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From “10 Footers” to Factories: Industrial Growth in the Antebellum North
Content Session Material

Theme: An Industrious People: American Economic History
Topic:  From 10-Footers to Factories: Industrial Growth in the Antebellum North
Date: Summer 2005
Scholar: Andrew Darien, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of History, Salem State College

Overview | Required Reading | Reading Questions

Materials selected and syllabus compiled by Andrew Darien, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of History, Salem State College (


There is perhaps no idea more central to American identity than that of independence, and no  historical epoch in which that mythology was translated into reality for so many Americans as the early nineteenth century.  The wide availability of land and capital afforded individual Americans the opportunity to operate, largely, though not exclusively, on a self sufficient basis.  Cheap land and access to capital created opportunities for economic independence, while ideals of democracy allowed for the extension of suffrage to white men.  Although historians rightfully have ascribed Thomas Jefferson’s dream of agrarian individualism to American farmers, the ideal resonated with and was shared by workers, artisans, craftsmen, and shopkeepers.  The family run “ten footers” of the Northeast allowed men of modest means, through diligence, to establish their own businesses, practice their craft with dignity, accumulate wealth, and, most important, to exercise their will in the marketplace as individual actors.  In this session, we will examine the ways in which the industrial revolution and creation of factories that began around 1815 profoundly altered this version of the American dream, particularly for workers and shopkeepers. The session will scrutinize industrialization’s impact on the workplace, but also on social structure, values, and traditions.  Alan Dawley’s Class and Community will enable us to examine this phenomenon among shoemakers in Lynn, and the way in which they responded to the crisis of industrial capitalism by articulating a moral critique of it through equal rights ideology.  We also will evaluate two twentieth century children’s books by Virginia Lee Burton--The Little House and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel–that express similar dismay with the new industrial order.  Finally, the session will delineate the historiography of the market revolution and industrialization, explaining the ways in which historians have sought to understand these phenomena. 

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Burton, Virginia Lee. The Little House. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1978. (originally published 1942)

Burton, Virginia Lee. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1939.

*Dawley, Alan. Class and Community: The Industrial Revolution in Lynn. 25th Anniversary Edition. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2000. (originally published 1975)


Temin, Peter. “The Industrialization of New England.” In Peter Temin ed. Engines of Enterprise: An Economic History of New England. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2000.

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1. How did the transition from commercial to industrial capitalism affect opportunities for shopkeepers in Lynn?  How did the nature of shoemaking change once work went from ten footers to factories?  Did it entail a foreclosing of the American dream, or rather a redefinition of it?

2. What was the ideology of “equal rights” that was articulated by the shoemakers of Lynn? How did it allow them to critique the new industrial order? Was this a fair critique?

3. How does Dawley define community, and why is that an important concept in understanding industrialization?  Are industrialization and community compatible? 

4. What does Dawley mean when he writes that “the ballot box was the coffin of class consciousness?”  What evidence does he provide for this claim?  Do you agree with his assessment?  Why or why not?

5. What role does industrialization play in The Little House and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel?  How does the introduction of new technology, urbanization, and mass production reshape these worlds?  What resolution to the problems of industrialization does Burton offer in each of these narratives?  Are they realistic?   Why or why not?

6. How has the changing nature of technology and the organization of work in our own lifetime affected the quality of the workplace and opportunities for independence? 

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