Industrial Pioneers: Scranton, Pennsylvania and the Transformation of America, 1840-1902: Interview with Patrick Brown
Patrick Brown was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He graduated Magna cum Laude from Georgetown University, where he won the Morris Medal for best senior history honors thesis. He currently teaches high school social studies in the Mississippi Delta through Teach for America.
His latest book is Industrial Pioneers: Scranton, Pennsylvania and the Transformation of America, 1840-1902, a detailed history account of the town of Scranton, Pennsylvania.
You can visit his website at http://www.industrialpioneers.com.
About Industrial Pioneers: Scranton, Pennsylvania and the Transformation of America, 1840-1902
During the nineteenth century, Scranton was the face of innovation, immigration, industrialization, and a rising America. Scranton was “the electric city” when electricity was the most exciting invention in the world, and a hub of technology and innovation—between 1840 and 1902, the city of Scranton changed from a lazy backwoods community to a modern industrial society with 100,000 residents. During this time, Scranton’s citizens desperately tried to adapt their thinking to keep up with the overwhelming changes around them, and in the process forged the world views that would define the twentieth century. As globalization, technology and immigration transform the United States today, this book revisits how the people the forefront of the industrial revolution moved from chaos to a new order, and how they found meaning within a rapidly changing world.
Periods of total societal transformation often provide the best material for historians. The way that Scranton’s residents reimagined their value within society in response to the changes around them did not evolve in step with technological and economic progress—rather, those living through these changes slowly and painfully adapted extant modes of thinking in light of their new life circumstances. This book weaves a cohesive narrative that explains how Scranton—and America—went from the personal, egalitarian society of the early days of the republic to the rigidly institutionalized society that endures today.
This book’s investigation of the history of Scranton allows the reader to witness the development of the distinct and interrelated ideologies that defined industrial America.
Q: Thank you for this interview, Patrick. Can you tell us what your latest book, Industrial Pioneers, is all about?
The book is about Scranton, Pennsylvania during the nineteenth century. Most people don’t know this, but Scranton was the Silicon Valley of the nineteenth century—it produced the coal, iron, steel, and steam technology that drove the nation’s industrialization. Many of the ideas that came to define how Americans viewed themselves in the twentieth century were born in the city, and how it happened is fascinating!
Q: How did you come up with the idea?
One fact in particular caught my eye while I was looking for an idea for my college senior thesis—that Scranton grew from 100 residents to 100,000 residents in 60 years! When I saw that, I knew I had a story to tell.
Q: What kind of research did you do before and during the writing of your book?
I researched the book chronologically—I began with the very early history of the area that became Scranton, and worked my way through to 1902, the endpoint of my book. I relied heavily on primary sources written by people who actually lived through events to describe the history of the city. While there are few secondary sources dealing specifically with Scranton during that time period, there are excellent secondary sources that investigate broader concepts in a national context, and I applied many of these ideas to the history of Scranton.
Q: If a reader can come away from reading your book with one valuable message, what would that be?
The way that people think about themselves always draws on the past. I hope that readers will realize that what happened over a hundred years ago in Scranton still has a powerful effect on how we view the world today.
Q: Can you give us a short excerpt?
Sure—this excerpt describes how, before industrialization, Americans creatively asserted themselves.
In the early days, when the area around Slocum Hollow [the town that would become Scranton] had little political power and was generally beholden to decisions made at the county seat in Wilkes-Barre, residents still found creative means to assert themselves. When a summons from the captain of the local militia (who was disliked for being both self-important and from Wilkes-Barre) commanded all men of military age to report for training pursuant to a law that had not been exercised for two decades, those summoned decided to undermine the order. Residents dressed up in ridiculous military costumes “which would have put Don Quixote to blush,” thereby making a mockery of the drill itself, and elected a “notoriously half-witted egoist” to the position of captain of the militia at the next election. The resulting situation proved so ridiculous that its reporting in local newspapers eventually resulted in the revocation of the laws in question.
Q: In your own experience, is it hard to get a nonfiction book published today? How did you do it?
I was fortunate to have serious support from the Lackawanna Historical Society in Scranton. The men and women there are truly dedicated to helping people understand the region’s past, and supported me from initial research to publishing. It also helped that the book has a built-in readership of local history buffs in Northeast Pennsylvania.
Q: What’s a typical day like for you?
I currently teach high school social studies in Greenville, Mississippi. On a typical day, I teach government, psychology, and world history to tenth, eleventh and twelfth graders.
Q: What’s next for you?
I do not currently have any plans for another book, but time will tell!
Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Patrick. We wish you much success!
Thank you, it has been great being here. Remember: all roads lead to Scranton!