An industrial spirit? American culture and industrial performance 1850-1929

Falconer, Angela (1994) An industrial spirit? American culture and industrial performance 1850-1929. (MPhil thesis), Kingston University, .


Emanating from M.J. Wiener's, 'English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit 1850-1980', this work looks at contemporary literary reactions to businessmen, their environment and their activities in an attempt to determine whether a pro-industrial spirit dominated American culture at the time of her economic ascendancy 1850-1929. The aim is to assess the role a non-economic variable, culture, plays in a nation's economic performance. If Wiener's claim that culture plays a key role in determining the success or failure of a nation's economic performance is correct, then it would be expected that American culture would be unambiguously pro-industrial during the years 1850-1929. There is a review of the events and literature in the periods prior to 1850 which may have had a formative influence on American culture 1850-1929. This concludes that a spirit of optimism and a belief in progress and change were central to the American psyche. This optimistic ethos ameliorated the social and economic upheavals caused by the transition from being an agrarian society to becoming the premier industrial nation of the world. The onset and development of industrialization, however, inevitably caused mixed feelings which were reflected in contemporary literature. This work discusses the range of attitudes towards businessmen revealed in the literature - approbation through ambivalence to condemnation. Whilst a strong pro-industrial spirit can be detected in the literature analysed in this investigation, it is questionable whether it dominated American culture. There is also a body of adversarial literature which expresses doubts and concerns about the way in which industrial capitalism was organized and the moral values engendered by the system. Both sets of literature were popular and the ideas contained in them were therefore widely disseminated and presumably reflected the belief systems of their readership. From this it cannot be said that a pro-industrial spirit dominated America 1850-1929. Therefore this work concludes that the role culture plays in a nation's economic development and continued progress is only marginal.

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