Industrialization

The railroads built during Reconstruction were a major impetus to the industrialization of Alabama’s economy. Birmingham was founded in 1870, and its first blast furnace began operations in 1880. The cotton textile industry developed in the 1880s. At that time farming was still dominant, and the fortunes of the state rose and fell with the market price of cotton. Constant use and erosion, however, began to exhaust the land.

Diversification of crops, much advocated in the 20th cent., was accelerated in 1915 when the boll weevil invaded the cotton fields and the demand during World War I brought high prices for food crops. The Great Depression and the agricultural program of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal caused more farmers to produce subsistence crops and took more land away from the wasting cotton culture. Beginning in the 1920s, there was a large migration of African Americans out of the state to northern manufacturing centers.

Industrialization was greatly increased during World War II with the appearance of factories producing machines, munitions, powder, and other war supplies. Huntsville became a center for rocket research, and its population more than quadrupled between 1950 and 1960. Industrialization and commerce increased throughout the state. Adding impetus to that growth was an ambitious development program of Alabama’s inland waterways to provide cheap water transportation, more hydroelectric power, and flood-control measures.

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