Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution was the period of enormous social, economic and cultural change that began in the middle of the eighteenth century in Great Britain which expanded throughout the rest of the world. During this time, countries gradually shifted from a primarily agrarian society to one of machine industry and manufacture.

The Industrial Revolution brought about significant changes that transformed the way people lived. Some of the most crucial technological advancements include the uses of fossil fuel, steam for power and the development and manufacturing of steel for transportation. The inventions of the power loom and spinning jenny were significant timesavers to the textile industry and allowed an increase in output. Discoveries in the chemical industry led to the use of petroleum for fuel, which was used in the new internal combustion engines that propelled automobiles.

The high demand for manufactured goods did not necessarily lead to a higher quality of living in the cities. Air and water pollution from the factories, jeopardize the peoples’ health. Many factory owners took advantage of the workers who worked long hours in very dangerous circumstances.

The workers were also paid lowered wages. Children were also a source of labor during this time. Business owners could pay children considerably less than adult workers. The massive rate of immigrants who migrated from the country sides to work in the factories led to severe overcrowding in urban areas resulted in substandard living conditions.

The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain because social, political, and legal and geographical conditions. Property rights, such as those for patents on mechanical improvements, were well established. Earnings were safer, people could gain wealth, social prestige, and power more easily. Due to Britain’s geography, a system of internal waterways and canals made the transport of goods less difficult than in other nations. Coalfields, provided fuel to power the furnaces that and thick forests, located conveniently close to large deposits of metal ores produced iron. Commercial banks provided financing for investments in industrial plants and machinery.

These factors encouraged risk taking and investment in new business ventures, both crucial to economic growths. Advances in agriculture also contributed to the industrialization process. Beginning in the mid-17th century, England underwent a process of agricultural improvement that enabled fewer farmers to feed more people while cultivating the same amount of land.

Between 1750 and 1800, grain rose fifty percent; this increase sustained the steadily rising population in England which grew from 5.5 million in 1750 to around 9 million in 1801, to over 16 million by 1851. Agricultural improvement not only produced more food at cheaper prices, it also allowed farms to produce more food with fewer workers. Workers who could no longer find work on farms migrated to the towns in search of employment.

As a result, there was a dramatic shift in population during the 19th century from the agricultural southeast to the Midlands and the north, where industry was located. The first aspect of industrialization was on the production of cotton, which was used to produce clothing. At the beginning of the 18th century Britain still exported finished cotton cloth from India. Soon after manufacturing England became the world’s primary supplier of cotton cloth.

Developments such as the availability of cheap raw cotton from Egypt and America, and the invention of new machines that enabled workers to spin more thread and weave more cloth made this possible. The most important results of these changes were enormous increases in the output of goods per worker. A single spinner or weaver could now turn out many times more the volume of yarn or cloth that earlier workers had produced. This rising productivity was the central economic achievement that made the Industrial Revolution such a marvel in history.

During the development of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, coal was the main source of power. Even before the 18th century, some British industries had begun using the country’s plentiful coal supply instead of wood, which was much scarcer. The brewing, metalworking, and glass and ceramics industries adopted coal. Metal makers discovered ways of using coal and coke to speed the production of raw iron, bar iron, and other metals. In 1784, new techniques for rolling raw iron, a finishing process that shapes iron into the desired size and form, was invented.

These advances in metalworking were an important part of industrialization. They enabled iron, which was relatively inexpensive and abundant, to be used in many new ways, such as building heavy machinery. Iron was well suited for heavy machinery because of its strength and durability. Because of these new developments iron came to be used in machinery for many industries.

The steam engine was one of the most important machine technologies. Mills ran successfully with waterpower, but the advancement of using the steam engine meant that a factory would not have to be located close to water. Steam engines found many uses in a variety of other industries, including transportation by water and rail. Steam engines are another example of how some changes brought by industrialization led to even more changes in other areas.

After the first appearance of industrialization in Britain, many other nations eagerly pursued similar changes. In the 19th century the Industrial Revolution spread not only to the United States, but also to Germany, France, Belgium, and much of the rest of Western Europe.

Often, skilled British workers and knowledgeable entrepreneurs moved to other countries and taught the manufacturing techniques they had learned in Britain. Change occurred differently in each country because of varying resources, political conditions, and social and economic circumstances. In France, industrial development was somewhat delayed by political mishaps and a lack of coal.

Both France and Britain created railroad networks, for example, but the British did so entirely through private companies, while the French central government funded much of its country’s railways. Craft production, in which people make decorative or functional items by hand, also remained a more significant element in the French economy than it did in Britain. In some industries, such as furniture manufacturing, the extent of mechanization was not as great as it had been in Great Britain.

In Germany the central government’s role was also greater than it had been in Great Britain. This was partly because the German government wanted to hasten the process and catch up with British industrialization. Germany used its rich iron and coal resources to develop heavy industry, such as iron and steel manufacture. It also proved to be an environment that encouraged large businesses and cooperation among big firms.

A few large banks that coordinated efforts to increase industry, for example, dominated the German banking sector. In Russia, the government made repeated efforts to enable industrialization, sometimes hiring foreigners to build and operate whole factories.

On the whole, industrialization spread slower there. The Russian economy remained overwhelmingly agricultural for a long time. Even in largely industrialized areas, such as Western Europe and the United States, some areas lagged behind in industrial development. Southern Italy, Spain, and the American South remained largely agrarian until much later than their neighbors.

In Asia, industrialization varied, although as a whole it came much later than Western European development. In Japan, the first industrial Asian nation, the central government made industrialization a national goal during the late 19th century. Industrialization in some areas of China began in the early 20th century and increased near the end of the century.

Other Asian and Pacific Rim countries, such as South Korea and Taiwan, began to industrialize after the 1960s. In Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, India, and much of Latin America were colonies of Western nations, or were dominated by other nations for long periods of time.

The legacies of colonialism made widespread change difficult because the society and economy of colonies were heavily controlled by and dependent on the parent country. Although different cultures produced distinctive variations of an industrial revolution, the similarities are striking. Mechanization and urbanization were central to each area in which the Industrial Revolution succeeded, as were accompanying tensions and disruptions. In most societies, the truly revolutionary changes came during the first seventy five-one hundred years after the process of industrialization began.

After that, factory production dominated manufacturing, and most people moved to cities. Industrialization transformed nearly every aspect of British life. Ireland, which had grown faster than Scotland throughout the 18th century, failed to industrialize and remained largely agricultural, with dire consequences. Famine devastated Ireland in 1845 after a fungus destroyed the potato crop, which was a staple of the Irish diet. The growth of industrial cities was staggering.

The population as a whole grew drastically between 1801 and 1851; the population of towns such as Liverpool and Manchester grew by 1,000 percent. Town authorities found it impossible to regulate the explosion in the population. Landlords constructed poor housing simply to provide shelter. People lived in basements without light or heat. Sanitary conditions were horrible.

At one point in time in a district there were two hundred and fifteen people for every washroom. London, which had about one million inhabitants by 1801, grew to more than 2.3 million by 1850, majority of them were living in poverty. At one level, industrialization consolidated Britain’s position as the greatest power in the world. By 1830 Britain produced fi ty percent of Europe’s iron and cotton, seventy-five percent of its coal, and almost one hundred percent of its steam engines.

The English supplied the technological expertise for engineering in other countries, and they planned the railway systems for nearly all of Europe. Britain’s vast overseas empire was now as much a consumer of British manufactured goods, as it was a supplier of Britain’s raw materials. Steam-powered ships made the world seem like a smaller place in the same way that railroads had shrunk the British Isles.

Cargoes were now easily moved around to different location, and wealth poured into London and the commercial ports in western Britain. England tripled from 1801 to 1851, a ground breaking growth considering that the population doubled. However, this increase in wealth did not benefit everyone. If the standard of living rose for some, the quality of life declined for others. Agricultural labor was performed to seasonal rhythms by the light of the sun, but the clock governed factory production, twelve hours a day, six days a week.

Factory work was dangerous, filthy, and detrimental, but those who could get it were considered lucky compared to those who begged or starved in the streets. Workers were unprotected by social legislation efforts to eliminate child labor met serious opposition. There was no relief for those who could not afford food until, in 1795; a group of local justices in Berkshire inaugurated what was known as the Speenhamland System.

This system offered wage supplements to the price of bread and the size of a worker’s family. Local governments in other regions instituted similar programs. This did little to help the unemployed, however, and had the unintended effect of lowering wages. Employers discovered that, with relief available to workers, they could offer less in wages. In years of poor harvests, low investment, or economic slump, there was great misery among the poor.

Workers attempted to organize to force better conditions, but without protection against dismissal, their efforts were sporadic and violent. In 1819 one of Britain’s largest public demonstrations was held in Manchester. Between 50,000 and 60,000 people appealed for political and economic reform. Eleven people died, and more than 400 sustained injuries in what came to be known as the Peterloo Massacre.

This event was critical in the early history of labor organization in Britain; many moderate Britons were outraged at the government’s action and gave their support to the emerging labor movement. The modern, industrial societies created by the Industrial Revolution have arrived at some cost. The nature of work became worse for many people, and industrialization placed great pressures on the basic traditional family structures as work moved outside the home. The economic and social distances between groups within industrial societies are often very wide, as is the disparity between rich industrial nations and poorer neighboring countries.

The natural environment has also suffered from the effects of the Industrial Revolution. Pollution of water, land and air led to deforestation, and the destruction of animal and plant habitats continue to increase as industrialization spreads. The greatest benefits of industrialization are the increase material wealth and improved healthcare for many people in industrial societies. Modern industrial life also provided a constant change of goods and services. The American writer Mark Twain referred the industrial revolution this as the “Gilded Age”. The Industrial Revolution has been one of the most influential movements in human history.



·The Industrial Revolution 1760-1830, T.S. Ashton and P. Hudson ·Oxford University Press 1968 USA New Preface Pat Hudson 1997


·The British Industrial Revolution: An Economic Perspective by Joel Mokyr Westview Press 1999 USA

·The First Industrial Revolution by Phyllis Deane ·Cambridge University Press 2000 England ·