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Economy - Historiography

Long-term economic growth is perhaps the most important element holding together the American social fabric. Political economy is the study of how governmental policies influence the economy. Chock full of complex issues at the junction of theories of politics and economics, political economy is a hotly contested topic. Most scholars suggest that two forms of political economy existed, one "agrarian" or Republican, the other "commercial" or Federalist. The Revolution and Constitution are usually taken to be victories for the latter, and the election of Jefferson to the presidency in 1800, and subsequent Republican national electoral successes, as victories for the former.

Historiography is the history of ideas and conclusions about history, an intellectual survey of scholars' interpretations of the past. Like any other type of history, historiography is partly an assessment of the past and partly a narration of key events and people.

The technological changes that directly affected the manufacturing geography of the United States have been grouped by one geographer, John Borchert, into four periods, or historical epochs, as he called them, writing in Geographic Review.

The earliest period, 1790-1830, was the Sail-Wagon Epoch. During this period, almost all cities and towns were associated with water transportation. The Atlantic ports and towns that had their beginnings along some of the coastal rivers were the major urban centers. The greatest inland urban growth during this period occurred along the main inland waterways--the Mohawk River, the Great Lakes, and the Ohio River.

The second period, 1830-1870, was triggered by development of the railway, a radical innovation in land movement. The Iron Horse Epoch at first stimulated further growth in the already established port locations. The new railway networks were constructed to focus on the port cities. Aside from additional growth of the larger port cities in what was soon to become Megalopolis, the greatest growth occurred in such cities as Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania), Cincinnati (Ohio), and Louisville (Kentucky) (all on the Ohio River); Buffalo (New York), Erie (Pennsylvania), Cleveland (Ohio), Detroit (Michigan), Chicago (Illinois), and Milwaukee (Wisconsin) (all on the lower Great Lakes); and St. Louis (Missouri), Memphis (Tennessee), and New Orleans (Louisiana) (all on the Mississippi River).

The Steel-Rail Epoch, 1870-1920, was stimulated by the development of steel, the replacement of iron rails with stronger and heavier steel rails, increased demand for bituminous coal, and the spread of electric power generation. Although the greatest growth in national urban areas occurred in cities only peripheral to the Manufacturing Core, there were several notable exceptions--the numerous smaller cities near the coal fields, near the Great Lakes, or on one of the major rail connections between larger cities. These cities were able to establish themselves because the interconnecting rail network crisscrossed the region so densely between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes. Akron, Canton, and Youngstown, Ohio, are clear examples, because they are located between the coal-and-steel city of Pittsburgh and the iron-ore port and steel city of Cleveland.

Ignited by post-Civil War demand and fueled by technological advancements, large-scale industrialization began in the United States during the late 1800s. Growing industries enticed foreign immigration, fostered urbanization, gave rise to the American labor movement and developed the infrastructure that facilitated the settling of the West.

Industrialization in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was characterized by the rise of corporations and heavy industry, which transformed the American economy. It marked a shift from a predominance of agricultural workers to a predominance of factory workers. It marked a shift from rural living to urban living, with more people living in crowded and unsanitary conditions. Mechanized farming also transformed the American economy. Production was made more efficient as machines replaced human labor.

New technologies (e.g., mechanized assembly line, electric motors) made factory production more efficient and allowed for larger industrial plants. Some of the technological innovations that transformed the American economy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries include the telephone, phonograph, incandescent light bulb, washing machine, skyscraper, automobile and airplane.

The rise of industrialization in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries increased the demand for workers. With this demand, immigrants came from other countries and Americans migrated from other parts of the United States to take jobs in industrial centers.

As a result of the changing nature of work, some members of the working class formed labor organizations (e.g., American Railway Union, American Federation of Labor, Industrial Workers of the World, United Mine Workers of America) to protect their rights. They sought to address issues such as working conditions, wages and terms of employment. Labor organizations also grew due to the violence toward supporters of organized labor (e.g., Great Railroad Strike, Haymarket Riot, Homestead Strike, Pullman Strike).

A fourth epoch, the period 1920-1960, was the Auto-Air-Amenity Epoch. The main effects of transport innovations such as the automobile and the airplane were to increase individual mobility and to minimize the impact of shipment costs in the production process. Industry was drawn to areas of greatest population growth; these were primarily the amenity areas (California, Florida, Arizona) outside the traditional manufacturing core.

Following the Great War, the United States experienced a period of successful advances in industry and an economic boom that improved the standards of living for many Americans. Technological innovations in communication included commercial radio broadcasts, talking motion pictures, and wider circulation of newspapers and magazines. These innovations influenced the development of a popular culture and mass advertising.

Advances in transportation during this era include the Model A Ford and the airplane. In industry, mass production techniques continued to make factory production more efficient. These developments also contributed to an improved standard of living.

These innovations brought change. But some changes challenged conventional social mores and created tensions. For example, increased automobile ownership contributed to the growth of suburbs, the creation of new businesses (e.g., motels, gas stations) and the expansion of others (e.g., rubber, plate glass, petroleum, steel). New surfaced roads were constructed to accommodate increased traffic. But use of the automobile also challenged traditional family values and tried the patience of travelers. Young people used cars to exercise freedom from parental rules. Increased numbers of commuters had to face the problems of traffic congestion.

The Federal Reserve-Treasury Accord of 1951 signalled a major change in American monetary policy. This accord shifted the objectives of the Federal Reserve System from supporting bond prices to economic stabilization. From a passive open-market policy, monetary policy now became an active tool in combatting inflation and recession. The outbreak of the Korean War made the reevaluation of monetary policy inevitable.

The United States entered yet another period after 1960, one that might be called the Information Technology Epoch. As the U.S. economy became more dependent on the production and exchange of information, the means of processing and transmitting this information encouraged the growth of industries that did not need cheap bulk transportation or even large population clusters. This suggested that those factors that supported growth in the Manufacturing Core cities during the first two-thirds of the 20th century would no longer provide those cities with special development advantages during future decades, although their skilled labor forces, large markets, and established air transportation patterns made some of them strong competitors for growth.

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Page last modified: 01-11-2017 19:30:11 ZULU