Wonders of the World

Colonial Crafts

Early manufacturing

Resourceful RI

Limited natural resources encourages manufacture e. g. whale sperm into candles, silver coins into utensils

Fine furnishings

Rhode island develops reputation for excellence in domestic crafts including furniture and silver

Industrial Precursors

Paving the way for industrialization

Forges & furnaces

Jenckes family forges make them the iron masters of their day. Brown family Hope Furnace cast Revolution cannons.

Machinist skills

Wilkinson & Sylvanus Brown establish a tradition of machining that paves the way for Slater and mill development

Big Wheels

Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution

Slater Mill

Samuel Slater’s engineering and Moses Brown’s financing give birth to the American Industrial Revolution

Industrial contagion

Mill construction spreads like wild fire up and down RI river valleys

Spin-off industries

Mills create new industries — e.g., machine manufacturing and itinerant mechanics

Mill villages

Mills give rise to self-contained villages with housing, goods & services for employees working long hours at low pay

Moving materials

Providence emerges as a trade center for cotton and wool. Turnpikes and tow paths built along river corridors.

The Power of Steam

A new industry expands industrialization

Mills everywhere

Steam power enables mill development away from rushing water

Engines of a new economy

RI becomes a center for steam engine manufacturing

The mighty Corliss

The Corliss steam engine becomes an icon of the industrial age at 1876 Centennial

Coal trade

Shipping and railroad traffic expands to move massive quantities of coal from Pennsylvania

Smooth transition

Water-wheel driven mills use steam power interchangeably

Why the Wonders?

Components of RI’s industrial prominence

Head start

Early industrialization attracted talent to textile, jewelry, machine tools and engine manufacturing

Training edge

Cluster of mechanics and designers emerge from apprentice systems and training institutions

Plentiful patents

RI inventors produce large number of patents, second only to CT


Well developed shipping and rail enhance flow of goods and resources


Proximity to NYC and Boston provides major markets

Industrial Wonders

By late 19th century, Providence is a world leader in production od cotton, wool, base metals, precious metals and rubber. Corliss, Gorham, Brown and Sharpe, Nicholsen File and American Screw are dubbed the “Five Industrial Wonders of the World.”

Mind’s Eye

RI’s history of design

Living by its Wits

Overcoming RI’s deficiency in natural resources

Ingenuity, Invention & Imagination

Art and Science converge in jewelry and other manufacturing

The Sizzle

RI’s role as a regional center of advertising

The ‘Look’

RISD and other institutions make RI a center of design, an added value to production

Distinctive Architecture

National Register quality buildings; leader in historic preservation

Mills on the Move

Industrial decline

Fall of Manufacture

Competitive disadvantages cause a sharp decline in RI manufacturing from 1920s to 80s

Heading South

Mills move south to locate closer to raw materials and father from union influence

High prices

High energy and environmental costs make New England manufac­turing less competitive

Shipping slipping

New England railroad infrastructure loses significance with increase in air cargo

New business Conglomerates

and multi-nationals and new tech­nologies are born

Birth of the Conglomerate

Under the direction of Royal Little, Textron introduces “conglomerate” to the vocabulary of business


Fleet becomes Bank America, Allendale becomes FM Global — exemplifying RI change in business organizations and cultures in an age of multi-nationals

Replacing the Smokestacks

RI industries shift to service and technology