5.4E Industrialization Spreads


AP Theme

Technology and Innovation

Learning Objective 5D

Explain how types of production and the location of production have changed over time.

Historical Development 1

As new industrial production methods became more common in northern Europe, they spread to other parts of Europe, the United States, Russia, and Japan.

Historical Development 2

Steam-powered production resulted in Europe and the Americas increasing their share of global production.


Key ideas

Industrialization successfully spread from Europe to the United States, Russia, and Japan.

Industrialization transformed the United States into a global economic power led by a new class of elite industrialists.

The Russian and Japanese governments forced industrialization on their societies to strengthen them as the industrial power of Western Europe and the United States increased.

Russia and Japan successfully industrialized, which resulted in significant social changes within their societies.

Most areas of the world failed to industrialize, leaving them open to domination by industrial powers.

Industrialization Spread to New States and Regions

The Industrial Revolution quickly expanded beyond Western Europe. By 1900, Japan, Russia, and the United States were also leading industrial forces globally.

American industrialization

Like in Britain, American industrialization began in textile mills as the mills of New England in the 1820s worked to increase the mills’ efficiency and productive capacity.

The causes of American industrialization

A variety of factors aided American industrialization. 

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Natural resources

The wide availability of natural resources, such as timber and metals, provided business and industrial enterprises with cheap and plentiful base resources to build factory infrastructure and produce their products. 

Transportation infrastructure

In the early 19th century, the United States invested in building transportation infrastructure. Steamboats and railroads both aided in the movement and people and goods. The first commercially successful steamboat, the Clermont, appeared on rivers in New York state in 1807. Commercial steamboat technology spread rapidly across eastern and mid-western rivers and canals. Workers built the transcontinental railroad between 1863 and 1869. Once completed, the 1900 mile railroad connected the east coast and west coast rail networks. You could now cross the entire United States on one rail line. 

Government support for business

The United States government and the emerging business class had a close partnership. The American government helped businesses by enforcing strong patent laws. Business leaders also wanted to keep labor costs as low as possible, and they used their government connections to argue against policies that benefited workers. Some government leaders also worked to make early unionization more difficult. There were also strong voices fighting to protect workers with laws that limited working hours and child labor and set safety standards. 


America’s open immigration policies also provided a large urbanized, low-wage labor force for industrial factories. Early immigrants came from Northern Europe. Later immigrant groups came from Southern and Eastern Europe.

The effects of American industrialization

By the dawn of the 20th century, American industrial production was as large as Great Britain. At the end of the Second World War, America was the world’s largest and most powerful industrial nation. 

  • America became a top global steel producer, allowing mass production of factories, skyscrapers, machines, railroads, ships, and weapons. 
  • America becomes a country of innovation: By 1857, 5.8 million messages crossed American telegraph lines a year. In the late 19th century, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone and started the Bell Telephone Company in 1877. That company is now today as AT&T. 
  • American industrialists also innovated business practices. Henry Ford of the Ford car company adopted and mastered assembly line production. American entrepreneurs also adopted the most modern finance and banking practices, making raising money to expand their businesses easier. 
  • America transitions into a country of consumerism as factories pump out consumer goods. Increased supply dropped the prices of goods while at the same time, American wealth was expanding with its expanding industrial production. 

The rise of the American industrialist class

American industrialization resulted in the rise of the American industrialist class. Industrialists were the inventors and business leaders that pushed American industrialization forward. The legacy of industrialists is complicated. Whereas some remember them as innovators and dreamers, others argue their business practices were corrupt and exploited workers.

Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877)

Vanderbilt was an American businessman who built his wealth in the shipping and railroad business. He was a steamboat and ocean-going steamship entrepreneur. Vanderbilt later moved into the railroad business. While he owned several railroads, his best-known railroad holding was the New York Railroad. Vanderbilt donated 1 million dollars to found Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. 

"I don't care half so much about making money as I do about making my point, and coming out ahead."

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919)

Andrew Carnegie was a Scottish immigrant to the United States. He founded Carnegie Steel and became America’s largest steel tycoon (business leader) before selling his business in 1901. 

  • Carnegie lowered steel prices by creating steel more quickly and efficiently than his rivals. 
  • He is known for mastering the business practice of verticle integration. Vertical integration allowed Carnegie to own each step needed in the steel production process.
  • He owned mines to get the raw material for steel production, ships and railroads for transporting the steel,  and the coalfields for getting the coal he used in his blast furnaces to make steel. 
  • By owning each step in the production process, he did not have to buy any materials needed for steel production. This process allowed him to lower his costs and drive his competition out of business. 

Later in life, Carnegie donated money to set up public libraries. He also donated money for the sounding of Carnegie Mellon University in  Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

"People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents."

John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937)

John D. Rockefeller built his wealth by controlling the American petroleum (oil) industry. Rockefeller controlled over 90% of the American petroleum industry at the peak of his career. Realizing that transportation costs for his oil were a significant portion of the price, Rockefeller gained control of rail transportation in the United States. Many criticized Rockafeller for his business practices, including selling his oil so cheap that his competitors could not stay in business.  Rockefeller is the richest man in American history. His wealth was worth $400 billion in today’s dollars.

"I do not think that there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature."


Russian industrialization

Russia industrialized later than Western Europe and the United States, only beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century.

The causes of Russian industrialization

Russian industrialization was largely a response to Russia’s loss to the Ottomans, British, and French in the Crimean War (1853-1856). The Russian Czar feared that their industrialized enemies would conquer them unless Russia industrialized. 

The effects of Russian industrialization

The Russian industrial effort began in the 1890s and focused on building railroads and heavy industry, such as steel and weapons production factories. Factories for consumer products were not a focus of Russian industrialization. Russian leaders wanted to strengthen the state, not provide cheaper consumer products to the Russian population. Unlike the Industrial Revolutions in Europe and America, foreign investment outside Russia financed much of the Russian Industrial Revolution.


  • Russian industrialization was fast. By 1900, Russia was one of the world’s fourth-largest producers of steel. 
  • In 1904 the Trans-Siberian Railroad connected Moscow to the Pacific Ocean 5,7772 miles to the west. This new railroad allowed Russia to connect its economy to the Asian economy in the east and the European economy to the east. 


  • The Czar finally abolished serfdom in Russia in 1861. Russia was one of the last places in Europe that still practiced serfdom. 
  • As a result of rapid industrialization within just a few decades, there was massive upheaval in society. People did not give people much time to adjust. Working conditions in Russian factories were some of the worst in the world. 
  • In 1917, there was a communist overthrow of the Russian Czar and his government. The new communist government executed Czar Nicholas II and his entire family. 
  • The Russian Communist Party ruled Russia as a single-party dictatorship until the collapse of communism in Russia in 1992.

Japanese industrialization

Unlike their Asian neighbors, Japan managed to escape western imperialism and became the only industrialized Asian power before World War 2. 

The causes of Japanese industrialization

Like Russia, Japanese industrialization responded to weakness against western powers, specifically the British and the United States. 

  • Under the Meiji Emperor (1868-1912), Japan ended its global isolation after the United States entered Japanese territorial waters and forced the Japanese to open up trade and ports to American merchant vessels or have the superior power of the American steamships destroy Japanese coastal installations. After much internal debate, the Japanese reversed course, accepted western demands to end Japanese isolation, and opened Japan to foreign commerce. 
  • Japan sent scientists, students, academics, and government officials to western nations to study industrialization.  
  • The Japanese government supported early Japanese industrialization. The Japanese government provided the money used to build the factories. Government workers also designed and built many early factories, which the government later sold to private owners. 

The effects of Japanese industrialization

  • Like Russia, Japanese industrialization initially focused on catching up with the western industrial nations. They concentrated on building heavy industries like chemicals, iron and steel, and machinery.
  • By 1910, Japan had one of the world’s largest and most advanced armed forces.
  • The Japanese began building a Japanese empire in the Pacific region. 
  • Like in western countries and Russia, Japanese industrialization completely transformed all elements of Japanese society. New elite classes dominated by merchants, business people, and industrialists arose. The power of old elite groups like the feudal aristocracy and the samurai faded.

Most Areas Did Not Industrialize

Most nations did not industrialize. If they were independent and not colonized, either they did not have the financial resources to industrialize, or their political and economic elites did not actively back it. Colonizing powers did not support local industrialization in colonized countries as mother countries sold industrial goods into the colonies.

The non-industrialized economies

Most states and economies outside Europe, North America, Russia, and Japan remained non-industrial.

  •  These economies supplied industrial countries with raw materials and imported finished industrial products from the industrialized world. 
  • Like Latin America, African and Asian economies became dependent on the industrialized economies as consumers of their primary resources and as importers of manufactured goods. While some benefited economically from this relationship, most remained poor. 
  • Foreign business people and local elites took most of the wealth from exported resources.

Failed industrialization in Latin America

The Latin American experience with industrialization was vastly different than other western nations. Many Latin American countries experienced little to no industrialization. The few that attempted to industrialize, such as Argentina, were only moderately successful. Experiments with industrialization in these societies did not lead to a complete social transformation.

Reasons for limited industrialization

  • After the Latin American Revolutions, political systems were unstable. States experienced high levels of corruption. Mexico and Paraguay were devastated by war. In 1911, Mexico had a revolution against its dictator Porfirio Diaz, who ruled for 31 years. After his ouster, Mexico entered a bloody ten-year conflict as poor peasants protested against economic conditions.
  • In several Latin American nations,  military strongmen rose to power and prevented economic reforms that might have led to industrialization. 
  • Conservative economic and social powers that benefited from the agricultural system did not have an incentive to support industrialization. It was in their interest to continue supporting plantation agriculture and exporting agricultural products and raw materials. 
  • Latin American leaders supported free trade, which made importing finished goods from abroad cheaper than setting up factories to produce them at home.