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Social Development: North and South, The Growth of Cities
early republic, shipping center, American market, Lowell, American city
In the 1820s the urban population of the United States began growing faster than the rural population, and from 1820 to 1870 American cities grew faster than they ever had or ever would again. For the most part, that explosive urban growth was driven by the commercialization of agriculture.
In the early republic every American city was an Atlantic seaport engaged in international trade. After 1820 new inland towns and cities rose up to serve farmers’ commercial operations. The fastest growing urban area in the country in the 1820s, for instance, was Rochester, New York, a flour–milling and shipping center serving the farmers of western New York. In subsequent decades western cities such as Cincinnati and Chicago grew quickly. At the same time, towns devoted to manufacturing for rural markets across the nation—towns such as Lowell, Massachusetts—grew at an almost equal rate.
Even in the old seaports, the fastest growing sectors of the economy were not in the docks and warehouses of the old mercantile economy but in neighborhoods devoted to manufacturing for the American market, or among wholesalers who served that market. The huge internal market provided by northern and western farm families was by far the biggest source of urban growth in these years.
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