Study Guide

Boardwalk Empire Technology and Modernization

By Nelson Johnson

Technology and Modernization

There wasn't much to New Jersey south of Trenton in 1820. During the two generations following the American Revolution, things had changed little. (1.3)

Well, you have to start somewhere. Before Jonathan Pitney came along with wild plans for a fancy beachside resort, South Jersey wasn't much to look at. Atlantic City changes all of this, though, mostly because it inspires the production of several new railroads. Now these formerly isolated towns are all connected to the region's major cities.

During the second half of the 19th century, railroads opened vast tracts of land, otherwise inaccessible, to development. (1.13)

Before railroads, the only way to go anywhere was to either walk or ride a horse. Now, for the first time in history, people can travel across the country in the blink of an eye. This makes it a lot easier to build new communities and support the ones that already exist.

In less than three years, 15 train stations sprang upon between Camden and Atlantic City. (1.48)

See what we mean? This new railroad has the potential to completely change Atlantic City's fortunes, transforming this once-isolated island into a bustling hub of activity.

The industrialization and urbanization of America were, for the first time, creating expendable income for the masses. (2.27)

The industrial age changes America as a whole, creating a vibrant middle class seemingly overnight. This is great news for Atlantic City—more people with expendable income means more potential customers. But you know what they say: More money, more problems.

As America was shifting from an agricultural-based economy to a manufacturing economy, racial prejudice excluded Black from industrial employment. (3.7)

Not everyone benefited equally from the industrial age. In fact, it probably ended up hurting the black population, as many formerly enslaved people found their finely-tuned trade skills completely useless in the modern world. Many were forced into service jobs instead.

The work wasn't always pleasant, and for many employees the adjustment to the industrial age was traumatic. (4.11)

Of course, it's not like working in a factory is fun or anything; the conditions are often dangerous. The work is mind-numbingly boring. For a bunch of former farmers and craftsmen, this work would probably be unbearable if not for their hefty paychecks.

Bound in service to machines from dawn to dusk, these unskilled workers were part of a system that had no regard for the Old World order of apprentice-journeyman-master. (4.11)

Although industrialization is beneficial in many ways, there are plenty of downsides as well. In the old system, workers could expect to rise in the ranks as a craftsman if they were willing to put in the work—in this new one, however, they're simply another moving part in a giant machine. After all, what skills are they building by working in an assembly line all day?

The new industrial world broadened the gap between rich and poor by emphasizing the role that capital played in the control of one's life. (4.11)

The industrial age also changes the way that the economy functions. Although working class families are doing better than ever before, it's nothing compared to wealthy factory owners and businessmen. Those dudes are just going to get richer and richer.

The Great Depression brought hard times to Atlantic City […] Vacations were one of the first things to go when the American economy collapsed. (6.4)

What goes up must come down, and the Great Depression upends the American economy, erasing nearly a century's worth of economic growth in a moment. Remember how the rise of industrialization gave working class families a bit of extra cash flow? Well, that cash flow is now stuffed up.

Atlantic City was the victim of postwar modernization. The changes that occurred in American society were subtle, but they were devastating to Atlantic City. (8.5)

Although modernization was initially a boon for Atlantic City, good times can't last forever. Eventually, technology got so good that most people had no reason to take a vacation to someplace like Atlantic City—after all, they could enjoy the same level of luxury (if not more) by staying home instead.