Ideas of materialism

America and the Technology Breakthrough

Following the Civil War, America moved towards a national economy and the ideas of materialism. After the discovery of gold in the West, a mass migration of people flooded the Western lands which lead to the development of railroads across the continent. Travel time shortened making communication and immigration easier. With the large cattle drives in the Midwestern plains, the government officially declared the frontier closed. America started to show signs of globalization and unification. A national currency was developed and the invention of the telegraph accelerated communication. As America changed from an economy dependent on agriculture to factories and industries, she grew more technologically advanced than other nations. The new and controversial philosophical ideas of laissez-faire economics and the idea of Social Darwinism's "Survival of the Fittest," spawned an industrial revolution.

Many factors had to be present in order to pave the way of the emerging American economy and industry. Since many countries saw America as an investment, large sums of money came from abroad along with people looking to make a new life in America. This created a new market since more people would have to be fed and clothed. With the inflow of immigrants came inventors. Many of the famous inventors were not American descendants coming from many Eastern European countries. These people were very vital to the growth of technology and power in America. Since the Civil War ended there was a sense of peace throughout the country. A spirit of optimism was in the air causing people to take risks and try new things. Since the invention of canals and railroads, transportation was cheaper and quicker. This paved the way for an easy transportation of manufactured goods. Growth in America exceeded the previous would leaders: Germany, England, and France. All of these factors together helped to create America to what it is today.

The two main philosophical ideas at the time were laissez-faire economics and Social Darwinism's "Survival of the Fittest." With laissez-faire economics, the government was not allowed to interfere with the economy. It was the idea of the "invisible hand." The government was to leave the economy to run itself. This allowed for no government regulation of prices or wages which created a whole new idea of business. Entrepreneurs had all the freedom to do what they believed best which was usually not having the working class in mind. Social Darwinism is the idea of "Survival of the Fittest." Any individual who cannot adapt to the environment will eventually not be able to exist. Only the best survive. With this idea in mind, entrepreneurs who supported Social Darwinism believed themselves to be a superior race. Later, these ideas caused major issues in society resulting in workers facing brutal working conditions and long, tiring weekly hours.

Even though the production of steel dates back to 1000 BC, major scientific and industrial breakthroughs were made by Kelly, Bessemer, the Siemens brothers, and Pierre Martin along with his father. The production of steel is a very complicated process since it requires the maker to reduce the speed of the reaction. Steel is made by smelting iron ore with charcoal. For many years this process was almost impossible and men could only easily create wrought iron and pig or cast iron. Kelly was one of the first men to realize what needed to be done in order to make steel. As he was refining pig iron to wrought iron, he noticed a white heat when air was blasted into it. He thought that if only he could stop the process between pig iron and wrought iron, he could create steel. About that same time, Bessemer also noticed that air blasted into the furnace could create steel. Deciding to improve the process, he created the rotating Bessemer converter. He realized that if you leave just enough carbon in the mixture then he could create steel. Bessemer later received a U.S. patent for his invention. A great success for the steel industry is the invention of the open-hearth furnace by the Siemens brothers and Pierre Martin and his father. Not only did it slow the reaction down, but it also provided better temperature control which greatly increased the quantity of steel produced.

Silliman and Drake are responsible today for their early achievements in distilling and drilling petroleum. Silliman was the first person to fractionate petroleum by distillation, while Drake pioneered a pipe driving method to keep the earth from caving in around the hole. With a pipe holding the hole open, Drake was able to lower the drilling tools into the ground. The process was crucial to beginning stages of refining oil.

Carnegie put "all his eggs in one basket" and established the Carnegie Steel becoming the second richest man in American's history. He had an advantage over other steel producers by investing in the newest equipment. Rockefeller, the richest man in America's history, had a vision that generated massive amounts of revenue. He saw a connection to the railroad and the oil in the West. Using the railroad to ship oil more efficiently, he was able to build the largest oil refinery in Cleveland, monopolizing the industry.

New ideas of horizontal and vertical integration of business helped to make Carnegie and Rockefeller so successful. Carnegie's business used vertical integration with a limited partnership having eight associates own all of the company's shares. Through this Carnegie had the whole industry under his control, from the production to the distribution. Unlike Carnegie, Rockefeller used horizontal integration and owned only 90 percent of the refineries, keeping him from being in charge of every step in refining oil.

Following the growth of industrial America, people published books criticizing the government's policy of laissez-faire economics and the ideas of Social Darwinism blaming it for result of wide-spread poverty in America. George Henry, author of Progress and Poverty, blamed wealthy business owners, who monopolized the land, for the poverty in America. His solution was to create a single tax forcing the land owners to sell unproductive land because of the heavy tax burden and keep the land that generated revenue since the factories and warehouses themselves were not taxed. Another writer, Henry Demarest Lloyd, published Wealth Against Commonwealth which argued whether society should share wealth or not. He despised the monopolies of the big business owners. Well known author, Mark Twain, wrote a book about the irony of technological advancement, saying that while technology can be a good thing, in the end, it can destroy its creators. Unlike these authors, Carnegie and Rockefeller believed that wealth was vital for the community and that the wealthy knew how to handle society the best.

Over the past century, there has been a larger boom in technology than any other period in history, especially within the last twenty years. While technology can be very helpful to increase production and time, it seems to always have its disadvantages. Technology will fail. Computers crash and they are not able to think and reason as humans do. As technology becomes more advanced, our society becomes extremely dependent on it for everyday life. It is almost seen as vital to human existence. If technology were to fail, our society would not know how to cope. Also, technology has created a downfall in society's values. Today, pornography is available to anyone who has access to the internet. One hundred years ago, people had to try a little harder to find this. Also, with the invention of the computer/internet and Television, violence is replayed over and over again on a screen. This could be a cause to a lot of the violence in our society. What society once looked down upon is now seen more acceptable. While technology has helped society to function more efficiently it has also caused a downturn in moral values.

Because of the leading inventors in the processes of making steel and refining oil, Carnegie and Rockefeller were able to see the vision improving the processes to make billion dollar businesses. While there was controversy between the working class and the wealthy, the boom in technology gave American's their way of life today.

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