Augusta made major commitments to industrialization earlier than most other Southern cities, in response to a growing concern that the cotton states were becoming too economically dependent on the industrial North.
Grist mills and sawmills first harnessed the water power of swift flowing streams, but the greatest encouragement for industrial expansion resulted from the construction of the Augusta Canal. Conceived by influential business leaders led by Henry H. Cumming, the canal was completed in 1847 on three levels running through the western edge of the city.
Water enters the canal from the river through headgates located seven miles upstream.
The Augusta Manufacturing Company, a textile mill, was the first industry to locate on the canal, followed by flour mills and foundries producing agricultural implements, machine parts, and locomotives.
During the War Between The States, Augusta industries formed a vital center of war supplies to the Confederate Government. Although valuable as a supplier of food, clothing, and field equipment, the single most important contribution to the war effort was the manufacture of gunpowder at an extensive factory completed in 1862.
Enlargement of the canal after the war created additional power for the expansion of textile manufacturing and
related industries along its banks.