Industrialization eventually raised the standard of living for many people in Europe and North America in the 1800s. Yet the process also brought suffering to countless workers who crowded into filthy cities to toil for starvation wages. The following excerpts reveal a variety of perspectives on this major historical event.
Document A: Mary Paul
Mary Paul worked in a textile factory in Lowell, Massachusetts. In an 1846 letter to her father in New Hampshire, the 16-year-old expressed her satisfaction with her situation at Lowell.
I am at work in a spinning room tending four sides of warp which is one girl’s work. The overseer tells me that he never had a girl get along better than I do. . . . I have a very good boarding place, have enough to eat. . . . The girls are all kind and obliging. . . . I think that the factory is the best place for me and if any girl wants employment, I advise them to come to Lowell.
Document B: Andrew Carnegie
In his autobiography, published in 1920, the multimillionaire industrialist views with optimism the growth of American industry.
One great advantage which America will have in competing in the markets of the world is that her manufacturers will have the best home market. Upon this they can depend for a return upon capital, and the surplus product can be exported with advantage, even when the prices received for it do no more than cover actual cost, provided the exports be charged with their proportion of all expenses. The nation that has the best home market, especially if products are standardized, as ours are, can soon outsell the foreign producer.
Document C: Friedrich Engels
Friedrich Engels, who coauthored The Communist Manifesto and also managed a textile factory in Manchester, England, spent his nights wandering the city’s slums.
Nobody troubles about the poor as they struggle helplessly in the whirlpool of modern industrial life. The working man may be lucky enough to find employment, if by his labor he can enrich some member of the middle classes. But his wages are so low that they hardly keep body and soul together. If he cannot find work, he can steal, unless he is afraid of the police; or he can go hungry and then the police will see to it that he will die of hunger in such a way as not to disturb the equanimity of the middle classes.
Document D: Walter Crane
This political cartoon was published in Cartoons for the Cause in Britain in 1886. It shows the vampire bat of Capitalism attacking a laborer. Socialism is pictured as an angel who is coming to the rescue.
1. Why would Andrew Carnegie (Source B) and Friedrich Engels (Source C) disagree about the effects of industrialization?
2. What might be reasons for 16- year-old Mary Paul’s (Source A) satisfaction with her job and life in Lowell?
3. Why might the political cartoon by Walter Crane (Source D) be useful in getting workers to rally to the cause of socialism?