Modern World History 3.4 Hard Knock City Life

The farmhands of the Industrial Revolution had big dreams of making it in the big city. Unfortunately, they didn't expect the brutal living conditions. Seriously, it made living with pigs seem like the lap of luxury. 

LanguageEnglish Language

Transcript

00:16

So, you decide to ditch the farm for the slightly more glamorous lifestyle of a factory worker in the big city. [farmers on a ranch with cows]

00:22

So, there you are, newly arrived in Manhattan or London or wherever the wind blew you.

00:27

You know you're going to need a place of your own to crash between shifts on the factory floor.

00:31

Except you can forget that whole “place of your own” thing.

00:34

After all, you're poor, and because there are so many poor

00:37

people just like you in this urban utopia, the only way you can

00:41

afford rent is to squish up with a bunch of other folks, [two guys sharing a bed]

00:45

not to mention the rodents and the roaches,

00:47

in a tiny room with no light and no air.

00:50

And don't even get us started on the bathroom thing. [man unhappy with bathroom]

00:53

The world was a hectic place during the Industrial Revolution.

00:56

Technical innovation wasn't the only thing sweeping across the globe.

01:00

As we mentioned earlier in the unit, famine and war

01:03

drove many, many people out of their homes

01:05

and into cities, or into whole new countries altogether.

01:09

And where were all of these people, many of them poor, to go?

01:12

Straight to the tenements, the only housing they could afford. [picture of building with hanging laundry]

01:15

Look at it this way.

01:16

Manhattan is a little under thirty-four square miles in size. [map of Manhattan]

01:20

Yet between 1890 and 1900, more than 600,000 immigrants

01:25

settled in New York City,

01:26

with another 700,000 settling there between 1900 and 1910.

01:31

We'd imagine the Big Apple felt more like the

01:33

Super Cramped, Uncomfortable Apple. [old photo of crowded road]

01:35

But that doesn't look as nice on a postcard.

01:37

Granted, many of these immigrants lived in places like Brooklyn

01:40

instead of super-cozy Manhattan, but still,

01:43

that's a lot of people for one city to find room for

01:46

over a twenty-year period.

01:48

The poverty of those who lived in the tenements, the rapidity with which they arrived in the city, and—let's face it—the generally uncaring nature of the slumlords

01:56

who owned the tenements,

01:57

meant a lot of people were forced to live in rat holes.

02:00

Maybe there was a bright side. Maybe they shared cheese. [hand reaching for cheese with a rat next to it]

02:03

A lack of infrastructure was also a huge problem for tenement dwellers.

02:07

In other words, there's no polite way to say this: the urban poor had no way to get their poop from Point A to Point B,

02:13

which created serious public health hazards and really upped the yuck factor for those living in the city. [poop falling from building window]

02:19

A great example of the problems roving poop can cause

02:22

is the Broad Street cholera outbreak of 1854.

02:26

Also, bet you've never heard the phrase "roving poop" before. [Shmoop board meeting about Roving Poop]

02:29

You're welcome. That's a Shmoop original.

02:31

See, there was so much sewage in London that the

02:33

city started dumping it into the River Thames. Gross.

02:36

What's even more disgusting is the fact that people in London

02:39

got their drinking water from the river, including the people who lived on and around Broad Street.

02:44

You see where we're going with this, right?

02:46

The ensuing cholera epidemic killed more than 600 people. [grave yard]

02:50

The disease only stopped spreading after a doctor named

02:52

John Snow figured out that cholera was a water-borne disease

02:57

and that the water coming out of the Broad Street pump was killing people.

03:00

Well done, Johnny.

03:01

Watch your back, Sherlock. There's a new detective in town.

03:03

Eventually, cities wised up and decided to make tenements healthier, happier places.

03:09

Well, healthier, anyway.

03:10

In 1867, New York City passed the First Tenement House Act,

03:14

which required windows and fire escapes in tenement dwellings. [view of windows and fire escapes in building block]

03:17

The Second Tenement House Act of 1879 required said

03:20

windows to face light and air and not, you know, an interior hallway.

03:24

Some people are such jerks.

03:26

The New York State Tenement House Act of 1901 required that

03:29

every tenement have a courtyard where residents could put their garbage.

03:33

Up until then, the ventilation shafts in tenement dwellings had been used for garbage disposal, which meant the air quality inside these hellholes really sucked.

03:42

The farmhands of the Industrial Revolution had big dreams of making it in the big city.

03:46

However, given the brutal living conditions urban residents were forced to endure, we think we'd have opted for life on the farm with Aunt Em and Toto.

03:54

Now, where'd we leave those ruby slippers? [slippers fall out of building into poop]