Immigration in the Industrial Revolution

March 10, 2023
People of European or Asian

Contemporary magazine illustration of the New York headquarters of I. M. Singer&Co. in 1857The Event: Era during which the economies of Western countries began moving away from primarily agricultural bases to industrial and commercial bases

Date: Nineteenth century

Significance: The shift from economies based largely on subsistence agriculture to economies based on industry and trade created a vast number of unskilled and semiskilled jobs that helped to attract immigrants to the United States.

The demographic revolution that began in the Western world during the eighteenth century and accelerated during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries made it imperative to develop employment for the increasing numbers of people in the developing nations. During the long period that became known as the Industrial Revolution, large numbers of Europeans moved from rural areas into cities where jobs in new industries were to be found. Many of these people crossed the Atlantic Ocean looking for work and joined native-born Americans who were moving into cities.

Contemporary magazine illustration of the New York headquarters of I. M. Singer&Co. in 1857. Singer was a primary manufacturer of sewing machines, which played a major role in the Industrial Revolution and made possible the employment of many thousands of immigrants. (Library of Congress)

Nancy M. Gordon

Further Reading

  • Hounshell, David A. From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984. Traces the development of engineering technology that underlay the Industrial Revolution.
  • Mayr, Otto, and Robert C. Post, eds. Yankee Enterprise: The Rise of the American System of Manufactures. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1981. Collective review of the factors that created the Industrial Revolution in America.
  • Mokyr, Joel. The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. Recounts how technological innovation drove the Industrial Revolution.
  • Singer, Charles, et al., eds. The Late Nineteenth Century, 1850 to 1900. Vol. 5 inA History of Technology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1954-1958. Part of a classic multivolume work tracing the role played by technology in history.
  • Stiles, T. J. The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. Biography of one of the major players in the ferry, shipping, and railroad industries during the nineteenth century that provides fascinating coverage of technological advances in each of the industries that Vanderbilt developed.
  • Temin, Peter, ed. Engines of Enterprise: An Economic History of New England. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000. Collection of essays by a number of scholars that examine the role played by industrial technology in New England’s economy.
The Industrial Revolution in America
The Industrial Revolution in America
Urbanization in the Industrial Revolution
Urbanization in the Industrial Revolution
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