Cambridge, Massachusetts between 1850 and 1920 served as an enormously important center of industrial development, advancement, and progress (Cambridge Historical Commission, 1965; Cambridge Historical Commission, 1971; Cambridge Historical Commission, 1977). As one contemporaneous historian observed at the turn of century, “it is its factories, rather than its educational institutions, that render the city famous” (Stone, 1930, pg. 773). Although Cambridge was home to some industrial concerns prior the second half of the nineteenth century, rapid industrialization in the area did not begin until the period following the Civil War. Indeed, with advent and extension of railroad transportation, the growth of domestic markets, and the arrival of immigrants populations, Cambridge specifically and New England generally were primed for industrial expansion (Cambridge Historical Commission, 1965; Cambridge Historical Commission, 1971; Cambridge Historical Commission, 1977).
Cambridge was a particularly attractive location for industrial companies for several reasons. Most significantly, Cambridge was ideal on account of its close proximity and ease of access to Boston, which functioned as a nationally important center of commerce. Likewise, Cambridge was also particularly well-connected in terms of its modes of transportation. The city had both excellent docks and canals for ocean shipping, as well as access to multiple national rail networks. Finally, Cambridge was deemed especially suitable for industrial development because it was in possession of large tracts of undeveloped land, an available supply of cheap immigrant labor, and substantial amounts of available capital (Cambridge Historical Commission, 1965; Cambridge Historical Commission, 1971; Cambridge Historical Commission, 1977).
Throughout the second half the nineteenth century and early portion of the twentieth century, Cambridge saw the establishment of several significant industries. Included among these industries were publishing, rubber products, paper collars, fire hoses, pianos and organs, meatpacking, wires and cables, soaps, foundry products, asphalt, machine products, oils and lards, furniture, confectionary goods, and carriages and automobiles (Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, 1928). With the onset of World War I and the introduction of transportation advances – including the construction of a subway between Boston and Cambridge – Cambridge industrialization entered into a period of phenomenal growth (Cambridge Historical Commission, 1971; Cambridge Historical Commission, 1965; Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, 1928). During this phase, which lasted until the end of World War II, Cambridge not only saw a diversification in its industries, but also changes in the size and extent of these industries. By the 1920s, Cambridge was ranked second in Massachusetts and third in New England in terms of the total value of the goods manufactured (Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, 1928).