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The Industrial Revolution

Grade 8 | Informative | Source-Based

Source Lexile®: 830L-1140L

Learning Standards




Prompt: Today, you will research two examples of American progress and invention during the Industrial Revolution. First, you will read two secondary sources (“America’s Industrial Revolution” and “The Mill Girls’ World”). Then, you will watch a video (“How Inventions Change History”). After careful review of each source, write an essay explaining two benefits and two costs of the Industrial Revolution. Be sure to cite evidence from all three sources to support your essay.





Source 1

America’s Industrial Revolution (Secondary Source)



Invention Leads the Way


Inventors are more likely to spend time creating and testing new ideas if they are going to make money from their efforts. The new government of the United States passed a patent law in 1790 which ensured inventors’ legal control over their inventions for 17 years. The first 10 years saw fewer than 300 patents (rights to an invention) issued to inventors. However, after 1800 the number rose dramatically.


Unfortunately, the patent law did not always protect an inventor. In 1793, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, which separated the seeds from cotton 50 times faster than could be done by hand. Since the machine was easy to duplicate, many planters simply made their own cotton gins. As a result, Whitney and his partner were unable to protect his invention.


The cotton gin led to a far greater supply of cotton for the new textile factories in the North. It also helped keep slavery as an institution in the South because slaves were needed to grow and harvest the cotton.



Working Girls


Textile factory owners in Massachusetts found that they could hire farm girls to work in their factories for about $3 a week, depending upon their experience and effort. Although the wages were low, it was more than the girls could make as seamstresses or servants, who made less than a dollar a week. As a result, thousands of single girls worked in the mills for a few years until they married. They lived in company-owned boarding houses where they paid about a third of their earnings for rent and food. The girls followed strict rules both at the factories and at the boarding houses, but many young women preferred this life to the drudgery of the farm.


Men who worked in the factories were paid twice as much as the girls but were often hard for manufacturers to keep. Most young American men preferred to take a chance on farming with the hope of owning land and becoming independent. Businessmen encouraged immigration because many of the people arriving from other countries were grateful for the chance to get any kind of job. Life was better for American factory workers than it was for the struggling and often unemployed people in Europe.


“America’s Industrial Revolution.” #3220 Industrial Revolution. Teacher Created Resources, Inc., Web.





Source 2

The Mill Girls’ World (Secondary Source)



The term “mill girls” is used to talk about Lowell’s first group of factory workers. These workers were really not girls at all! Most were 17-35 years old. The term was used many years ago, and it stuck!


The first Lowell textile factory was completed in 1823. Workers were needed. Mill owners hired people called recruiters to find workers. Many of the workers they found were daughters of New England farmers. You may wonder why young women were hired for factory work. One reason is that sons were needed to help farm the New England soil. Another reason is that most young women already knew how to weave. Mill owners felt they would learn how to tend power looms quickly. Also, owners wouldn’t have to pay women as much as men. Many young women left the farm so the family would have one less mouth to feed. Some women sent the money they earned in Lowell home to help pay bills.



From Farm to Factory: Deciding to Move


Life in Lowell sounded wonderful to many of the daughters of Yankee farmers. On the farm they were responsible for helping to cook, clean, make candles and soap, care for younger brothers and sisters, weave cloth, and make, mend, and alter clothes. They did these chores seven days a week and didn’t earn a cent. In Lowell, young women worked six days a week, twelve hours a day, and they were paid. Most of them earned about $3.25 each week. Room and board cost $1.25, but the rest was theirs to keep or spend as they wished.


Time outside of work could be spent in any number of ways. Lowell had churches, a library, theatres, dances, a museum, shops, and travelling speakers. Very few of these things were available on the farm. Another highlight of Lowell was the chance to make friends with other women.



Life on the Corporation


A typical day on the corporation began early. The bells on top of the mills began ringing at 4:00 in the morning to wake everyone up. At 5:00 am they began ringing again to tell the workers to report to their work rooms. The mill girls had until 5:05 am to get inside the mill courtyard. If they were late, the gates closed in front of them, and they were forced to walk through the counting house. A man in the counting house took down the names of those who were late. If you were late too often, you might get fired.


If your machine stopped running for some reason, you had to call the loom fixer to get it started again. If you relied on the loom fixer too much, he might take his time getting to your machine. This was a punishment. If your machine wasn’t working, you weren’t making cloth. If you weren’t making cloth, you weren’t making money and could lose your job. Weavers were paid by the amount and quality of the cloth they produced.



After Hours


After supper young women liked to read, sew, tell one another stories, and write letters around the parlor stove. On some evenings a peddler selling satin bonnets or fancy shoes, or a gentleman caller might stop by. Some of the women took classes in the evening, attended lectures, or went to the theater. Others took time to stroll the streets, looking in shop windows at jewelry and fancy dresses. Most women bought new clothing and bonnets once they had saved enough money. In the city, there was a lot of peer pressure to wear fashionable clothing.



Working Conditions


Working conditions were less than perfect. The average temperature of a weave room on a summer day was often as high as 115 degrees. In the winter it could get as hot as ninety degrees. The windows were never open. It was important to keep the air in the weave room warm and moist. A breeze from an open window might cause threads to snap. Broken threads meant poor cloth. To give the room extra moisture, steam was pumped in through pipes. Cotton dust, or cotton fly, filled the air making it difficult to breathe. Many women died from cotton dust getting trapped in their lungs.



Enough is Enough


Even though working conditions were dangerous, most women enjoyed the fast pace of Lowell in the early years. But by 1840, conditions had gotten worse. Women who had tended two machines were now required to watch three or four. The machines were running faster, and the young women were working as long as 13 hours each day. To make matters worse, the cost of living in a boarding-house had risen, and the pay had been lowered.


Many women would not work under these conditions. Some returned to the farm. Some got married. Others found new jobs. Some women refused to give up their jobs, but would not work under the bad conditions. These women went on strike. They walked off the job and refused to work until the hours were shortened and the conditions improved. Most of their strikes were not successful because there were always people willing to work. Many women left the mills for good. In time they were replaced by immigrant men, women, and children.


From Farm to Factory: Lowell Industrial Learning Experience. Lowell: Tsongas Industrial Center, 4th ed., July 1993. http://www.nps.gove/lowe/





Source 3

How Inventions Change History (For Better or Worse) (Secondary Source)










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