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The Problems of New Industrial Societies

After the feudal system was purged, new sets of problems began to arise for the newly formed industrial societies. Many of the very basic elements of modern political and economic systems had gradually emerged on their own. Since the transition to industrial society came about somewhat subtly, many of the problems that began to appear were unexpected. Factors of life that had not been problems in feudal societies became enormous problems for early industrial societies.

Another of the many small children working in Mollahan Mills. Newberry, S.C., 12/03/1908.

Another of the many small children working in Mollahan Mills.
Newberry, S.C., 12/03/1908.
Photo: Lewis Wickes Hine.
Department of Commerce and Labor. Children's Bureau.
National Archives and Records Administration.
Still Picture Branch; College Park, Maryland.

The source of many of the problems that emerged with industrialization was that now few people possessed the materials of production. Companies that employed workers for wages now owned the materials of production, or capital. Workers were highly dependent on the companies and could not sustain life without their jobs. In order to increase profits, many companies exploited their workers. Instances of child labor involving small children were common in the early days of the Industrial Revolution.

Prince Street in New York City, Circa 1900.

Prince Street in New York City, Circa 1900.
National Archives and Records Administration.
Still Picture Branch; College Park, Maryland.

Another set of problems that emerged as societies industrialized resulted from the increasing population densities in industrial communities. Before industrialization, peasants lived in sparsely populated agricultural arrangements and there were not many large cities. As industries began to grow, many cities grew very rapidly and company towns began to spring up. Sanitation suddenly became a huge problem and many industrial cities were filthy with few provisions for sewage, refuse or drinking water.

United States Steel Corporation Coke Plant In A Valley Surrounded By Homes At Clairton, Pennsylvania 20 Miles South Of Pittsburgh. 04/1973.

United States Steel Corporation Coke Plant In A Valley Surrounded By Homes At Clairton, Pennsylvania 20 Miles South Of Pittsburgh. 04/1973.
Photo: John L. Alexandrowicz.
Environmental Protection Agency.
National Archives and Records Administration.
Still Picture Branch; College Park, Maryland.

Soon, industrial environmental pollution became an enormous problem also. This was especially serious when a company was engaged in processes that created toxic products and byproducts. In many industrial areas, the air became unbreathable and the water became undrinkable. The air in many industrial cities was frequently so smoky that visibility was never more than a few hundred feet. New manufacturing processes that created valuable chemicals like nitroglycerin had frequent mishaps thereby making retirement plans unnecessary.