The era known as the Industrial Revolution was a period in which fundamental changes occurred in agriculture, textile and metal manufacture, transportation, economic policies and the social structure in England. It is almost impossible to imagine what the world would be like if the effects of the Industrial Revolution were swept away. Electric lights would go out. Automobiles and airplanes would vanish. Telephones, radios, and television would disappear. Most of the stocks on the shelves of department stores would be gone.
Over the course of a century, Britain went from a largely rural, agrarian population to a country of industrialized towns, factories, mines and workshops. Britain was, in fact, already beginning to develop a manufacturing industry during the beginning years of the early 18th century, but it was from the 1730's that its growth accelerated. Although some parts of the Industrial Revolution can be seen as ghastly and negative, the majority, including the final outcome, of the Revolution was unimaginably good for the country of Britain. The Industrial Revolution was a positive era in Britain’s history.
However, initially, the Industrial Revolution appeared to bring no benefits at all to the country. The factories subjected men, women, and even child labourers to low wages, harsh punishments, and unprotected work around machinery. Food and medicine was expensive for poor factory workers, and thus they could only afford to eat an unhealthy diet which contributed to the extreme malnutrition and sickness in the cities.
During the early years of the revolution, child workers were very common in factories across Britain. Children as young as five and six years old worked for twelve to sixteen hours a day, six days a week without breaks for meals.(Marx 1909) These children would be forced to work in hot, stuffy, poorly lit, overcrowded factories to earn as little as four shillings a week. The demand for child labour was so great that it led to many children suffering. Children
2 were cheap, they were ideal factory workers because they were obedient, submissive, likely to respond to punishment and did not form unions. In addition, since the machines had reduced many procedures to simple one-step tasks, cheap unskilled children could replace expensive skilled workers.
Finally, children were the perfect factory worker because their nimble fingers and small stature suited the new machinery and work situations perfectly. Not only was child labour a horrible component of the Industrial Revolution, the cities were cramped and unsanitary.
As new towns and cities rapidly developed during this time period, the need for cheap housing, near the factories, increased. Sanitary arrangements were often nonexistent, and many toilets were shared with a small row of houses. The liquid from the toilets and the waste heaps seeped down into the earth and contaminated the water supplies. These liquids carried disease-causing germs in the water. The most feared and apparent disease was cholera.
Cholera had spread to London by February 1832. It was deeply feared by everyone as it did not take long to spread and it could strike anyone, regardless of their social class. However, cholera hit the factory workers of the Industrial Revolution the hardest. This was because of their weak immune systems and fragile health due to their low wages, poor diet and almost nonexistent healthcare. Despite the damage done by the harmful effects of the Industrial Revolution, the positive outcomes overcame many of the negative attributes.
Britain obtained a very large capital from its many new international trading ventures with other major nations, which usually dealt with the exchange of new and improved industrial machinery. Great Britain grew to become the most powerful manufacturing nation, and the strongest economically, in all of Europe. As Britain’s finances grew and increased, citizens were able to move up the social ladder in society, improving their financial and educational status. To begin with, technological innovations, rising 3
productivity, and innovations in design and quality also made British manufactures cheaper and more appealing in export markets. British exports to Europe and the Americas rose dramatically and this in turn helped to pay for imports of food and raw materials which Britain did not possess.
These were vital for sustaining their industrial economy. Even though education in the early 19th century was not compulsory and in most cases expensive, more and more children received the opportunity to go to school. This was due to higher paying jobs becoming more available for the average worker, meaning they could afford an education for their children.
Furthermore, another positive aspect of the revolution was that life expectancy increased drastically. Medicine made great advancements; during the early 19th century scientists believed that disease spontaneously grew from non-living matter. In a series of experiments between 1857 and 1863, Louis Pasteur, a French chemist and microbiologist proved this was not true but instead disease originated from microscopic organisms.
Once doctors knew what caused certain diseases, they made rapid headway in finding cures and preventions. These preventions and cures led to people living longer, healthier lives. In spite of the many negative aspects of the Industrial Revolution, factors such as the strength of the British economy during this time, the increase in life expectancy, and the large quantity of new job opportunities for farmers and labourers, meant that overall, the Industrial Revolution was a positive era in Britain’s history.
The Industrial Revolution was a period of innovation, rapid population growth, and blue collar working classes. However, before the Industrial Revolution, life in Britain was very different. Most people lived in rural communities. They worked long, hard hours farming small pieces of land to feed their families. There was almost no machinery available to help with their daily struggle. Every member of the family had to pitch in. Men and women planted and 4
harvested crops; children fed the animals, milked the cows and even helped with the harvesting. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, people’s lives revolved entirely around the idea of survival. For the average person life was hard, incomes were meager, and malnourishment and disease were common. People produced the bulk of their own food, clothing, furniture and tools.
Most manufacturing was done in homes or small rural shops by only hand tools and simple machines. However, with the Industrial Revolution came thousands of job opportunities for farmers who were barely scraping together a living. The textile industry, in particular, was transformed by industrialization. Previously, textile was almost all cottage industry, nonetheless in the 1700s, a series of innovations led to ever increasing productivity, while requiring less human energy.
The transportation industry also underwent significant transformation during the Industrial Revolution. Before the advent of the steam engine, raw materials and finished goods were hauled and distributed via horse-drawn wagons, and by boats along canals and rivers. In the early 1800’s, however, American Robert Fulton built the first commercially successful steamboat, and by mid nineteenth century steam ships were carrying freight across the Atlantic. As steam-powered ships were making their debut, the steam locomotive was also coming into use.
These new innovations around travel and transporting helped shaped the industrial society of the nineteenth century. Not only did the textile industry and transportation improve, but the Industrial Revolution also made communication easier. With such inventions as the telegraph in 1837, communication across the Atlantic and all of Europe became much simpler than hand delivered mail. Overall, when comparing life during and before the Industrial Revolution, it is extremely clear that life during and after the revolution was superior.
5 To conclude, the Industrial Revolution was and will always be a major turning point in history. Nearly every aspect of daily life was influenced in some way. Although not all of these aspects were positive, nearly every feature of daily life was influenced in some way. Some things were particularly terrible including the crammed and unsanitary living conditions, the immense amount of child labour, and the bare minimal worker rights.
Nevertheless, the Industrial Revolution brought much positive change to British society in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries such as boosting the country’s economy and trading ventures, improving the life expectancy of the people, and providing new and better opportunities for men and women across Europe.
When comparing life before the Industrial Revolution to life during and after, it is obvious that the standards of living were much improved by the revolution. Ultimately, the Industrial Revolution paved the way for how we live today.