Lewis Mumford, "The Fourth Migration," The Survey, Graphic Number 54, no. 3 (May 1, 1925): 130-33.



In a period of flow, men have the opportunity to remold themselves and their institutions. The great migrations that swept over Europe and crawled through the formidable American wilderness -- these great tides of population, which unloosed all the old bonds, have presented such an opportunity. To some of us it seems that in America we are in the midst of another such tidal movement of population -- and for convenience we have called it the Fourth Migration.

Historically, there are two Americas: the America of the settlement and the America of the migrations. The first America consists of the communities that were planted on the seaboard and up the river valleys during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. By 1850 these communities had achieved their maximum development; they had worked out a well-rounded industrial and agricultural life, based upon the fullest use of their regional resources through the water-wheel, mill and farm and they had created that fine provincial culture, humbly represented in the schools, universities, lyceums and churches, which came to a full efflorescence in the scholarship of Motley, Prescott, Parkman and Marsh, and in the literature of Emerson, Thoreau, Melville, Whitman, and Poe.

The second America is the America of the migrations; the first migration that cleared the land west of the Alleghenies and opened the continent, the work of the land pioneer; the second migration, that worked over this fabric a new pattern of factories, railroads, and dingy industrial towns, the bequest of the industrial pioneer; and finally -- and this brings us down to the present period -- there is the America of the third migration, the flow of men and materials into our financial centers, the cities where buildings and profits leap upward in riotous pyramids. These three migrations have covered the continent and knitted together its present framework; and our efforts to promote social welfare, to "make crooked cities straight," and to conduct industries efficiently are based for the most part on the notion that this framework is complete and satisfactory -- and final.

But the mold of America has not been set: we are again in another period of flow, caused like the flows of the past by new industrial methods, new wants and necessities, and new ideals of life, and we have before us the great adventure of working out a new pattern so that the fourth migration will give to the whole continent that stable, well-balanced, settled, cultivated life which grew out of its provincial settlement. We can hinder this tidal change and rob ourselves of its potential benefits by adjusting our plans to the forces that were dominant in the recent past; or we can remold our plans and guide our actions in terms of a more desirable future. This alternative goes down to the very roots of social philosophy. John Dewey has implicitly warned us of the fallacy of the first attitude; for in dealing with social facts that lie in the future, our hypothesis and our working plan are among the elements that determine the outcome. The sheaf of articles presented in this issue uncovers a new set of facts and presents a fresh set of alternatives, which seek not to create a Fourth Migration -- that is already under way -- but to guide it into positive and fruitful channels.

In order to put the Fourth Migration in perspective, let us consider briefly the three great movements of population which every civilization in Europe has experienced at some time in its history. In American this experience was crowded into the short space of a little more than a century; and these three movements had certain peculiar characteristics which left their mark on our landscape and our life.

The first migration was the clearing of the continent; and its symbol was the covered wagon. Before the Revolutionary War America was in reality a fringe of Europe: here was a Biblical "city of refuge," there a penal colony, and in another place an experimental society. From the close of the war the colonists found themselves bound by an unprecedented urge to take possession of the continent; and the history of the pioneers is the history of restless men who burned the forests of the Mohawk valley in order to plant farms, who shifted into the soft glacial deposits of Ohio in order to cleave their plows through its rich soil; men who grabbed wheat land and skinned it, who grabbed urban sites and "turned them over"; who staked out railway lines, sometimes strategically, like the Lehigh, and sometimes stupidly, like the Erie, in a mad scramble to cover the continent.

During the period from 1790 to 1890, when almost the last good free lands were disposed of, the farmers and woodmen and miners of the country lived symbolically, if not actually, in covered wagons. The little communities that clustered about the mine or the railway station were towns and villages only by courtesy of the census taker: they lacked the traditional resources of a common life -- their games, their religious revivals, their intellectual stimuli, were all of the crudest. Pleasure never interfered with the "business" of the early pioneer; because business was his pleasure. The gospel of work needed no Carlyle for preacher in pioneer America. It is conceivable that the first migration might have been made soberly; that where might have been a consistent prospecting for good sites, at attempt to sort out the newcomers by directing them to the type of land and community they needed, and an effort to secure stable farming and a sound exploitation of resources. The "necessity" for opening the continent was largely mythical: it was, in all probability, a rationalization of the land-hungry European. All these better methods were, perhaps, conceivable; but as things stood, they didnŐt come to pass; and ever since 1890 we have been feeling the effects if the disorderly first migration: the butchered forests; farms gone to ruin or into a ruinous system of tenantry; villages so sterile that they drive all their ambitious or sensitive young people to the big towns. The conservation movement is a belated attempt to repair the evils of the first migration, and to use the land and its resources with some respect to their permanent productive capacity. Its chief weakness is that, in protest against our misuse of the remaining resources it tends to be negative, and is only beginning to develop a consistent regional program for their proper social use and development. As conservation passes out of this negative state, it tends to find common cause with the rural side of regional planning. But this is to anticipate.

The second great flow of population in America was from the countryside and from foreign countries into the factory town; the covered wagon gives way to the iron horse. Up to 1820 the chief concentration of people had been in the trading centers of the seaboard and the river junctures. With the introduction of steam power, factories were erected in places where power, as in the milltowns of Pennsylvania, or factory hands, as in the seaports, seemed most available. Cleveland in 1820, Columbus in 1830 and Chicago in 1840, with the rapid growth of all the industrial towns in the industrial expansion of the Civil War, tell a graphic tale of the westward march of men and manufactures.

The conditions that determined this flow of population were narrowly industrial: a city was considered solely as a place of work and business opportunity. That children need a chance to play and grow, that families need decent shelter and privacy and a few amenities, that learning and culture are worth encouraging for their own sake -- these things were too often forgotten and ignored by the men who fostered the new industrialism. The result is familiar, and there is scarcely a town with more than 10,000 people and a working population which will not serve for example. Homes blocked and crowded by factories; rivers polluted; factories and railway yards seizing sites that should have been preserved for recreation; inadequate homes, thrown together anyhow, for sale anyhow, inhabitants anyhow. The result was called prosperity in the census reports, but that was because no one tried to strike a balance between the private gains and the social losses.

To offset the depletions and dilapidations of the second migration,a special kind of "conservation" was instituted. The housing movement began in New York when a group of public-spirited citizens discovered that vice, crime and disease were largely by-products of an impoverished and congested environment. City planning came later. Meanwhile in every industrial center remedial agencies from soup kitchens to building and loan associations, from social settlements to employment bureaus, have been endeavoring to supply, partly from private means, the necessary facilities for living and enjoyment that were left out in the growth and expansion of the industrial town.

On certain sides the deficit has been terrific; scarcely any large town founded before 1880 has attempted to house the whole community with a respectable minimum of light, air, garden space and playgrounds, to say nothing of parks and access to open country; and although a great part of mechanical industry is burdened with overproduction -- which it recovers from by periodic shutdowns at the expense of the workers -- it waited the suggestion of Peter Kropotkin, and the technical innovation of Henry Ford, actually to hold out the prospect of an environment in which industrial idleness might be bridged over by a certain sustaining minimum of agricultural labor. In short, if the first migration denuded the country of its natural resources, the second migration ruthlessly cut down and ignored its human resources. This, too, is the history of a wasted opportunity. With every chance to begin afresh, the industrial revolution in America reproduced -- if we ignore a few isolated villages -- all the bad characteristics of industrialism in Europe. Dickens' Coketown duplicated itself in Pittsburgh, Chicago, St. Louis, Newark, Bridgeport, or where you please.

The magnet of the third migration was the financial center. As the industrial system developed in America productive effort came to take second place to financial direction, and in the great consolidations of industry that began in the eighties, in the growth of banking and insurance facilities in the 'nineties, and in the development of advertising for the purpose of securing a national market, that got under way in the present century, the sales and promotion departments have absorbed, directly or indirectly, a large part of the population.

The greatest concentration in all these departments took place, of course, in New York, whose overseas connections put it into a peculiarly strategic position; but within the past generation a similar development has taken place in the regional sub-metropolises, that is to say, in the twelve cities which now have a nominal population of over 500,000 and in most cases in actual population, when suburban areas are considered, of over a million. With the exception of New York, which controls very largely the journalism, banking, insurance and advertising of the whole country, and of Chicago, which operates similarly in the middle west, these sub-metropolises -- as a glance at their position will show -- are really regional centers whose natural growth has received an additional stimulus from these peculiar financial opportunities.

The third migration has resulted in a steady drain of goods, people and pecuniary resources from the industrial towns and villages of the earlier migrations, and along with it the new sub-metropolises have acquired cultural resources which the rest of the country has lacked, or has achieved only tardily. The art museums, libraries, universities, research institutions, and theaters were at first monopolized by the older cities of the seaboard; and it has been only with great effort that the sub-metropolises, with their original industrial base, have begun to equalize the financial advantages of New York. As it is, no one can do first rate scholarly research in many lines without going to New York or Boston, Philadelphia or Chicago; and by the same token, it is New York that monopolizes the theaters and sends out road-companies to the rest of the country, as Dives might scatter the crumbs from his table.

When we speak of the disadvantages of the third migration, it is important that we should distinguish between the economic basis of that migration and its cultural by-product. So far from looking for the growth of regional centers of culture to cease, we should perhaps count upon its increasing as soon as the social and economic disadvantages of excessive concentration are done away with.

There are two things that should be notices about the first three migrations. The first is that the movement of population is not from farm-village to industrial town, to financial metropolis; the migrations rather come as successive waves, and while one wave recedes as the next comes foaming in, the first nevertheless persists and mingles with the second as an undertow. The present migration to the fruit farming and dry farming areas, or the new migration to the reclaimed swamps, marks the continuance of the first migration. Each migration represents a particular type of economic and social effort: the life that Daniel Boone sought is a different life from that a Wall Street broker or an advertising man thinks desirable. The first migration sought land; the second industrial production; the third, financial direction and culture; but as a matter of fact, each of these types of effort and occupation is needed for a stable, all-round community. Only here and there have we even fitfully attempted to utilize the land intelligently, relate industry to power, resources and market, and provide an adequate "human plant" for the community at large. To effect this union is the task of the fourth migration.

What, then, is the basis of the fourth migration? Its basis is the technological revolution that has taken place during the last thirty years -- a revolution which has made the existing layout of cities and the existing distribution of population out of square with the new opportunities. The first change is that which has taken place in transportation: the railroad is no longer the sole means of rapid transportation. The automobile has brought goods and markets together, not lineraly, as the railroads tend to do, but areally; so that a great deal of ground untouched by the railroad has been made accessible to the automobile. Chain stores have been quick to grasp the advantages of covering territory in this fashion, and the truck that makes its rounds through the small villages and towns receives the current surplus of eggs and butter, for distribution beyond the local market area.

Similarly, the automobile has increased the radius of the school and the library service, and it has likewise provided a basis for a system of direct marketing which now exists, unfortunately, only for summer-communities, but which could, were summer-communities made permanent, be made the basis for a year round supply of mile, eggs, butter, poultry and garden produce. In many parts of the United States the summer-community bas assured the farmer of a stable income which his remoter metropolitan markets did not assure him. The railroad, moreover, tends to concentrate population near its lines; and there are city planners who, thinking in terms of the railway era, look forward to a complete consolidation of population in the seaboard and lake areas, along these lines. The railroads themselves have done what they could to promote this concentration by subsidizing a large commuting population, in order to increase the amount of non-commuting traffic.

Mark the contrasting type of development brought in by the automobile. The motor road does not depend upon concentration of population for its upkeep; indeed, instead of concentrating on main highways or trunklines, the motor highway system is best kept up, without heavy wear and tear on one hand or practical disuse on the other, by spreading the load of traffic and taxes. The tendency of the automobile, in other words, is within limits to disperse population rather than to concentrate it; and any projects which may be put forward for concentrating people in Greater-City areas blindly run against the opportunities the automobile opens out. Whether the airplane will work centrifugally or centripetally it is hard at the moment to tell: at present, with the volume of traffic slight, aviation has tended to develop air-lanes; but if the volume increases an aerial network, less bound to linear movements than even the automobile, seems at least a likelihood.

The second factor which bears upon the new layout of population is our means of communication. The set towards urban concentration in industry and social life dates before the days of the telephone, when all personal contacts had to be made on the spot. Today the spot can be any point in a large area -- in theory the whole United States, in practice the ten cent call zone -- and still the contact can be effective and personal. In certain lines, where the bargaining between buyer and seller is still intimate, face-to-face meeting is a necessity; but this concerns the business end of production more than the factory end, and a great many factories, which are now on the periphery of Chicago, St. Louis, or Philadelphia, might with equal success be conducted at any point in a much wider region, even if the eventual market for the product were concentrated. The telegraph symbolically follows the railroad; the telephone, with kindred symbolism, follows the motor highway. So much for the business end of communication.

Socially, the popularization of the radio has made concentration even more obsolete, for today the songs, the news, the gossip and the speeches, where were once available only by taking a journey and sitting in a hall, are now increasingly the property of anyone who possesses a radio outfit; and the remote countryman is just as near the events and amusements which many city people regard as the indispensable benefits of the big city, as the flat-dwellers of the Bronx or the rabbit-hutch dwellers of Philadelphia. In other words, the radio is potentially a distributive and decentralizing agency. Finally, the parcel post has placed the rural dweller who has the postman collect the mail from his door even nearer to his market or his neighbor than the city dweller, who must walk to the post-office to mail a package. Our modern methods of transportation, in fact, have reduced many of our boasted metropolitan advantages to nil.

Finally, electric transmission, in its recent phase, can send energy over a wide area without undue loss, and here again, instead of being tethered to the railroad and its coal shipments, industry can move out of the railroad zone without moving out of the power zone. Where water-power is available, the location of the factory need have no relation at all to the older technology. Moreover, for the economic distribution of power, engineers have found it advisable to have a balanced load, that is to say, a day-consumption (industrial) and a night-consumption (home) within the same local area; for when these two types are separated, the equipment that serves the daytime city lies largely idle at night.

All this, it goes without saying, means that our modern power facilities are favored by, and favor, a wide distribution of population. The three hundred mile transmission belt, plus the motor highway, has made the coal railway center an antiquated industrial site. Industry under modern technology has a much wider choice of site than ever before. If it does not exercise this choice it tends to lose in efficiency of operation and personnel. As yet, it has scarcely begun to exercise it, partly because the inertia of custom and business enterprise has bound it to the old centers, and partly because its attention has been directed to the advantages that would accrue to it;and finally because it can make no move which does not involve the housing of its workers and the provision of municipal services. An occasional factory or steel plant has made the attempt; but industry as a whole has not. It remains for regional planning to develop all these factors at once, as part of the technique of the Fourth Migration.

Now the third migration has not produced a good environment; it has sacrificed home, health, and happiness to the pursuit of business enterprise designed to produce maximum profits. Those centers which have concentrated most feverishly upon business efficiency are farthest away from having adequate homes and all the accessory institutions that round out a well-developed community. The forces that are concerned solely with business enterprise lose no opportunity for stressing the necessity of continuing the third migration; and city planners who fall in line with it plan for the agglomeration of ever-greater urban regions. This method and this attitude take altogether too much for granted, and if they have the great advantage of following the line of least resistance they too easily ignore the significance of new methods and new procedures which shift the direction of that line.

It is evident that each great movement of population, in sum, presents a new opportunity and a new task, and wisdom consists in taking advantage of the movement while it is still fluid. Fortunately for us, the fourth migration is only beginning: we may either permit it to crystallize in a formation quite as bad as those of our earlier migrations, or we may turn it to better account by leading it into new channels. To suggest what these new channels are, to show how necessary it is for us to trench them open, and to indicate how much the future may hold for us if we are ready to seize our destiny and shape it freshly -- that is the purpose of the present articles. Even if there were no fourth migration on the horizon it would be necessary to invent one. It is at least a more fruitful hypothesis than any of those we are now blindly following.



F&M College/American Studies/David Schuyler

March 26, 1998