Had you been coming of age in 1740s Great Britain, you would have discovered that your life was changing very rapidly. You may have been given many different opportunities to make a living, unlike your those who raised you, who very likely made their living working crop fields with horses or by hand. However, technology began to emerge that allowed for more food to be grown on less land, with less manual labor demanded.
Moving to English Towns
Even if you continued to live on a farm, there’s a chance you traveled to nearby towns more often and were introduced to new pieces of technology like the spinning jenny, power loom, and other inventions which made obtaining factory-made clothes much more realistic. Likewise, you were probably introduced to some machines operated by steam and may have even seen a steam locomotive or steamship. You would have had many choices of where to make your mark in the world, as many different opportunities were available that did not exist to those before you.
Industrial Revolution Reaches America
Fast forward 100 years. Your great-grandchildren had even better opportunities by the 1850s. In England, they could choose to ride over 6,000 miles of passenger railroad tracks on regularly scheduled trains, and could easily send messages across the country using the telegraph. Your great-grandchildren may have chosen not to remain in Europe, but they may have chosen to move to America instead where the industrial revolution was now in full swing.
Transportation Becomes Easier
Those who chose to move to America had many choices on where they wanted to live. Towns and cities along the Erie Canal were thriving. Others may have chosen to settle along the newly constructed highways like the Cumberland Road. Additionally, many of your offspring may have chosen to climb aboard a train, as the United States was connected by 230,000 miles of railroad tracks. Depending on where they traveled, they were likely to see how the cotton gin, the steel plow, and the sewing machine had already transformed the country.
In 1860, still only 16% of Americans lived in cities, but they produced 33 percent of the country’s income. That, however, soon changed even in the South, where people began to move from large plantations to cities where they had the opportunity to work in a variety of factories. These changes occurring rapidly from 1740 to 1870 meant that more and more people were populating larger towns and leaving their farmlands behind. The industrial revolution as a whole was an enormous step forward for the American economy, the likes of which we may not see again for several decades.