Industrialization in North Carolina

Industrialization needed five things: capital, labor, raw materials, markets, and transportation. By the 1870s, North Carolina had all of them. By 1900, hundreds of factories were transforming the Piedmont.


Capital is the money needed to establish a factory. North Carolinians had lost a great deal of money and property in the Civil War. Yet some prewar mills had survived, and their owners invested the profits in new factories. Since agriculture was becoming less profitable, farmers with money invested it in industrial development. Many industrialists started small and built their businesses slowly. Merchants sold goods that people used to make at home. They also invested their profits in new factories.


North Carolina had a large supply of cheap labor. Former slaves and their free-born children were looking for new opportunities in cities, even if they earned less than white workers and were often given menial jobs. North Carolina also had a large share of landless whites who preferred working in a factory to sharecropping.

Women and children also found jobs in factories. Children were especially likely to work in textile mills, where they ran the machines.

Raw materials

North Carolina's main industries turned the state's agricultural products into finished goods. By the early twentieth century, the state’s economy was dominated by three industries: tobacco, textiles, and timber (or furniture).


Tobacco mills turned raw tobacco into cigars, chewing tobacco, and cigarettes that were sold nationwide.


Textile mills turned raw cotton and wool into clothing that was sold to consumers nationwide. North Carolina's textile mills processed the state's cotton crop, and the profits stayed in the state.

Furniture (timber)

North Carolina had both an extensive pine forest and great hardwood forests. The state had long sent its timber to the North for processing. But in the 1880s, Earnest Ansel Snow began buying lumber from those forests, building furniture in a factory in High Point, and selling it to consumers across the country. By 1900, the area around High Point had become the furniture capital of the United States.

Pine and spruce forests also provided the raw materials for making paper.


Many of these factory-made goods were sold to consumers in cities. Middle-class and working-class people no longer made their own clothing and other household goods, and they used their extra income to buy goods. By the 1890s, farm families could also buy factory-made goods, through new mail-order catalogs.


Factories needed good transportation to get raw materials and to send finished goods to markets elsewhere in the country. After the Civil War, North Carolina's railroads grew rapidly.

Investors built factories with easy railroad access. When several factories existed in one place, that town grew, and if it wasn't already served by a railroad, it soon would be.

Source: Industrialization in North Carolina
By David Walbert, via NCpedia. org

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