Decoding the Myths of Asa Packer, 1805?-1879

Overview of Industrialization

Asa Packer witnessed a dramatic change in America during his lifetime as the nation transitioned from its agrarian roots to a more industrialized economy that forever changed the landscape of the continent. The nineteenth century saw the widespread introduction and growth of the steamboats, canals, locomotives, and railroads. Massive businesses arose that dealt with the production of coal, oil, and steel. This new, industrializing America was the result of the influence of science, technology, and innovation coming together. The nineteenth century greatly influenced the lives of all Americans. Asa Packer was a product of this change in American life and he was at the front of industrialization. Indeed, Asa Packer was an American industrialist. 

While Great Britain started its industrialization process by the early to mid-eighteenth century, Colonial America and then an independent United States, lagged behind in terms of technology and manufacturing. During the eighteenth century, most Americans were involved in the agricultural business, namely working as subsistence farmers. However, by the start of the nineteenth century, Americans became influenced by technology that would slowly move the country into an age of industrialization. This transitional period proved more substantial in the northeastern United States and picked up steam around Asa Packer's birth. 

The Industrial Revolution imposed a dramatic shift in American society. Advancements in fields like science, technology, and engineering pushed American industrialization forward. These fields of study provided the foundation blocks that allowed the Industrial Revolution to take off. Because of these advancements, canals, railroads, locomotives, and coal could be pursued with greater tenacity and success than ever before. There were many other impressive innovations during the Industrial Revolution, but canals, railroads, locomotives, and coal were all influential to the life of Asa Packer, the industrialist. With the gradual advances of new technology, America began to adopt a new economic philosophy that focused on the mass manufacturing of products. For many ordinary Americans, this meant a move away from agricultural jobs and an increase in positions of wage labor in urban areas or industrial centers.

Although railroads rapidly overtook canals as the primary mode for transporting the materials of industrialized America, many people resisted the switch. Some of the first railroads in both Great Britain and the United States were made of wooden tracks and the cost of building and operating a railroad exceeded that of a canal. However, these early railroads would eventually be transformed by the introduction of steam-powered locomotives and steel rails. Asa Packer was one of the earliest Americans to realize the potential that railroads would have and he prospered greatly in the railroad industry. There is some speculation that Asa Packer attended the first public display of an operational locomotive in the United States in 1829, the British built Stourbridge Lion. Perhaps this event influenced his insistence that railroads were to be the means of transportation in the future.

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