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The History of American Manufacturing

In 2011, “ABC World News with Diane Sawyer” launched its Made in America series, a great recap of the history of American Manufacturing. As you remember 2011 was a pivotal year for the American economy. Still plagued with high unemployment rates, American citizens were questioning the field of American manufacturing.

That same year, 2011, President Obama made a priority of building America’s manufacturing base. President Obama said, “We want to create and sell products all over the world that are stamped with three simple words: Made in America. That’s our goal”. Since 2011 US Manufacturing has grown, propelling the auto, construction and equipment industries.

The year 2013 held more growth in manufacturing than had been seen in the prior two years. Manufacturing Growth to Help Propel U.S. Expansion: Economy stated that 2014 held even better manufacturing prospects than 2013. “Business activity, consumption and construction spending are all beginning to point in the same positive direction.” Quoted by Peter Newland, a US economist in New York at Barclays Plc.

The field of manufacturing has been able to withstand a failing economy and even helped to support the rebuild. Now we will examine how this resilient field came to be the driving force behind the US economy.

The Industrial Revolution, 1790

The industrial revolution is known for the transformation from manual production methods to utilizing machines to manufacture products. Many of us remember it for the many dangers of working in manufacturing during that time. With child labor, immigrants and no labor laws the industrial revolution created some very dangerous work places.
The year 1785 brought about the very first bulk material handling. Oliver Evans developed the first automatic flour mill using a leather belt bucket elevator, screw and belt conveyers. This marked the beginning of US Manufacturing.

It is difficult to pin down a specific date as to when the industrial revolution came about, but many historians attribute the start of the revolution to Samuel Slater. Slater opened the first industrial mill in the US in 1790. His design allowed for better efficiency in the way cotton thread could be spun into yarn. This new technology and model is thought to mark the beginning of the Industrial revolution.

The introduction of a new and improved steam engine, by James Watt in 1776 helped to fuel the fire of the industrial revolution. As the technology saw progress the engine was introduced in railways and ships. The steam engine made it possible for people to travel at a lower cost, allowing them to take jobs in farther locations in cities.

The Lowell Girls

During the same time (the late 1790’s and early 1800’s) the Factory System became an organizational breakthrough. This framework allowed for large scale production in a single location.

The Lowell girls were a group of women employed by Boston Associates in one of the first factories located in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1923. Boston Associates preferred to hire women because of the lesser wage they were paid. Despite the low pay, the experience was beneficial to the women as it offered them the opportunity to experience work outside of the patriarchal family farm.

The Famous Eli Whitney, 1794-1797

We’ve all heard about famous Eli Whitney and his creation of the cotton gin. The machine was invented in 1794 and was patented to comb and de-seed bolls of cotton. This invention catapults the cotton industry. The cotton revolution is soon upon the US with cotton becoming the main cash crop in the south. Poor Eli never got rich off his cotton gin, farmers didn’t buy the machine- they instead built their own.

But! Eli did not stop there! In 1797 he contracted with the US Army to manufacture 10,000 muskets. At that time a single musket would be made by one person. Eli introduced the first interchangeable parts to allow for standardization of the musket build.

Inventions upon Inventions- Early 1800’s

The industrial revolution is really marked by all of the amazing creations of its time. From the coffee pot to the sewing machine and the revolver; the industrial revolution was a period of inventions. Take a look at the following creations during the Industrial Revolution.

1806- The Coffee Pot invented by Benjamin Thompson who utilized a metal sieve to strain the grounds.

1807- The Steamboat invented by Robert Fulton named “Clermont”.

1814- The Plough created by Jethro Woods using a replaceable cast-iron tip.

1817- The Erie Canal was created by Engineers to speed up the travel. The 363 mile canal connected The Hudson River and Lake Erie.

1820- Coal power and machine production begin to impact the manufacturing world.

1833- The Sewing Machine was created by Walter Hunt but later patented by Elias Howe. Isaac Singer however, infringed the patent and developed his own machine. Singer’s sewing machine was the only one to sell.

1837- The Revolver was developed by Samuel Colt.

1837- The first power tools were utilized by a basic electric motor, developed by Thomas Davenport.

1843- Vulcanized rubber is created by Charles Goodyear who identified the ideal process for creating the rubber into a soft, pliable object that was resistant to temperature.

1844- The telegraph was created by Samuel FB Morse.

1864- The first oil pipeline was built in the oil fields at Pithole, PA by Samuel Van Syckel.

1876- The telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell.

1892- The first gas-powered car was developed by Frank and Charles Duryea.

1903- The first Airplane was developed by brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright.

1908- Henry Ford introduces Model T.

Manufacturing Grows, Early 1900s

Aside from life changing inventions, the industrial revolution is known for its huge movements in manufacturing. Starting in 1820 with the implementation of the coal power and machine production, the industrial revolution is marked as a turning point in history. With the use of interchangeable parts and mechanization American Manufacturing was able to move forward in leaps and bounds. Take a look at these introductions.

1913- Ford Motors installs the first moving Assembly line.

1926- Buick introduces the Unified Assembly Line which turns out the be the largest and most efficient assembly.

1930- Toyota begins using a Lean Manufacturing model by making use of automation.

Moving Forward

The mid 1900’s brought about more changes and improvements to the manufacturing world. This period of time is marked by many new changes and standardization protocols. Take look at the following.

1942- The jet engine is developed

1947- International Organization for Standardization is founded to develop standards for business and technology.

1953- First CAD software is created.

1970- Occupational Safety and Health Act- OSHA standards are developed into the American workplace.

1973- ABB Robotics and KUKA Robotics introduce industrial robots.

1975- Bill Gates and Paul Allen work together to develop Microsoft computer software.

1983- The PC is produced by IBM.

2002- Manufacturing Enterprise Integration Act of 2002 was enacted to develop the foundations for a Smart Manufacturing.

The Age of Technology

The last decade has brought about significant technological advances impacting virtually every business and person. From mobile devices to an increased use of the internet, manufacturers have had to adjust many business functions. The age of technology has had a positive effect on manufacturers who have embraced it. Improved methods of communication allow businesses to connect with consumers across the world; building their brands, products, and consumer bases. Technology has forced manufacturers to step up the game when it comes to utilizing internet marketing and Search Engine Optimization (SEO). In a competitive marketplace making use of these elements will make a difference in the success of a business. Technology will continue to develop and manufacturers will need to stay on top of it to remain competitive. The future of manufacturing will coincide with the age of technological advances.

The Future of Manufacturing

The future of manufacturing is a promising one. The US Chamber of Commerce states that “The U.S. manufacturing sector is on the cusp of an historic revitalization—not because it’s returning to the glory days of the past, but because it’s shifting towards a bright new future of rapid advancement and innovation, and even stronger productivity and growth.” The future of manufacturing is bright with great expectation for growth and development. The field of manufacturing has been the backbone of the US Economy for over a century. It has supported our nation with developments, products, and jobs even in a failing economy. With a bright future ahead, Americans can expect this field to continue growth and more importantly Americans can rely on its stability.

[box type=”shadow”]Main Takeaway: From the Industrial Revolution to The Age of Technology, there have been major strides in the manufacturing industry over the past two and a half centuries. Reviewing the history of manufacturing in America gives us insight about the present. With innovative thinking and hard work, the manufacturing industry is once again thriving with great promise for the future.[/box]