Since New England and America in general entered into the Industrial Revolution later than England, there had already been a precedent set about what such a new way of living entailed. Stories of the changes, both positive and negative, about life in England for those working in factories and industry eventually were heard in the colonies and this enabled the American Industrial Revolution to prevent some of the mistakes made in Europe, particularly as they pertain to the family unit within the paradigm of industry. For instance, in response to the negative associations many colonists and early New Englanders already had about industry and its negative impacts on the family, several early factories on the East Coast, particularly those in the mill and textile sectors of the economy, instituted measures to prevent negative perceptions.

“To dispel the impression created by English factories that factory work was degrading and exploitative, many early textile manufacturers hired whole families for their mills, while others hired young women and set up special dormitories and boardinghouses to provide their employees with surrogate families" (Mintz 1989:94). Still, while these efforts to put a gentler face on industrialization were noble, the fact remains that the American family was forever changed, in some cases for the worst, as a result of the industrialization and move away from the family as the core central unit. To counter this, “In many early textile mills, factory owners permitted employees to select their children as assistants or apprentices and parents were able to work alongside their children. Since child labor was supervised by parents, traditional relations between family members were not radically altered" (Mintz :94).

Unfortunately, while this effort during the time of the Industrial Revolution in New England and America may have worked on a small scale, it was not the norm for very long. This was an early effort of New England manufacturing outfits to escape the negative connotations but eventually, competition by other manufacturers and the logistical and cost-related problems drove this practice almost out of existence. While the severity of problems immediately associated with growth and industrialization may not have been quite as exaggerated and horrific as they were in the early to middle phases of England’s revolution, there were still plenty of problems—one of which was the inability of companies to avoid resorting to the same practices (and thus mistakes) of their English counterparts.

The influences of the changes made to family structures in America that began in New England can still be seen in some ways today. Currently, American families tend to be more fragmented. For example, it is very common for a set of parents to have one daughter living on one cost and a son on another—all because of individual educational and career goals. “The members of the family no longer work together at the same jobs. They work apart at greatly diversified tasks. Their interests are also diversified, each making his own friends among those with whom he works. The family seeks recreation not as a household group but as individuals, each one with his own friends or alone outside the home" (Gray 1992: 247). The cultural shifts and norms created by the early American Industrial Revolution have also influenced the way we perceive children and how they are valued according to potential as opposed to their potential benefit to the family micro-economy. In short, the Industrial Revolution in early America created a standard of the American family that has not entirely disappeared—it is a standard of hard work, individuality, and in some cases, an equal amount of importance dedicated to career and family.

Other essays and articles in the History Archives related to this topic include : American History Since 1865: Major Events and TrendsAnalysis and Summary of “The Classic Slum” by Robert RobertsThe Economics of Socialism: An Historical PerspectiveMarx and Locke: Comparison of Views on Government, Property and Labor

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