If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

The Market Revolution - communication and transportation

The Market Revolution transformed American business in the 19th century. New technologies like the textile mill and cotton gin changed work and commodities. Innovations in transportation, like railroads, steamships, and canals, and communication, like the telegraph, expanded and sped up business. This led to a reorganization of American society.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

- [Voiceover] So we have been talking about the Market Revolution in the United States which was this period in the first half of the 19th century where the way that Americans did business really changed. And it changed in a number of ways, so the kinds of work that people did changed and the people they sold their goods to changed in the form of new markets. And even the kinds of commodities that they were producing. All of these were altered in the first half of the 19th century, thanks to a couple of simultaneous trends. The Industrial Revolution in which new technologies were developed to make production more efficient and revolutions in transportation and communication, which made it easier to get goods and people to far distances more quickly and to communicate over considerable distances more quickly. And these really resulted in a reorganization of American society that some historians have actually said was more revolutionary than the American Revolution. So in the last video, we discussed some of the new technologies which changed American work in the early 19th century. One of these was the introduction of the textile mill, which was powered by a water wheel, by Samuel Slater, which helped textile mills become the chief industry of New England, also helped women start working outside the home in the Lowell Mills, started by Charles Lowell and also began the system by which factory owners would hire individuals, rather than family units, to work for wages in their factories. The other major invention that had a really important impact on American society was the cotton gin, which was a machine that separated cotton seeds from the fiber and it made the production of cotton considerably more profitable. And so, with cotton a profitable crop, the American south really invested in cotton and investing in cotton as its main cash crop meant they really entrenched the system of slavery. So even though in the 1780s, early 1790s, many southern states were thinking perhaps they'd abolish slavery because the institution was not overly profitable, as cotton became the cash crop of the south, the institution of slavery would be entrenched and continue to grow until the 1860s. So those are some of the new technologies of production. In this video, I wanna spend some time talking about the revolution in communication and transportation that happened also in this time period. So just like inventions like the textile mill or the cotton gin made it easier to work faster, inventions in transportation and communication in the early 19th century also made it possible to transport goods faster and to transport information faster. So I wanna talk about just a few of these transportation inventions. One of these was the railroad. Now, the railroad was not invented in the United States. Rather, the United States imported the railroad technology from England and Germany and this is one of the very first railroads in the United States, I think it's kind of adorable 'cause you can see how it still is really owing a debt, stylistically, to a wagon. Even looks like a wagon here on the end. So railroads begin to come into the United States in the early 1800s and first they're mostly for cargo or helping to move stone, things to help build canals, which we'll get to in a second. But soon they're also passenger rail stations. And the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, or B&O railroad, which you may know from your Monopoly board was one of the first passenger rail lines in the United States. Another major transportation revolution of this time period was shipping on water. So, in 1807, inventor Robert Fulton came up with the steamship and so a steamship, and you can see the little smokestacks right here, makes it much easier to power the ship and one thing you can do then is go against the tide of a river, so instead of just, for example, going down the Mississippi River to the port of New Orleans, you can also go back up the Mississippi River which means commerce can go more easily in both directions. Another major innovation of the time period are canals. And this here is a map of the Erie Canal, which was completed in 1825 and a canal is a relatively narrow, relatively shallow waterway but it still allows cargo barges to move across what otherwise would be really hard to navigate territory, so, you know, it's hard to see here, but there are mountains here, right. So, now you can take cargo across mountains, across large stretches of land by ship, which is much faster than trying to do it on foot or with a wagon. I think it's actually hard for us to imagine now, but in the early 19th century and really for most of time before then, waterways were the highways of the world. It was a lot easier to get from Boston to London across the Atlantic by ship than it would have been to get from Boston to the Appalachian Mountains on foot. Before the invention of air travel, before the Interstate Highway System, and really, up until the invention of the railroad, waterways were the easiest way to get around in the world. And the last communication revolution that I wanna talk about is the invention of the telegraph, which a portrait painter-turned-inventor named Samuel Morse first patented in 1844 and Morse invented Morse Code because the telegraph worked by sending pulses down copper wires and so it made it easy to communicate through coded messages of dots and dashes. So, dots and dashes corresponded with letters which allowed you to send messages over extremely long distances, so you could send a message by telegraph in an instant, as opposed to sending a letter, which might take days or even weeks to get to its destination. So, all of these revolutions in transportation and communication kind of translate into two major transformations in American business at this time period. One, is that the scope of business that you can do is much greater because now, if you're a farmer who lives in, say, Rochester, your radius of... your radius of people you can sell your produce to before it goes bad is considerably larger. Now, instead of just being able to get to where you can get maybe in a wagon's trip of a day, you can send your crops on the Erie Canal and suddenly, you're dealing with a much larger market. So, they're not only creating a national web of commerce, they're also creating an international web of commerce because these canals and steamships go to international ports which mean that you can now do business from the western part of New York with people who live in London. And the other thing that increases here is the pace of business, right, so instead of having to negotiate a business deal through a series of letters, which might take you many weeks, now you can negotiate a business deal by the telegraph and it's only gonna take you a couple of days. Likewise, it might have taken you weeks to send your logs for example, down the Mississippi River. Now you have them in a steamship and it takes just a couple of days. So there's an overall expansion in the number of people who can participate in markets. The expansion of the distance at which you can participate in a market and the pace at which you can do it. You can do business much faster with these revolutions in transportation and communication. And in the next video, I'll talk more about how these transformations in technology and the scope and pace of American business affected the society of the United States in the early 19th century.