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Early Industrialization

Early Industrialization at Niagara Falls

Early Industrialization as it pertains to Niagara Falls


In the early 19th century, the discovery of harnessing water power for industrial use revolutionized manufacturing processes around the world. Niagara Falls, located at the international border between the United States and Canada, played a crucial role in the early stages of industrial development. This article aims to explore the significance of Niagara Falls in the early years of industrialization, discussing the utilization of its power resources and the resulting economic and social changes.

Geographical Features

Niagara Falls is situated on the Niagara River, which connects two of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. The falls, consisting of three distinct cascades – the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Horseshoe Falls – generate a tremendous amount of water flow. The combined falls have one of the highest flow rates of any waterfall globally, making them ideal for utilizing hydropower.

Early Industrial Exploitation

As early as the late 18th century, entrepreneurs recognized the immense potential of Niagara Falls to power machinery. In 1759, Daniel Joncairs built a small sawmill near the falls’ vicinity, becoming the first recorded industrial establishment. However, it wasn’t until the early 19th century that significant efforts to harness the falls’ power began.

DeWitt Clinton and the Erie Canal

The completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 greatly facilitated trade between the Eastern seaboard and the Midwest, making water transportation an efficient mode of shipping goods. Recognizing this advantageous position, DeWitt Clinton, The Governor of New York, envisioned Niagara Falls as a crucial power source to fuel industrial growth. His project aimed to divert water from the falls into an extensive canal system, providing businesses along its path with hydropower.

The Niagara Falls Hydraulic Power and Manufacturing Company

Formed in 1877, the Niagara Falls Hydraulic Power and Manufacturing Company (NFHP) became a pivotal force in the early industrialization of the region. It was responsible for generating energy through the falls and distributing it to various industries. Under the guidance of engineers like Thomas Evershed, the NFHP developed innovative transmission systems that enabled the transfer of electricity to distant consumers.

Major Industries

Chemical and Electrochemical Manufacturing

The abundance of hydroelectric power from Niagara Falls attracted chemical and electrochemical manufacturing industries to the region. Companies like the Electro-Alkaline Company established in 1891, which later became Hooker Electrochemical Company, thrived due to the availability of affordable electricity. These companies produced chemicals, alkali, and fertilizers, contributing significantly to economic growth.

Electrical Equipment Manufacturing

The availability of hydroelectric power spurred the establishment of electrical equipment manufacturing companies, such as the Niagara Falls-based Stanley Electric Manufacturing Company. Founded by William Stanley Jr., this company focused on developing transformers, generators, and electric motors, playing a vital role in shaping the electric power industry.

Paper and Textile Manufacturing

Niagara Falls’ abundant power resources also attracted paper mills and textile manufacturers. Several mills were established, utilizing the reliable and cheap hydropower to produce large quantities of paper and textiles. Manufacturers like the International Paper Company and Niagara Falls Paper Company thrived, making the region a prominent player in the industry.

Impact on Economy and Society

The early industrialization of Niagara Falls brought about significant economic and social changes.

Economic Growth

The introduction of hydropower and subsequent industrial development led to exponential economic growth in the region. New industries flourished, investment increased, and the workforce expanded, resulting in a substantial rise in the standard of living for many residents. Industrialization also provided job opportunities and attracted a diverse population with different skills and backgrounds.

Urban Development

As industries expanded, small towns surrounding Niagara Falls transformed into bustling cities. Niagara Falls, New York, and Niagara Falls, Ontario, both experienced rapid urbanization, with new infrastructure like roads, bridges, and public utilities being developed to accommodate the growing population. The urban landscape evolved, leading to the establishment of schools, hospitals, and cultural institutions.

Environmental Impact

While the benefits of industrialization were apparent, there was a considerable impact on the environment surrounding Niagara Falls. The diversion of water for hydropower reduced the natural flow rate, altering the balance of the falls. Concerns about ecological damage arose, leading to legal battles and regulations to protect the falls and surrounding natural areas.


Niagara Falls, with its abundant hydropower resources, played a crucial role in the early stages of industrialization. The utilization of this power facilitated the growth of various industries, benefiting the economy and leading to substantial social changes. Today, hydropower remains a significant source of electricity generation at Niagara Falls, showcasing the long-lasting impact of its early industrialization.

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