Summary of the Chapter “The Emergence of Big Business” in Mansel Blackford’s Business Enterprise in American History

Mansel Blackford attempts to express the important roles railroads fulfilled before and during the rise of big business in the United States in this chapter.  He claims that railroad companies fore-fronted big business and bureaucracy because of the unprecedented amount of capital they required to operate and the precise organization needed to run the complex, high-speed, dangerous form of transportation . Blackford stresses the importance of the company, and governmental, hierarchies created to effectively and efficiently run the lines in influencing America’s general view on businesses and how they  should be ran. The two major components Blackford rewarded for this revolution of business are the need for small-detail precision of a large operation and the forming of large corporations to control the market instead of smaller, competing companies.

Bureaucracy and departmentalization are the hero’s of this story according to Blackford. Early Railroad companies, undoubtedly, imitated military operations in terms of having powerful employers over looking superintendents overlooking railroad officers overlooking specialized operators to ensure they could confidently control their lines. As forward thinking people such as Benjamin Latrobe from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad or Herman Haupt from the Pennsylvania started to add more and more middle men along with different departments to oversee the varying responsibilities of running a railroad, the lines started to grow into these huge corporations or bureaucracies that not only ran railroads potently but also supported a towering amount of people.

The railroads were not simply expensive , advanced travel devices. No, they were social, economic, and political connections that provided a speedy way to expand commerce along with outreach. Markets benefited as a result. The railroads themselves generated $17-35 million each, but their success supported, but really required, the success of other industries. Farming, textiles, and consumer goods are the most obvious beneficiaries of far-reaching, quick transportation, but the most notable could be information. Railroads required communication and information to be shared over significant distances. Telegraphing, and later on telephoning, grow right along with 1.6 million miles of telegraph wires in operation by 1915 and 13.3 million telephones in use by 1920. Railroads quite literally paved the way for success in America.

All in all, I agree with a lot, if not all, of what Blackford is saying. It makes since to me. I mean the chapter tends to lead in the direction of railroads dominating the reason for success in other markets since Blackford does not provide any alternatives. I would recommend this quick read to anyone interested, but if you desire more information, then check out the following links.

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I found this reading extremely interesting and I had a hnch others did as well, so I found a popular (good or bad) media for all things history to rely onto you, Crash Course. The first link is a video done by john green about the industrial revolution but more specifically railroads during the industrial revolution. It speaks about many of the topics discussed in the reading but in a more flashy way. I found the fact that railroads standardized time zones intriguing, so I decided to include an article speaking on the topic from  Not only did railroads metaphorically change time and space by providing a way for people to travel long distances quickly unlike ever before, but quite literally changed them by creating time zones and unfortunately defacing Mother Earth.

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-Joel Scarbro

Summary of the Chapter “Early Foundations” in David Lewis’ Iron and Steel in America

David Lewis seeks to elucidate the importance of iron replacing wood as the dominant material for a whole sleuth of technologies early Americans used daily even though the practice was brought over from Europe. The world’s tools and machines were mainly made from wood before the implementation of iron which directly juxtaposes most societies that greatly transitioned over afterwards. This can be seen in today’s society where metals dominant the material scene alongside plastic which well not be discussed. However, there was a time were most of the technologies used be the general public were wood based, but the limitations placed on wood by friction would allow iron to replace wood in parts that required strength or long durations of friction. Iron, unlike wood, will only melt or burn at high temperatures and is extremely durable comparably.  Iron was also more versatile than other metals being accessible and customizable  to the job it was needed for.  These qualities allowed for iron to be used in many applications from drill bits to military weaponry. This transition improved efficiency and longevity of society’s tools which would lead to increased work production and general livelihood.

The ramifications of iron replacing wood did not end at better, more durable technologies. No, large-scale iron-making created a new societal construct that affected many early American communities. For example, blacksmiths could be found in any place where humans populated; however, in some instances the demand of iron was so prevalent that it caused legal action or formed trade relations. Places that did not produce enough iron, such as Virginia, had to control blacksmith’s rates and import iron from overseas. Also, new workplaces including such technologies as bloomeries, blast furnaces, and/or refineries were necessary to produce better and better irons. Bloomeries which produced the most basic and versatile form of iron, named “wrought iron”, were not producing enough iron. This lead to the creation of blast furnaces that could produce large amount of molten iron that could be poured into any mold, originally dubbed “pig iron”. Refineries made the production of steel possible which providing a very strong metal to anyone with the means to purchase it. These advances lead to Americas global influence on trade to improve which is shown by the fact that America produced one-seventh of the worlds iron by 1775.

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Lewis does well to explain how irons implication in widely-used applications bettered not only the technology itself but also general society. He also goes into great detail about the technologies used for making iron, but for a some quick references check at the following links.

The first link is a YouTube video explaining blast furnaces. It focuses more on later successes and implications of blast furnaces which isn’t what Lewis is speaking about in this part of his book, but I feel it describes the process of making iron with blast furnaces well. It seems to be an old production which is interesting to watch due to its black and white color scheme and narrative style. The second link is a summary of how iron production evolved by the United States’ National Park Service. They provide an extensive explanation of the history of iron-making, how it gradually improved with advancing technology, and its implications afterwards.

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Oh if you are wondering why it was called “pig iron” take a look at this picture graciously already created and can be found on google images. It is a side by side comparison of young piglets feeding of their mother and iron being poured into the molds from a blast furnace!

– Joel Scarbro

Summary of Karen Fisk’s “Arkwright: Cotton King or Spin Doctor?”

Karen Fisk seeks to determine the validity of some of Sir Richard Arkwright’s titles such as ‘father of the factory system’ or ‘Cotton King’ in her magazine article, “Arkwright: Cotton King  or Spin Doctor?” that was published in History Today in 1998. Richard Arkwright was an English barber turned inventor/entrepreneur during the early years of the industrial revolution that would go on to own numerous successful cotton mills and receive knightship, along with other high diplomacy statuses, for his contributions by George III. Fisk finds Arkwright’s reputation reasonable, but she clarifies that Arkwright should maybe share his recognition with other key contributors to his success and the success of early industrialized factories in general.

For example, Arkwright’s success came from his patented spinning frame, later renamed the water frame, that drastically sped up the process for making cotton based threads and determined business mindset that led to well-organized, productive mills. However, Fisk points out that Arkwright received considerable assistance in inventing his solution to the mystery of a working spinning wheel and that many competitors were extremely close to beating him to the punch.  Arkwright employed a clockmaker named John Kaye, who had previously worked on similar, unsuccessful inventions for Arkwright’s competitors, which leads Fisk to suggest Arkwright merely modified an attempt by a man named Thomas Highs. Also, complex, mechanized machines and water power had already been used in earlier textile mills meaning Arkwright simply popularized already practiced techniques. His mills required a lot of capital which he received from two men named John Smalley and David Thronley who were also heavily involved in Arkwright’s rise to success. These factors provide many reasonable arguments for a shared crown for many of Arkwright’s titles.

Yet, Arkwright was not inseparable from other factory tycoons during the birth of the industrial revolution. He had a well-known reputation of being accommodating to his workers and held strict restrictions on child labor as Fisk mentions. He took his employee’s well being into consideration even providing them with housing for their families, schooling for their children, and farms for fresh foods. The same cannot be said for many industrial factories which created a bad stigma around the newly introduced working conditions. Health was a concern due to unsanitary work spaces that also posed a threat to young children since many factories employed from the age of 5 and up.

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For further reading on the topic of this topic check out the following link that provides some interesting facts about child labor during the British industrial revolution even though it is an encyclopedia source.

Also for further information on Arkwright or his invention check out:

The first link is a biography of Sir Richard Arkwright. It focuses more on Arkwright’s success and potential scandals than Fisk’s article does and his drastically shorter which makes things very clear. It speaks on his early beginnings as a barber with a less-fortunate background and how he turned a challenge into an opportunity to become an wealthy businessman. It also mentions the riches of his success, but provides some interesting problems he faced along his journey. The second link is a short clip taken from a longer documentary on YouTube. The clip shows Arkwright’s machine in action which I thought would be useful.

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– Joel Scarbro