American Industry Tour
The American Industry Tour showcases the industrial heritage of the north-eastern United States. As many other historical trails in North America, the tour follows migration routes from east to west, with a chronology from colonial times to the present day. Starting in Boston in the 17th and 18th centuries, we visit the 19th century factory clusters around Albany and New York City, and carry on through industrial regions of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan, which had their heyday during the 20th century, ending in Chicago.
The rather small area along this trail contains much of America's industrial heritage, with a majority of the country's industry-related National Historic Landmarks, National Historic Sites and National Historical Parks. Many of the rest are in Minnesota.
From 1776 to 1945, the United States transformed from an agrarian country of 2½ million inhabitants to the world's leading superpower, and the home of 140 million people. Most feats of innovation and engineering happened in the north-east. However, the Industrial Revolution began in the United Kingdom, which held eastern North America as a colony (see Early United States history). In the Market Revolution during the early 19th century, the textile business was an early adopter of industrial processes.
From the mid-19th century, steam-powered factories became more common, and railroads started replacing canals and roads as main transport routes. During the American Civil War, the industries of the Northeast were mobilized to produce arms, supplies and ships, contributing to the Union victory. The colonization of the Old West truly began during the War, as the Southern secession from Congress allowed investment in rail lines and other colonization policies. See Industrialization of the United States for a guide to the political, social and cultural history of the whole country from the 1860s to the 1940s.
The late 19th century was called the Gilded Age, with a rising capitalist class, and increased corruption, especially in large industrial cities. The turn of the century saw the rise of organized labor, not least in Chicago. The early 20th century was known as the Progressive Era, with labor reforms, antitrust laws, and women's suffrage.
World War I again increased demand for military supplies. The automobile had its breakthrough during the Roaring Twenties, and Detroit became known as the Motor City. The 1929 Wall Street Crash caused the Great Depression, which hit the north-east hard, though the New Deal during the 1930s provided some relief. As World War II in Europe began in 1939, the USA supplied the Allies with arms. The 1941 Pearl Harbor attack brought America into the Pacific War, and brought large-scale industrial mobilization. After the war ended in 1945, industry shifted to consumer products. Since the 1960s, Northeastern industries have been downsizing, moving south, west, and abroad, causing unemployment and urban decay, causing the region to be renamed the Rust Belt. Though the 2000s financial crisis hit industrial towns hard, some of them are revitalizing today. See also Post-war United States.
The journey is around 1,250 miles (2,000 km) in total. By car, the trip takes around a week (or two, as long if all venues are visited). However, as railroads were an integral part of industrialization, and most of the sights are in major cities, many legs of the tour can be done by rail.
Day 1: Boston areaOur chronology starts in the 17th century in Boston, Massachusetts, where some industries could be found already during the Colonial era.
Before the Age of Steam, industry took use of rivers for propulsion and transport. The humid climate of New England allowed many waterwheel-powered workshops. The textile mills used locally produced flax and wool, as well as cotton from the South. New England also has abundant wood, and enough iron ore was available for the first metalworking industries.
phone: +1 508 747-4544address: 6 Spring LnFormerly known as the Jenny Grist Mill but now affiliated with Plimoth Plantation. An authentic working mill rebuilt on the site of the original 1636 mill. Tours and exhibits.
Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site, Massachusettsphone: +1 781-233-0050The site of the first integrated ironworks in North America (1646-1668). It includes the reconstructed blast furnace, forge, rolling mill, and a restored 17th-century house. As one of the first known industrial facilities on the continent, this is a good place to start our voyage.
USS Salem & the U.S. Naval Shipbuilding Museumphone: +1 617 479-7900address: 739 Washington StThe USS Salem is a 716-foot -long US Navy Heavy Cruiser Gunship and is the world's only example of that class of ship. The Salem was among the most advanced war ships of her day and served until 1959. She is now permanently moored at the place of her birth, the former Fore River Shipyard in historic Quincy. The ship is also home to the US Naval Shipbuilding museum and has on display thousands of items relating to Naval history and shipbuilding. Summer daily 10AM-5PM; Winter Sa,Su 10AM-4PM. General Admission $5, children under 4 free, Active Duty Military free. Group guided tours are available with a reservation.
The Quincy QuarriesThe Quincy Quarries have supplied granite to Boston and buildings around the world with the tell-tale 'fingers' and bluish color. Now, they are empty and great places to hike or take a walk during the day. Some areas are filled with color by generations of teenagers' graffiti, others are used for rockclimbing, and you can walk down the Granite Railway, one of the first railroads in the United States, incorporated in 1826, an ox-drawn train to transport granite to the harbor for transportation to Boston or further.
Lowell National Historical Park, Massachusettsphone: +1 978 970-5000address: 67 Kirk StreetLowell had watermill-powered workshops already in the 18th century, and was an early planned industrial city. Contains the Lowell Power Canal System and Pawtucket Gatehouse. Open year round. 9AM-5PM (Summer to 5:30PM). Commemorates the history of the American Industrial Revolution in Lowell. Includes the Boott Cotton Mills Museum, textile mills, canals, worker houses, and 19th-century commercial buildings. See also the American Textile History Museum and the Seashore Trolley Museum.
Boston Navy Yard, Boston/Charlestown, MassachusettsWe jump forward in time for a while, to see a more modern part of Boston's industrial heritage. From its foundation in 1801 until its decline past World War II and the final decommission in 1974, it built and maintained much of the US Navy.
Waltham, MassachusettsA suburb of Boston, with the remnants of the Boston Manufacturing Company. A center for the American textile industry already in the early 18th century, and the birthplace of the Waltham System; an early version of the assembly line. In the 19th century, Waltham Watch Company made the city known as the Watch City. The car company Metz made the first American Motorcycles here.
Charles River Museum Of Industryphone: +1 781 893-5410address: 154 Moody StreetExhibits on textile mills, American Waltham Watch Company and a power plant.
phone: +1 781-893-8017 or +1 781-893-9020address: 25 Lexington StreetAn extensive collection of memorabilia including watches, clocks, automobiles and other industrial products made in Waltham. Fee.
- From Plymouth to Hampton Roads is a historical itinerary through Philadelphia and Washington D.C., which showcases colonial and antebellum history.
- Touring Shaker country: The Shakers are a Christian sect, which played an important role in the early industrialization of America.
Day 2: Upper Massachusetts
phone: +1 508 753-8278address: 30 Elm StSmall museum in a beautiful old building that presents the city's history. Worcester Historical Museum features a rotating art exhibit and a section dedicated to the various manufacturing industries that built the city. Also has a room dedicated to the "smiley face," which was invented in Worcester.
Old Sturbridge Villageaddress: 1 Old Sturbridge Village RoadSturbridge's biggest draw, this living history museum promotes learning about the early 1800s through fun, hands-on activities. Great interpretive programs. Special and seasonal programs help people experience historical New England. There are reenactments of previous time period wars, as well as activities that were going on around the early 1800s. It is a great way to get the visitors involved as well as just allowing for a great show.
Springfield Armory, MassachusettsA firearms factory operating from 1777 until 1968.
Museum of Our Industrial Heritageaddress: 2 Mead Street
Berkshire Scenic Railway MuseumA heritage railway.
Ventfort Hall Gilded Age MansionA historic Jacobean-style mansion and museum, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can tour the mansion and learn about the changes that occurred in American life, industry, and society during the late 19th-century period known as the Gilded Age.
Day 3: Upstate New YorkThe Mid-Atlantic had thriving industrial cities even before the Civil War. Their productivity helped bring the Union to victory. Many immigrants from Ireland, Italy and Eastern Europe settled here. Since the 1960s manufacturing crisis, many industrial buildings have been redeveloped for other purposes, such as hospitality, entertainment and residential areas.
Connecting itinerary: The Erie Canal was New York State's main transport route before the railroads, connecting upstate industrial cities such as Syracuse and Buffalo to the Atlantic.
address: 9097 State Route 30 Blue Mountain Lake
Harmony Mills, CohoesThe largest cotton mill complex in the world when it opened in 1872.
Watervliet ArsenalOpened in 1813, this is the oldest continuously active arsenal in the United States.
TroyTroy flourished throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries and though deindustrialized like most of the rest of the North, has what's probably the best-preserved collection of grand 19th-century big-city buildings in the country.
phone: +1 518 274-5267address: 1 East Industrial PkwySchedule a tour for a crash course in area history.
phone: +1 518 266-5111address: 1 Buffington St, WatervlietFor military history buffs.
AlbanyA center for the wood, paper and print industry, with many of the nation's first high-rise buildings. Owes its importance at least in part to the Erie Canal.
Schenectady Museumphone: +1 518-382-7890address: 15 Nott Terrace Hts, 12308The Schenectady Museum & Suits-Bueche Planetarium celebrate science, invention, and imagination. The museum explores the area’s rich technological heritage, with some of the region’s finest interactive exhibits. The museum also has an extensive General Electric collection.
Kingston (New York)An industrial town with the Catskill Mountain Railroad.
PoughkeepsieAn 18th-century town with some early industrial heritage.
phone: +1 845 454-4500address: 2683 South RdThe former estate of Samuel F.B. Morse, whose patent of the electromagnetic telegraph revolutionized human communication. Set on 150 acres, the Italianate villa was designed by architect Alexander Jackson Davis.
Day 4: Metropolitan New York
Meatpacking Districtaddress: Manhattan/Chelsea, New York CityFrom the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, this district supplied New York City with meat. Today, most buildings and infrastructure remains, reconditioned for other purposes.
address: 75 9th AveThe original Oreo cookie factory is now a block-sized market selling gourmet foods, flowers, and knick-knacks, and offering restaurants, bars, art space and special shows. Has free wireless Internet access throughout and smells like a slice of heaven.
phone: +1 212-500-6035address: Runs mostly along 10th Avenue from 34th Street south to Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District, with access points at Gansevoort, 14th, 16th, 18th, 20th, 23rd, 26th, 28th, 30th, and 34th StreetsBuilt on a defunct elevated railroad that runs 30 feet (9 m) above the streets, the repurposing of the rail line as a park has made it the focus of major development in the neighborhood. There are plenty of plantings and art installations along the park as it winds its way between (and through!) buildings, and walking the stretch offers some pretty unique views over the streets of Manhattan.
address: New York CityThe former Asch Building, known today as the Brown Building, was the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, one of the deadliest industrial disasters in the history of the United States, whose aftermath would eventually lead to a massive overhaul of fire safety legislation throughout the country. Today the building houses the biology and chemistry departments of New York University (NYU) and cannot be entered by the general public, though a plaque commemorating the disaster has been installed on the outside of the building, and is the site of a memorial service held every year in memory of the fire victims.
DUMBOaddress: Brooklyn/Downtown, New York CityIndustrial buildings redeveloped for more urban purposes.
Clark Thread Company Historic Districtaddress: Newark, New JerseyThread factory opened in 1875.
Silk Cityaddress: Paterson, New Jersey"The Silk City" was the nation's first planned industrial city.
Speedwell Ironworksaddress: Speedwell Village, Morristown, New JerseyThe first demonstration of the Morse telegraph took place here.
address: New JerseyA former transportation hub, with five train lines and 3 canals coming together.
Day 5: Eastern Pennsylvania
Philadelphia Navy YardAn industrial zone under redevelopment.
BethlehemThe city was industrialized already before the Civil War; it is best known for the Bethlehem Steel Company, once the country's second-largest steel manufacturer, which was dismantled during the 2000s. The main industrial area has been transformed to a casino resort.
National Museum of Industrial Historyphone: +1 610-694-6644address: 602 E. Second StA Smithsonian affiliate dedicated to preserving America's rich industrial heritage. Exhibits on steel-making and manufacturing.
phone: +1 610 432-4200address: 5 N. Front StreetMuseum showing the history of wheeled transportation.
Coplay Cement Company Kilns
Hopewell Furnace National Historic SiteA blast furnace founded in 1771, which was used up to the Civil War.
Day 6: Central Pennsylvania
Steamtown National Historic Siteaddress: Cliff Street west of Lackawanna AvenueThe Steamtown National Historic Site offers tours of a train yard, locomotives, etc. GPS will take you to 150 S Washington Avenue, but there is no public access at that address.
phone: +1 570 963-6590address: 300 Cliff StCliff Street. On the site of the Steamtown National Historic Site. Offers trolley rides 9AM-5PM W-Su through October and on selected weekends afterwards. Check site for specifics. The Electric City Trolley Museum Association is a volunteer non-profit group that supports the activities of the Electric City Trolley Museum in downtown Scranton. The Electric City Trolley museum is closely affiliated with the Steamtown National Historic Site.
phone: +1 570 963-3208address: 159 Cedar AveVisitors' center open seasonally. Blast furnaces built between 1848 and 1857. The Scranton Iron Furnaces is located near the Steamtown National Historic Site. The Iron Furnaces represent the early iron industry in the United States. There are four massive stone blast furnaces that still remain at the historic site and are the sole remnants of a once extensive plant operated by the Lackawanna Iron & Steel Company.
Golden Age Air MuseumA broad collection of aircraft. Biplane rides are offered.
Hershey's Chocolate WorldGreat for children. A free tour experience shows the workings of how cocoa beans become Hershey's chocolate. The tour ends with a free sample. Other attractions available at Hershey's chocolate world include a "factory works" experience, a Trolley tour of the town, a food court, a 3D show, and shops with souvenirs and plenty of Hershey's products. price varies.
HarrisburgA cluster for iron and steel production during the late 19th century, with several museums and tours. Infamous in later times for the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear incident.
The State Museum of Pennsylvaniaphone: +1 717-787-4980address: 300 North StA museum with a variety of exhibitions about Pennsylvania's history.
Harley Davidson Factory TourThe legendary American motorcycles are assembled here.
Wolfgang Candy Company Factory Touraddress: 50 E. 4th AveTake the Wolfgang Factory Tour! Free samples of chocolate on the tour and discounted chocolate for sale at the end.
Day 7: Western Pennsylvania
Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum (in Maryland)A railroad museum.
Allegheny Portage RailroadA railroad, operating 1834 to 1854, which became an early gateway between the Atlantic and the Midwest. Contains the Staple Bend Tunnel; the first American railroad tunnel.
Carrie Furnace, RankinOperated from 1884 until 1982.
PittsburghThe "Steel City" was once at the core of American industry, and the seat for United States Steel, at its time the world's largest corporation. Though many steel mills have closed down during the 20th century, Pittsburgh has revitalized its industrial heritage.
Senator John Heinz History Centerphone: +1 412 454-6000address: 1212 Smallman StAn affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution and the largest history museum in Pennsylvania. Featuring 6 floors of permanent and changing exhibitions, this museum gives a very detailed look at the past 250 years in Western Pennsylvania, with displays on Pittsburgh-area innovations, people, and industries. Notable exhibits include artifacts from the French & Indian War, a hall dedicated to the Heinz company, a room full of old vehicles, and the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum - a two story exhibit dedicated to a wide variety of Pittsburgh-area sport legends.
TitusvilleThe birthplace of American oil industry, with the Drake Well Museum.
Day 8: OhioThe rich natural resources, such as grain, iron, coal, wood and hydroelectric power, together with the Great Lakes, the Erie Canal, and the Mississippi river system, allowed the Midwest cities to boom during the Industrial Revolution. Since World War II, manufacturing has declined, and the region is today known as the "Rust Belt", with high unemployment and urban decay.
Youngstown (Ohio)The Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor can be found here.
American Toy Marble Museum, AkronThis museum preserves and disseminates the history of the American toy industry in the city where it all started: Akron, Ohio.
Cleveland, OhioThe birthplace of Standard Oil, the Rockefeller dynasty, and the early motor industry. The country's fifth largest city during the 1920s. As most other cities in the once industrial heartland it has fallen to a "rust belt" image, but a revitalization is underway and the somewhat negative reputation of the city is almost entirely undeserved.
Mad River Railroad MuseumA railroad museum.
Day 9: Michigan
DetroitThe "motor city", the name "Detroit" was long a metonym for the US automobile industry. As the industry downsized since the late 20th century and population moved to the suburbs, much of the city lies deserted. The already-struggling city was hit hard by the housing crash of 2007/2008; though there are signs of recovery and "new urbanism", a long way remains to go.
phone: +1 313 240-4000address: 21400 Oakwood Blvd.
phone: +1 313 982-6001address: 20900 Oakwood Blvd.This is a "must see". A massive historical and entertainment complex, a leading attraction with a keen focus on innovations. Consists of four separate attractions—the Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, a tour of the Ford Rouge Factory, and an IMAX theater. Highlights include: Lincoln's chair, Rosa Parks' bus, JFK's limos, Thomas Edison's last breath hermetically sealed in a test tube, original historic structures, nice shops, great food, and, not surprisingly, a spectacular history of the automobile collection that is a football field long. Visitors may have many entertaining experiences such as mini-shows, music, parades, train rides, and Model T rides. Visitors should plan at least one full day for the village, and another full day for the museum.
Highland Park Ford PlantThe second production site for the Ford Model T.
phone: +1 248-944-0439address: 1 Chrysler DrSixty-five historic vehicles on three floors; history of Chrysler, AMC and their predecessors. On Chrysler corporate campus, available for groups and meeting rentals but not otherwise open to the public. On rare occasions, a group may rent the facility for an event (such as the annual CEMA car show in June) to which the public is invited; this might be the only window for public museum visits.
phone: +1 810 237-3450address: 1221 E. Kearsley StSloan Museum and the Buick Gallery & Research Center are devoted to the documentation and interpretation of local history. The Buick Gallery and Research Center one block away at 303 Walnut Street features several dozen classic GM cars, including several concept designs.
R.E. Olds Transportation Museum, Lansing (Michigan)A museum dedicated to the founder of Oldsmobile, which was later bought by GM and was for years a popular US auto brand. Many traces of R.E. Olds still remain in Lansing. The tallest building in the city, the Boji Tower (noted for its large red clock), was built as the Olds Tower, after its major financier, R.E. Olds. The area near the location of an old Olds factory is now called REO Town, after R.E. Olds. The Lansing Lugnuts, a minor league baseball team plays in a stadium formerly known as Oldsmobile park near downtown Lansing.
Day 10: Chicago
Historic Pullman District
Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago/Hyde_Parkphone: +1 773 684-1414address: 5700 S Lake Shore Dr & E 57th StSpend hours upon hours looking at really cool stuff you never even knew you didn't know about. So much to do, so little time. You can return for free the following day if you take your ticket to "Will Call" on the way out on your first day. Great for kids, with many hands-on exhibits and the famous Coal Mine; adults will enjoy the display of the German U-boat 'U-505'. The immense, beautiful building was itself built as part of the White City in 1893, and is the last of the grand buildings left in Hyde Park.
phone: +1-312-642-4600address: 1601 N Clark StA creative urban history museum. Exhibits include The Pioneer, the first railroad locomotive to operate in Chicago, and the bed upon which Abraham Lincoln died; more fun for kids is the Chicago-style Hot Dog showcase, which supplies all the giant plastic ingredients you'll need to turn yourself (or your little brother) into a life-sized hot dog (no ketchup, of course). They also host regular tours of different CTA lines and walking tours of Lincoln Park and Old Town.
America's center of gravity for population and industry moved on to the southwest, with especially California as the new land of opportunity, together with the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest and Texas. Minneapolis/St. Paul, St Louis, Kansas City, Milwaukee and Denver are some other important industrial cities in middle America. Historically, the iron ore for all that steel came primarily from Northeastern Minnesota, and a considerable amount of ore is still shipped out of Duluth and adjacent Superior. The whole region has numerous active mines and exhibits of its industrial past. Before the advent of the Interstate Highway System there were just a few highways and railroads across the Rocky Mountains, and only the elite could afford air travel. Some of the classical routes are still available today:
- Empire Builder has run from Chicago to Seattle since 1929.
- California Zephyr, a streamliner train service opened in 1949 across scenic terrain, to the San Francisco Bay Area.
- Lincoln Highway (1913-1930), the first transcontinental highway, reaches San Francisco. These named auto trails predated the 1926 US Highway System.
- Route 66 (1926-1985) was the legendary highway that connected Chicago to Los Angeles. It was replaced, piece-by-piece, by the Interstate system (established in 1956) with the last segment bypassed near Williams (Arizona) in 1984.
- Industrial Britain
- The Jazz Track
- Northeast China, another rust belt
- Route der Industriekultur, a similar route in Germany
- Underground Railroad