Innovation and American Inventiveness

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Innovation and American Inventiveness

This theme will explore changes in industry and technology and how those changes affected Americans, both socially and economically.

Angela Fattorini

Andy Lujan

Anferney Lujan

Ryan Beard

APUSH 4th period


European ships and sailing practices allowed Europeans to gain passage to the New World in the early 17th century. Christopher Columbus, a European explorer who voyaged to the New World, used these technological advances. These advances consisted of the magnetic compass, a navigational device used to indicate direction, and the ships used to cross the Atlantic. At the time, European ships were capable of sailing farther distances and were more durable. This allowed the Europeans to navigate through the ocean efficiently and reach their desired destination. As Columbus successfully traveled to the New World and told of his discoveries, he unintentionally aroused awareness in wealthy English men. These men formed the first joint stock company named the Virginia Company. The joint stock company provided funding for the exploration and colonization of the New World through investments made by wealthy men. These men hoped to gain a substantial amount of wealth from the interest generated from the success of the company. This led to the first permanent English settlement in 1607 entitled Jamestown.


The 1700s harbored one the colonies’ most prominent inventors and scientists, Benjamin Franklin. Franklin made many technological advances that would influence colonial life greatly. His most famous inventions and discoveries consisted of the Franklin stove, the discovery/research of electricity, and the bifocal glasses. The Franklin stove was an indoor heater which circulated heat more efficiently and reduced the amount of smoke emitted, making winter months fairly bearable. Franklin’s electrical discoveries led to a wider understanding of electricity and its properties. He was able to note electricity’s positive and negative charges, which led to the invention of the lightning rod; a rod used to negate lightning away from homes. Lastly, the invention of the bifocal glasses resolved many visual disabilities such as astigmatism. As the 18th century progressed another American inventor emerged. In 1793, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin which greatly impacted southern agriculture. The cotton gin allowed for the cotton seeds to be removed at a much faster rate than if done by hand. The cotton gin was a great success but it did increase the need for slavery as more labor was required to pick and process the cotton.


To help build a stronger economy, new advances were used to increase the rate of production. Promoting assembly line production, products were able to be made at a faster pace with the help of machines, tools, and people. Along with this innovation, Eli Whitney invented the use of interchangeable parts which was convenient when broken parts needed to be replaced. During the War of 1812, the United States could no longer depend on British industries. So advances in machine technology were made in order to meet the demand of the American people during this decade. As an example of this growth of industries, in 1813 the power loom allowed textile manufacturers to produce both thread and finished fabric in the same factory. Another innovation that made traveling from east to west easier was the construction of the National Road. Linking the Great Lake region to New York with the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 caused a greater chance in transportation by opening up European shipping routes. To further the innovation of transportation, in 1850 the invention of steamships and railroads developed a convenient way to transport people and goods. With the creation of the telegraph, immediate and long distance communication through Morse code became an effective form of communication. While the South remained revolved almost entirely around agriculture, the North became industrialized. Revolutionizing American commerce and culture, developments in transportation and communication allowed the faster travel of ideas among people in the first half of the nineteenth century.


Subsequent to the years following the civil war arose a time of manufacturing enterprises. Thomas A. Edison led American society into this era after successfully producing the light bulb in 1879. Edison’s invention contributed to the development of power plants and was responsible for the extension of the work day. As factories remained open longer, production increased causing the economy to grow at a tremendous rate. As electricity became widely available, Edison and other scientists created new uses for electricity for both industry and the home. This in turn led to the advances in mass production which allowed factories to produce a large number of goods at a cheaper rate, thus lowering prices for the consumer. This concept was greatly emphasized when Henry Ford utilized assembly line production to produce cars at an unprecedented speed. The cars would be assembled by moving down an assembly line where workers would perform the same tasks over and over. In conjunction with industrial advances, mass transportation arose due the expansion of railroads, construction of subways and street cars. It became easier to travel to a desired location whether it was to get to the other side of the city or the other side of the nation. Transportation also led to the rise of small towns in the west linked by the railroads. Now that the nation was connected by the advances of this time period, Americans were free to easily move around the country.


The first half of the twentieth century brought an influx of new technology that would drastically shape the productivity of manufacturing and the prosperity of business owners. By 1922, the invention of the electric motor was significantly responsible for the economic boom, spreading to mostly every portion of society. Industries began to aid the middle class by lowering the price of items to more affordable costs. Correspondingly, the automobile industry offered more convenient products that bestowed status on their owners. This was perfected by Henry Ford’s assembly line, which lowered the cost of automobiles through mass production. This consumer product symbolized a revolution in society by bringing about a new spirit to the nation. Prior to the consummation of the assembly line, automobiles were only affordable to the extremely wealthy. However, this change would allow most middle-class families to possess at least one vehicle and provide an incentive for workers to move farther away from city centers, thus giving birth to the suburbs. The radio also transformed the nation’s culture by promoting a greater sense of unity. In cities, it was not uncommon for several families to gather at the home of a radio owner and settle in for the evening. The rapid modernization of American society was reflected in the method it entertained itself. The innovation of motion pictures was important, because it reflected the nation’s idealized image: young, daring, and rich. Although advanced technology had a major affect in the first half of the twentieth century, it would produce even greater achievements in the second half.


The exordium of the turning point in the century was racked with domestic politics. President Eisenhower sought to reduce the number of troops in the military in order to balance the budget. With deficit spending partially reduced, the government, under Eisenhower, developed the Interstate Highway System to make it easier to move soldiers and missiles around the country. It also promoted tourism and played a role in the progression of the suburbs. Under the administration of Eisenhower, Cold War tensions were provoked by the idea of containment and a race to prove which nation was superior, the USSR or the United States. The USSR launched the first satellite, Sputnik, into space, motivating the United States to promptly create and fund NASA. In politics, the programming modification of television played a tremendous role in the outcome of the 1960 election between Kennedy and Nixon. The clearer image allowed voters to witness the poise and grace Kennedy held over Nixon in the comfort of their own homes. Similar to the innovation of television, convenient priced personal computers, with the creation of the microprocessor, allowed the industry to expand to a wider consumer market, which in turn led to an enhanced technological society. American modernization has only continued to explore greater heights into the present day.

Key Terms

Christopher Columbus-English explorer that discovered the Americas

Magnetic compass-used to identify the direction of exploration

European ships-Ships used by European explorers to navigate through the sea

Joint stock company-buying the right to establish something

Virginia Company-Bought the right to establish New World plantations from the king

1607, Jamestown- The first successful English Settlement

Benjamin Franklin-Printer’s apprentice, that wrote “Poor Richard’s Almanac”

Franklin stove- a metal-lined fireplace named after its inventor invented in 1741

Electricity- set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and flow of electric charge

Bifocal glasses-Invented by franklin, eyeglasses with two distinct optical powers

Lightning Rod- a metal rod or metallic object mounted on top of an elevated structure engineered to protect the structure in the event of lightning strike

Eli Whitney-Inventor of the cotton gin

Cotton Gin-used to separate cotton form the seed without the need of hands

Interchangeable parts- Parts used for practical purposes such as exchange or replacement

Power loom- a mechanized looms powered by a line shaft.

National Road- the first major improved highway in the United States to be built by the federal government

Erie Canal- A canal in New York, built to create a navigable water route from New York City and the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes

Steamships-ships that are powered by a steam engine

Telegraph- the long distance transmission of textual or symbolic messages without the physical exchange of an object bearing the message

Morse code- A code used for communication through the telegraph

Age of invention- 1875-1900

Thomas A. Edison- Inventor of the light bulb and developer of power plants

Menlo Park-City in New Jersey was Thomas Edison had his workshop.

Light bulb-Invented in 1976 by Thomas Edison

Power Plants-Developed by Thomas Edison, used to supply power to cities and such.

Mass Production- More products being produced in a certain amount of time

Assembly Line Production- New motive of production, were workers only work on one part of the product.

Mass Transportation- Expansion of railroad lines, streetcars, and construction of subways.

Expansions of railroads - the growth of cities allowed for the more railroads.

Henry Ford’s assembly line- an assembly line to build cars at a faster pace by workers doing the same task over and over

Electric Motor- is an electric machine that converts electrical energy into mechanical energy

Suburbs- living areas away from the city

Radio- a device used to receive radio waves and converts the waves into sound

Motion pictures-is a series of still images which, when shown on a screen, creates the illusion of moving images

Interstate Highway system- a public works project issued during Eisenhower’s presidency to create a series of high ways along the country

Television- is a telecommunication medium that is used for transmitting and receiving moving images and sound

Personal Computer- a general-purpose computer, whose size, capabilities and original sale price makes it useful for individuals

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