Many periods of time throughout the United states history can be described as paradoxical, or a statement of contradiction.
Charles Darwin wrote this statement in his novel, A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness” (Dickens 1). This quote was written about the French Revolution with the use of the paradox to show how it was both the worst and best of times. This can also be said about many other time periods, but more specifically the Industrial Revolution. In the wake of the Industrial Revolution there was a major advancement in industries, which led to faster production time and transportation leading to cheaper prices, however it also led to the suffering of both adult and child workers. The Industrial Revolution brought great times to the people with faster production and cheaper prices because of the assembly lines. Thomas Ford’s first car, the Model T, was sold at $850 which was $100 less than his competitors in 1903 before the assembly line, but by 1925 it was being sold at $290 despite other companies telling him to raise his prices after the creation of the assembly line (DiBacco 124; 128).
Prices of the Model T were also lowered between 1908-1912 from before the assembly until after. Prices started at $825 in 1908 pre-assembly line to $575 in 1912 after high sales and efficient production methods, such as the assembly line (Nardo, United States 62). Production was also increased thanks to the assembly line for example in 1899 approximately 2,500 cars were produced in one year by hand, but after the assembly line the Model T cars produced made up of half of the cars produced in 1916 alone. Over 15 million Model T’s were sold before they were discontinued (Nardo, United States 58;63). Henry Ford introduced the assembly line in 1913. By 1914 the time to make a car went from twelve hours, twenty-eight minutes to two hours, thirty-eight minutes. By 1915 it took only one hour, thirty-three minutes (DiBacco 125). Production time and cheaper prices decreased due to the assembly lines during the Industrial Revolution.
The Industrial Revolution offered not only faster production and cheaper prices, but it also offered faster and cheaper transportation. The construction of two railroads that started in San Francisco and Nebraska and met up in Utah became the first transcontinental railroad, which has been said to be one of the greatest outcomes of the Industrial Revolution (“Early American Railroads”). Before transcontinental railroads were built it took 5-6 months at the cost of $1000 to get from one side of the country to the other , but after transcontinental railroads it took approximately 5 days at the cost of $150 (Mintz and McNeil). Railroads were not constructed just for transcontinental trips, but a way to reduce travel time from other transportation options. An example of this is when a 17-mile trip that took less than an hour started as a 40-mile canal trip that took a least 24 hours, but was reduced due to the construction of railroads (“Early American Railroads”).
In 1807, the first steamboat was built and took astronomical prices to move goods to a lower price. Steamboats were not only used to lower the price of transporting goods, but shortening trips, such as a 5 day trip from Albany to New York to only 32 hours (Kras 74). Steamboats could travel half the time it took a ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
This did not eliminate ships, but made steamships for first-class passengers, mail, and high-fare freight (Kras 77). The Industrial Revolution improved transportation options by making them faster, cheaper, and better.Although the Industrial Revolution was great for many citizens, workers were suffering in factories especially children that were overworked, underpaid, and put in dangers way.
Children were favored over adults to work in the businesses because of their small, agile hands which were preferred for delicate jobs in factories. They were also chosen because of their willingness to accept lower wages than adults and their nonexistent work experience so there is no way they can complain over their substandard working conditions (Woog 24). Children who worked in factories or mills would work approximately 16 hours each day, but the bosses figured that they could get the children to work and produce more if they forced them to sleep at work. One case stated that they would work for 7 hours straight, then get a half an hour break, and move onto working for another 3 ½ hours. This would happen continuously for several days per week (Nardo, Workers 59).The bosses of these factories and mills were also good at bypassing any laws against child labor. Children from the ages of five and up would work anywhere from 14 to 18 hours with their parents.
It was uncommon for labor inspectors to show up, but if they did the children were hidden in cases or forced to pretend they were not working (Woog 24). Due to being overworked, children faced severe physical hardships, such as “knock-knees,” which is when the knees turn inwards from being so weak and would develop from standing too long. One case of “knock-knees” was so severe that an individual lost 12 inches of their height from it. Accidents in the A common accident in factories would be loss of fingers and partial scalpings, but another major deficit would be when a large machine would snatch up an entire child. One survivor of this horrific incident was a 10 year old girl got her apron caught in the machine and it crushed every bone in her body and her head was crushed (Nardo, Workers 60-61). Children faced many hardships during the Industrial Revolution as overworked and underpaid workers.
As well as children facing the hardships of the Industrial Revolution adults were equally affected from the results of increased productions with unsafe and unsanitary working conditions. Many railroads workers were Chinese immigrants, and they were expected to be lowered down holes to light fuses in the mountains and had to be pulled out before the powder detonated. They worked for roughly 13 hours every day and were paid $6 per month. They striked against the company to earn higher wages, but the executives withheld their food supply until they stopped striking (Mintz and McNeil). It was common for factories to lock the exits on each floor and emergency exits led nowhere. On March 25th, 1911 a fire broke out on the 9th floor in a triangle waist factory and since the doors were locked the women inside were destined to burn to death or jump out the windows in an attempt to save themselves, but by the end 146 of 500 workers died in the fire (“Fire”). These accidents are not a thing of the past there are still sweatshops today and a study that the U.S.
Department of Labor held found that approximately 98% of Los Angeles apparel factories have poor working conditions resulting in severe injuries or death, 67% of Los Angeles apparel factories, and 63% of New York apparel factories violate minimum wage and overtime laws (“Fire”). In Illinois, the construction of the Illinois Central Railroad was starting and many immigrants came to work. Illinois was a host for major diseases such as cholera, malaria, dysentery, and ague and at the first sign of a breakout workers would drop everything and leave. Cholera deaths in Illinois usually ranged from three to eighty at railroad construction sights. Another health deficit of workers in Illinois was from being in the sun all day with poor food quality and little water leading to dehydration (Newton-Matza 97).
Railroad workers were exposed to a lot of dangers in this work including being tossed from the top of trains and little to no financial resource. Many people who were hurt on the job would sue their employer, but there was one case that set the standard for employee injury. An engineer, Farwell, was thrown from his train and had his hand crushed under the train wheel. He sued his employer, but the judge ruled against him saying that he was aware of dangers resulting in the job due to his acceptance of his $2 per day wage (Newton-Matza 95-96). Workers of the Industrial Revolution were mistreated, underpaid, and placed in dangerous and unsanitary working conditions.The increased timing and cheaper prices were the positive outcomes of the Industrial Revolution, but it also led to negative outcomes such as child labor and harsh working conditions.
The Industrial Revolution led to the works of the assembly line which made products to be made faster leading to cheaper prices, and the prices of transporting became exponentially cheaper and quicker to transport goods and people. The outcomes produced were also negative due to the long hours and dangerous working conditions for child laborers and the dangerous and unsanitary working conditions of the workers. In conclusion, the Industrial Revolution was a time period that perfectly resembled a time where it was both the best and worst of times.