Three closely related factors—industrialism, nationalism, and imperialism—soon combined to reinforce American enthusiasm for technology as a key element of national policy. By the end of the nineteenth century, the first industrial revolution (begun in England and concerned with adding steam power to manufacturing) yielded to a larger, globally oriented second industrial revolution, linked to broader systems of technological production and to imperialistic practice. In contrast to the first industrial revolution, which was regional and primarily affected manufacturers and urban dwellers, the second industrial revolution introduced mass-produced goods into an increasingly technologically dependent and international market. The rise of mass-produced sewing machines, automobiles, electrical lighting systems, and communications marked a profound transformation of methods of production and economics, becoming a major contributor to national economies in America and its European competitors. Manufacturing in the United States steadily climbed while the percentage of Americans working in agriculture declined from 84 percent in 1800 to less than 40 percent in 1900.
The second industrial revolution caused three important changes in the way Americans thought about the world and the best ways they could achieve national goals. First, the process of rapid industrialism brought about a heightened standard of living for many Americans, creating for the first time a distinct middle class. By the turn of the twentieth century, the architects of the interlocked technological systems that had made the United States an economic powerhouse—from the steel magnate Andrew Carnegie to the oil baron John D. Rockefeller and the inventor and electrical systems creator Thomas Alva Edison—were increasingly represented in Washington, and their concerns helped shape foreign policy discussions. Second, and closely related, industrialization heightened an emerging sense of national identity and professionalization among citizens in the leading industrialized nations. The rise of nationalism was fueled not only by the technologies that these system builders created, but by other technologies and systems that rose with them, including low-cost mass-circulation newspapers, recordings of popular songs and national anthems, and public schools designed to instill in pupils the work ethic and social structure of the modern factory. The late nineteenth century was also the time that national and international scientific societies were created. American science was growing through the increasing numbers of young scientists who flocked to European universities to earn their Ph.D.s, carrying home a wealth of international contacts and commitments to higher standards. It was no coincidence that the rise of professional scientific communities paralleled the expanding middle class, as both groups found common support in the expansion of land-grant and private universities and in the industrial opportunities that awaited graduates of those universities. These new networks crystallized swiftly: they included the American Chemical Society (1876), the International Congress of Physiological Sciences (1889), the American Astronomical Society (1899), and the International Association of Academies (1899). The American Physical Society (1899) was founded two years before the federal government created the National Bureau of Standards, reflecting growing concerns from industrialists about creating international standards for manufacture.
Finally, the rise of advanced capitalist economies came to split the globe into "advanced" and "backward" regions, creating a distinct group of industrial nations linked to myriad colonial dependencies. Between 1880 and 1914 most of the Earth's surface was partitioned into territories ruled by the imperial powers, an arrangement precipitated by strategic, economic, and trade needs of these modern states, including the securing of raw materials such as rubber, timber, and petroleum. By the early 1900s, Africa was split entirely between Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, and Spain, while Britain acquired significant parts of the East Asian subcontinent, including India. The demands of modern technological systems both promoted and reinforced these changes. The British navy launched the HMS Dreadnought in 1906, a super-battleship with greater speed and firing range than any other vessel, to help maintain its national edge and competitive standing among its trade routes and partners, while imperialistic relations were maintained by technological disparities in small-bore weapons. One was a rapid-fire machine gun invented by Sir Hiram Maxim, adapted by British and European armies after the late 1880s. Its role in the emerging arms race of the late nineteenth century was summed in an oftrepeated line of doggerel: "Whatever happens we have got/The Maxim gun and they have not."
The American experience in imperialism was less extensive than that of the leading European industrial nations, but nonetheless marked a striking shift from its earlier foreign policy. Until the early 1890s American diplomatic policy favored keeping the nation out of entangling alliances, and the United States had no overseas possessions. But by 1894 the United States came to administer the islands of Hawaii, and after the Spanish-American War of 1898 gained possession of (and later annexed) the Philippines. The story of America's beginnings as an imperial power has often been told, but the significance of technology and technological systems as a central factor in this development is not well appreciated. It is perhaps easier to see in the U.S. acquisition of the Panama Canal Zone in 1903. President Theodore Roosevelt and other American leaders recognized how an American-controlled canal would enhance its trade and strategic standing within the Pacific; they also had little doubt that U.S. industrialists and systems builders could construct it. A widely published photograph from that time reveals Roosevelt seated behind the controls of a massive earthmover in the Canal Zone. This single technological artifact served as an apt metaphor for the far larger technological system that turn-of-the-century Americans took great pride in creating.
World War I—a global conflict sparked by the clashing nationalistic aims of leading imperialist nations—pulled scientists and engineers further into the realm of diplomacy. While scientists continued to insist on the apolitical character of science, publication of a highly nationalistic defense of the German invasion of Serbia by leading German scientists in 1914 had left that ideal in tatters. More important, perhaps, was how the war educated Americans about its emerging role as a premier technological nation, and the importance of maintaining adequate sources of petroleum. After 1918, U.S. firms gained Germany's treasured chemical patents as war reparations, expanding American domination of textiles and the petrochemical industries. Americans also found that the leaders of the Russian revolution of 1917, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, coveted American machinery and the American system of production to build the Soviet republic. By 1929 the Ford Motor Company had signed agreements with Moscow to build thousands of Ford autos and trucks, and Soviet authorities sought to adapt the management principles of Frederick Winslow Taylor in a Russian version of Taylorism.
The widening intersection between science, technology, and foreign relations was not limited entirely to contests between the United States and other imperialist powers. In the Progressive Era, biologists began to urge diplomats to aid efforts to preserve threatened species whose migrations took them across international boundaries. While efforts to ameliorate overfishing in the boundary waters separating the United States and Canada and seal hunting in the Bering Sea in the early 1890s amounted to little, a strong campaign to aid songbird populations resulted in the Migratory Bird Act of 1918 between the United States and Great Britain (on behalf of Canada), one of the most important early instances of a bilateral science-based treaty negotiated by the federal government. The significance of this treaty was not just what it accomplished (even though it served as an exemplar for other environmental treaties between the United States and its neighbors, including the Colorado River water treaty signed with Mexico in 1944). It also underscored the growing appeal of conservation values among middle-and upper-class American citizens, who joined with scientists to create nature preserves in unspoiled wilderness areas outside the United States, particularly in Africa. In such places, "nature appreciation" emerged as a commodity for tourism, its value determined by declining opportunities to experience wilderness in the North American continent. Private investments of this kind became a potent area of U.S. influence in the world's less developed areas, and took place alongside more traditional interactions including trade relations and missionary work.