Merchant Marketplace, 1770s-1850s

The early history of the United States was a time of market revolution. The economy moved away from a colonial mercantile system where raw products were shipped abroad and finished goods were imported. Increasingly artisans, peddlers, farmers, merchants, and slaves operated within a largely community based world.

The nation’s abundant land and natural resources, along with the social mobility of the United States offered great opportunities to citizens and white immigrants. A chronic lack of workers in the US made apprenticeships short and helped spur innovation. A supportive and democratic form of government fostered industrial improvements, competition, and global trade.

Despite long distances a developing infrastructure of roads, canals, and railroads enabled 19th century merchants to reach rural as well as urban consumers, and farmers to access urban markets.  Merchants, artisans, and farmers depended on a complex systems of credit to plant their crops, fuel their enterprises, and establish new products.  Supply and demand developed and regulated the expanding market economy. By the 1850s American productivity equaled, if not eclipsed, that of Great Britain.

Hong Bowl, 1785-1800

The American flag flies on this Chinese-made punch bowl, indicating the opportunities that awaited American merchants in China in the early 19th century.

Red River Cart, c 1840

On these versatile and sturdy carts, traders moved a large quantity of furs and skins along the border between Canada and the United States on the Red River trails.

Whitney Cotton Gin, Courtroom Model, 1800

In 1794, Eli Whitney patented a mechanical cotton gin, hoping to make processing cotton easier.

Teakettle, 1807-1809

Despite its small size, this tiny copper teakettle addressed weighty issues of international trade in early America.

George Washington’s Still, 1797

In 1799 workers at George Washington’s plantation used this still to make over 11,000 gallons of whiskey.