Major Marks In The History Of US Industrial Manufacturing
Industrial manufacturing in the United States has gone through rapid shifts and changes since it was established with the industrial revolution and beyond. Due to this vital economic sector, the United States was able to build itself into the great country that it is today. Still many are asking what’s next for US manufacturing. To look and where we may be going and how to regain our momentum, it’s important to take a look back.
The New World And The Industrial Revolution
The onset of U.S. industrial manufacturing was what spurred great economic development during the 1800s. The industrial revolution spanned from 1820-1870, and it forever changed the landscape of American society and economy. Farms and rural areas became hubs of industrial growth and machinery: manufacturing everything from steel goods to home products. In addition, the beginning of industrial manufacturing not only provided growth, jobs and new industries were born into the American economy, but it was also the force behind expanding transportation.
Railroads had to be built and expanded throughout the United States. Soon roadways would take shape and spread to not only make way for commerce but for workers to assemble in factories and take labor from homes and small farms, to shops and other places of business. A way of life that had changed little since the establishment of the country was evolving rapidly and driving a new nation into the twentieth century.
World War II
As the United States would become more and move involved in the international events of World War II, industrial manufacturing experienced tremendous growth and our country would become a major political and economic player on the world stage. Due to the development and manpower of the manufacturing industry, the United States was one of the only countries that had the ability to build tanks, mechanized vehicles, artillery and weapons on a whole new scale.
In addition, the assembly line invented by Henry T. Ford was what aided industrial manufacturing to truly perform as needed during the war. Famous car companies, their industrial factories and an extremely productive and patriotic workforce provided the support and supplies that America and the Allies needed to win the war.
Post World War WII
With the dust of World War II had settled and the damage assessed, industrial manufacturing in the United States saw extreme growth once again. As the United States wanted to uphold its military might, manufacturing industries were still active in defense production. Soldiers returned from the front ready to start families and return to civilian jobs. The roadways developed specifically for military use, now provided an easy means of civilian travel and the birth of America’s love for the leisure drive and family vacation.
The birth of the suburbs and growing families gave the country many new reasons to produce consumer goods and with vigor. With rising wages, high employment, growth and prosperity, and new consumer materials and technology as a direct result of the war, the United States industrial manufacturing sector went through what could be described as a golden age. Mid-centry America met with prosperity the likes of which it had never seen before.
The 1970s was one of the worst periods for U.S. industrial manufacturing. Before the ’70s, the United States benefited from a high trade surplus and a strong manufacturing economy. However, with new trade agreements settled with China and other developing countries, manufacturing health and growth began to decline. Other countries began to import their products, which usually appeared on American store shelves at cheaper prices.
Many American companies could not compete with such new levels of production and competition, causing them to cutback and cease developments, thus reducing the manufacturing of industrial products. The effects of this shift remain today, with nearly 60% of products bought by Americans being produced overseas. Recessions of the 1970s, which involved high inflation, high unemployment, fuel and material crises, and a number of other factors, hindered manufacturing and other sectors of the American economy. And while there were major technological advancements occurring in this decade, America had to fight for its title as a leading world innovator against high GDP competition from the Soviet Union and Japan.
Globalization And Reshoring
As foreign companies started buying up American ones and many American companies merged and moved operations overseas, the economy itself was changing. Technology was paving the way for more global business, which transformed the American workforce into a service-based one. As fewer production plants and factories opened to hire a waiting workforce, the economy continued to change. Companies were able to make more money, but with fewer workers.
Coupled with the 2008 financial crisis, America’s future as a nation of production and economic prosperity looked continuously bleak. However, many manufacturing companies have begun to see new advantages in returning their operations to the United States where a skilled workforce is waiting. New need for infrastructure restoration, alternative energy solutions and other calls for innovation are creating new domestic opportunities and encouraging Americans to look at manufacturing in a new light.
Despite recent cuts in production, jobs and the number of industrial manufacturing plants, the United States is still one of the main producers of manufactured goods in the world. With new initiatives to restore and reshore U.S. factories and enable an up and coming generation of young people with STEM skills, America has yet to lose its prospects for a strong and prosperous future in industrial manufacturing.