It is manifestly impossible to give, within the brief scope of this volume, more than a hint of the elements which have entered into and stimulated the material progress of the United States during the past century. That progress may be said to have been twofold; the progress which we have shared in common with the civilized world, and the progress which has been peculiar to ourselves.
The agency which invention and discovery have had in our advancement scarcely needs to be pointed out. We have only to look around us, and remember the origin of many of the comforts, conveniences, luxuries, nay even what we now regard as necessities, that surround us and minister to our existence, in order to comprehend how very vast, how much beyond easy calculation, the material progress of the century has been.
Every hour of the day, should you stop to reflect, you would find yourself doing something, or aided by something, unknown to or unused by the generation of 1776. Sitting in your parlor or library, your feet rest upon carpets, which were introduced into American households in 1792; the book you are reading--which has far better paper, print, binding and illustration than the old copy of "Pilgrim's Progress" which your great-grandfather used to read--is lighted by gas, which did not come into use till this century was well on its way; and that gas you have lit by a friction match, an affair of marvellous simplicity, which was unknown till after 1830.
You are writing, perhaps, with a steel pen; the Declaration of Independence was signed with quills. It is, possibly, a rainy day. You put on rubbers, and you carry an umbrella. The men of '76 had to do as best they could without either. You burn coal in a furnace or stove; they must fain have warmed themselves with more cheery but less warming wood, in an open fireplace. Every article of your dress is an improvement in convenience and comfort on those worn by Washington in all his Presidential glory.
Your walls are hung with photographs; your wife or daughter has a sewing-machine. In the kitchen are endless contrivances which our great-grandmothers would have greeted with speechless astonishment. You can order a case of goods from Hong Kong on Monday, and be told that they are ready for shipping on Thursday. You can go to San Francisco in almost the same time that it took, only fifty years ago, to reach Washington from New York. When General Jackson went to the capital to be President, he could travel no faster than did the Jews, after the captivity, from Babylon to Jerusalem.
Taking a broader view--for we might go on with the material details of progress all about us _ad infinitum_, did patience and strength hold out--we look abroad over the land, and note the great elements of a progress peculiarly American, in the growth and distribution of population, in manufactures, agriculture, and commerce. Each and all have been incalculably aided by perpetual invention. A few leading facts must suffice to show that our orators, in their most daring flights, can scarcely exaggerate the marvels of our material advance. The population of this country in 1776, including slaves, was about two and three quarters millions. In 1886, it is without doubt more than fifty millions. In 1790, when the first census was taken, the figure was a little less than four millions. A notable circumstance in reference to the movement of our population has been the increase of the proportion of dwellers in our cities to those in the rural districts. In 1790, only one-thirtieth of our population inhabited the cities. In 1886, probably nearly one-fourth are included in the cities.
In 1790 there were but six cities with a population of more than eight thousand each. These were: Philadelphia, with about 42,500; New York, with about 33,000; Boston, with about 18,000; Charleston, with about 16,300: Baltimore, with about 13,500; and Salem, with a little over 8000. The total was about 131,500. Now the aggregate of our urban population is, probably, at least 12,000,000. It may be added that the _centre_ of our population has shifted from a few miles east of Baltimore, where it was in 1790, to about eight miles west by south from Cincinnati, where it is now supposed to be.
The earliest avocation of our colonies was that of agriculture; and before 1776 our agricultural industries, owing to the discoveries which had gradually been made as to the capabilities of the then settled districts, had grown to important proportions. It needs but a glance at the map to observe over what a vast area agricultural enterprise has spread since 1790. We may fairly say that invention and improvement, in the application of chemistry and mechanical discovery to the cultivation of land, have kept pace with the territorial advance of agricultural science. There can scarcely be named a farming operation which is not performed by instruments far more perfect, and with a rapidity far greater, than was possible with our ancestors.
Human labor has been greatly lessened in proportion to the results obtained. Tools are cheaper; and whereas they were formerly made, to a large extent, on the farms themselves, they are now perfected in factories supplied with the most efficient machinery. There were in 1880 two thousand establishments for the manufacture of agricultural implements, with an annual production valued at over $68,000,000. It would take up too much space to give even a list of these implements; suffice it to say that it is calculated that the value of those now in use on American farms is at least $500,000,000. A hundred years ago a man could only manage six bushels of grain a day--cutting, binding and stocking, threshing and cleaning it. Now, with the aid of mechanical appliances, a single man's labor can achieve almost eight times as much.
To machinery must be added the advance in the arts of manuring, draining, irrigation, and of grafting and obtaining greater varieties of fruits and vegetables. The improvement in breeding and raising live-stock must not be omitted. In this product the wealth of the country was at least $2,000,000.000 in 1880.
Great as has been our progress in agriculture, it is scarcely so remarkable as that in manufactures. In 1776 we were mostly a farming community. Now, in New England at least, to a large extent in the Middle States, and to some degree in the West and South, manufactures have outstripped the farming industry. Manufacturing necessarily began, indeed, very early in the settlement of the country; for ships had to be built, and were built, soon after the colonization of Plymouth and Boston. The first saw-mill was erected at Salmon Falls as early as 1635. A printing-press was set up at Cambridge in 1638, and a book-bindery in 1663. The first fulling-mill for making cloth was started at Rowley in 1643. Iron manufacture was regularly established at Lynn in 1645. The first successful cotton-mill in the United States was started by Samuel Slater at Providence in 1793.
The growth of the cotton industry may be appreciated when we state that its extent in 1831 comprised 795 factories and 1,246,500 spindles; while in 1880 there were over ten million spindles, and the value of the products reached nearly two hundred million dollars annually. The progress in woollen manufacture has been equally rapid. Since 1850 the number of factories in this industry has more than doubled, while the value of the products has increased over fourfold. Looking over the whole field of manufacturing industries, it is stated that the estimated capital employed throughout out the country in 1880, namely $2,790,000,000, does not really approximate to the total amount. According to the census of that year, moreover, over two and a half millions of persons were engaged in manufacturing; while about seven and a half millions were employed in agriculture, and nearly two millions in trade and transportation. Only a hint can thus be attempted of our progress in manufactures.
It need scarcely be said that commerce, as the great medium of barter and exchange between States and with foreign nations, has necessarily kept pace with the development of the industries which we have briefly glanced at. The increase of our mercantile marine, up to the unhappy period of the war, when it was almost swept from the ocean, kept pace with the ever-increasing needs of the business of the country. Now it is again slowly reviving from the disasters of the civil conflict. During the past century, our commercial relations have extended to the remotest corners of the earth, whither we send the commodities we have to spare, and whence we derive those which we need for comfort, convenience, luxury, and wealth. The extent to which steam applied to water navigation, and telegraphy laid not only over the continents but under the oceans, have stimulated our commerce in common with that of the world, is more easy to be observed in general than calculated in detail. With many nations we have treaties of commerce, and the time may not be long in coming when such pacts will be reciprocated between all the trading nations of the world.