Wikiquote:Transwiki/American History Primary Sources Economic Changes in the Young US


The Industrial Revolution

1789. “A few days ago I was informed that you wanted a manager of cotton spinning.... in which business I flatter myself that I can give the greatest satisfaction, in making machinery, making good yarn, either for stockings or twist, as any that is made in England.” New English immigrant Samuel Slater, writing to Rhode Island businessman Moses Brown. Slater had worked in a mill in England and knew from memory how to build the same mill in America.

1793. “I heard much sad of the extreme difficulty of ginning cotton, that is, separating it from its seeds..... I involuntarily happened to be thinking on the subject and struck out a plan of a machine in my mind.... I made one... which required te labor of one man to turn it and with which one man will clean ten times as much cotton as he can in any other way before known, and also clean it much better than in the usual mode. This machine may be turned by water or a horse with the greatest ease, and one man and a horse will do more than fifty men with the old machines. It makes the labor fifty times less, without throwing any class of people out of business.” Eli Whitney, letter to father explaining the invention of the cotton gin.

1816 “I find mills in my travels manufacturing flour without any miller and all done by machinery and shut up.... I have walked through these mills calling for the miller and found none and the whole process of grinding, elevating, cooling and bolting going on and no miller.” Letter from his brother to Oliver Evans, the American inventor who developed an automated flour mill in 1785.

c. 1820 “Who has not been delighted with the clocklike movements of a large cotton factory?” Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky

1835. “Of all the countries in the world, America is that in which the spread of ideas and of human industry is most continual and rapid.... The American... is less afraid than any other inhabitant of the globe to risk what he has gained in the hope of a better future.... There is not a country in the world where man... feels with more pride that he can fashion the universe to please himself.” Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America.

c. 1840. “The buzzing and hissing and whizzing of pulleys and rollers and spindles and flyers around me often grew tiresome.... I could look across the room and see girls moving backward and forward among the spinning frames, sometimes stooping, sometimes reaching up their arms, as their work required.” Lucy Larcom, recalling her work as an 11-year-old mill worker in Among the Lowell Mill-Girls: A Reminiscence (1881)

c. 1840 “To this habit [waking in order to be at work at 5 A.M.], I never was and never shall be reconciled, for it has taken nearly a lifetime for me to make up the sleep lost at that early age.” Harriet Robinson, recollections of her experience as a young factory worker.

c. 1840. “At first the hours seemed very long... and when I went out at night the sound of the mill was in my ears.... You know that people learn to sleep with the thunder of Niagara in their ears, and a cotton mill is no worse, though you wonder that we do not have to hold our breath in such a noise.” “Letters from Susan” in the Lowell Offering, the literary magazine published by the women working in the mills of Lowell, Massachusetts.

The Transportation Revolution


1832 “When it seems that the population is turning toward a certain part of the country, there is a hurry to open a road thither. The road almost always comes before those whom it is intended to serve, but it encourages them to move.... America has undertaken and finished the construction of some immense canals. It already has more railways than France. No one fails to see that the discovery of steam has incredibly increased the power and prosperity of the Union; and this is because it facilitates speedy communications between the different parts of that immense land The states of the South, where communications are less convenient, are those which languish compared to the rest.” Alexis de Tocqueville, Journals

The Steamboat

1807 “I overtook many sloops and schooners, beating to the windward, and parted with them as if they had been at anchor. The power of propelling boats by steam is now fully proved.” Robert Fulton, following his 300-mile voyage from New York City to Albany and back in 62 hours on his ship Clermont, the first steamship.

1807 The Clermont looked like “precisely like a backwoods saw-mill mounted on a scow and set on fire.” One observer’s description of Fulton’s steamboat Clermont.


1825 I’ve got a mule and her name is Sal,

Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal.

She’s a good old worker and a good old pal,

Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal.

We’ve hauled some barges in our day,

Filled with lumber, coal, and hay,

And we know every inch of the war

From Albany to Buffalo.

Popular song “Erie Canal”


1830 “At first the gray [horse] had the best of it,... the engine had to wait until the rotation of the wheels set the blower to work. The horse was perhaps a quarter of a mile ahead when the safety valve of the engine lifted and the thin blue vapor issuing from it showed an excess of steam. The blower whistled,... the pace increased, the passengers shouted, the engine gained on the horse,... the race was neck and neck, nose and nose — then the engine passed the horse, and a great hurrah hailed the victory. But it was not repeated; for just at this time,... the band which drove the pulley which drove the blower, slipped from the drum, the safety valve ceased to scream, and the engine for want of breath began to wheeze and pant.” Observer of the race between Americas’s first successful steam locomotive Tom Thumb and a horse.

The Communications Revolution

1844. “What hath God wrought!” Samuel F. B. Morse, the first message sent by his telegraph, Washington to Baltimore.

Economic Crisis

1819 “The banking bubbles are breaking. The merchants are crumbling in ruin; the manufactures perishing, agriculture stagnating, and distress universal in every part of the country.” Diary entry of Secretary of State John Quincy Adams (May 1819)


???? “Hundreds of poor people, men, women and children of all ages,... huddled together without light, without air,... sick in body, dispirited in heart,... living without food or medicine, except as administered by the hand of casual charity.” Robert Smith, describing immigrants on the ocean passage.

1854 “Twice within the past month I have been stoned by young men.... The windows of the church have frequently been broken — the panels of the church door stove in, and last week a large rock entered my chamber unceremoniously about 11 o’clock at night.” A Catholic priest