During the 1700s and early 1800s, great changes took place in the lives and work of people in several parts of the 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 Great Britain during the 1700s. It started spreading to other parts of Europe and to North America in the early 1800s. By the mid-1800s, industrialization had become widespread in western Europe and the northeastern United States.
The Industrial Revolution created an enormous increase in the production of many kinds of goods. Some of this increase in production resulted from the introduction of power-driven machinery and the development of factory organization. Before the revolution, manufacturing was done by hand or simple machines. Most people worked at home in rural areas. A few worked in shops in towns as part of 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 best way of bringing together the machines and the workers to operate them.
As the Industrial Revolution grew, private investors and financial institutions were needed to provide 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 on the significance of the Industrial Revolution. Some have emphasized that the importance of the revolution was in the great increase in the production of goods. They argue that this increase did more during the 1800s to raise peoples standard of living than all the actions of legislatures and trade unions. Other historians have stressed the negative parts of the revolution. They point to the overcrowded and unsanitary housing and the terrible working conditions created by rapid industrialization in the cities.
Some historians have even denied that the Industrial Revolution was revolutionary--that is, a period of great and sudden changes. These scholars insist that the basic elements of the Industrial Revolution can be traced back to developments in Europe hundreds of years before the 1700s.
Today, 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 still remain critical in the modern world. For example, most industrial countries face problems of air and water pollution.
Life before the Industrial Revolution
On the eve of the Industrial Revolution, less than 10 per cent 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 was carried on 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. 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 include workers in 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 land, held public office, or had succeeded in business. Little money was saved or invested in business ventures. In fact, there were few opportunities for investment.
Before the Industrial Revolution, most European countries were ruled by a monarch who had much personal power. 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 Great Britain had a Parliament, only male members of the Church of England who paid a certain amount of taxes could vote. A handful of voters often determined who would represent a district in Great Britain. All these social, economic, and political conditions changed in Great Britain as the Industrial Revolution developed.
Growth of the Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution began in Great 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 Great Britain's colonies. By the mid-1700's, the country had become the world's leading colonial power. Great Britain's colonies not only provided raw materials, but also provided 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.
The demand for British goods grew rapidly during the late 1700's both in Britain and in other countries. 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 took place between 1750 and 1800 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. Sometimes they hired help and had apprentices. 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 increased the merchants' costs. As a result, the merchants turned increasingly to machinery for greater production and to factories for central control over their workers.
Agriculture as well as rural industry began to feel the changes brought about by the industrialization of textile manufacturing. To meet the increased demand for textiles and other products, landowners began raising raw materials rather than food on their land. The size of farms increased. Many farms were organized along industrial lines. There was a large increase in capital investment in agriculture. Standards of farm management improved. The quality of livestock and crop seed also improved greatly.
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 spinning 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, a Middlesex inventor, 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 Great 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, a Lancashire clockmaker, invented the 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 made further improvements in the steam-powered loom during the early 1800's. By 1835, Great Britain 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.
The steam engine
Many of the most important inventions of the Industrial Revolution required much more power than horses or water wheels could provide. Industry needed a new, cheap, and efficient source of power and found it in the steam engine.
The first commercial steam engine was produced in 1698. That year, Thomas Savery, a Cornish army officer, patented a pumping engine that used steam. In 1712, Thomas Newcomen, a Devonshire blacksmith, improved on Savery's engine. Newcomen's engine came into general use during the 1720's.
Newcomen's steam engine had serious faults. It wasted much heat and used a great amount of fuel. In the 1760's, James Watt of Scotland began working to improve the steam engine. By 1785, he had eliminated many of the problems of earlier engines. Watt's engine used heat much more efficiently than Newcomen's engine and used less fuel. For more information on the development of the steam engine.
The enormous potential of the steam engine and power-driven machinery could not have been achieved without the development of machine tools to shape metal. When Watt began to experiment with the steam engine, he could not find a tool that drilled a perfectly round hole. As a result, his engines leaked steam. In 1775, John Wilkinson, a Staffordshire ironmaker, invented a boring machine that drilled a more precise hole. Between 1800 and 1825, English inventors developed a planer, which smoothed the surfaces of the steam engine's metal parts. By 1830, nearly all the basic machine tools necessary for modern industry were in general use.
Coal and iron
The Industrial Revolution could not have developed without coal and iron. Coal provided the power to drive the steam engines and was needed to make iron. Iron was used to improve machines and tools and to build bridges and ships. Great Britain's large deposits of coal and iron ore helped make it the world's first industrial nation.
Early ironmaking. To make iron, the metal must be separated from the nonmetallic elements in the ore. This separation process is called smelting. For thousands of years before the Industrial Revolution, smelting had been done by placing iron ore in a furnace with a burning fuel that lacked enough oxygen to burn completely. Oxygen in the ore combined with the fuel, and the pure, melted metal flowed into small molds called pigs. The pigs were then hammered by hand into sheets. Beginning in the early 1600's, the pigs were shipped to rolling mills. At a rolling mill, the pig iron was softened by reheating and rolled into sheets by heavy iron cylinders.
The most practical fuel for smelting was charcoal, made by burning hardwoods. Most of Great Britain's iron ore deposits and hardwood forests were in rural areas. Smelting and rolling thus became rural activities done by local workers. Since the 1600's, charcoal had been used in many other manufacturing processes besides smelting and rolling. Wood was also in demand for other purposes. As a result, Great Britain had almost used up its hardwood forests by the early 1700's. Charcoal became so expensive that many ironmakers in Britain quit the industry because of the high costs of production.
The revolution in ironmaking. Between 1709 and 1713, Abraham Darby, a Shropshire ironmaker, succeeded in using coke to smelt iron. Coke is made by heating coal in an airtight oven. Smelting with coke was much more economical and efficient than smelting with charcoal. But most ironmakers continued to use charcoal. Manufacturers complained that coke-smelted iron was brittle and could not be worked easily. They still preferred the more workable iron smelted with charcoal. About 1750, Darby's son Abraham Darby II developed a process that made coke iron as easy to work as charcoal iron. After 1760, coke smelting spread throughout Britain.
In the 1720's, an important breakthrough occurred in rolling the iron. Grooves were added to the rolling cylinders, allowing manufacturers to roll iron into different shapes, instead of simply into thin sheets.
A Fareham ironmaker named Henry Cort took out a patent for improved grooved rollers in 1783. The next year, he patented a puddling furnace. Cort did not invent the puddling furnace, but he made great improvements in it. The puddling process produced high-quality iron. Pig iron was reheated in Cort's puddling furnace until it became a paste. A person called a puddler stirred the paste with iron rods until the impurities were burned away. The purified iron was then passed through Cort's grooved rollers and formed into the desired shape.
Before Cort developed his puddling furnace, ironmakers had to use charcoal to reheat the pig iron for rolling. But Cort's furnace--with its combined rolling mill--used coke. The use of coke for smelting and puddling finally freed the British iron industry of any dependence on charcoal. In addition, the smelting, puddling, and rolling steps could be combined into a continuous operation near the coal fields. As a result, the British iron industry became concentrated in four coal-mining regions--Staffordshire, Yorkshire, southern Wales, and along the River Clyde in Scotland.
Ironmaking techniques continued to improve, and iron production expanded enormously. In 1788, for example, British ironmakers produced about 76,000 short tons (68,900 metric tons) of iron. In 1806, they produced over three times that amount. During the mid-1700's, probably only about 5 per cent of all British iron was made into machine parts. Most machines were made of wood. But by the early 1800's, manufacturers used iron to make a wide variety of products, including machine frames, rails, steam engine parts, and water pipes.
The growth of the Industrial Revolution depended on industry's ability to transport raw materials and finished goods over long distances. Thus, the story of the Industrial Revolution is also the story of a revolution in transportation.
Waterways. Great Britain had many rivers and harbors that could be adapted to carrying freight. Until the early 1800's, waterways provided the only cheap and effective means of hauling coal, iron, and other heavy freight.
British engineers widened and deepened many streams to make them navigable. They also built canals to link cities and to connect coal fields with rivers. In 1777, the Grand Trunk Canal connected the River Mersey with the Trent and Severn rivers and thus linked the English ports of Bristol, Hull, and Liverpool. British engineers also built many bridges and lighthouses and deepened harbors.
In 1807, the American inventor Robert Fulton built the first commercially successful steamboat. Within a few years, steamboats became common on British rivers. By the mid-1800's, steam-powered ships were beginning to carry raw materials and finished products across the Atlantic Ocean.
Roads. Until the early 1800's, Britain had poor roads. Most usable roads extended only a short distance beyond a town. Horse-drawn wagons traveled with difficulty, and pack animals carried goods over long distances. People rarely traveled by stagecoach. They rode horseback or walked.
A series of turnpikes was built between 1751 and 1771, which made travel by horse-drawn wagons and stagecoaches easier. But by the late 1700's, the turnpikes needed repairs badly.
Two Scottish engineers, John Loudon McAdam and Thomas Telford, made important advances in road construction during the early 1800's. McAdam originated the macadam type of road surface, which consists of crushed rock packed into thin layers. Telford developed a technique of using large flat stones for road foundations. These new methods of roadbuilding made travel by land faster and smoother. As a result, manufactured goods could be delivered more efficiently. The orders and money involved in business and industry also moved faster and more simply.
Railroads. The first rail systems in Great Britain carried coal. Horses pulled the freight cars, which moved on iron rails. In 1804, a Cornish engineer, Richard Trevithick, built the first steam locomotive. Several other locomotives were built during the next 20 years, and they were used to haul freight at coal mines and at ironworks. However, industry generally preferred to use stationary engines that pulled the freight cars by means of cables. Steam locomotives did not begin to come into general use for passenger and freight transportation until the late 1830's. See Railroad (History); Locomotive (History).
The role of capital
Individual investors played a vital part in the growth of the Industrial Revolution from the beginning. Many English merchants made fortunes during the 1700's from European wars, from the slave trade with North America, or from commerce with Britain's colonies. These merchants and other English people began seeking investment opportunities after seeing industries make large profits.
Gradually, banks were founded to handle the increased flow of money. In 1750, London had 20 banks. By 1800, the city had 70.
Most banks did not directly invest in factories or make loans to factory owners for the purchase of machinery. Some banks, however, made short-term loans to industrialists to cover their operating expenses. Such loans allowed industrialists to use their own money to buy equipment and improve and expand their factories. Banks mainly provided credit to farmers, wholesalers, and retail merchants, who then placed orders with manufacturers.
As machinery and factories became more expensive, the individuals who provided capital grew increasingly important. These industrial capitalists soon became one of the most powerful forces in British commercial and political life.