could bring success; theirs was the gospel of work and thrift. Later their heirs would establish the largest philanthropic foundations in America.

While upper-class European intellectuals generally looked on commerce with disdain, most Americans -- living in a society with a more fluid class structure -- enthusiastically embraced the idea of moneymaking. They enjoyed the risk and excitement of business enterprise, as well as the higher living standards and potential rewards of power and acclaim that business success brought.


Next Article: American Economic Growth in the 20th Century

This article is adapted from the book "Outline of the U.S. Economy" by Conte and Carr and has been adapted with permission from the U.S. Department of State.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
State, U.S. Department of. "Economic Growth: Inventions, Development, and Tycoons." ThoughtCo, Mar. 27, 2017, State, U.S. Department of. (2017, March 27). Economic Growth: Inventions, Development, and Tycoons. Retrieved from State, U.S. Department of. "Economic Growth: Inventions, Development, and Tycoons." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 17, 2018).