The Industrial Revolution: a Time of Great Advancement and Change

Peter Stearns claims that the industrial revolution was an intensely human experience. What initially arose as scientific advancements in metallurgy and machine building, the industrial revolution period saw a redefinition of life as a whole. As industry changed, human life began to adapt. Work life was drastically changed which, in turn, resulted in family life being affected. As is human nature, major change was met with great resistant. Ultimately, the most successful people during the transition were those that adapted quickly.

The industrial revolution is often mistakenly thought of simply as a time period when science was becoming more organized and resulted in the production of new machinery. The Industrial revolution was a period when major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation had a profound effect on socioeconomic and cultural conditions. The Industrial revolution denoted a major turning point in human social history as nearly every aspect of daily life and human society was influenced in some way.

The industrial revolution was marked by a shift of power. The power source before the revolution was human power. Human and animal muscle was the driving force behind all forms of production. At first, machinery saw an increase in manual labor in the form of railway production and canal excavations. Ultimately, the introduction of machinery resulted in a decline in subjugated men and instead man’s intellectual capacity was being utilized. As a result of the shift of power and the new role undertaken by human labor, education became increasingly important.

A privilege once reserved for the upper class, education was afforded to the working class in an effort to improve industrial efficiency. The gap between the classes was now smaller. Over time, the industry-driven education effort would cause the elimination of a totally illiterate class. Industrialization led to the creation of the factory. The factory system resulted in the formation of cities as large numbers of people sought work in the factories. “Manchester, Britain’s cotton capital, grew from a modest town of 25,000 in 1772 to a metropolis of 367,232 by 1851.”

The increase in population led to a more youthful distribution of age. Employers could pay a child less than an adult and since strength was not a particularly useful attribute, with machines providing the power, productivity would be minimally affected. Industrial period home life was changed significantly. Homes were no longer a source of production. The rate of marriage increased as far more people could support a family and marriage itself offered advantages. Men, women, and even children were making contributions to the family’s income.

An issue arose in the form of long work hours that would put a strain on family, or at the very least refine roles. Family time was often spent emotionally supporting one another after a very difficult day. “In the long run, obviously, the chief impact of the industrial revolution was to dissociate children from productive labor.” Families increasingly kept their sons from work until twelve or fourteen. Education was seen as more important than making a contribution economically.

By the 1830s, compulsory education was first starting to appear. A redefinition of childhood had a big impact on the family. Fathers and their children were separated by the long work days. Parents had to reconsider how many children to have. The cost of raising children and supporting them through school has increased thus many families saw it fit to have less children solely as an economic choice. Birthrates decreased as did the average family size.

The industrial revolution also spurred change in government policy. “All Western governments began to participate in new activities relating to railroad expansion, industrial tariff policies, and sponsorship of technical expositions.” Governments provided more public schooling along with technical schools to enhance the skills of experts. Child labor laws were yet another government product of the time period. A truly human experience, the industrial revolution is rooted in materialism, as was the Neolithic revolution. “The industrial revolution encouraged pursuit of material gains and belief in power of science and technology.”

The purveying interest in secular culture over religious culture led to religious extremism. Some chose to become devout Catholics and Methodists and used their religion to balance working-life. The secularization process led others to socialism while an increase in scientific knowledge yielded an increase in Darwinism. Religion was not the only source of division. The burgeoning middle class threatened the prestige of the aristocratic society. The aristocrats, who assumed their power by landownership, now saw the multiplication of factories undercut its economic base.

However, many individual aristocrats participated in efforts to regulate the harsh working conditions of the industrial period. The main source of conflict was between middle-class and working-class people. The middle-class who supervised the working-class was more interested in productivity and profits while the working-class called for more humane conditions. Protest marked the industrial revolution. Poor working conditions and low wages resulted in the first strikes, or refusals to work. Strike movements eventually turned into calls for larger organizational movements. The first labor unions were formed.

The unions were established in an effort to return some power back to the workers. The industrial revolution was a time of hardship for the majority of the population. Quality of life seemingly was decreased as life revolved around work. While the costs were high, the increase in production and importance of human capital counter-balance adequately. Most importantly, the move toward compulsory education is arguably the most important product of the period.

The rise in education would eventually result in further advancements, namely in medicine. A common theme throughout human existence recognized here is an increase in education results in major progress The industrial revolution was a time period of great change. While the period is characterized by advancements in production, the real revolution was in human life. All aspects of life from work life to home life to social organization were impacted by the movement. The industrial revolution was a time period whose effect forever changed the world.