Shipbuilding and commerce became major occupations toward the end of the 17th century. From then until the American Revolution (1775-1783) the colony profited from a prosperous triangular trade in rum, sugar and molasses, and slaves. Following the decline of the triangular trade after the American Revolution, whaling and the manufacture of spermaceti candles from sperm oil, which is from the head and blubber of the sperm whale, became major economic activities. Rhode Island merchants became active in China and other parts of East Asia. However, whaling and commerce gradually declined after 1790, and Rhode Island began to concentrate instead on manufacturing industries. Rhode Island was one of the first states to industrialize. Because Samuel Slater built the first successful American cotton mill in the state in 1793, Rhode Island is sometimes referred to as the cradle of the American factory system.
Several of the major industries of present-day Rhode Island, including metalworking, textile manufacturing, and the manufacture of costume jewelry, date back to before 1800.
JRhode Island had a work force of 523,000 in 2008. Representing 40 percent of the state’s employment, the service industries constituted the largest job sector. The category includes a wide variety of work, ranging from office jobs to auto repair. Retail or wholesale trade employed 20 percent of the job holders; 10 percent work in manufacturing; 13 in federal, state, or local government, including those people in the military; 18 percent in finance, insurance, or real estate; 4 percent in construction; 16 percent in transportation or public utilities; and 1 percent in farming (including agricultural services), forestry, or fishing. Mining employment is insignificant. In 2007, 15 percent of Rhode Island’s workers were members of a labor union. The state has one of the nation’s few unionized work forces that increased in size during the 1990s. "Rhode Island" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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