The period between the 18th and the 19th century characterized by new manufacturing processes in Europe and the United States is known as the Industrial Revolution.
During this time, the process of manufacturing saw a rapid change from primarily hand production methods to the machine, chemical, and mechanized factory systems.
This transition from old methods of production to new technologically driven production brought drastic changes in the European way of life.
The iron production processes, growing use of steam and water power, and the development of machine tools had a direct impact on the population growth of the world.
The Industrial Revolution is said to have begun in Great Britain but slowly spread across the globe.
During this time, Great Britain held various colonies in North America, the Caribbean, and the Indian subcontinent which made it the world’s leading commercial nation.
The growth of businesses and the development of trading networks across the British colonies were the main reasons behind the Industrial Revolution.
The switch from timber to coal had increased the output of energy by about 3 times. England was rich in coal resources, however, they faced the risk of flooding as the mines grew deeper.
For this reason, the steam engine was developed which could pump the water from several hundreds of meters underground. This exponentially grew the energy supply which was cheap and effective.
The industrial revolution was also a product of the increase in idea sharing among the British. Unlike other European nations, Britain did not censor scientific inquiry which led to various inventions that played a major role in the development of industries.
Historians say that after the domestication of plants and animals, the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is the most important event in the history of human evolution.
The Beginning of the Industrial Revolution
Before the Industrial Revolution, the common method to meet economic needs was through farming and the production of simple hand made articles. Most people lived in rural areas and were very poor.
This period was also marred with several wars fought by European nations either to establish territory abroad like the French and Indian War or to exert control over the colonies established in North America like the American Revolutionary War.
In order to meet the growing demand for goods, Britain incorporated various changes in their methods of production.
Several new techniques for agriculture were developed around this time in Belgium and Holland. They included crop rotation, use of fertilizers and manures, selective breeding of plant and animal species, etc.
Europe was observing a period of increased food security which grew the population of European cities exponentially and led to the migration of workers to the urban areas.
The population of the cities grew from 15% to 85% during this period and various factories were established to harness the potential of the influx.
The first sign of the Industrial Revolution can be traced back to the appearance of mechanized spinning in the textile industries of Britain during the 1780s.
The use of steam power had also increased and the production of iron was developed. The Industrial Revolution saw the use of new basic materials such as iron and steel which were not used before due to inferior methods of extraction.
The economic changes in European society propelled the Industrial Revolution. The modern capitalist economy gave rise to per capita economic growth and reduced the value of land as wealth.
A new system of organizing work had been developed called the factory. It led to the specialization of skills and division of labor.
Other developments that contributed to the Industrial Revolution were the inventions made in transportation and communication.
The radio, telegraph, steam locomotive, steamship, automobile, airplane, etc. were the major inventions that completely changed the way business and trade were conducted.
Which Economic Sectors were Affected?
The role of cotton from India played a significant role in driving the Industrial Revolution. Cotton was grown and weaved into fine quality cloth in India and a significant portion of the production was meant for overseas markets.
This threatened the European industries but established successful trading routes between the Southern Colonies of America and India.
Major inventions affected the way cloth was produced in Europe. The flying shuttle development which was patented by John Kay in 1733, doubled the production output of an average weaver.
Other inventions also led to the increased output of the Textile industry. Notable patents are the spinning frame by Lewis Paul, the spinning jenny by James Hargreaves, and the spinning mule by Samuel Crompton.
The new technology coupled with the use of steam or water power grew the output of a weaver by a factor of around 500.
Steam-powered engines used only about 1/5th or 1/10th of the energy as compared to fuel. Due to its energy efficiency steam power expanded rapidly after the 1800s.
Though wool could not be as easily mechanized, the silk industry benefited from the inventions made during the 1700s.
A highly mechanized silk factory operated in Derby during 1721. It belonged to John Lombe who had learned the secrets of the Italian silk industry as an industrial spy.
The Iron Industry in Europe also saw major technological advances. Earlier the fuel to produce iron came from wood, however, wood was rapidly running out and had become extremely difficult to procure.
The use of coal in smelting iron started in 1678 in reverberatory furnaces called cupolas. Coal was easier to mine and provided three times the energy compared to wood.
The cost of pig iron and wrought iron production was decreased due to the replacement of charcoal with coke.
Larger blast furnaces could be used due to coke. The increase in production led to increase in profit and businesses focused on scaling their industries to take advantage of the new innovations.
Apart from pumping water out of the mines, steam power was also used to power blast air in iron production during the 1750s.
To increase the blast temperatures the cast iron blowing cylinder was used. The invention of the puddling process produced the structural grade iron far more cheaply than the finery forge.
Rolling mill and the hot blast were other developments that contributed to the increased production and efficiency of iron production after the 1820s.
Machine tools like screw-cutting lathe, cylinder boring machine, and the milling machine reduced the costs of making precision metal parts.
Social Effects of the Industrial Revolution
Before the Industrial Revolution, most workers were engaged in farm activities either on their own farms or as landless farm laborers. Another very common activity practiced during this time was the spinning of yarn.
In Europe, wool and linen goods were produced by families for market consumption. A system called putting-out was practiced wherein market goods were produced in homes.
This system is also described as a cottage industry whereby capitalist merchants were concerned with the provision of raw materials to the workers, a price for their work, and the final sale of goods.
This changed with the introduction of the 40 spindle jenny in 1792. It cost only 6 pounds and was cheap enough for the cottagers to buy.
The later machines were more expensive and were used by capitalist owned factories. Most of the workers in the factories were unmarried women or children.
Women would seek factory jobs during the slow seasons of farming. Many orphans were employed by factory owners to work 12 to 14 hour long shifts with only one day off.
Poor pay and long hours of work discouraged many people from remaining at factories as the majority of the workers were either agricultural laborers or displaced farmers.
The standard of living grew sustainably for some people during the Industrial Revolution and many others in the aftermath.
At first, the wages of workers in Britain increased by only 15% even though the economy’s productive power had increased rapidly.
The life expectancy did not show any changes until 1870 and the average height of the people declined. The wages were not enough to buy sufficient food.
The increase in the population of the urban centers presented a challenge of housing.
While the middle class was able to secure decent housing through private renting the workers from lower-income groups lived in congested slums with very poor living conditions.
Various diseases like tuberculosis, cholera, and typhoid were common due to a lack of sanitation and clean drinking water.
In 1844, Friedrich Engels wrote the literature called ‘The conditions of the Working Class in England where he exposed the unhealthy conditions in which the workers of Industrial Britain lived.
Conditions improved in the 19th century when new public health acts were introduced. They were meant to regulate sewage, hygiene, and home construction.
The two centuries that are described as the period of the Industrial Revolution saw a dramatic increase in the population of Britain in particular and Europe in general.
The population of England was around 8.3 million around 1801, it quadrupled in just 100 years to about 30.5 million. Europe also grew 4 times in its population, from 100 million in 1700 to 400 million in 1900.
Important Figures and Inventions
There were many reasons that contributed to the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain. The unification of Scotland and England had provided a long period of peace and stability.
The trade between England and Scotland was barrier-free which made Britain the largest coherent market in Europe. The rule of law was present which gave property rights and preserved the sanctity of contracts.
Free market and joint-stock companies were prevalent due to a clear legal system nurturing private investments in new technology. The geography of Britain facilitated transportation and trade internally as well as globally.
The English Civil War had ended feudalism in Great Britain and many scientific applications to industry were taking place.
Key among them was the steam engine invented in 1712 by Newcomen. The use of steam to power machines substantially reduced the cost of industries and increased the output of an average worker.
Richard Arkwright invented the water frame or the water-powered spinning frame in 1767, this not only made spinning cotton thread easier but also made it much more sturdy. This invention played a significant role in how factories would be organized.
The Newcomen engine was further developed by James Watt in 1769 and he built a much more efficient steam engine. The most important invention of the Industrial Revolution was the steam engine.
In 1776, the Wealth of Nations was published by Adam Smith which became the basis of capitalist policies in Europe and other parts of the world.
The first steam locomotive that ran along the track was built by Trevithick in 1804. The first passenger steamboat was developed by Robert Fulton in 1807.
Though the locomotive did not show promise for further development, the steamboat was improved rapidly and was made functional within the same year. It was accompanied by the invention of the first submarine commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte.
George Stephenson later developed the locomotive engine and the rails. The first public inter-city railway line opened in 1830 and connected the cities of Manchester and Liverpool.
The sewing machine that used a lock-stitch design feature was developed and patented in September 1846 by Elias Howe. He was known as the sewing machine pioneer because of the improvements he made in the sewing machine.
Samuel Morse and his friend Alfred Vail developed the Morse Code which made the transmission of complex messages easy.
This development came along with the invention of the Telegraph which had made sending messages through wires across continents possible. Samuel Morse patented the telegraph in 1847.
The Industrial Revolution saw various other inventors and groundbreaking innovations that rapidly changed the way humans lived their lives. All the machines that we use today were mostly developed during this time.
Other worthy mentions are Graham Bell the inventor of the telephone, Nikola Tesla who developed the induction electric motor, and Thomas Edison who is credited with the invention of the first bulb.