Steel, Supply, and Sweat: The Industrialization of America


       For a final unit project, the members of our Honors History 10 class will individually research different eras of world history. In class, we were given the six content choices to research: Native Americans and the West, Labor v. Big Business: The Rise of Corporate America, Immigration: Asia, Immigration: Europe, Imperialism: Europe and Africa, and finally Imperialism: America. Each content choice could only have four students researching it. With these choices to research, our class will evaluate these historical periods to the theme of “People, Place, and Power”. Each term represents a different aspect of history. “People” represents the actions of people that shape historical events through their contributions or conflicts with society. “Place” represents the location (country, region, city, neighborhood, or even building) the historical change takes place or the specific area where famous historical events may have occurred. “Power” represents the strength of a certain group or the influence a certain person has on the outcome of history. With these themes in mind, I researched my content choice, “Labor v. Big Business: The Rise of Corporate America”, to discover how the industrialization of America was based on steel, supply, and sweat.

Key Terms:

  • Andrew Carnegie was a Scottish-American businessman that revolutionized American industry through his methodical and successful steel production company, Carnegie Steel.
  • John Rockefeller was an American businessman who attempted to create an American monopoly through his dominating and highly profitable oil production company, Standard Oil.
  • J.P. Morgan was an American businessman who mastered company finances through his uses of industrial consolidations for industries including banking, electricity, and steel.
  • Monopoly is the total control of the supply and trade of a product or service.
  • Vertical consolidation is the complete control over all phases of a product’s development. This was utilized by Carnegie to ensure the lowest possible production costs of his products.
  • Horizontal consolidation is the act of merging different companies together in order to create a larger, more profitable company. This was utilized by Rockefeller to dominate the oil industry by merging with his competitors.
  • Trust (used in business) is the unofficial bond of different companies without a merger so that several companies could be managed at the same time as a single unit. This was utilized by Rockefeller after he was ordered by state law that he could not own a monopoly, thus the trust was used to avoid this law.
  • The Sherman Antitrust Law was a law passed in Congress in 1890 to prevent the combination of companies that restrained trade or commerce. The law proved unsuccessful for several years as the law was vague enough to interpret differently from its original clause.
  • Piecework was a rule utilized in factories that dictated that those who worked the fastest and produced the most pieces of products earned the most money. Workers were paid by production, not hours so that companies could reach production quotas at the lowest possible production cost.
  • Sweatshops were factory shops where employees worked long hours at low wages under poor working conditions. These shops usually had very low standards of cleanliness and safety.
  • Division of labor separated the tasks of factory workers to decrease production time. Most product workers would only perform one small task, over and over, and rarely saw the finished product, thus causing lack of worker morale.

Enduring Understandings:

Industrialized business rose greatly in America due to varying factors.

  • Larger pools of capital were used in business investments, costs, and loans. (America: Pathways to the Present)
  • The revised role of business ownership significantly increased the number operations, workers, products, and management. (America: Pathways to the Present)

The capital invested innovations of American inventors lead to more efficient methods of commodity production.

  • Edwin Drake’s drilling for oil allowed for easier oil production, creating a new, abundant energy source. (America: Pathways to the Present)
  • Thomas Edison’s new energy source, electricity, became widely available and was used for new inventions like electric lighting. (America: Pathways to the Present)
  • Steel (used as a building material, greatly superior to iron) was produced at a much faster rate than ever before because of the improved Bessemer Process (developed by Henry Bessemer and William Kelly), allowing for productions of higher quality. (Robber Barons and Rebels)


       In becoming industrialized, America underwent a revolution that completely changed the nation’s way of business due to the effects of People, Places, and Power. During the 19th century, the influx of new innovations from American inventors changed industry with the development improved and cost efficient production methods. Investments were made into the potential of profitable commodities, such as oil and steel, and were fully realized by from the investments of wealthy businessmen who turned these commodities into the staples of American economy. The oil industry was dominated by the monopoly of John Rockefeller. The steel industry was owned by the powerful merger of Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan’s American steel companies. To make profit off these commodities, these American businessmen hired employees that could work on the supply, production, and distribution of their products. With such massive businesses, the company owners revised the roles of employers, operations, and workers to ensure the least costly production costs while at the same time creating the most profitable products. To ensure financial success, some businesses merged with their competitors, creating the highly successful but unlawful monopolies. Another way factories ensured financial success was to disregard the treatment of workers, thus many industrial factories were very dangerous places of work, but represented the only place of employment for many Americans. Because of America’s industrialization, our nation became a wealthy powerhouse in global economy, all originating from People, Places, and Power.


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