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Second Industrial Revolution

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Second Industrial Revolution

When did America emerge on the world stage as a dominant economic power? Many historians attribute America's rise in economic status to the second industrial revolution. This revolution radically changed the social and economic backbone of the country. Mass-produced access to electricity, railroads, the telegraph, the telephone, and other incredible inventions swept through America between 1870 to 1914. The second industrial revolution ushered in the dramatic shift from an agrarian to an industrial society. This drastic shift had several effects that would dramatically change the landscape of America. Read on to find more!

Second Industrial Revolution: Definition

The early beginnings of the second industrial revolution are credited to the Civil War that spurred technological advancements such as the telegraph, which was utilized as communication throughout the war. During the war, in 1862, the transcontinental railroad connected America's eastern and western seaboards, increasing productivity and efficiency and creating mass consumerism.

Second Industrial Revolution mass production StudySmarter

Workers on Henry Ford's assembly line in 1913. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Second Industrial Revolution: Date

After the Civil War, a massive wave of technological advancement swept through America, ushering in the country's second industrial revolution. Though many characteristics of the revolution were seen even before the Civil War, the agreed date range is 1870 to 1914.

Second Industrial Revolution: Timeline

Henry Bessemer develops a steel-making process that increases production at lower costs.
John Rockefeller begins building his oil refinery in Cleveland.
The Transcontinental Railroad is completed in the United States.
Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone.
Alexander Graham Bell publicly demonstrates the telephone.
Thomas Edison successfully demonstrates his incandescent lightbulb in Menlo Park, NJ.
The Wright Brothers make their first flight in North Carolina.
Henry Ford starts producing his Model T automobile.
Fred Wolf invents the first electric fridge.
Supreme Court rules that Congress holds no power to support or enact child labor laws.

Second Industrial Revolution: Inventions

Numerous inventions flooded America throughout the second industrial revolution. These inventions spanned a variety of industries, ranging from the railroad to the teddy bear. The most critical industries impacted during this era were transportation, communication, and technological processes.

Technological Processes
Steam Engine
Electric Motor
Transatlantic Cable
Cotton Gin
Diesel Engine
Sewing Machine
Mass Produced Electricity
Bessemer Process (Steel-Making)

Critical Inventions of the Second Industrial Revolution

Second industrial Revolution, Transcontinental lines, central pacific and union pacific, StudySmarter

Map of the Transcontinental Railroad 1887. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


One of the most important enterprises of the nineteenth century was the Transcontinental Railroad. This group of connected tracks made up almost 40,000 miles and connected America's East and West coasts. The railroad was responsible for facilitating the manufacturing and production of finished goods. Americans could now purchase almost anything and deliver it via rail. The railroad also brought raw materials from the West, shipped them into east coast cities and factories where the materials were processed, and then the finished product was shipped back out all over the country. Standardized time also became an essential railroad product as trains needed to run on schedule. Before the railroad invented the modern time system, regions would decide when noon was based on the sun's position.

Unique Inventions of the Second Industrial Revolution

1849 - Walter Hunt invents the safety pin

1873 - Joseph Glidden creates barbed wire

1880 - British Perforated Paper Company develops a form of toilet paper

1886 - John Pemberton invents Coca Cola

1902 - Birth of the Teddy Bear

1903 - Edward Binney and Harold Smith co-invent crayons

1912 - Pep O Mint flavored life savers introduced by Clarence Crane

1916 - Henry Brearly invents stainless steel

1920 - The Band-Aid devised by Earle Dickson

1928 - Walter Diemer concocts bubblegum

Second Industrial Revolution, architecture, StudySmarter

Home Insurance Building in Chicago considered to be the world's first skyscraper. Source: Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

Steel- Bessemer Process

Another important invention of the industrial revolution was an improved steel-making process that allowed greater quality steel to be produced at a cheaper rate. This new steel process was known as the Bessemer process, accelerating the growth of America's infrastructure. America saw unprecedented growth with new factories, bridges, skyscrapers, and cities throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Second Industrial Revolution, Thomas Edison, Study Smarter

Portrait of Thomas Edison. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


Thomas Edison is well known for his contributions to the field of electricity. In 1879 he created the first commercial light bulb and the electric utility in the 1880s. At the same time, the electric utility was slow to take off; it greatly impacted factories. Before the introduction of mass-produced electricity, factories had to stay close to rivers for their power source. Electricity provided a cheap, efficient power source for both factories and homes. Electricity reduced the risk of fires and increased the number of hours in factories. Some historians argue that electricity is the most critical change throughout the second industrial revolution.

Probably the most sweeping and complex technological change in American manufacturing over the past century has been electrification."

–Richard B. Du Boff, The Economic History Review, 1967

Did you know?

Before electrification, people slept longer! Before the nation's electrification, people got around nine hours of sleep, which was reduced to about seven hours after electrification.

Similarities and Differences between the first and second industrial revolution

Both of America's industrial revolutions strongly mimicked the industrial revolutions in Britain. The first industrial revolution in both countries ramped up around 1800. It relied heavily on steam power, trains, and manufacturing. At the same time, the second industrial revolution began roughly in the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries and was fueled by access to electricity and mass manufacturing. The second industrial revolution relied heavily on electrical, transportation, and communication technologies that would create a substantial economic impact on the country. The first and second industrial revolutions had significant economic effects on the nation.

First Industrial Revolution
Second Industrial Revolution
From the 1700s to the 1860s
Started in Great Britain
Started in Germany
Coal and Steam power, iron, textile
Electricity, steel, railroads, petroleum (oil and gas)
Availability of printed materials
Mass communication technologies: telegraph, telephone, radio
The transition from handmade items to small factories
Assembly Line production and Larger factories
Factories/Machines were powered by steam-factories needed to be near significant water sources for power.
Factories/Machines were powered by electricity
Many people migrated from rural to urban areas
Brought by rapid urbanization, 40% of Americans lived in cities by 1900
Overcrowding of urban areas
Cities were redesigned to accommodate large populations
Poor and Unsanitary Living Conditions
Improved Living Conditions

Labor Unions in Second Industrial Revolution

Second Industrial Revolution, Leaders of the Knights of Labor, Study Smarter

Leaders of the Knights of Labor. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Labor Unions rose in the nineteenth century due to many Americans' employment in mills and factories and the booming industrial economy. While the second industrial revolution saw great prosperity and wealth, conflict grew between laborers and factory owners. Often workers attempted to negotiate better working conditions with their bosses and managers only to be largely ignored. As a result, workers banned together to create labor unions which made better leverage against factory owners. These labor unions were groups or associations of workers designed to protect workers' rights. Many unions negotiated better working hours, improved conditions, and fair wages.

Impact of Second Industrial Revolution

In just a few short decades, the Second Industrial Revolution had created sweeping social and economic changes throughout the country. Previously an agricultural society, America shifted to large factories in urban areas. Lower consumer prices and better living conditions led to dramatic social and economic shifts.

Industrial Economy

Second Industrial Revolution, Carnegie Steel Works 1903, Study Smarter

Carnegie Steel Works 1903. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Second Industrial Revolution spurred rapid economic growth in America between 1870 and 1914. As America expanded west, abundant natural resources such as coal, iron, copper, lead, timber, and oil became available. America also saw an explosion of immigrant workers (14 million) that helped fuel the large industrial factories throughout this period. Therefore, due to the increased production of goods America became the largest market for industrial goods.

Social Impact of the Second Industrial Revolution

The unprecedented growth and innovation of the era led to massive wealth for some and forced poverty onto others. The deep social divide between the classes was most prominent between the wealthy industrialists and the middle class. This social divide was fueled by Social Darwinism which stated the wealthy had won a natural competition and owed nothing to the poor. Providing services to the poor would interfere with the "organic" process.

Social Darwinism:

The application of Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection to social aspects of human living.

Second Industrial Revolution, Children at Luna Park, Study Smarter

Children at Luna Park in 1907. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Class Structure

The class structure of nineteenth-century America generally focuses on two specific classes, the wealthy elite, and the labor class. Yet, the second industrial revolution saw the rise of the middle class. The middle class fueled America's industrial machine through the consumption of products. This class saw increased free time and access to previously unthinkable luxuries. People would go to amusement parks, play golf, and bicycle. However, throughout this era, the wealth gap between the social classes only widened as 10% of the population would come to own 90% of the nation's wealth.

Second Industrial Revolution Child labor, StudySmarter

Young boys working in a glasswork factory in Indiana, 1908. Source: Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

Child Labor

While the Second Industrial Revolution had sweeping positive impacts, one negative consequence was the attitude toward child labor. Like many other business practices, unregulated child labor grew in the factories during this era. Poverty-stricken families often forced to send children to work to help with financial burdens. Children, as young as eight and sometimes younger, worked for little pay in treacherous working conditions. At the turn of the century, it is estimated that over one million children were employed in factories.

Second Industrial Revolution - Key takeaways

  • The Second Industrial Revolution timeframe in America was from 1870 to 1914
  • Three industries/areas were majorly impacted:
    • Transportation: the transcontinental railroad
    • Communication: telegraph/telephone
    • Technological processes: Bessemer process/mass-produced electricity
  • Both the first and second industrial revolutions led to critical economic impacts on the country
    • First Industrial Revolution: relied on steam power, trains, and manufacturing
    • Second Industrial Revolution: relied on electricity, transportation, and communication technologies
  • The second Industrial Revolution created sweeping social and economic changes
    • Economic: America became the largest market in the world for industrial goods

    • Social: the middle class rose during this era and had more leisure time and access to luxuries

Frequently Asked Questions about Second Industrial Revolution

The Second Industrial Revolution timeframe was roughly from 1870 to 1914. 

The Second Industrial Revolution was a period where technological advancements such as electricity, railroads, and the telegraph dramatically altered the American economical landscape. 

The Second Industrial Revolution was different from the first because it relied on electricity and mass manufacturing while the first revolution was fueled by steam power and textile manufacturing. 

The Second Industrial Revolution started shortly after the Civil War in 1870. 

The Second Industrial Revolution affected the United States by spurring rapid economic growth that propelled America to become the largest market for industrial goods. 

Final Second Industrial Revolution Quiz


What war spurred the technological advancements that led to the Second Industrial Revolution? 

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Civil War

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Name the three most critical industries that were impacted during the Second Industrial Revolution? 

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Communication, Transportation, and Technological Processes

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What major new technological process accelerated the growth of America's infrastructure? 

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Rockefeller's method of refining oil 

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Describe the major difference between the first and second industrial revolution? 

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The First Industrial Revolution was powered by steam power whereas the second industrial revolution was fueled by electricity. 

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What did Labor Unions negotiate to help workers? 

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Better working hours, improved conditions, and fair wages.

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The Second Industrial Revolution shifted America from a ____________society to a (n) _____________society. 

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agricultural to a industrial 

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The social divide between the upper and lower classes was fueled by what social theory? 

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Social Darwinism 

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The Second Industrial Revolution saw the rise of the middle class which was defined by what? 

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Their level of income, access to luxury goods, and free time 

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The timeframe of the Second Industrial Revolution was from ______to ______. 

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Show question


Which railroad connected America's eastern and western seaboards? 

Show answer


Transcontinental Railroad 

Show question

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