09/25/2012 02:03 PM
BATON ROUGE – Renowned New South booster Henry Grady proposed industrialization as
a basis of economic recovery for the former Confederacy. Born in 1850 in Athens, Ga.,
to a family involved in the city’s thriving manufacturing industries, Grady saw firsthand
the potential of industrialization for the region. In “Transition to an Industrial
South,” published in October by LSU Press, Michael J. Gagnon explores the creation
of an industrial network in the antebellum South by focusing on the creation and expansion
of cotton textile manufacture in Athens.
By 1835, local entrepreneurs built three cotton factories in Athens, started a bank
and created the Georgia Railroad. Although now known best as a college town, Athens
became an industrial center for Georgia in the antebellum period and maintained its
stature as a factory town, even after competing cities supplanted it in the late 19th
century. Georgia, too, remained the foremost industrial state in the South until the
Gagnon reveals the political nature of procuring manufacturing technology and building
cotton mills in the South, and demonstrates the generational maturing of industrial
laboring, managerial and business classes well before the advent of the New South
era. He also demonstrates how a southern industrial society grew out of a culture
of social and educational reform, economic improvements and business interests in
banking and railroading.
Using Athens as a case study, Gagnon suggests that the connected networks of family,
business, and financial relations provided a framework for southern industry to profit
during the Civil War and to serve as a principal guide to prosperity in the immediate
Gagnon is assistant professor of history at Georgia Gwinnett College.
Posted on Tuesday, September 25, 2012