Early Industrialization

From Ohio History Central
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Most early Ohio settlers were involved in agriculture. As Ohio's population grew in the nineteenth century, many residents began to diversify their economic interests. Some Ohioans ventured into industrialization, but it is important to note that most early factories and industries grew out of Ohio's agricultural roots. For example, by the 1810s Dayton had a tobacco processing plant. Cincinnati became known as "Porkopolis" during the 1800s, once the city became the pork processing capital of the United States. Bezaleel Wells established a woolen mill in Steubenville in 1815, employing more than one hundred workers. Many manufacturers produced farming machinery, including Cyrus McCormick and Obed Hussey. McCormick invented the reaper, while Hussey developed an early version of the mower. Both of these men lived in Cincinnati during the 1830s. While some people developed new businesses, agriculture continued to dominate Ohio's economy.

Industries continued to grow as Ohio became more heavily populated and as available land became scarce. Production flourished in all types of factories and on farmlands as a transportation infrastructure came into existence. The first component of this system was paved roads and turnpikes. The National Road, the first paved (gravel) road to cross the Appalachian Mountains, connected Ohio with the East Coast by the late 1810s. These paved roads helped make transportation easier across the Appalachian Mountains, but most Ohio farmers who produced a surplus continued to sell their products locally or sent them down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans. River traffic became even easier with the invention of steamboats. Canals arose during the 1820s and 1830s and diverted some of the traffic from the Ohio River especially in northern Ohio, where farmers sent their products across Lake Erie to the Erie Canal. The Erie Canal ended at the Hudson River in eastern New York, and provided a quick route to East Coast cities. The Ohio and Erie Canal also provided Ohioans with a navigable water route connecting the Ohio River and Lake Erie. By the 1840s and 1850s, railroads connected Ohio with much of the rest of the United States. While railroads cost more to ship people and goods, they could deliver people and items much more quickly than the canals. Railroads also were not limited by a water source like canals were. As a result of these advantages, railroads quickly supplanted the canals.

In addition to agricultural industries, a number of other industries began to emerge in Ohio in the nineteenth century. Coal mining began in Ohio during the 1810s and 1820s. Most of Ohio's coalmines existed in eastern and southern parts of the state. As steamboats became more popular, the demand for coal increased. Prior to 1828, most of these ships produced steam from firewood. Coal proved to be a more efficient source of power. Coal's importance continued to grow during the 1830s until the Civil War, especially as more steamboats appeared on the Ohio River and Lake Erie. The market for coal also increased with the arrival of the railroads and with more and more people moving away from agricultural to industrial work. Coal drove industrialization following the Civil War. In 1872, Ohio mines produced more than five million tons of coal. Production increased to ten million tons by 1886. By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the demand for coal began to decline. Oil and natural gas became more popular fuel sources, creating less pollution and increasing the efficiency of machinery.

Ohio also produced iron in the nineteenth century. Iron production during the early nineteenth century usually occurred on "plantations." These were relatively isolated communities established on land owned by an iron company. Usually, all of the items necessary to produce iron, limestone, timber, and iron ore were readily available. Once the workers exhausted their supply of these materials, the furnace would close and move to new ground with an ample supply of resources. Most of these furnaces produced pig iron, which would then be constructed into machinery, building supplies and kitchen items.

One of the first iron manufacturing establishments in Ohio was Hopewell Furnace. Established in 1804, Hopewell Furnace was located near Youngstown. The northeastern part of Ohio would emerge as the primary region for iron and steel production in the state during the second half of the nineteenth century, although southern Ohio also had its fair share of iron businesses especially in Gallia, Scioto, and Jackson Counties.

The owners of factories and mines tended to treat their workers poorly. Industrial wages tended to be very low, which meant that only poor people worked there. Some workers were German or Irish migrants. Due to ethnic discrimination, many of these people were denied better paying jobs. They worked long hours for little pay on the floors of the meatpacking plants and other factories. Industrial workers had no real opportunity to advance. Many of these workers paid exorbitant rent for apartments in the most downtrodden neighborhoods of cities. If they became injured on the job, their employers routinely fired them. The workers did not receive health insurance, worker's compensation, or retirement. If they could not work at the pace set by the employers, the bosses simply replaced the slow workers with younger, more productive ones. Because wages were so low, often entire families worked in factories. With more than one wage earner, a family could meet its basic needs. Not all people could afford land to become farmers, and industrial opportunities provided these people with means to support themselves.

Over time some industrial workers began to organize themselves to cope with their circumstances and push for improvement of their conditions. Mechanics' associations were organized labor organizations founded in individual communities in Ohio beginning in the 1810s and 1820s. A mechanic was a machinist, someone who worked in a factory in the 1800s. One association established in Dayton in 1813 was possibly the first labor organization in the state, but others began to emerge in urban areas as well. While the Ohio Mechanics Institute focused on education, mechanics' associations attempted to organize factory workers to obtain better pay and labor conditions in the workplace. In the first half of the nineteenth century, these organizations were usually unsuccessful in obtaining their aims, but they did provide some of the background for later labor unions. Mechanics' associations tended to not allow many immigrant groups or African Americans to join and therefore had limited membership. Each association tended to recruit its members from a specific trade.

By the mid to late nineteenth century, a number of Ohio cities had emerged as industrial centers, including Dayton, Springfield, Columbus, Akron, Toledo, Cleveland, and Cincinnati. As a result, the populations of these cities had grown tremendously. Ohio became one of the wealthiest states in the United States. Industries encouraged many people to migrate to Ohio, both from other states and from abroad. This industrial growth was not without costs, however. As urban areas grew rapidly, city services were often not able to keep up with population increases. There was also a significant amount of political corruption in Ohio cities, leading to a push for reform during the Progressive era. As industries became more important to the state's economy, they also made Ohioans more susceptible to downturns in the national economy, such as panics and depressions. The Panic of 1819 provided an early warning of this consequence, but later economic problems in the 1870s and 1890s, as well as additional problems in the twentieth century, reinforced this lesson.

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