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Industrial Revolution
Life during the Industrial Revolution

 

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The Industrial Revolution caused great changes in people's way of life. The first changes appeared locally. But by the early 1800's, most British people knew they were in the midst of a nationwide economic and social revolution. Educational and political privileges, which once had belonged largely to the upper class, spread to the growing middle class. Some workers were displaced by machines, but others found new jobs working with machinery. Both workers and employers had to adjust to a new cold and impersonal relationship. In addition, most workers lived and worked under harsh conditions in the expanding industrial cities.

The working class. Under the domestic system, many employers had a close relationship with their workers and felt some responsibility for them. But such relationships became impossible in the large factories of the Industrial Revolution. Industrialists employed many workers and could not deal with them personally. The working day probably was no longer under industrialism than under the domestic system-about 12 to 14 hours a day for six days a week. But in the factories, the machines forced workers to work faster and without rest. Jobs became more specialized, and the work became monotonous.

Factory wages were low. Some employers kept them low deliberately. Many people agreed with the English writer Arthur Young, who wrote: "Everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious." Women and children worked as unskilled laborers and made only a small fraction of men's low wages. Children-many of them less than 10 years old-worked from 10 to 14 hours a day. Some were deformed by their work or crippled by unsafe machines.

Most factory workers, like other types of workers, were desperately poor and could not read or write. Housing in the growing industrial cities could not keep up with the migration of workers from rural areas. Severe overcrowding resulted, and many people lived in extremely unsanitary conditions that led to outbreaks of disease. During the 1830's, for example, the life expectancy for men in Birmingham, England, was only slightly more than 40 years.

Until the early 1800's, British employers usually held the advantage in relations with their employees. Workers were not permitted to vote and could do little legally to improve their condition. British law forbade trade unions, and workers who joined a union could be imprisoned.

machineryin an attempt to gain revenge against the employers they blamed for depriving them of jobs. Even employed workers took part in the riots and wrecked the machines as a protest against their low wages and terrible working conditions. In 1769, Parliament passed a law making the destruction of some kinds of machinery punishable by death. But workers continued to riot against machines. In 1811, organized bands of employed and unemployed workers called Luddites began attacking factories and wrecking textile machines. The Luddites received their name from their mythical leader, Ned Ludd. Their movement lasted until 1816.

The working and living conditions of the working class improved gradually during the late 1800's. Parliament, which had largely represented only the upper class, began to act in the interests of the middle and working classes. It repealed the law forbidding trade unions and passed other laws regulating factory conditions. In 1832, a Reform Act gave most middle-class men the right to vote. Another Reform Act, passed in 1867, granted the right to vote to many city workers and owners of small farms.

The middle and upper classes. Although the workers did not at first share in the prosperity of the Industrial Revolution, members of the middle and upper classes prospered from the beginning. Many people made fortunes during the period. The revolution made available products that provided new comforts and conveniences to those who could afford them. The middle class, which consisted of business and professional people, won political and educational benefits. As the middle class gained in power, it became increasingly important politically. By the mid-1800's, big business interests largely controlled British government policies.

Before the Industrial Revolution, England had only two universities, Oxford and Cambridge. But the revolution created a need for engineers and for clerical and professional workers. As a result, education became vital. Some libraries, schools, and universities were founded by private persons or groups, especially non-Anglican Protestants.

The Industrial Revolution indirectly helped increase Britain's population. As people of the middle and upper classes enjoyed better diets and lived in more sanitary housing, they suffered less from disease and lived longer. The material condition of the working class also improved. Partly as a result of these improved conditions, the population grew rapidly. In 1750, Britain had about 6 1/2 million people. By 1830, the population had increased to about 14 million.

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

industry

 

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