While most Americans were calling this past April 18 “Tax Day,” there were a few people who remembered that that day was also the 247th anniversary of Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride.
The British Royal Governor of Massachusetts received intelligence that the American Colonial Militia was stock-piling weapons in Concord, Massachusetts, and he dispatched the newly arrived British Army to confiscate these weapons in order to preemptively stop any rebellion before it started.
Paul Revere found out and he spent the night of April 18 riding his horse through the Boston area warning all the patriots about what was going to happen. On April 19, the British army arrived in Concord and found the Colonials waiting for them. At about 5 a.m. the “shot heard ‘round the world” was fired and the American Revolution was set into motion.
Without Paul Revere’s actions that night it is very possible that the British would have seized the weapons and the Revolution might have been thwarted before it even began. But while Revere’s midnight ride story is one that is familiar to Americans, his career as a businessman was also notable. Indeed, he was an early pioneer of the American Industrial Revolution, a fact that is often overshadowed by that one night in his life.
One of America’s First Mass Producers
In 1775, Paul Revere was a silversmith who created custom items that ranged from silverware to jewelry. He learned this trade by being an apprentice and would eventually strike off on his own once he had significant training and experience under his master. Throughout the 17th century, American craftsmen who produced goods came up through the apprentice system.
But the 1790s was an era that saw massive amounts of change in the new country of the United States. The Constitution was adopted and the government that we have today was born, the cotton gin was invented which made the mass cultivation of cotton possible while entrenching the institution of slavery in the South, and the early phases of the Industrial Revolution started taking place in the North.
At this time, Paul Revere took the profits he made from silversmithing and reinvested them in constructing a large furnace so that he could work with iron. By reusing the same molds, he was able to mass produce items like stoves, ovens, window frames, and fireplace backs. His methods were crude by today’s standards, and they required skilled laborers to guide and supervise the entire process because automation was not technologically possible, but the system he developed would be the foundation for the industrial revolution.
From Craftsmen to Wage Earners
Paul Revere’s manufacturing process was innovative at its time and he was really part of the first generation of people to experience and navigate the Industrial Revolution. While his factory mass produced everyday items, his later work was famous for the production of church bells and canons. Because of the technical limitations of the time, these were items that needed to be custom made under the guidance of a skilled craftsman or else there would be defects that would affect their function.
Meanwhile, the factory was producing many items that required skilled labor but not at a high level. Up until this point in time, everyone working in this field was familiar with the apprentice system because it was the only thing that existed. For many trades, the transition from this to the wage system brought a lot of stiff resistance from the people making a good living in that field.
Revere began his career as a craftsman, but at this point he had evolved into a business owner and needed to manage people. He managed his workers during this transition by allowing them to work flexible hours, paying wages based on skill levels, and allowing his workers to drink on the job.
Technological Convergence in New England
As a business leader, Revere’s main advantage was that his experience as a craftsman gave him the technical skills needed to revolutionize his production process during the unique time in which he lived. But he also enjoyed the secondary benefit of his geography. New England was where the roots of the American Industrial Revolution began and Boston was in the center of that region. Paul Revere was able to benefit from a shared pool of knowledge of others familiar with his trade which allowed him to innovate his processes even further. In economics this is known as a technological convergence.
In 1801, Revere opened America’s first copper foundry and his location benefited him further because as New England started to become industrialized, he was able to supply new businesses with products they now needed. The Revere Copper Company still exists today with divisions in Massachusetts and New York.
Paul Revere’s actions on the night of April 18 have made him a legend in American history, but the rest of his life is also very impressive and influential on our country. As a businessman, he was focused on efficiency and his business practices were the start of what would turn his country into the most developed country in the world.
Paul Revere died in 1818 at the age of 83. At the time of his death, not many Americans knew about his contribution to the Revolution. His feats would become famous 95 years after the historic ride when the event was memorialized with a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.