Antebellum Technology

This inquiry focuses on the question of whether Antebellum technology made life better overall for people and how certain inventions impacted groups of people differently. Four innovations—the cotton gin, mechanical reaper, steamboat, and steam locomotive—were particularly impactful in the 19th century. These inventions came about quickly as part of the First Industrial Revolution, which was marked by the movement from hand production to machine work. Many scholars view James Hargreaves’ 1760s invention of yarn-spinning machine, the spinning jenny, as the start of the Industrial Revolution. From that point forward, new technologies came along quickly. Beginning in in the 1790s, four inventions, the cotton gin, the mechanical reaper, the steamboat, and the steam locomotive, provided the impetus for rapid economic development for some, while at the same time increasing inequality and suffering for many.