American Industry Tour

The American Industry Tour showcases the industrial heritage of the north-eastern United States. As many other historical trails in North America, the tour follows migration routes from east to west, with a chronology from colonial times to the present day. Starting in Boston in the 17th and 18th centuries, we visit the 19th century factory clusters around Albany and New York City, and carry on through industrial regions of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan, which had their heyday during the 20th century, ending in Chicago.

This article is an itinerary.

The rather small area along this trail contains much of America’s industrial heritage, with a majority of the country’s industry-related National Historic Landmarks, National Historic Sites and National Historical Parks. Many of the rest are in Minnesota.

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Saugus Iron Works.

From 1776 to 1945, the United States transformed from an agrarian country of 2½ million inhabitants to the world’s leading superpower, and the home of 140 million people. Most feats of innovation and engineering happened in the north-east. However, the Industrial Revolution began in the United Kingdom, which held eastern North America as a colony (see Early United States history). In the Market Revolution during the early 19th century, the textile business was an early adopter of industrial processes.

From the mid-19th century, steam-powered factories became more common, and railroads started replacing canals and roads as main transport routes. During the American Civil War, the industries of the Northeast were mobilized to produce arms, supplies and ships, contributing to the Union victory. The colonization of the Old West truly began during the War, as the Southern secession from Congress allowed investment in rail lines and other colonization policies. See Industrialization of the United States for a guide to the political, social and cultural history of the whole country from the 1860s to the 1940s.

The late 19th century was called the Gilded Age, with a rising capitalist class, and increased corruption, especially in large industrial cities. The turn of the century saw the rise of organized labor, not least in Chicago. The early 20th century was known as the Progressive Era, with labor reforms, antitrust laws, and women’s suffrage.

World War I again increased demand for military supplies. The automobile had its breakthrough during the Roaring Twenties, and Detroit became known as the Motor City. The 1929 Wall Street Crash caused the Great Depression, which hit the north-east hard, though the New Deal during the 1930s provided some relief. As World War II in Europe began in 1939, the USA supplied the Allies with arms. The 1941 Pearl Harbor attack brought America into the Pacific War, and brought large-scale industrial mobilization. After the war ended in 1945, industry shifted to consumer products. Since the 1960s, Northeastern industries have been downsizing, moving south, west, and abroad, causing unemployment and urban decay, causing the region to be renamed the Rust Belt. Though the 2000s financial crisis hit industrial towns hard, some of them are revitalizing today. See also Post-war United States.

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