Industrial Depressions From 1833 to 1887 Part I


THE six depressions which occurred during this period were each the result of an internal malady. They were brought about by a derangement within the industries themselves. Each of them prostrated the industries of the country for several years. Some of them were attended by financial panics, and some were not. Those depressions which were attended by panics commenced
one or two years before the panics occurred, and continued from one to three years after the panic conditions had ceased to exist; and yet these depressions have gone down to history as having been caused by the financial panics which occurred during their continuance, although the panics commenced long after the industrial depressions were in full force, and the depressions had in each case been recognized as an existing condition by the entire community.

The years 1834 and 1835 constituted a period of low prices in the United States. The period was characterized by an abundance of money and credit, and a rapid increase in construction and all other branches of business. This was particularly the case in Great Britain, the United States, and in France, the countries which Evidence establishing these facts will be given with the separate treatment of each period, suffered most severely from the industrial depression. The increase in railroad building, which took place in these years, accurately reflects the general prosperity which obtained. From a construction of 151 miles in 1833, there was an increase to 253 miles in 1834, and to 465 miles in 1835,thus more than trebling the rate of construction within two years and exceeding in amount anything ever experienced up to that time. The industrial revival reached its apex in the high-water mark of prosperity, in 1835. Towards the end of that year, the demand for delivery of materials so greatly exceeded the possible supply, that prices commenced to advance rapidly.

The Four Years' Depression From 1836 to 1839 and the Accompanying Panic of 1837

During 1836 the price of No. 1 Foundry iron advanced, in Philadelphia, from $32.00 to $50.25 per ton, and Scotch pig iron, in New York, advanced from $38.00 to $65.00. The blighting effect of the advance commenced to reveal itself early in 1836, before it had advanced as much as 10 per cent. Railroad building fell from 465 miles in 1835 to 175 miles in 1836, which was a year before the panic. As manufacturing and construction fell off in volume, the materials ordinarily consumed in these industries commenced to accumulate. During the latter part of 1836, the accumulation of unsold goods became alarming, and in the spring and summer of 1837 prices of all commodities dropped enormously, spreading loss and disaster on all sides. Iron fell off in price during the first seven months of 1837 nearly the full amount of the gain it had made in price the year before. The industries fell to then lowest point in the latter part of 1836, which was a year before the financial panic occurred. The panic must of necessity have intensified the gloom and added to the losses which the depressions had caused, but it does not appear to have lessened the volume of the industries, which had already been reduced to their lowest ebb. This is well illustrated by railroad building, which dropped from 465 miles in 1835 to 175 miles in 1836, increased to 224 miles in 1837, and to 416 miles in 1838.

As the actual construction of this period commenced to fall off early in 1836, it is plain that the contracts for it must have commenced to fall off as long before this time as the tune of contracting antedated the time of completion of the construction. Thus it is seen that the instinctive desire for gain was as much in evidence early in the century as at the present time. Mark also the significant fact, that the depression was at its worst in 1836, a year before the financial panic. Even as high an authority as the late Hon. Carroll D. Wright claims that this depression was caused by financial trouble, but he gave no evidence to support this claim. Without doubt he simply accepted the same error that the rest of the world had accepted. Had the Commissioner proceeded by analysis, and through that method realized the opposite character of the causes of panics and depressions, he would undoubtedly have excluded all financial measures from the search, and thus have been led to discover the truth. Industrial conditions in Great Britain, France, and Belgium, from 1832 to 1835, bore a marked resemblance to those in the United States. Each experienced great increase in the volume of the industries, easy money, great prosperity, and great advance in the price of labor and construction materials. Germany at that time was not a united empire, but Prussia and some of the other German states had made considerable progress in manufacturing. The depression in the industries appears to have commenced much earlier, and to have been most severe in Great Britain and France and least so in the German States. This was entirely logical. England and France were the leading manufacturing nations, and had been the largest iron producers of the world for centuries, while Germany was far behind them in the extent of her manufacturing industries.

History shows that where iron is most largely produced it is most largely consumed, and where iron is most largely consumed, there the use of machinery and product of manufacturing is greatest. Of the two countries, Great Britain was threefold the largest producer of iron, and much the greatest in the manufacturing and mechanical industries. She commenced to experience the revival of her industries one or two years before it came to the other countries; she experienced the effect of high prices first, and in consequence her industries were on the down grade one or two years in advance of the other countries.

Compared with to-day, the industries in these nations were small at the period under discussion; but such as they were, the great advance in price of construction materials seems to have had a disastrous effect upon them, and with a degree of severity directly proportioned to its magnitude.

All five of the countries named experienced a financial panic, Great Britain near the close of 1836 and the United States near the close of 1837.


Website: The History
Article Name: Industrial Depressions From 1833 to 1887 Part I
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Industrial Depressions or Iron the Barometer of Trade b y Geo. H. Hull; Frederick A. Stokes Company-New York, 1911.
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