Technological Advances 1840-1860

by Rod


Technological advances transformed the lives of millions of Americans between 1840 and 1860. The mechanical reaper increased wheat production and enabled agriculture to keep pace with population growth. The development of machine tools, including those in the manufacture of guns and sewing machines, helped Americans achieve Eli Whitney's ideal of production by interchangeable parts. Steam power reduced the vulnerability of factories to the weather, extended the employment season, and increased productivity and income. Railroads threaded the nation together. The telegraph quickened communication and enabled Americans in widely scattered areas to read about the same current events in their newspapers.

Negative Effects:

Progress carried a price. By expanding the consumer market for many commodities, technology narrowed the social distance between the rich and the middle class. However, this progress also deepened the fissure between them and the poor and intensified the division between middle-class men and women. Progress also posed moral and spiritual challenges, as it threatened to devour unspoiled nature. In different ways, writers like James Fenimore Cooper, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau called attention to the conflict between nature and civilization as a distinctive feature of the American experience.Progress carried a price. Artists of the Hudson River school created majestic paintings of the natural wonders of the New World. Writers Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville challenged the easy confidence that technology and democracy could liberate Americans from the dilemmas of the human condition.