The Victorian Age spawned many technological advances in society, all beginning with the Industrial Revolution. The late eighteenth and early nineteenth century in England brought the largest advance in technology in the world. “The Industrial Revolution was a series of improvements in industrial technology that transformed the process of manufacturing goods” (Rubenstein). The Industrial Revolution also allowed for the expansion of the middle class.
It was the beginning of modern day society by causing the transference of a mostly rural agricultural society to an urban manufacturing society. According to Joseph A. Montagna, a professor at Yale University, this period is appropriately labeled “revolution” because it completely destroyed the old way of doing things. However, it is also inaccurate characterization because it suggests abrupt change. The Industrial Revolution gradually brought change into the new world over several hundred years.
At the start of the Industrial Revolution, in the eighteenth century the population grew at a faster rate than ever before. The reduction of illness around the globe and the increase of accessible food allowed for major population growth. However, urbanization caused a major increase in pollution. Industrial growth cause massive pollution of the air, water, and land. It also caused a lack in sanitation, overcrowding, and newborn illnesses. In an article by Clark Nardinelli, the author disusses the question on whether or not the benefits of the Industrial Revolution outweighed the consequenses during that time.
Some of these consequeses, such as pollution, are still being dealt with in the modern world. Even so, with the adoption of the factory system, masses of people began moving to where the factories were located. Some factories however, moved to already existing towns and cities. This allowed for easy access to raw materials and a readily available labor force. The primary reason for locating in existing towns however, was power.
The earliest form of energy came from hydroelectricity. Factories were forced to locate near streams or rivers, making finding a location for a factory very difficult. This eventually led to the invention of the steam engine by James Watt in 1765. According to an article by Carl Lira on the history of the steam engine, the Watt steam engine reduced the energy needed for function and also increased productivity. In another article on James Watt by Matthias Geissbuhler, Christoph Eggimann and Tiana Lucie, Watt used the principle on the natural expansion of steam in order to create his high efficiency steam engine.
The development of the steam powered engine was a catalyst for the Industrial Revolution and allowed for many other advances in technology. It was used to power trains, cars, ships, tractors, and other industrial machinery.
Technological advances of this era included advances in agricultural technology. This allowed for vast sources of raw materials for industrial use. Some of these industries included coal and iron. These manufacturers were also the first users of steam engines. Agricultural technology such as steam powered tractors, use of fertilizers, crop rotation, and irrigation systems also allowed for an improvement in the yield of crops. This made it possible to feed many factory workers at once which increased the overall labor force. As industries became more productive, people from all over the world began to give up agricultural production to enter into the world of industry and capital.
“A person had to have a lot of capital to buy machines and open a factory. Those who were successful made huge profits with which to buy more machines, put up larger buildings, and purchase supplies in greater quantities at enormous savings. Thus capital increased far more rapidly than it ever had before” (Hackett).
During this time in England, the primary source of wealth switched from land to capital and led to the creation of the first national banks. Industries relied on two forms of capital; long-term and short-term capital. The payment of workers created a problem for factories as there were no banking systems to control distribution of capital. National banks and a banking system were eventually set up to distribute and store capital as needed.
The Industrial Revolution led to many other problems in the Victorian Era. Factory workers endured very harsh conditions which included long hours and low wages. Rural families, moving into cities in the hopes of better work, found themselves working 16 hour shifts for minimum wage. Child labor also played an important role in the Industrial Revolution. An article on child labor by David Cody discusses how a family of the working class would not be able to support itself if the child did not work.
The children between the ages of 5 and 18 were also forced to work 16 hour shifts. The author goes on to explain that it was not until 1833 that the government reduced the maximum work shifts to 8-12 hours and increased the minimum age limit to 9 years old. In 1840 less than 20 percent of all children attended school at least once a week. Those who were not already occupied with an apprenticeship were forced to work without any limits (Cody).
Factory Acts that were later enacted by Parliament regulated the number of hours that men, woman, and children worked (Montagna). Eventually workers banded together and created a movement that later would lead to the freedom of workers from the harsh conditions of the factory system.
Over time workers gradually gained their freedom and the factory system became what it is today. As the Industrial Revolution progressed, industries expanded around the world and brought the middle class with them. Today, people of the middle class take advantage of products made by machines almost every hour of every day. The clothes they have in their closet, the lunch they buy at school, the bus they ride home in, and many other manufactured goods are taken advantaged of every day.
The standard of living that the average American holds in their mind is much higher than it would have been 200 years ago. Without the Industrial Revolution, we would be making our clothes by hand and hunting for our dinner in our backyard instead of going to school. All in all the Industrial Revolution transformed the face of technology in the nineteenth century, and introduced the people of the Victorian Era into the modern world that it is today.