Wesley G.

  • Pennsylvania

What does America mean to you?

By Wesley G.
Lancaster, Pennsylvania

The industrial revolution and the time periods surrounding it best defines what America means to me, and for the sake of clarity from here forward when I industrial revolution I will be referring specifically to the second industrial revolution from the 1870s to 1910s. This time period demonstrates a defining feature of what had and still does distinguish America from the rest of the world. America is a nation that does not specialize in inventing, rather it is a nation that focuses on ingenuity. It is a nation that adapts and improves pre-existing technologies better than any other.

To start, the old world had created many inventions that would lay the foundation for American innovation, with one being the steam engine. The steam engine has technically existed in some form or another for centuries, but the first practical form was not made until 1712 by Englishman Thomas Newcomen. This machine allowed, for the first time ever, high amounts of power without needing to be grounded to a specific location like the water wheel had to be. This invention would in time make the man obsolete, paving the way for future innovation and automation.

These Old World inventions had inspired many early innovations in America even before the industrial revolution. One being the revolving hay rake, made by Edward Huber and patented in 1863. This invention had been built upon the power the steam engine provided, essentially combining an earlier farming tool, McCormicks mechanical reaper, with a steam engine. This allowed one man to work with an efficiency nearly an entire order of magnitude greater than what a man could do alone, and with the added benefit of not relying on any animals to pull the machine. The revolving hay rake is one of the earliest examples of America taking pre-existing inventions, and expanding upon them in unique ways to boost productivity massively.

This boost in productivity enabled less people to do the same work, freeing up large amounts of labor to be diverted into industry and further innovation. The Model-T, first produced in 1908 by Henry Ford, was far from the first usable automobile. That title belongs to the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, constructed by German Karl Benz in 1885, but the Model-T was the most affordable one. It was the vehicle that pioneered the usage of assembly lines and vertical integration to mass produce the Model-T for cheap. Ford had taken the previously luxury product that was the automobile, and turned it into a product that could be affordable to the masses. These new techniques are what distinguished America from the Europeans, as it enabled a unique identity of ingenuity to start to form in the nation.

While these are only a couple of the hundreds of unique innovations from the 19th and 20th century that made America the worlds innovators, this is a trend that still keeps up to this day through innovations in fields such as nuclear energy, manufacturing, and military weaponry. Even though America was not the one to pioneer many of these fields, or the first to create the steam engine or car, America is a nation of innovators, and they were the ones who made these inventions as good as they could be. America will not just find a way to accomplish their goal, but rather find the best way. Though they arent a nation of inventors, America is a nation of innovators, and that is what America means to me.