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Industrial Revolution



Industrial Revolution. During the late 1700's and early 1800's, great changes took place in the lives and work of people in several parts of the Western world. These changes resulted from the development of industrialization. The term Industrial Revolution refers both to the changes that occurred and to the period itself. The Industrial Revolution began in Britain (a country now known as the United Kingdom) during the late 1700's. It started spreading to other parts of Europe and to North America in the early 1800's. By the mid-1800's, industrialization was widespread in western Europe and the northeastern United States.

The introduction of power-driven machinery and the development of factory organization during the Industrial Revolution created an enormous increase in the production of goods. Before the revolution, manufacturing was done by hand, or by using animal power or simple machines. Most people worked at home in rural areas. A few worked in shops in towns and belonged to associations called guilds. The Industrial Revolution eventually took manufacturing out of the home and workshop. Power-driven machines replaced handwork, and factories developed as the most economical way of bringing together the machines and the workers to operate them.

As the Industrial Revolution grew, private investors and financial institutions provided money for the further expansion of industrialization. Financiers and banks thus became as important as industrialists and factories in the growth of the revolution. For the first time in European history, wealthy business leaders called capitalists took over the control and organization of manufacturing.

Historians have disagreed about the overall effect of the Industrial Revolution on people's lives. Some historians have emphasized that the revolution greatly increased the production of goods. They argue that this increase did more to raise people's standard of living after 1850 than all the actions of legislatures and trade unions. Other historians have stressed the negative effects of the revolution. They point to the overcrowded and unsanitary housing and the poor working conditions created by rapid industrialization in the cities. Most historians now believe that factory conditions and worker wages were terrible before 1850 but improved after that date. These improvements led to an increase in life expectancy for workers.

Most historians agree that the Industrial Revolution was a great turning point in the history of the world. It changed the Western world from a basically rural and agricultural society to a basically urban and industrial society. Industrialization brought many material benefits, but it also created a large number of problems that remain critical in the modern world. For example, most industrial countries face problems of air, land, and water pollution.

Life before the Industrial Revolution

On the eve of the Industrial Revolution, less than 10 percent of the people of Europe lived in cities. The rest lived in small towns and villages scattered across the countryside. These people spent most of their working day farming. Unless they could sell surplus food in nearby towns, they grew little more than they needed for themselves. The people in rural areas made most of their own clothing, furniture, and tools from raw materials produced on the farms or in forests.

Before the Industrial Revolution, some industry existed throughout western Europe. A little manufacturing took place in guild shops in towns. Craftworkers in the shops worked with simple tools to make such products as cloth, hardware, jewelry, leather goods, silverware, and weapons. Some products made in the towns were exchanged for food raised in the countryside. Town products were also exported to pay for luxuries imported from abroad, or they were sent to the colonies in payment for raw materials.

Most manufacturing, however, took place in homes in rural areas. Merchants called entrepreneurs distributed raw materials to workers in their homes and collected the finished products. In most places, the entrepreneurs owned the raw materials, paid for the work, and took the risk of finding a market for their products. They often spread their operations to nearby villages. In the home, the whole family worked together making clothing, food products, textiles, and wood products. Workers themselves provided most of the power for manufacturing. Water wheels furnished some power.

The way of life differed from place to place, depending on the climate, the soil, and the distance from towns and trade routes. For most people, life revolved around the agricultural seasons-planting, cultivating, harvesting, and processing the harvest. The way of life changed little from one generation to the next, and most sons followed their father's trade. Life was hard for most people. They lived under the constant threat that their crops might fail. Although few people starved, many of them suffered from malnutrition. As a result, they caught diseases readily, and epidemics were common. Most workers produced little and earned little. Only a few people enjoyed large incomes, usually because they owned inherited land, held public office, or had succeeded in business. Little money was saved or invested in business ventures. Outside of cities, there were few opportunities for investment.

Before the Industrial Revolution, powerful monarchs ruled most European countries. Great landowners, rich merchants, and some members of the clergy also had considerable political influence. But the workers and farmers had no voice in the government. Many countries did not even hold elections. Although Britain had a Parliament, only men who paid a certain amount of taxes could vote. A handful of voters often determined who would represent a district in Britain. All these social, economic, and political conditions changed in Britain as the Industrial Revolution developed.

Growth of the Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution began in Britain for several reasons. The country had large deposits of coal and iron, the two natural resources on which early industrialization largely depended. Other industrial raw materials came from the various colonies of Britain. By the late 1700's, the country had become the world's leading colonial power. British colonies provided raw materials as well as markets for manufactured products. These colonial markets helped stimulate the textile and iron industries, which were probably the two most important industries during the Industrial Revolution.

In addition, Britain's scientific culture emphasized practical application and invention. For example, this culture helped make it possible for James Watt, a Scottish engineer, to make great improvements in the operation of the steam engine. The demand for British goods grew rapidly during the late 1700's both at home and abroad.

This demand forced businesses to compete with one another for the limited supply of labor and raw materials, which raised production costs. The rising costs of production began to cut into profits. Further demand could not be satisfied until Britain enlarged its capacity to produce goods inexpensively.

British merchants did not want to raise the prices of their goods and thus discourage demand. They sought more economical and efficient ways of using capital and labor so the amount each worker produced would increase faster than the cost of production. The merchants achieved their goal through the development of factories, machines, and technical skills.

The textile industry. One of the most spectacular features of the Industrial Revolution was the introduction of power-driven machinery in the textile industries of England and Scotland. This introduction took place between 1780 and 1810 and marked the beginning of the age of the modern factory.

Before the industrialization of the textile industry, merchants purchased raw materials and distributed them among workers who lived in cottages on farms or in villages. Some of these workers spun the plant and animal fibers into yarn, and others wove the yarn into cloth. This system was called domestic or cottage industry.

Under the domestic system, merchants bought as much material and employed as many workers as they needed. The merchants financed the entire operation. Some of them owned the spinning and weaving equipment and the workers' cottages. However, the workers had much independence and set their own pace of work. They often accepted work from several merchants at the same time.

The domestic system presented many problems for the merchants. They had difficulty regulating standards of workmanship and maintaining schedules for completing work. Workers sometimes sold some of the yarn or cloth for their own profit. As the demand for cloth increased, merchants often had to compete with one another for the limited number of workers available in a manufacturing district. All these problems raised the merchants' costs. As a result, the merchants turned increasingly to machinery for greater production and to factories for central control over their workers.

Spinning machines. For hundreds of years before the Industrial Revolution, spinning had been done in the home on a simple device called a spinning wheel. One person operated the wheel, powering it with a foot pedal. The wheel produced only one thread at a time. The first spinning machines were crude devices that often broke the fragile threads. In 1738, Lewis Paul, an inventor from Middlesex (now part of London), and John Wyatt, a Lichfield mechanic, patented an improved roller-spinning machine. This machine pulled the strands of material through sets of wooden rollers that moved at different speeds, making some strands tighter than others. When combined, these strands were stronger than strands of uniform tightness. The combined strands passed onto the flier, the part of the machine that twisted the strands into yarn. The finished yarn was wound onto a bobbin that revolved on a spindle. Mechanically, the roller-spinning machine was not completely successful. However, it was the first step in the industrialization of textile manufacturing.

In the 1760's, two new machines revolutionized the textile industry. One was the spinning jenny, invented by James Hargreaves, a Blackburn weaver and carpenter. The other machine was the water frame, or throstle, invented by Sir Richard Arkwright, a former Preston barber. Both machines solved many of the problems of roller spinning, especially in the production of yarn used to make coarse cloth. Between 1774 and 1779, a Lancashire weaver named Samuel Crompton developed the spinning mule. This machine combined features of the spinning jenny and the water frame and, in time, replaced both machines. The mule was particularly efficient in spinning fine yarn for high-quality cloth, which, before the invention of the mule, had been imported from India. During the 1780's and 1790's, larger spinning mules were built. They had metal rollers and several hundred spindles. These machines ended the home spinning industry. For further information on the development of spinning machines.

The first textile mills appeared in Britain in the 1740's. By the 1780's, England had 120 mills, and several had been built in Scotland.

Weaving machines. Until the early 1800's, almost all weaving was done on handlooms because no one could solve the problems of mechanical weaving. In 1733, John Kay, an English engineer, invented the fly shuttle (also called flying shuttle). This machine made all the movements for weaving, but it often went out of control.

In the mid-1780's, an Anglican clergyman named Edmund Cartwright developed a steam-powered loom. In 1803, John Horrocks, a Lancashire machine manufacturer, built an all-metal loom. Other British machine makers further improved the steam-powered loom during the early 1800's. By 1835, the United Kingdom had more than 120,000 power looms. Most of them were used to weave cotton. After the mid-1800's, handlooms were used only to make fancy-patterned cloth, which still could not be made on power looms.

Contributor: William S. Comanor, Ph.D., Professor of Economics, University of California, Santa Barbara; Professor of Health Services, University of California, Los Angeles.
Source : World Book 2005

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