Turning Points in American History
audio course of Professor E. T. O'Donnell
Summary by
W. Antoniotti

See Next Turning Point?  How Democracies Die 4 min video

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 Updated 5/3/18  
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A Turning Point is a society takes a new historically significant trajectory creating a new historical reality. It may be marked by the  emergence of a new technology and the establishment of a new ideal. The impact may be immediate or develop of time. Editor's Note: These very brief written do little justice to the fascinating lectures available through The Great Courses. Consider using them for an Internet research/writing assignment. 
Return to Part 1 The Colonial Period

I am cleaning this up a bit for
phone viewing in horizontal mode.


Part 3 Growing a Nation

11. A 1789 Brain Drain Begins US Industrial Revolution
14. A Transportation Revolution for a Growing Nation
20. Mexican War, Expansion Becomes Manifest Destiny

28. War With Spain Means Manifest Destiny Rides Again

1872 Open Spaces—The National Parks
1903 Transportation Revolution 2
1909 Scourge of the South—Hookworm Expands Government


Part 4 Protecting a Divided Nation 
A Changing Culture   
Teacher Sponsored Opened Ended Class Contest to Complete Part 3, 4 and 5.  $1000 Plus Scholarships. Teacher, Principle or Superintendent Should Contact Walter Antoniotti
at antonw@ix,netcom.com  Students decide what the project is, when completed and if/when submitted to textbooksfree for Internet publication. I will help if asked.

11. A 1789 Brain Drain Begins
 US Industrial Revolution

The late eighteenth century was an economy made up of skilled artisans called master craftsmen. They made products like shoes, bread, wagons...and often sold them in a shop attached to their home. They were helped by apprentices who began at about age twelve. Successful apprentices took a test at 21 and passing made them a journeyman and able to work for others. Successful journeymen who saved enough of their earnings could join an association as a master craftsman. It was a simple existence with working based on demand and setting your own hours. This system had not changed much in about two hundred years.

Samuel Slater had apprenticed in England's textile manufacturing industry using the modern  spinning frame. Good at mechanics, he learned to build the machines and became a manager. Too much competition in  England resulted in the twenty-one year old   immigrating g to Philadelphia. Textiles Machinery and design plan were banned by Britain so Sam committed the plans to memory.

He answers a 1789 ad from  textile manufacturer Moses Brown who thought textile manufacturing was the next big thing.  But he was failing. The  arrangement could not have been more successful and in 1790 the result was a water powered textile mill. Machinery improvements followed. Expansion followed with a new 1793 factory because sales had become regional and over 20 years seven more factories were built. By 1816 there were 165 factories in Southern New England. 

Eli Whitney's 1794 cotton gin  added to the process and created a north-south connection.

Wealthy Bostonian Francis Cabot Lowell went to England and learned all the latest milling technique. He returned and formed a corporation which set up the soon to be world renown  Waltham-Lowell system. Many young country girls [shown here, click to enlarge] as they were called went for the cultured city life.  They could also increase   marriage prospects by growing a diary. Factory owners took a paternalistic approach to mill operations. Girls lived in well chaperoned dormitories, attended church regularly... Owners hoped to create the opposite of the intolerable conditions of coal dependent soot laden English factories. This positive environment added to cost. In early 19th century capitalism competition did not allow having higher cost so the attempt for to create an ideal work experience failed completely until early in the 20th century when government involvement began reforms.

Some trades didn't wait for technology to make the necessary machines to modernize their business. They copied the new process. For example master craftsmen making shoes added price competition to their quality competition. How? Expensive journeyman were replaced by  apprentices who did just one part of the process. Cheaper than journeymen they were paid a low market wage and not a just wage. Capitalism now required new rules. Price competition meant lower cost which meant lower wages and  more  technology which meant innovation which meant broader markets. For most producers this would all centered on profit maximization. Editor's Note: Today outsourcing and free trade agreements perform the these same functions that are needed to maintain profit.


The Industrial Revolution
Changed the Direction of Society

1) Values changed and consumerism replaced republican simplicity as cheaper more diverse advertised goods were sought by most people.

2 Health improved with more food, better medicine which extended life expectancy.

3) Family farms began to disappear as agriculture become technologically dependent.

4) Gender Spheres changed as work moved from the home to town creating different work spaces.

5) Education was reshaped along factory lines with ordered classes, set schedules and BELLS. 

6) Printed materials for politics, books, sheet music all got cheaper.

7) Pianos and later the phonograph became inexpensive home entertainment.

8) Rapid urbanization as those living in cities rose from 5% to over fifty percent.






14. A Transportation Revolution for a Growing Nation

Transportation in early America was expensive.  An 1810 Boston stagecoach company advertized that in only 12 hours their uncomfortable 57 mile buggy ride to Cape Cod cost only $50. 

Shipping a barrel of grain from Western Pennsylvania to Philadelphia cost more  than today's cost to send it from Philadelphia to London. The high transportation cost led to the Whiskey Rebellion. Why? It led  famers to make their own easy to transport alcohol and send it to Eastern cities. Profit ruled as farmers could convert 100 pounds of grain into ten gallons of whiskey, drink some as American's were big consumers of alcohol. Then they sold the remainder to Eastern cities where it sold for much more than unprocessed grain. So the whiskey tax hurt their main source of hard currency.  Large toll roads called turnpikes were being built but the were expensive and subject to the elements.

Robert Fulton's remarkable steamboat of 1807 went 150 miles up the Hudson River  

from NYC to Albany in just 32 hours. Robert had concurred nature and ignited the Transportation Revolution as he built the world's first thriving steamboat company. In 1811 Fulton added a steamboat to the Mississippi starting a steam boat boom as shippers could easily move goods up river creating a cost saving balanced two-way transportation system. Soon great cities like St. Louise and Cincinnati were built as part of the transportation system.

Short canals were soon built between to connect rivers. Industry expansion in Great Britain had  built 100 major cannels between 1760 and 1820. In 1817 cannel enthusiastic NY Governor Dewitt Clinton convinced skeptics to build  the 363 mile Erie Canal.

Derelict aqueduct over Nine Mile Creek north of Camillus, New York built in 1841 and abandoned c. 1918; one of 32 navigable aqueducts on the Erie Canal, it has since been restored. 

The cannel connected Lake Erie with the Hudson River where goods would travel to NY City. It would be the largest U.S. public works project until the 1950's never ending  Interstate Highway System. Travel time between Buffalo and NYC was reduced from 20 days to 6 days and cost reduced from $100 per ton to $15 per ton.  A resulting national cannel building craze by1840 had created 3,300 canal miles with more than half the funding coming from governments.

Canal were water related, expensive, slow to build, froze in winter, were affected by drought and soon would be relatively slow.  In what Joseph Schumpeter calls creative destruction, a national RR system soon cover twice that of cannels. Again governments participated as they contributed about 1/3 of the needed capital.




Transportation Revolution 
Changed Society's Speed

Economic growth became cheaper as movement of raw materials and goods lowered their price.

Big business grew as first the Rail Roads and then Steel needing much capital and modern business practices.

Culture changed as Americans became even more mobile.

Disease spread as people moved more easily and life expectancy dropped by 5 
years over 5 decades.

Politics changed as Whigs wanted government investment while Democrats wanted limited government.

Urban growth spread as people could live further from work.

Leisure expanded as amusement parks sprouted at the end of the RR lines plus many took day trips and vacations. Click to enlarge.

Unintended Consequences was the Demise of Native Americans as Western expansion was made easier.

20. Mexican War and Western Expansion
Becomes Manifest Destiny

Many of our early leaders wanted to expand the country and make its geographic greatness equal to her political greatness. Many citizens agreed.  Federalist Hamilton wanted an army to control the states and expand the country's boundaries. Republican Jefferson bought Louisiana from France. Republican Andrew Jackson took his army into Florida to fight Indians and the Spanish cut their loses and sold Republican President Monroe both Florida and New Orleans.

Manifest Destiny was a term coined in 1845  as some saw our expansion manifest i.e. obvious and our  destiny i.e. blessed by God. Many wanted an empire though later in the century staying close to home became politically correct.

Trouble began in 1835 as mostly American settlers in Northern Mexico were tired of Mexican rule and declared their independence. One of their concerns  was over slavery. Mexico would not allow slavery. The settles won a six month fight best remember for their loss at the Alamo . The republic of Texas soon was lobbing to join the union even though Mexico considered it still a territory. 

President Polk had campaigned for Texas being a state in 1846 and shortly after his election sent troops to southern Texas looking for trouble. He also sent a emissary to Mexico with a $25 million offer for Texas at Rio Grand plus much of the North West Mexico.  Mexico wasn't going to sell half her country and Polk became very aggressive militarily  causing incidents and soon he asked Congress to declare  war. A vigorous debate followed mostly over the question of slavery in the new territories.  Many opposed  slavery because it was out of step with the times and was inefficient compared to capitalism. They saw it as an embarrassment to the land of liberty, some thought it was immoral. Most didn't want immediate abolition; they wanted it bottled up in the South where it would  eventually whither away.  A young congressman named Abe Lincoln was in this group and he challenged the need for war with Mexico. Southern democrats pushed for the war so they could expand  the number of slave sates and gain congressional power.  The1846-48 Mexican  American War ended. Polk got his land.

Is an unintended consequence of Manifest Destiny 21st Century Terrorism_

Lecture 21 Go West, Young Man!


Like federal tariffs, which were to boost industry by protecting the business from foreign competition, the Homestead Act was used but the federal government to help people move Westward.

Government has always provided programs and policies to foster economic wellbeing.

First was Hamilton proposed to aid the nation's industries. His high tariffs protected American business from foreign competition and his government-financed transportation improvements were to Britain's manufacturing hold on America.

Built between 1811 and 1837, the 620-mile National Cumberland Gap Road connected the Potomac and Ohio Rivers. It was a main transport path Westward for thousands of settlers.



NY Governor Dewitt Clinton 1817 Erie Canal financing plan built opened the Great Lakes to Eastern business.

Opened in 1825, the ambitious Erie Canal NY state public works project was to enhance economic development and social improvement. It connected the Hudson River in Albany to Lake Erie in Buffalo. This opened the door of NY to the Great Lakes.

Newlands Reclamation Act of 1902  funded irrigation projects for Western sates and gave us Barry Goldwater.

More recently the Internet, are ways government assistance has business development

1862 The Homestead Act

At 2 a.m. on January 1st of 1863, Daniel Freeman took advantage of the Homestead Act. Some 417 others filed claims later that day with 1.5 million more filed over the next few decades. The rugged individualist archetype of Western settlers leaves out federal government  promoting settlement and treatment of the native population.

Land sales were a source of federal government revenue during the beginning decades of the new nation. Priced at $1 per acre with a 640-acre minimum, land was expensive. Westward migration was confined to east of the Mississippi River until the early 1800s when territorial acquisition opened up the West. Detailed accounts by [federally financed] explorers like Lewis and Clark allayed popular fears that the West was a perilous wilderness. But until 1854, the price of federal land remained high a $1.25 per acre.

Many Southerners feared that westward settlement would mean more free states so  three Homestead bills passed the House of Representatives in 1852, 1854, and 1859, but were voted down by the Senate. After secession, Northern Republicans passed  various acts aimed at expansion.

In 1862, the 37th Congress Settled the West

1) Pacific Railroad Acts promoted the construction of a "transcontinental railroad"  authorized government bonds and the grants of land to railroad businesses.

2) Morrill Land-Grant Acts provided grants of land to states to finance the establishment of colleges specializing in “agriculture and the mechanic arts.
Benefits include most inexpensive food on the planet and
Auburn University football.


3) The Homestead Act of 1862 provided 160 acres of free land to anyone willing to live on and improve it for five years. By 1934, more than 270 million acres, 10 percent of public land, had been given away. It was the  largest internal migration in U.S. history.  The last homestead was a 1976 claimed in Alaska by Kenneth Deardorff .

Most settlers were native-born white American males or single females who were landless laborers or farmers searching for larger holdings.Many African Americans  ex-slaves, took advantage, especially after violence against blacks soared in the mid-1870s. The 1880 population of Minnesota was 30 percent foreign-born. Many people moved west, but program flaws like inadequate safeguards against speculator scams and the varying quality of available land persisted.

Most American farmers were entrepreneurs seeking profits and national markets. Very few were subsistence farmers. Technology like the cotton gin, the mechanical reaper and the cast-steel plow played a crucial role in transforming the West. But investing in technology came with risk as the weather and Wall Street commodity prices
caused many farmers fell into in a spiral of debt.

Importantly, the Homestead Act helped propel America’s rise to industrial supremacy. By 1900, industrial output had soared by 584 percent and farm production rose 150 percent. Industrialization could not have happened without a massive increase in agricultural output to feed the increase, mostly immigrant, industrial work force.

28. War With Spain Means
Manifest Destiny Rides Again

Imperialism often called Colonialism is controlling another nation through territorial acquired or economic/political dominance. US had been isolationist since the time of Washington who in his farewell address warned the new nation to keep out of European entanglements. Why the turn from isolationism to internationalism and with it some imperialism. Six reasons are given.

Frontier Thesis resulted when the Census Bureau publish that the Frontier was closed; we had settled it.  Frederick Jackson Turner lamented with concerns that  the frontier had provided the country with the core values of  individualism, entrepreneurship, democracy, equality and freedom. Were we doomed with the lose of these traits. Internationalist said no, US power can establish new world-wide frontiers.


Security European powers were seizing key military points around the globe. Most US leaders agreed that at the least we needed a large Navy. Soon we had the world's 3rd largest Navy. Think 2015 China.


Need to expand markets. The Economic Panic of 1893 began a decade of mostly recession and leaders said markets were needed because of our increased productive ability.  Control of foreign markets would supply resources and provide markets for our goods. 

Marshal spirit and militarism was needed to maintain masculine vigor, so as not to become soft. TR strongly believed this idea.

White mans burden was borrowed from Great Britain who believed dark races live as savages and Imperial Powers must take up the white man's burden to civilize them because as primitives they couldn't  govern themselves and were wasted resources provide by God.

Crusader Nation meant we could no longer just lead by example. As a powerful nation we had a moral obligation to protect human rights. Think Bush 2 in Iraq.

This human rights needs arose in Cuba beginning with an 1868 rebellion which lasted 10 years. It was brutally put down by Spain.  A second 1895 rebellion resulted in President Cleveland receiving pressured from business wanting investment protection. Cuba had substantial economic potential and American investment dollars were significant and growing. New President McKinley tried to get Spain to lighten up but they wouldn't and then news of Spain's brutal  reconcentration camps where civilians were cut off from rebels hit the U.S.  newspapers.  Publisher  Hearst and Pulitzer knew a good story and their yellow press really dramatized the camp brutality against civilians. 


Then an explosion of the US Maine was assumed to be Spanish terrorism enraged the public. It didn't trigger a war but the pressure was on.  Eventually ultimatums were given. Spain agreed to close the camps and provide more independence but  McKinley wanted war a congress gave it to him.

The first battle was in the Philippines where that valuable Spanish colony was easily taken. TR resigned his assistant secretary of the navy and his Rough Riders' entered the fight. The famous picture of his regiment taking San Wan hill was really his taking the less important Kettle hill. A black regiment took the key San Wan hill but the press wanted to glorify TR. Soon key points fell and US also took Puerto Rico and was awarded Quam. 

A cropped version of the first image

Click picture for a slid show.

Cuba and Puerto wanted independence but US decided going slow was best. Cuba got some home rule but US would run the show for a few decades. In the Philippines this go slow attitude led to the bloody 1899-1902 Filipino insurrection  with about approximately 100,000 Filipinos killed.  

Many imperialist forays followed. In 1904 US fostered a Columbian rebellion  with the US getting control of newly formed Panama and soon we were building a cannel. In 1909, 1912 and 1926 US troops occupied Nicaragua. Think 2015 Russia in the 

The U.S. would be in and out of isolationism until the cold war.


Lecture 31 The Second Transportation Revolution

Ford Mode T became a fixture in American life leading to leading to a massive highway building program.

Designed in Europe using a steam-powered engines, automobiles prospered with the internal combustion engine and by 1889, gasoline-powered motor cars were being developed. Henry Ford, a machinist/mechanical engineer built his gas buggy in 1892. In The Model T came on 1908. It was a dependable, affordable, 4-cylinder, 20-horsepower car costing $825 for the masses. Ford further developed  mass production techniques and in in 1913, he made industrial history by establishing the moving assembly line cutting the time to make a Model T from 12.5 to 1.5 hours. Ford and his rivals using his copied techniques had, by 1920,  produced 8 million vehicles. Meanwhile, small-time automakers went out of business. By 1929, [creative destruction] left only the big three manufactures: Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. 

By 1925, the great capitalist innovations of consumer credit accounted for 75 percent of new car purchases. Consumer debt, planned obsolescence, annual styling innovations, and offering a wide range of product price lines would soon spread to the rest of American industry and became standard features of middle-class American life. The automobile has served as a symbol of freedom, a signifier of social and economic status, and expanding related industries—case, steel, glass, rubber, and petroleum; filling stations; auto dealerships and repair shops.

Modern aviation began with Orville with Wilbur Wright’s first 1903 Kitty Hawk, North Carolina flight.
The first human flight occurred in 1783 when two Frenchman traveled about 5.5miles in 20 minutes in a hot air balloon. By 1890, countless tinkerers were inching toward heavier-than-air human flight.

The Wright brothers were Ohio bicycle repairmen and Part-time inventors . They used business profits to fund their flight experiments focusing on the most difficult mechanical area— controlling the plane. Between 1899 and 1903, they built and tested several gliders and on December 17, 1903, Orville Wright took off in a manned airplane. It flew for 12 seconds and covered 120 feet.

When the public finally took notice, the Wright brothers ceased flying because they fearing their competitors would steal their ideas. Never successful airplane manufacturers, Wilber died of typhoid fever in 1912 and Orville sold the company in 1915. Unlike the automobile industry, the aviation industry developed slowly.  World War II prosperity and technological made air travel safer, more comfortable and affordable.


4. A Changing Culture
1845 The Ultimate American Game—Baseball
1821 The Second Great Awakening- people are reborn
1831 Abolition, a Righteous Crusade
1873 Colfax Massacre ends reconstruction
1876 How the West Was Won and Lost—Custer
1900 The Great Migration to the Promised Land
1901 That Damned Cowboy! Theodore Roosevelt
1945 The Land of Lawns
1950 Birth of TV
1960 Power to Choose the Pill
1975 Personal Computers Bring a Digital Age


5. Protecting America

1919 Strikes, bombs and a Red Scare
1939 Eisenstein's Letter on a Bomb
1948 Berlin Airlift
1969 A Disaster Creates Environmentalism
1989 Russia's Collapse End of Cold War
2001 US Age of Terror Begins

21st Century Terrorism_
6. Battles That Changed History

1862 Terrible reality of Antietam
1942 Battle of Midway
1968 Tet offensive Loses Vietnam

Under Construction
1909 The Scourge of the South—Hookworm Expanding Government

1872 Open Spaces—The National Parks  expanding government

In the 1870s, amid the wave of American industrialization, a movement
emerged to preserve for all time large sections of wilderness as national parks
the first time this


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