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The American Industry Tour showcases the industrial heritage of the north-eastern United States. As many other historical trails in North America, the tour follows migration routes from east to west, with a chronology from colonial times to present day. Starting in Boston in the 17th and 18th centuries, we visit the 19th century factory clusters around Albany and New York City, and carry on through industrial regions of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan, which had their heyday during the 20th century. The journey ends in Chicago.

The rather small area along this trail contains much of America's industrial heritage, with a majority of the country's industry-related National Historic Landmarks, National Historic Sites and National Historical Parks. Many of the rest are in Minnesota.


Saugus Iron Works.

From 1776 to 1945, the United States transformed from an agrarian country of 2½ million inhabitants to the world's leading superpower, and the home of 140 million people. Most feats of innovation and engineering happened in the north-east. However, the Industrial Revolution began in the United Kingdom, which held eastern North America as a colony (see Early United States history). In the Market Revolution during the early 19th century, the textile business was an early adopter of industrial processes.

From the mid-19th century, steam-powered factories became more common, and railroads started replacing canals and roads as main transport routes. During the American Civil War, the industries of the Northeast were mobilized to produce arms, supplies and ships, contributing to the Union victory. The colonization of the Old West truly began during the War, as the Southern secession from Congress allowed investment in rail lines and other colonization policies. See Industrialization of the United States for a guide to the political, social and cultural history of the whole country from the 1860s to the 1940s.

The late 19th century was called the Gilded Age, with a rising capitalist class, and increased corruption, especially in large industrial cities. The turn of the century saw the rise of organized labor, not least in Chicago. The early 20th century was known as the Progressive Era, with labor reforms, antitrust laws, and women's suffrage.

World War I again increased demand for military supplies. The automobile had its breakthrough during the Roaring Twenties, and Detroit became known as the Motor City. The 1929 Wall Street Crash caused the Great Depression, which hit the north-east hard, though the New Deal during the 1930s provided some relief. As World War II in Europe began in 1939, the USA supplied the Allies with arms. The 1941 Pearl Harbor attack brought America into the Pacific War, and brought large-scale industrial mobilization. After the war ended in 1945, industry shifted to consumer products. Since the 1960s, Northeastern industries have been downsizing, moving south, west, and abroad, causing unemployment and urban decay, causing the region to be renamed the Rust Belt. Though the 2000s financial crisis hit industrial towns hard, some of them are revitalizing today. See also Post-war United States.

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You can't work in a steel mill and think small. Giant converters hundreds of feet high. Every night, the sky looked enormous. It was a torrent of flames – of fire. The place that Pittsburgh used to be had such scale.Jack Gilbert

The journey is around 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometres) in total. By car, the trip takes around a week. However, as railroads were an integral part of industrialization, and most of the sights are in major cities, many legs of the tour can be done by rail.


Map of American Industry Tour

Day 1: Boston area

Our chronology starts in the 17th century in Boston, Massachusetts, where some industries could be found already during the Colonial era.

Before the Age of Steam, industry took use of rivers for propulsion and transport. The humid climate of New England allowed many waterwheel-powered workshops. The textile mills used locally produced flax and wool, as well as cotton from the South. New England also has abundant wood, and enough iron ore was available for the first metalworking industries.

  • 1Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site, Massachusetts, +1 781-233-0050. Daily. Apr-Oct 9AM-5PM. Nov-Mar 9AM-4PM. The site of the first integrated ironworks in North America (1646-1668). It includes the reconstructed blast furnace, forge, rolling mill, and a restored seventeenth century house. As one of the first known industrial facilities on the continent, this is a good place to start our voyage.
  • 2 Waltham, Massachusetts. A suburb of Boston, with the remnants of the Boston Manufacturing Company. A center for the American textile industry already in the early 18th century, and the birthplace of the Waltham System; an early version of the assembly line. In the 19th century, Waltham Watch Company made the city known as the Watch City. The car company Metz made the first American Motorcycles here.
  • 3Lowell National Historical Park, Massachusetts, 67 Kirk Street, +1 978 970-5000. Lowell had watermill-powered workshops already in the 18th century, and was an early planned industrial city. Contains the Lowell Power Canal System and Pawtucket Gatehouse. Open year round. 9AM-5PM (Summer to 5:30PM). Commemorates the history of the American Industrial Revolution in Lowell. Includes the Boott Cotton Mills Museum, textile mills, canals, worker houses, and 19th-century commercial buildings. See also the American Textile History Museum and the Seashore Trolley Museum.
  • 4 Boston Navy Yard, Boston/Charlestown, Massachusetts. We jump forward in time for a while, to see a more modern part of Boston's industrial heritage. From its foundation in 1801 until its decline past World War II and the final decommission in 1974, it built and maintained much of the US Navy.
  • 5 Quincy (Massachusetts). The Granite Railway, one of the first railroads in the United States, was incorporated in 1826.

Connecting itineraries:

Day 2: Upper Massachusetts

  • 6 Worcester Historical Museum, 30 Elm St (Worcester (Massachusetts)), +1 508 753-8278. Tu-Sa 10AM-4PM, Th 10AM-8:30PM. Small museum in a beautiful old building that presents the city's history. Worcester Historical Museum features a rotating art exhibit and a section dedicated to the various manufacturing industries that built the city. Also has a room dedicated to the "smiley face," which was invented in Worcester.
  • 7Old Sturbridge Village, 1 Old Sturbridge Village Road, +1 508 347-3362, toll-free: +1-800-SEE-1830 (733-1830). Sturbridge's biggest draw, this living history museum promotes learning about the early 1800s through fun, hands-on activities. Great interpretive programs. Special and seasonal programs help people experience historical New England. There are reenactments of previous time period wars, as well as activities that were going on around the early 1800s. It is a great way to get the visitors involved as well as just allowing for a great show.
  • 8 Springfield Armory, Massachusetts. A firearms factory operating from 1777 until 1968.
  • 9 Museum of Our Industrial Heritage, 2 Mead Street (Greenfield (Massachusetts)).
  • 10 Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum (East of Lenox (Massachusetts)). A heritage railway.
  • 11 Ventfort Hall Gilded Age Mansion (Lenox (Massachusetts)). A historic Jacobean-style mansion and museum, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can tour the mansion and learn about the changes that occurred in American life, industry, and society during the late 19th Century period known as the Gilded Age.

Day 3: Upstate New York

The Mid-Atlantic had thriving industrial cities even before the Civil War. Their productivity helped bring the Union to victory. Many immigrants from Ireland, Italy and Eastern Europe settled here. Since the 1960s manufacturing crisis, many industrial buildings have been redeveloped for other purposes, such as hospitality, entertainment and residential areas.

Connecting itinerary: The Erie Canal was New York State's main transport route before the railroads, connecting upstate industrial cities such as Syracuse (New York) and Buffalo to the Atlantic.

Greater Albany

Watervliet Arsenal Museum.
  • 12 Harmony Mills, Cohoes. The largest cotton mill complex in the world when it opened in 1872.
  • 13 Watervliet Arsenal. Opened in 1813, this is the oldest continuously active arsenal in the United States.
  • 14 Troy. Troy flourished throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries and though deindustrialized like most of the rest of the North, has what's probably the best-preserved collection of grand 19th-century big-city buildings in the country.
  • 15 Albany. A center for the wood, paper and print industry, with many of the nation's first high-rise buildings. Owes its importance at least in part to the Erie Canal.
  • 16Schenectady Museum, 15 Nott Terrace Hts, 12308, +1 518-382-7890. Tuesday - Sunday, 10AM - 5PM. The Schenectady Museum & Suits-Bueche Planetarium celebrate science, invention, and imagination. The museum explores the area’s rich technological heritage, with some of the region’s finest interactive exhibits. The museum also has an extensive General Electric collection. $3 - $5.
  • 17 Kingston (New York). An industrial town with the Catskill Mountain Railroad.
  • 18 Poughkeepsie. An 18th century town with some early industrial heritage.

Day 4: Metropolitan New York

Meatpacking District, Manhattan

New York City has long been the largest metropolitan region of the United States; before, during and after the Industrial Revolution. As we view NYC as a center for finance, entertainment and administration, one might miss that manufacturing was the city's most important business sector during the early 20th century. With astronomical land prices, most industries have been torn down to make room for housing and office buildings, but some neighbourhoods are more or less preserved.

  • 19 Meatpacking District, Manhattan/Chelsea, New York City. From the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, this district supplied New York City with meat. Today, most buildings and infrastructure remains, reconditioned for other purposes.
  • 20 DUMBO, Brooklyn/Downtown, New York City. Industrial buildings redeveloped for more urban purposes.
  • 21 Clark Thread Company Historic District, Newark, New Jersey. Thread factory opened in 1875.
  • 22 Paterson, New Jersey. "The Silk City" was the nation's first planned industrial city.
  • 23 Speedwell Ironworks, New Jersey. The first demonstration of the Morse telegraph took place here.
  • 24 Phillipsburg (New Jersey). Phillipsburg was once a transportation hub, with five train lines and 3 canals coming together.

Day 5: Pennsylvania

  • 25 Bethlehem. The city was industrialized already before the Civil War; it is best known for the Bethlehem Steel Company, once the country's second-largest steel manufacturer, which was dismantled during the 2000's. The main industrial area has been transformed to a casino resort.
  • 26 America On Wheels Museum, 5 N. Front Street (Allentown, Pennsylvania), +1 610 432-4200. Museum showing the history of wheeled transportation.
  • 27 Coplay Cement Company Kilns (Lehigh County).
  • 28 Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site. A blast furnace founded in 1771, which was used up to the Civil War.
  • 29Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.
  • 30 Cornwall Iron Furnace.
  • 31 Golden Age Air Museum (Northwest of Reading (Pennsylvania)). A broad collection of aircraft. Biplane rides are offered.
  • 32 Harrisburg. A cluster for iron and steel production during the late 19th century, with several museums and tours. Infamous in later times for the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear incident.
  • 33Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum (in Maryland). A railroad museum.
  • 34 Allegheny Portage Railroad (near Altoona). An railroad, operating 1834 to 1854, which became an early gateway between the Atlantic and the Midwest. Contains the Staple Bend Tunnel; the first American railroad tunnel.
  • 35 Carrie Furnace, Rankin (8 miles (13 km) south of Pittsburgh). Operated from 1884 until 1982.
  • 36 Pittsburgh. The "Steel City" was once at the core of American industry, and the seat for United States Steel, at its time the world's largest corporation. Though many steel mills have closed down during the 20th century, Pittsburgh has revitalized its industrial heritage.
  • 37 Titusville. The birthplace of American oil industry, with the Drake Well Museum.

Day 6: Ohio

The rich natural resources, such as grain, iron, coal, wood and hydroelectric power, together with the Great Lakes and the Mississippi river system, allowed the Midwestern cities to boom during the Industrial Revolution. Since World War II, manufacturing has declined, and the region is today known as the "Rust Belt", with high unemployment and urban decay.

  • 38 Youngstown (Ohio). The Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor can be found here.
  • 39American Toy Marble Museum, Akron. This museum preserves and disseminates the history of the American toy industry in the city where it all started: Akron, Ohio.
  • 40 Cleveland, Ohio. The birthplace of Standard Oil, the Rockefeller dynasty, and the early motor industry. The country's fifth largest city during the 1920's. As most other cities in the once industrial heartland it has fallen to a "rust belt" image, but a revitalization is underway and the somewhat negative reputation of the city is almost entirely undeserved.
  • 41 Mad River Railroad Museum (Bellevue (Ohio)). A railroad museum.

Day 7: Michigan

Connecting itinerary: The Motorcities Tour is a showcase of the automotive industry in and around Detroit.

  • 42 Detroit. The "motor city", the name "Detroit" was long a metonym for the US automobile industry. As the industry downsized since the late 20th century and population moved to the suburbs, much of the city lies deserted. The already-struggling city was hit hard by the housing crash of 2007/2008; though there are signs of recovery and "new urbanism", a long way remains to go.
  • 43 Dearborn. Ford River Rouge Complex, opened in 1928, is the world's largest integrated factory. The Henry Ford Museum can be found here, as well.
  • 44 Highland Park Ford Plant. The second production site for the Ford Model T.
  • 45Alfred P. Sloan Museum, Flint, 1221 E. Kearsley St, +1 810 237 3450, . M - F 10 AM - 5 PM, Sat - Sun Noon - 5 PM. Sloan Museum and the Buick Gallery & Research Center are devoted to the documentation and interpretation of local history. The Buick Gallery and Research Center one block away at 303 Walnut Street features several dozen classic G.M. cars, including several concept designs. $6 Adults, $5 Seniors, $4 Children (3-11), Adult School Programs, $3 Student School Programs, Free for Children (2 and under), Teachers.
  • 46R.E. Olds Transportation Museum, Lansing (Michigan). A museum dedicated to the founder of Oldsmobile, which was later bought by GM and was for years a popular US auto brand. Many traces of R.E. Olds still remain in Lansing. The tallest building in the city, the Boji Tower (noted for its large red clock), was originally built as the Olds Tower, after its major financier, R.E. Olds. The area near the location of an old Olds factory is now called REO Town, after R.E. Olds. The Lansing Lugnuts, a minor league baseball team plays in a stadium formerly known as Oldsmobile park near downtown Lansing.
  • 47Little River Railroad, Coldwater. A heritage railway.

Day 8: Chicago

  • 48 Historic Pullman District (Chicago/Far Southeast Side).
  • 49 Chicago, Illinois. America's second city during the Industrial Revolution was the capital of the meatpacking industry, a haven for organized crime during the Prohibition, and a hotspot for blues and jazz. Much of the city was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. An important city in the history of organized labor, with the Pullman District, and the Haymarket Square Massacre, the date of which is remembered in most of the world (though not the US or Canada) as a worker's holiday on May 1st.
  • 50Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago/Hyde_Park, 5700 S Lake Shore Dr & E 57th St (Take CTA buses 2, 6, 10, 28, 55, or the Metra Electric Line), +1 773 684-1414. 9:30AM-4PM daily; some days until 5:30PM, including most of summer; closed 25 Dec. We conclude the voyage through the Industrial Revolution, with one of America's most acclaimed museums on the topic. Spend hours upon hours looking at really cool stuff you never even knew you didn't know about. So much to do, so little time. You can return for free the following day if you take your ticket to "Will Call" on the way out on your first day. Great for kids, with many hands-on exhibits and the famous Coal Mine; adults will enjoy the display of the German U-boat 'U-505'. The immense, beautiful building was itself built as part of the White City in 1893, and is the last of the grand buildings left in Hyde Park. $11, $5 child.

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In Chicago, our chronology reaches the 1950s, as the city was at its peak. Since the 1960s, the industries of the Northeast started downsizing, due to automation and outsourcing. Crime-driven emigration to the suburbs made the city centers decline.

America's center of gravity for population and industry moved on to the southwest, with especially California as the new land of opportunity, together with the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest and Texas. Minneapolis/St. Paul, St Louis, Kansas City and Denver are some other important industrial cities in middle America. Before the advent of the Interstate Highway System there were just a few highways and railroads across the Rocky Mountains, and only the elite could afford air travel. Some of the classical routes are still available today:

See also

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