The Industrial Revolution is the name given to the enormous changes that took place with technology, farming, mining, manufacturing, and transportation from the middle of the 18th Century through to the middle of the 19th Century.
These changes had a massive impact on people’s social and cultural life, as well as their economic conditions.
- It Began in Britain
- It was one of the Biggest Events in Human History
- Machines Replaced People
- More People Lived in Cities
- Economic Conditions Improved for Most People
- Industrialization Caused New Problems
- Production of Clothing and Fabrics was Transformed
- The Steam Engine Improved Transport and Production
- The Industrial Revolution Created a New Economic System
- Some Countries Have yet to Experience an Industrial Revolution
I explain each one of these facts in more detail below.
The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain in the second half of the 18th century, with a number of technical innovations, including the invention of the steam engine, as well as new ways to make iron and steel which made them cheaper and easier to produce.
Britain was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution for three main reasons:
- Britain had lots of coal and iron ore, which was needed to power and make the machines that were required by industrialization.
- It helped that Britain was politically stable.
- Britain was a major colonial power at the time, with the colonies providing both the raw materials for manufacturing and the marketplaces for the manufactured goods to be sold after they had been made.
The Industrial Revolution was the most important thing to happen in human history since the time when animals and plants were domesticated. Before the Industrial Revolution happened, each generation of people produced a roughly similar amount of products to their predecessors and overall economic wealth was fairly stagnant. After industrialization, production began to grow quickly and generally continued to grow.
The main thing that happened during the Industrial Revolution was that machines were developed that could perform many of the jobs and tasks that had previously been done by people. This had social as well as economic consequences.
Instead of people using hand tools to make products at home, factories sprung up to house the new manufacturing machines and the need for human involvement was dramatically reduced. Working practices were increasingly decided according to the needs of the machines. People had to travel to the factories each day, where their time and effort was closely monitored for efficiency.
Many animals were also replaced by machines, particularly horses, which for centuries had been used for transport, farming, and other tasks.
Before the Industrial Revolution, societies were largely rural and people made things at home. After industrialization, more people lived in cities where goods were mass produced in purpose-built factories. Many people were forced to move to urban areas, where wages were higher, in order to survive economically. Industrialization also had the effect of increasing the population over time, thanks to factors such as health care improvements, making the cities grow in size.
The Industrial Revolution generally brought about much better economic conditions for most people. More efficient production meant that everyday necessities like clothing, shoes, and household tools were more plentiful and cheaper to buy. Health care improved rapidly and children were less likely to die young. The increased needs for technical skills and knowledge led to improved education and scientific advances. More specialist professionals were needed in the newly industrialized cities and towns, which led to a rapid growth in the middle class and higher wages.
Although the overall effects of industrialization were positive for most people, there were many downsides too, including all the pollution and waste that was created as a side effect by the machines and chemicals used in industrial processes. Many modern environmental problems, such as climate change, have their roots in the changes to production and transport brought about by the industrial revolution.
Working practices also became more regimented and many people, including children, worked long hours in factories performing repetitive, and sometimes dangerous or unhealthy jobs. Working more than 12 hours each day was considered normal. The poor and working classes often suffered terrible living conditions with entire families crowded into tiny apartments. Dissatisfaction and poverty regularly resulted in social breakdown, protests, and rioting.
The production of textiles was one of the things that was totally transformed by the Industrial Revolution. Before industrialization, people generally made clothes at home. Merchants would often give the clothes makers the raw materials and essential equipment, and then collect and sell the finished products for them. Industrialization meant that clothing and fabrics could be mass produced, making them much cheaper than the homemade version. Two inventions in particular made the mass production of textiles possible, those were the spinning Jenny and the power loom.
The steam engine was one of the most important inventions of the Industrial Revolution. The first practical steam engine was a machine made to pump water out of mines by the English inventor, Thomas Newcomen in 1712. The steam engine design was later improved upon by the Scotsman, James Watt. As well as powering the machines used in factories and mines, steam engines were also used in ships and locomotives, which improved transportation dramatically, making long journeys much quicker and often more comfortable.
The Industrial Revolution effectively created a new economic system, known as: “Industrial Capitalism”. Before then, merchants had been the most important people in regard to trade and the economy. After industrialization, it was the private owners of the factories who made the bigger profits and generated the greatest wealth.
The five main traits of capitalism are:
- Profit motive. Making a profit is the main aim of capitalists.
- Free enterprise. People and businesses compete for profit.
- Property ownership. Individuals and businesses have the right to own land and property.
- Technological advancement. Capitalism sees technical innovation as a way of increasing production and revenue.
- Government involvement is kept to a minimum. The economy is allowed to operate without interference when possible.
In Britain, the industrial revolution was well underway by the end of the 18th Century. Industrialization then spread to Western Europe, North America, and many other places around the world. However, there are still many modern countries in Africa and Asia that have yet to experience industrialization. These countries are sometimes referred to as “Third World” or “Developing” nations.