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Redefining the Industrial Revolution

Robert Smith spent six to eight years researching, writing and rethinking the definition of the Industrial Revolution.

Smith, a history professor and assistant dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at NCC, recently published a book titled “Manufacturing Independence: Industrial Innovation in the American Revolution.”

“The Industrial Revolution is not just about machines,” Smith said at a press conference Nov. 3 in the college’s News Writing class. “Industry is not just about machines, it’s about people.”

Walking the class through an outline of his book, Smith explained how John Muller, a British worker who wrote about how the English organized their factories, inspired the colonies to start manufacturing in a similar manner.

America was able to start organizing labor in Philadelphia to produce guns thanks to these ideas, which soon also were applied at arsenals in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and Springfield, Massachusetts, Smith said.

The organization of labor made the production of guns and other weapons quicker, therefore enabling the colonies to arm themselves against the British, Smith said.

The professor stressed that America could not have won the war without this change in production.

He noted that the majority of guns that France supplied America arrived after the battle of Yorktown and were defective.  The British surrender at Yorktown in 1781 effectively ended the war though a peace treaty was not signed until 1783.

“Without our manufacturing processes, we wouldn’t have been able to make or even repair the guns to arm our troops,” Smith said.

Smith explained the importance of interchangeable parts, which made gun production and repairs faster and cheaper. These parts were then used after the war to help create machines.

The most commonly accepted “misconception” of the Industrial Revolution is that it started with the advancement of machines, said Smith, whose doctoral dissertation at Lehigh University evolved into his book.

“Manufacturing Independence” contends that the American Revolution brought on the Industrial Revolution in America through the organization of manufacturing.

Sitting on a desk in front of News Writing students, Smith spoke about his struggles working on his book.

“In total, the book took me six to eight years to write,” he said.

To be a successful historian, one has to be curious, patient, determined and detail oriented, Smith said, adding that the historian’s main job is to ask questions.

Perseverance is also key. Seven publishers rejected Smith’s book before Westholme Publishing picked it up.