Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Industrial Pioneers by Patrick Brown - Virtual Book Tour and Review

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About Patrick Brown

Patrick Brown 2Patrick Brown was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He graduated Magna cum Laude from Georgetown University, where he won the Morris Medal for best senior history honors thesis. He currently teaches high school social studies in the Mississippi Delta through Teach for America.

His latest book is Industrial Pioneers: Scranton, Pennsylvania and the Transformation of America, 1840-1902, a detailed history account of the town of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

You can visit his website at http://www.industrialpioneers.com.


About Industrial  Pioneers: Scranton, Pennsylvania and the Transformation of America, 1840-1902

Industrial PioneersDuring the nineteenth century, Scranton was the face of innovation, immigration, industrialization, and a rising America. Scranton was “the electric city” when electricity was the most exciting invention in the world, and a hub of technology and innovation—between 1840 and 1902, the city of Scranton changed from a lazy backwoods community to a modern industrial society with 100,000 residents. During this time, Scranton’s citizens desperately tried to adapt their thinking to keep up with the overwhelming changes around them, and in the process forged the world views that would define the twentieth century. As globalization, technology and immigration transform the United States today, this book revisits how the people the forefront of the industrial revolution moved from chaos to a new order, and how they found meaning within a rapidly changing world.

Periods of total societal transformation often provide the best material for historians. The way that Scranton’s residents reimagined their value within society in response to the changes around them did not evolve in step with technological and economic progress—rather, those living through these changes slowly and painfully adapted extant modes of thinking in light of their new life circumstances. This book weaves a cohesive narrative that explains how Scranton—and America—went from the personal, egalitarian society of the early days of the republic to the rigidly institutionalized society that endures today.

This book’s investigation of the history of Scranton allows the reader to witness the development of the distinct and interrelated ideologies that defined industrial America.

Read the Excerpt!

INTRODUCTION: The Face of America “If the American white working class were a sect, Scranton, Pennsylvania, might be its Jerusalem. The old coal town has declined steadily since its heyday in the middle of the last century. Hillary Clinton played up her family roots in Scranton during the Democratic primaries against Barack Obama, drawing large support from anxious, white, working classes. In turn Mr. Obama chose a running mate, Joe Biden, in part for his own ties to the town: Mr. Biden spent his childhood in Scranton. On Sunday November 2nd the latest Scranton-lover was John McCain, who gave a speech there. His slim hopes for the presidency rely on sowing enough doubts in places such as northeastern Pennsylvania to overcome the polls and win that state.”

— The Economist, November 3, 2008 —
(one day before the presidential election)

Scranton, Pennsylvania, seemed to be everywhere during the 2008 presidential election campaign. Politicians flocked to the city because it embodied many concerns of voters throughout America—jobs sent overseas; businesses struggling to adapt to a 21st century economy, and citizens trying to defend a traditional set of values in a rapidly changing world. Throughout the late twentieth century, Scranton has been, as the title of a 2005 book suggests, “The Face of Decline” in the United States, and presidential candidates seeking to reassure voters concerned about the future of the nation could find no better platform.

What most political candidates and talking heads probably did not realize during the campaign is that during the nineteenth century Scranton served as the face of a rising America, and a hub of technology and innovation. The city was the first in the nation to produce the iron rails necessary to expand the nation’s railways, and it mined the anthracite coal and forged the steel that drove America’s industrial revolution. In 1886, Scranton began operating the nation’s first electric streetcar system, earning it the nickname, “The Electric City,” at a time when electricity was the most exciting innovation in the world. Scranton was, in a sense, the Silicon Valley of the nineteenth century.

Scranton also served as the face of immigration during the nineteenth century, as immigrants from across England, Wales, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia, and throughout Europe flocked to the city in search of employment. As a city at the epicenter of the economic, social, and political changes sweeping the nation, Scranton was truly the face of industrializing America.

Periods of extraordinary change often provide the best material for historians, and perhaps the most remarkable facet of Scranton’s development is the fact that the city grew from an egalitarian backwoods community to a modern industrial society of 100,000 residents in sixty-two years. The way Scranton’s residents thought about themselves and their value within society did not evolve in step with technological and economic progress—rather, those living through these changes slowly and painfully adapted extant modes of thinking in light of their new life circumstances. Identifying the mindset of Scranton’s residents at the commencement of industrialization and tracing how events and developments affected the thinking of those living in the city, weaves a unified narrative that explains how Scranton—and America—went from the personal, egalitarian society of the early days of the republic to the rigidly institutionalized society that endures today. In the development of Scranton from 1840 to 1902, Scranton’s residents passed through four distinct mindsets in their quest to reconcile their assumptions about the world with their life experiences.

Many books and articles describe certain aspects or elements of this period, but the period from 1840 to 1902 is a unified story.

Residents of Scranton like Frederick Hitchcock and Benjamin Throop wrote books intended as histories of the city during the nineteenth century, but these works must be understood as heavily biased primary sources.

Every in-depth secondary source on the city focuses on a specific element related to the city’s development.Grace Palladino examined the relationship between labor, capital, and the state during the Civil War. Multiple authors, including Craig Phelan, chronicled Terence Powderly’s dual role as mayor and union leader. Harold Aurand studied the conditions of coal miners throughout the region. R.G. Healey modeled the business dynamics of the coal industry. Multiple works discuss the 1902 anthracite strike, and a number of authors focus on specific ethnicities within the city. No work, however, has brought all of this rich material together to trace the rise of the city over an extended period. For the sake of clarity, what follows is organized both chronologically and categorically.

The first chapter covers the years 1840 to 1860, and describes the Village Blacksmith ideology, which predated Scranton’s industrial development. Before the Scranton family began producing iron in the area, residents lived like the village blacksmith in the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem of the same name. They derived respect from their status as independent producers and members of an egalitarian community. During the twenty-year period covered by this chapter, Scranton grew from the small town of Slocum Hollow to a rapidly expanding industrial city integrated into the national market. This growth created opportunities for ambitious individuals to prosper, but residents retained their pre-industrial assumptions. Noninstitutional power, like the power of personality in the workplace, retained its importance within the community through most of the period. By 1860, however, a capitalist ideal, distinct from the Village Blacksmith ideal, was emerging.

The second chapter explores the development of the city between 1860 and 1877, examining how two remarkably similar men, Thomas Dickson and Terence Powderly, came to articulate opposing viewpoints. While Dickson attained extraordinary success as the founder of the Dickson Manufacturing Company and later as president of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company, Powderly failed in his attempts to break into the capitalist class early in his life, and instead turned to organizing labor through unions.

The chapter describes how the Civil War spurred rapid economic growth in Scranton, and how subsequent economic downturns revealed the crystallization of distinct capitalist and labor classes through the strikes of 1869, 1871, and 1877. Throughout this period, workers could not reconcile their worldview with their status in a cyclical economy, and the resulting frustration led to the riots of 1877, in which workers resorted to violence, but failed to defeat the combined forces of capital and state government.

The third chapter examines the period of 1878 to 1886, during which Terence Powderly worked for social, political, and economic reforms that extended across occupational, ethnic, and gender lines. In Powderly’s dual role as mayor of Scranton and Grand Master Workingman of the national Knights of Labor union, the largest labor organization in the United States in the 1880s, he unsuccessfully attempted to translate the frustration evidenced by the riots of 1877 into a broad and enduring working-class identity. The chapter describes the importance of ethnicity in the workplace, at the voting booth, and in society, and argues that Powderly’s belief in the coincidental interests of labor and capital led to the failure of his ideas. By 1886, the Knights of Labor was collapsing, Powderly’s political career had ended, and workers in Scranton once again encountered an ideological vacuum.

The fourth chapter chronicles the emergence of the trade union ideology and capital mobility during the period 1886-1902. The chapter describes the terrible living conditions of mining families, and the disrespect directed to them by their employers. In an attempt to ameliorate these conditions, the United Mine Workers arrived in Scranton in 1899, and began organizing the area’s miners.
Two major events occurred in 1902. An anthracite coal strike called by the United Mine Workers proved so disruptive to the national economy that it forced intervention by the federal government, and the Lackawanna Iron and Steel Company relocated its production facilities to Buffalo, New York.

These two events foreshadowed the characteristics of industrial America in the twentieth century. Organized labor developed effective organizational strategies, and the state progressively enacted more labor-friendly legislation, but in response to labor’s success in demanding higher wages, organized capital used ethnic and occupational divisions to divide workers, and periodically moved production to new locations in order to take advantage of an unorganized workforce.
Taken together, these four chapters trace the trajectory of industrializing Scranton. The four chapters overlap at points. Ethnicity played an important role in the development of Scranton between 1860 and 1877, the cyclical economy operated from 1878 to 1902, and miners faced deplorable conditions throughout the entire history of the city.

Understanding these events and forces is essential to an understanding of the processes, trends, and, most important, ways of thinking that defined Scranton’s growth, and presaged developments brought on by industrialization and urbanization throughout the United States. This is the clearest means to understand an immensely rich period of history.

My Thoughts

What an amazing book! Mr. Brown does a wonderful job walking us through the this important part of Scranton's history. He presents the facts in an easy read and understand format. He uses and refers to Longfellow's poem " The Village Blacksmith" throughout the book. I found it interesting and really causes the facts to "hit home".

This book is a fascinating read and really brings to light the importance of Scranton's role in the transformation of not just the East, but American itself. This is a great book for both history buffs and those that are interested in PA history!

This book was supplied through Pump Up Your Book for me to honestly review.


  1. Tweezle, thank you for sharing 'Industrial Pioneers' with your blog readers.

    Thank you for highlighting the fact that although it is a history book - Patrick's writes in a clear and easy style that makes the book approachable.

    The reference to Longfellow's 'The Village Blacksmith' is also a great brush stroke in the verbal picture he is painting.

    Best wishes,
    Tribute Books

  2. I've been hearing good things about this book. History is right up my alley, and this era is one of my favorites.

    Best of luck with the book.




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