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Industrial Revolution


INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION. To the end of the early modern period, Europe remained a preindustrial society. Its manufactured goods came from small workshops, and most of its machinery was powered by animals, wind, falling water, or human labor. These two facts reinforced each other, and together they constricted Europe's economic development. Water-powered manufacturing, for instance, could develop only in favored regions and remained constantly subject to weather-related interruptions; with limited supplies of power, there was little reason to concentrate manufacturing processes in large workshops. By 1850, however, these descriptions no longer applied to large areas of western Europe, and by 1914 the European economy as a whole was dominated by large factories, many of them employing thousands of workers. Both manufacturing and transportation now relied on steam power, and gasoline and electric motors were becoming common. The quantity and variety of goods manufactured rose accordingly, a transformation suggested by the development of the British iron industry: Britain produced about 30,000 tons of pig iron in 1760, about one million tons in 1810. Contemporary awareness of change advanced even more quickly than the reality. In his 1848 Manifesto of the Communist Party, written at a time when most Europeans still worked in agriculture and when even British manufacturing was still evenly divided between factories and small workshops, Karl Marx (18181883) presented industrialization as the obvious destiny of all European society. The rapidity of these changes and their far-reaching effects amply justify historians' designation of the period as the "industrial revolution." In the century after 1780, European life was transformed.

Industrialization thus numbers among the most important processes that brought the early modern period to a close, and as such it raises important questions about the period itself. Signs of dramatic economic and technological change were already apparent in later eighteenth-century Britain, prompting historians to ask how this phase of rapid change could have emerged from the relatively stable early modern economy and why it emerged first in Britain. More broadly, historians have asked why Europe industrialized ahead of other regions of the globe, and what contributions Europe's empires in the Americas and elsewhere made to its industrialization. Answers to these questions have been varied and surprising. Though the concept of industrialization itself remains unchallenged, recent historical research has overturned much conventional wisdom about how the process took place.


Though it lacked factories and steam engines, pre-industrial Europe did not have a static economy, and manufacturing counted for a significant share of its total economic activityabout one-fourth of France's gross national product and almost 40 percent of Britain's in the early eighteenth century, one historian has estimated. In some regions, such as the Netherlands and northern Italy, the percentages might have been even higher, but the difficulties of early modern transportation meant that manufacturing was widely dispersed; with transportation costs high, producers had a strong incentive to establish their workshops near the sources of their raw materials and to focus on meeting the needs of regional markets. Despite this fragmentation, early modern producers regularly introduced new products and adopted new techniques. In the thirteenth century, for instance, Italian craftsmen learned how to make silk cloth, and their techniques spread north of the Alps in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, so that by the eighteenth century the French city of Lyon numbered several thousand silk weavers. The technology of silk weaving changed as well, most dramatically with the invention of the Jacquard loom in the 1720s. The new loom had mechanical codes that governed the weaving process, allowing a relatively unskilled weaver to produce a complex product. In an early version of a process that would be frequently repeated during the industrial revolution, the balance between machine and worker had shifted; knowledge could be embedded in the machine, rendering differences among workers less important. Likewise, calico cloths from India created a sensation when first introduced in later seventeenth-century England. They were quickly imitated by British manufacturers, who effectively established an altogether new industry.

A stream of inventions thus changed manufacturing over the early modern period, but the most important changes that the period witnessed had to do with the organization of work rather than its technology. Most European cities restricted manufacturing work, limiting access to some trades so that those already established in them could continue to enjoy respectable incomes and controlling the amounts that workshops might produce to prevent any one manufacturer from acquiring too dominant a position. Impatient with such restrictions, from the seventeenth century on, merchants in many regions organized new forms of production in the countryside. Labor there was cheap and abundant since contemporary agriculture left many peasants underemployed, and economic restrictions were weak. Cloth merchants were especially well placed to take advantage of this opportunity. They supplied villagers with raw materials, transported goods from one stage of production to the next, and finally marketed the finished product, taking as well the largest share of the profits. Other goods too could be manufactured in this way: in eastern France and Switzerland, merchants organized clock making on these lines. By the mid-eighteenth century, the balance between agriculture and manufacturing had shifted in many regions; for most villagers, farm work had become a supplemental source of income, and they relied mainly on spinning, weaving, and other artisanal activities for their livelihoods.

Historians have applied several names to this process. The term cottage industry accurately captures the fact that this system of manufacturing left unchanged the basic conditions of its workers' lives. Spinners, weavers, and others continued to live in small villages and continued to work according to their own preferences, as independent contractors who owned their equipment. But historians have also spoken of this process as proto-industrialization, a term that emphasizes the new economic relationships and expectations, as well as the demographic consequences, created by this system. Though they set their own pace of work, those involved in cottage industry nonetheless depended on far-flung economic networks; their goods were produced for national and international markets, and the workers were subject to the economic power of the merchants who sold what they produced. The proto-industrial workforce was in some sense a proletariat, whose economic fate rested with others; some historians have suggested that these workers were in effect learning the habits that they would eventually need to work in the factories of the nineteenth century.

But as important as its implications for work discipline were, the rise of cottage industry also changed European buying. As the historian Jan de Vries has argued, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century families were working harder than they had in the past in exchange for the ability to buy more goods: cottage industry allowed women and children to earn cash incomes, and it converted what had been the family's leisure timeespecially the slow phases of the agricultural cycleinto cash as well. Well before the onset of industrialization, European manufacturers thus had available to them a large consumer market, one eager for small luxury goods. Historians have turned to probate inventories to demonstrate the breadth of the consumer revolution that these centuries brought to England, the Netherlands, France, and Germany. Even backward areas showed the effects of these changes, with families buying mirrors, clocks, brightly printed clothing, prints, and a variety of other manufactured goods. But the effects were most visible in the developing cities of the age. The largest city of early modern Europe, London, by itself concentrated about 16 percent of England's populationan enormous, conveniently centralized and accessible market for manufactured goods. Paris was smaller in absolute numbers and much smaller relative to total French population, but it too offered manufacturers an enormous, fashion-conscious market for new goods.


A critical aspect of the industrial revolution was the effort of manufacturers to take advantage of these markets, most visibly in the clothing industry. By the early eighteenth century, a fundamental step had already been taken: clothing manufacturers increasingly devoted their attention to lightweight, cheap, easily-colored fabrics, rather than the high-quality woolens that had dominated the medieval textile industry. In the early seventeenth century, they shifted to producing the lightweight woolen fabrics known in Britain as "new draperies"; later in the century, the arrival of cotton calicoes and muslins from India produced enormous enthusiasm among consumers and led to efforts both to exclude such imports and to replace them with British-made cotton goods. Over the eighteenth century, manufacturers produced a variety of fabrics that mixed cotton with other fibers, because British thread was usually too weak for producing all-cotton cloths. Throughout, popular demand played a crucial role, and in mid-eighteenth-century Britain cotton producers could not keep up with the demand for their products. In response they introduced a series of technological innovations designed to speed up the manufacturing process and to create other attractive new cotton products. Improvements in weaving starting in the 1730s created pressure on the spinning process, which produced cotton thread; at this point it took eight spinners to produce enough thread to supply one weaver, and several inventors sought to produce machines that could do the job more quickly. Solutions came in the 1760s and 1770s, with the spinning jenny, the water frame, and the spinning mule, all devices that allowed a single operator to manage multiple spindlesand that produced a higher-quality, more even thread than hand spinning. Contemporaries immediately recognized the value of these machines, and they spread rapidly, transforming the relationship between spinning and weaving. With spinning increasingly mechanized, there was now pressure to mechanize weavinga more difficult task, with a first power loom invented in 1787 but not widely used until the early nineteenth century. But though handloom weaving remained dominant, a revolution in the cotton industry had already occurred by the end of the eighteenth century: between 1770 and 1800 imports of raw cotton to Britain increased twelvefold.

New machinery encouraged new ways of organizing work. The spinning jenny was designed as a hand-operated device, and could be adapted to the needs of cottage industry. But the water frame was larger and from the beginning required an external power source to drive it. Richard Arkwright (17321792), who held the patent on it, immediately established a set of water-driven mills to exploit the new invention, and the economies of scale that these factories enjoyed meant that by 1800 cottage spinning had largely disappeared. The larger machinery also required a new approach to managing labor. Necessarily centralized around a single source of power, the new machines required close management in order to repay their heavy costs. The factory thus encouraged a new degree of labor discipline, with workers required to report to work at exact hours and labor at a pace set by the factory's managers. The Arkwright mills and their competitors made an immediate impression on contemporaries; the artist Joseph Wright of Derby (17341797) painted them, and the poet William Blake (17571827) in about 1805 already spoke of "dark Satanic Mills" transforming the British landscape.

Blake found the mills "Satanic" partly because by his time a growing number of them relied on steam power. The development of steam technology represented a second critical strand in the industrial revolution, and, as with the development of cotton manufacturing, its origins lay in the seventeenth century, in a combination of scientific, technological, and ecological developments. As late as the mid-seventeenth century, scientists such as René Descartes (15961650) doubted that a vacuum was even possible, but his contemporary, the Italian physicist Evangelista Torricelli (16081647), and others demonstrated both the possibility and its practical implications. Inventors developed a series of pumps based on this idea, and in 1698 the Englishman Thomas Savery (c. 16501715) developed the first working steam engine, essentially a machine for creating a vacuum and using its suction to lift water. A much-improved version was developed by the Englishman Thomas Newcomen (16631729), and in 1712 a Newcomen engine was set to work pumping out coal mines in northern England; by the 1730s such engines were in operation in several European countries. As the economic historian Joel Mokyr has observed, this was the world's first economically viable mechanism for transforming heat into regular motion, the artificial power that would be at the center of industrialization. The Newcomen engine performed its task very inefficiently, though, and in 1776 the first of James Watt's (17361819) engines was put into commercial operation, allowing a fourfold improvement in efficiency. By 1800, about 2,500 steam engines had been built in Britain, most of them used in mines, but many powering iron foundries, cotton-spinning machines, and other industrial processes. Contemporaries understood that a technological revolution was underway, and despite the inefficiency of the early engines, inventors immediately began exploring new ways to use them. Steam hammers, rolling mills, and bellows revolutionized the British iron industry from the 1760s on; in 1783 a first steamboat was constructed (in France), and in 1803 a first steam locomotive. By the 1820s, railway construction had begun, and a steam-powered ship had crossed the Atlantic.

This sequence of inventions and applications was closely bound up with the availability of cheap fuel, yet another element of the early modern economy that came to full development during the industrial revolution. Coal had long been known as a fuel, but contemporaries disliked its smoke and smell. By the mid-seventeenth century, however, Britons had little choice but to make use of it, for the country was running short of wood and it was becoming too expensive to use as fuel for even the basic needs of heating, let alone for novel industrial uses. The enormous size of seventeenth-century London, over half a million people within easy reach of cheap water transport, and its insatiable demand for fuel ensured that coal mining could be profitable even in the face of technological obstacles. As mines became deeper, for instance, there was the problem of removing the water that seeped into themthe problem that steam-driven pumps eventually answered. Steam-driven vehicles and carts that moved along rails (radically reducing friction) were first employed in the British coal fields as well. The economics of coal-mining made even the inefficiencies of early steam power acceptable; operating in the coal fields themselves, the first steam engines had a readily available supply of cheap fuel and could even use some of the waste from the mining process. With a fully developed coal-mining industry, and increasingly sophisticated means of using the energy that coal contained, Britain suddenly increased its supply of power many times over. The historian Kenneth Pomeranz has argued that only with this step did Europe move clearly ahead of Asian technology, setting the stage for Europe's domination of the world economy during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This interpretation probably understates the significance of other differences, but it accurately captures an important aspect of the industrial revolution: during the eighteenth century, Britain acquired a seemingly limitless supply of power.

Coal played an especially important role in the iron industry, which constituted the fourth strand of industrialization. Iron and steel had been important to European technology since the Middle Ages, but expensive production processes limited their uses. Like other early modern manufacturing, iron-making relied on the experience and skill of a mass of individual artisans, whose small foundries permitted close inspection of each piece that they produced. Steel was even more clearly a specialized product, requiring superior iron ore found mainly in Sweden; forged by hand, it was reserved for such uses as weaponry, and was much too expensive for more mundane products. But starting in the early eighteenth century, the availability of coal and steam engines to power blowers (to create very high temperatures) and hammers (to remove impurities) stimulated a sequence of new iron-making processes, and these dramatically changed the industry's economics. Because expensive machinery was essential to these techniques, iron production was increasingly concentrated in huge enterprises, most dramatically that of the ironmaster John Wilkinson (17281808); but once the machinery was in place, it allowed the use of lower-grade, cheaper ores. Costs fell accordingly, and by the late eighteenth century, the availability of cheap iron made it possible to envision an entirely new range of uses for it.

This enthusiasm for spreading innovations to new economic domains was a further characteristic of the later eighteenth century, and it meant that the industrial revolution transformed numerous areas of the British economy, not just cotton, iron-making, and steam power. Cheap iron, for instance, allowed for the creation of new machine tools, and when combined with steam power, these made possible mechanized production of numerous products that once had been made by hand. Steam power and coal fuel allowed the potter Josiah Wedgwood (17301795) to establish mass production processes in making porcelain, until then a luxury good. Inventors began to think about the possibilities of using iron in buildings and ships. Economic transformations of these kinds did not mean the end of small workshops or skilled artisans. On the contrary, the development of machine making required more workshops and highly skilled laborers, and many consumer products lent themselves to small-scale production. Even after the advent of power looms, handloom weavers remained numerous and prosperous well into the nineteenth century. But by 1800 it was clear to all that dramatic change was likely to affect all domains of the economy; technological advances had become normal, and contemporaries expected that it would transform new areas of economic activity.


Overwhelmingly, the technological innovations that marked eighteenth-century industrialization took place in Britain. Understanding this British dynamism has been an enduring historical problem, producing both classic answers and intense debate among historians. Geographical accidents offer one explanation for British success. Britain had abundant supplies of coal of a quality especially well suited to iron production, and its lack of wood forced it to exploit this resource from the seventeenth century on; in contrast, France had plenty of wood and relatively little coal, and Holland had only peat, which could not produce the high temperatures needed for large-scale iron production. As a relatively small island with numerous navigable rivers, Britain also enjoyed the advantages of cheap water transportation, which allowed the development of an unusually well-integrated national market. The remarkable development of seventeenth-century London offered further economic advantages; as the British historian Anthony Wrigley pointed out a generation ago, London offered a large, concentrated market for industrial products, far more important as a share of the nation's population than contemporary Paris, and it provided a laboratory for new social practices, encouraging both producers and consumers to try out new products. Historians have also noted the chronological accidents that aided British industrial development. During most of the eighteenth century, French economic growth roughly equaled British, but the generation of political chaos that followed the French Revolution of 1789 gave British manufacturers a chance to establish themselves in new markets, with little competition from continental industry. By the end of the Revolutionary Wars, in 1815, Britain had fully established its economic supremacy in Europe.

Efforts to explain British economic successes in terms of culture, politics, and social organization have stimulated more debate among historians. In its social structure, Britain was as aristocratic as other European countries, and its merchants were as eager as merchants elsewhere to achieve acceptance among the landed gentry. But the British aristocracy was probably unusual in the respect that it accorded commerce and manufacturing, and the gentry-dominated British Parliament energetically defended commercial and manufacturing interests against foreign competition. British law was certainly unusual in the protections it gave inventors and property holders. Between 1624 and 1791, Britain was the only European nation with a system of patent laws, designed to give inventors the profits of their achievements. The system both encouraged innovation and expressed British society's admiration for it. In other respects, however, differences between Britain and other countries were less significant. Acquisitive, profit-oriented economic attitudes characterized most of eighteenth-century Europe; and Britain was like other Protestant countries of the early modern period in having a relatively well-educated working class. As for advanced education in the sciences and engineering, eighteenth-century Britain lagged well behind France.

By the late eighteenth century, Britain was also Europe's leading imperial power, holding territories in North America, the Caribbean, and India, and benefiting from the trade in African slaves. Many historians have seen in this global power a further important explanation for British industrialization. Colonies, they have argued, offered raw materials at a discount and ready markets for industrial goods, and the high profits generated by colonial trade permitted British merchants to make expensive investments in machines and factories. But recent scholarship has tended to present colonial markets and materials as only a secondary cause of British economic successes. Few historians would deny the rapacity of eighteenth-century imperialism or the determination of British governments to use any means that might advance the country's economic interests; to protect domestic cotton manufacturers, for instance, importation of Indian cloth was rigorously prohibited. As the Spanish empire of the sixteenth century had demonstrated, however, colonial possessions were no guarantee of industrial development; and the profits of colonial trade were not especially high in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The critical fact in Britain's economic development seems to have been the demand for goods within the country itself and the readiness of manufacturers to use novel means to meet that demand. Colonialism perhaps mattered less as a source of capital than as a source of economic novelties, encouraging Europe as a whole and Britain in particular to undertake business innovations. Such colonial products as tea, coffee, tobacco, and sugar were among the early mass-market luxuries that became the model for later industrial production. More substantial goods like Chinese ceramics and Indian cotton fabrics stimulated determined, and eventually successful, efforts at imitation. The eighteenth-century global economy thus helps to explain Britain's industrialization; indeed, based on a product that did not grow in Europe, the cotton industry itself was only conceivable in the setting of a global economy. But the critical fact was manufacturers' readiness to respond to opportunities that the global economy presented.


"Everything that is solid melts into air," wrote Karl Marx to describe the changes that he saw accompanying the industrialization of Europe. Until well after World War II, most historians of the industrial revolution shared Marx's sense of the period as one of overwhelming social change, both positive and negative. Like contemporaries, historians have been dazzled by the wave of new products and processes that the period brought forth during what Mokyr has called "the age of miracles." Historians have also been struck by the new kinds of work organization that machines required. Preindustrial work tended to be individualistic, with workers setting their own pace; in cottage industry, moments of intense activity alternated with moments of relaxation, and as independent contractors, workers could take on as much work as they chose. Factory work allowed for no such freedoms. Work had to be continuous and coordinated if investments in steam engines, machinery, and buildings were to pay off. Labor discipline thus represented an important aspect of the transition to the factory system; for many ordinary people, this was the point at which clock time became an essential component of daily life and the pocket watch the sign of one's responsibility. The role of skill also diminished in the factory setting. What was needed was someone to tend machines, and this could just as easily be children as adults. Deskilling of this kind represented a loss of both status and income to workers who had been used to the freedom of working on their own. Having reduced the role of skill, factory owners could effectively control the wages they paid; an unskilled worker dissatisfied with his income could easily be replaced by another.

On the other hand, much recent scholarship has drawn attention to continuities between the pre-industrial world and what followed, and to the complexities of industrial development itself. As a result, this line of scholarship has offered more nuanced views of the society that early industrialization produced than were previously available. One reason for this caution has been historians' growing knowledge of preindustrial economies, both in Europe and in the world at large. These economies were capable of considerable growth, and they offered their inhabitants considerable material abundance. Rather than a complete break with the past, therefore, the industrial revolution in significant ways represented a culmination of earlier developments. Historians have also given more attention to the survival of small workshops and skilled work during the industrial revolution. Because the factory system relied so heavily on complex machinery, it created whole new forms of skilled labor in the trades that built and maintained machinery. Small workshops thrived in many other developing trades as well, notably those that produced small metal goods like buttons, buckles, cheap jewelry, guns, and so on, trades that employed about half the workforce of Birmingham, one of Britain's most important industrial cities. The historian Maxine Berg has shown that even the introduction of steam power did not bring the factory system to these trades; instead, several small workshops could share the power of a single steam engine, for instance by renting space in a large building. Even the early textile factories retained some aspects of preindustrial work organization. Family relations continued to count in the factory, and for many manufacturing processes small groups needed to work closely together.

In one respect, however, traditional depictions of industrialization retain their full force: already in late eighteenth-century Britain, early industrialization had created zones of intensive industrial activity that grouped together mining, metallurgy, and a variety of related trades, creating a new kind of physical environment and new social relations. Coal was expensive to transport, and breakage during shipment made it useless in the blast furnaces that produced wrought iron. It thus proved economical to concentrate iron making near the coal fields, and other industrial processes tended to follow. Cotton textiles tended to concentrate also, around the fast-growing city of Manchester, while metal working developed in the city of Birmingham. With the expansion of these highly developed industrial centers, the more evenly dispersed industrial activity of the early eighteenth century tended to disappear. A number of regions that had been important manufacturing centers in the early modern period returned to purely agricultural pursuits, while the new industrial zones became crowded with manufacturing activities, reducing any mixture with agriculture to mere vestiges. Contemporaries found these new industrial regions appalling. As rapidly growing new towns, they lacked basic services and traditional forms of social organization. The combination of haphazard development, inadequate water supplies, coal smoke, and industrial wastes made them unhealthy, and contemporaries believed that the social conditions of industrial life added to the problem. Young people, for instance, earned wages that freed them from the controls that parents earlier exercised over them, and allowed them to indulge in a variety of unwholesome pastimes; they had little or no time for school. Industrial zones like these were genuine challenges to the established order of European society. They offered the spectacle of new disorder among laborersand of new wealth among factory owners. From a modest background, Richard Arkwright became extremely wealthy from his cotton-spinning mills, and made a point of displaying his wealth in conspicuous ways. He was only one of many industrialists to do so.

But historians have become cautious in interpreting descriptions of this sort, and more alert to the ideological commentaries they contained. If observers were impressed at the forms of misbehavior that characterized the new industrial towns, this to some extent reflected their fears of social change and their inability to see the social relationships that in fact characterized them. It also reflected their limited attention to the evils of preindustrial work, which was altogether ready to employ women and children. Despite their unhealthy conditions, the new industrial centers paid high wages and attracted workers. In the same way, the dramatic rise of new fortunes from industry to some extent obscured from contemporary observers the ability of old elites to profit from economic innovation. Britain's great aristocrats were especially well placed to benefit from the development of mining and metallurgy, controlling as they did many of the country's coal deposits; during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, they showed themselves alert and inventive in profiting from these opportunities, so that their wealth rose in tandem with that of the new industrialistsallowing them to continue dominating Britain's politics down to the eve of World War I. Historians have demonstrated similar adaptations in continental Europe, with old ruling groups effectively profiting from industrialization. If the industrial revolution helped bring the early modern period to a close, it thus also preserved some of that period's characteristic forms of social organization.

See also Clocks and Watches ; Industry ; Laborers ; Mining and Metallurgy ; Proto-Industry ; Textile Industry .


Adas, Michael. Machines as the Measure of Men: Science, Technology, and Ideologies of Western Dominance. Ithaca and London, 1989.

Berg, Maxine. The Age of Manufactures, 17001820. New York and Oxford, 1986; 2nd edition, 1994.

de Vries, Jan. The Economy of Europe in an Age of Crisis, 16001750. Cambridge, U.K., 1976.

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Deane, Phyllis. The First Industrial Revolution. Cambridge, U.K., 1965; 2nd edition, 1979.

Gutmann, Myron. Toward the Modern Economy: Early Industry in Europe, 15001800. Philadelphia, 1988.

Landes, David. The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present. Cambridge, U.K., 1969.

Mokyr, Joel. The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress. New York and Oxford, 1990.

Pomeranz, Kenneth. The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy. Princeton, 2000.

Reddy, William. The Rise of Market Culture: The Textile Trade and French Society, 17501900. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1984.

Thompson, E. P. The Making of the English Working Class. London, 1963; 2nd edition, 1972.

Jonathan Dewald

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Industrial Revolution


INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION. The industrial revolution can be defined as a drastic transformation both of the processes by which American (and European) society produced goods for human consumption, and of the social attitudes surrounding these processes. The first non-ambiguous use of the term is attributed to the French economist Adolphe Blanqui in 1837, but the idea of a "revolution" in the industrial sphere showed up in various forms in the writings of many French and British intellectuals as early as the 1820s. The expression underlines the depth and speed of the changes observed, and the fact that they seemed to derive from the introduction of machine-based factories. Although in Great Britain the slow process of industrial transformation has led historians there to question the very notion of an "industrial revolution," the speed and radical character of the change that took place in the United States in the nineteenth century largely precludes any such discussion.

An Economic and Social Revolution

The spread of new, powerful machines using new sources of power (water, then coal-generated steam) constituted the most obvious aspect of this process of change. Alexander Hamilton's Report on Manufactures (1791) made explicit reference to "the extension of the use of machinery," especially in the British cotton industry, and in 1812, Tench Coxe, a political economist and career official in the Treasury Department, peppered his Report on the State of Manufactures in the United States with paeans to "laborsaving machinery." Factories built around new machines became a significant element in the urban landscapes of several eastern cities in the 1830s, while railroads brought steam-powered engines into the daily life of rural areas. The new industrial order included productivity increases that made available a wealth of new, nonagricultural goods and activities. Three out of four American male workers accounted for in the census of 1800 worked full time in

agriculture; by 1900 more than two-thirds of the workforce was employed in the manufacturing and service sectors. Another, less visible evolution was even more momentous: in 1800 virtually all Americans were working in family-sized units of production, based on long-term or permanent (slaves, spouses) relationships and included such nonquantitative characteristics as room and board and "moral" rules of behavior. When wages were paid, their amount was a function of these "moral" customs (some historians even speak of a "moral" economy) and the prosperity of the business as much as of the supply and demand of labor. A century later, wages determined by the labor market were becoming the norm, with little attention paid to "custom" or the moral imperative of "fair wages." Moreover, employers and employees lived increasingly disconnected lives, both socially and spatially. Among many other consequences, this shift eventually led to a reevaluation of "women's work," hitherto left unpaid within the household, and made untenable first slavery, then the segregation with which southern white supremacists hoped to create their own racist version of the labor market. It is thus impossible to overstate the social and political impact of the industrial revolution.

From New Machines to Modern Businesses

While the existence of an industrial revolution is hard to dispute, its chronology and causes are more open to discussion. Technologically, the United States took its first steps toward mass production almost immediately after independence, and had caught up with Great Britain by the 1830s. Following the British lead, American innovation was concentrated in cotton and transportation. In 1793, after fifteen years of experimentation in the Philadelphia and Boston areas, Samuel Slater set up the country's first profitable cotton-spinning factory in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Thomas Jefferson's decision in 1807 to stop trade with Europe, and the subsequent War of 1812 with Great Britain, created a protected environment for American manufacturers, and freed commercial capital. This led to such ventures as the Boston Manufacturing Company, founded under the impulse of Boston merchant Francis Cabot Lowell in 1813 in Waltham, Massachusetts. The company's investors went on to create a whole series of new factories in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1822. Thanks to a combination of immigrant British technicians, patent infringements, industrial espionage, and local innovations, American power looms were on a par

with the English machines by the end of the 1810s. Moreover, Waltham, which combined under one roof all the processes of textile production, particularly spinning and weaving, was the first wholly integrated textile factory in the world. Still, despite the development of a high-pressure steam engine by inventor Oliver Evans in Philadelphia in 1804, American cotton manufacturers, and American industry in general, lagged in the use of steam. In 1833, Secretary of the Treasury Louis McLane's federal survey of American industry reported few steam engines outside of the Pittsburgh area, whereas James Watt's steam engine, perfected between 1769 and 1784, was used throughout Great Britain by 1800.

However, in 1807, the maiden run of Robert Fulton's first steamboat, the Clermont, on the Hudson River marked the first commercial application of steam to transportation, a field in which Americans were most active. The first commercial railroad in the United States, the Baltimore and Ohio, was launched in 1828, three years after its first British counterpart. In 1829, the British inventor George Stephenson introduced his Rocket engine; the New Jersey transportation magnate John Stevens bought one two years later and had built three improved (and patent-infringing) copies by 1833. His son, Robert L. Stevens, added his own contribution by creating the modern T-rail. John Stevens also gave technical information to young Matthias Baldwin of Philadelphia, who launched what would become the Baldwin Locomotive Works with his first engine, the Ironsides, built in 1832. With the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, and the ensuing "canal craze," a spate of canal construction extending into the 1840s, all the ingredients of the so-called transportation revolution were in place.

Between the 1820s and the Civil War, American machinery surpassed that of their British competitors, a superiority made public at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London in 1851. For instance, under the impulse of John Hall, a machinist who began working at the Harpers Ferry federal gun factory in 1820, American gun makers developed a production process precise and mechanized enough to produce standardized, interchangeable gun parts; such an approach would make the fortune of gun maker Samuel Colt in the 1850s. Standardized production was eventually applied to other goods, starting with Isaac Merritt Singer's sewing machines, sold commercially from 1851 on. The biggest advance in communications technology since the railroad greatly improved mail delivery, was the telegraph, an American innovation introduced by Samuel F. B. Morse between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore in 1844. The 1830–1860 period is most important, however, for its organizational innovations. Up to then, cotton manufacturers, steamboat promoters, and railroad administrators alike were less concerned with productivity than with turning a quick profit through monopolies, cartels, and niche markets. Accounting was sloppy at best, making precise cost control impossible. Subcontracting was the rule, as well as piece-work rather than wages. In this environment, technical innovations that sped production could lessen costs for the manufacturer only if piece rates were cut accordingly. This began to occur in American cotton factories from 1828 on (leading to the first modern industrial conflicts in Manayunk and other factories around Philadelphia, six years before the better-known strikes in Lowell and other New England centers in 1834). It was not until the 1840s and 1850s that modern business procedures were introduced. These included the accounting innovations of Louis McLane, at this time president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and his chief engineer, Benjamin Latrobe, and the organizational overhaul of the Pennsylvania Railroad launched by its president, J. Edgar Thompson, in 1853.

By the Civil War, competent technicians and productivity-minded administrators were revolutionizing one industry after another, a process that became generalized after 1870. Organizers and inventors systematically allied with each other; in Pittsburgh, Alexander L. Holley built for Andrew Carnegie the most modern steel mill in the world, the Edgar Thomson works, which opened in 1875. Sometimes organizer and inventor were one and the same, as in the case of Thomas Edison, who set up an experimental laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, in 1876, developed the first electric lightbulb in 1879, and went on to build what became General Electric. In other fields, the pioneers were superseded by outsiders. Colonel Edwin Drake was the first person to successfully use drilling to extract oil from the earth, which he did in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859, but John D. Rockefeller was the man who succeeded in gaining control over 90 percent of American refineries between 1865 and 1879, creating with Standard Oil the first modern monopoly in America. The systematized search for productivity led to systematized research and development through the combined use of applied research and funding from large corporations, university-based science, and federal subsidies. From oil and electricity to chemistry, the pace of innovation became such that the period has been called a "second industrial revolution" (actually a misnomer, since rates of growth were not significantly higher than in the previous period). Similarly, the search for economies of scale led to giant factories, great concentrations of workers, and widespread urbanization. The search for new outlets for constantly increasing output led to mass consumption and advertisement. And the search for lower costs prompted bloody battles with workers. Compromise in this area was slowly reached; in 1914, Henry Ford introduced the idea that high wages meant efficient workers and useful consumers, and Roosevelt and the New Deal, from 1933 on, set up a social security system giving those same workers a safety net in hard times. Thus, much of the history of the late-nineteenth and the twentieth centuries is the history of the struggle to come to terms with the economic, political, and social consequences of the new forms of organization of human production developed before the Civil War and systematized in the Gilded Age. More generally, the industrial revolution inaugurated trends that perpetuated themselves into the twenty-first century and can properly be described as the matrix of the contemporary world.


Chandler, Alfred D., Jr. The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1977.

Cochran, Thomas C. Frontiers of Change: Early Industrialism in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.

Cohen, Isaac. American Management and British Labor: A Comparative Study of the Cotton Spinning Industry. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.

Hounshell, David A. From the American System to Mass Production, 1800–1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984.

Jeremy, David J. Transatlantic Industrial Revolution: The Diffusion of Textile Technologies between Britain and America, 1790–1830s. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1981.

Licht, Walter. Industrializing America: The Nineteenth Century. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.

Scranton, Philip. Endless Novelty: Specialty Production and American Industrialization, 1865–1925. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997.

Zunz, Olivier. Why the American Century? Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.


See alsoEmbargo Act ; Railroads ; Standard Oil Company ; Steam Power and Engines ; Steamboats ; andvol. 9:Mill Worker's Letter on the Hardships in the Textile Mills .

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Industrial Revolution


The advent of the Industrial Revolution towards the end of the nineteenth century raised numerous economic and political questions for the United States that neither the populace nor the government was prepared for. In the years following the American Civil War (18611865), the twin pillars of capitalism and industrialization catapulted the American economy to the forefront of world commerce. Oil, steel, rail, mining, and agricultural industries all enjoyed tremendous growth in the latter part of the nineteenth century as Americans exploited the riches of its natural resources, land, manufacturing technology, and a large labor pool from increased immigration. In cities across the United States, all of these elements came together to form the ingredients and the momentum behind the Industrial Revolution.

America's tremendous industrial and financial growth in the last decades of the nineteenth century were due in large part to the entrepreneurial boldness and business instincts of a number of industrial and financial tycoons who came to be known as the "robber barons." J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, James J. Hill, Jay Gould, and others guided their diverse business interests to unprecedented levels of profitability. The monopolies of the robber barons enabled them to eliminate less powerful competitors, raise prices, and subsequently realize huge profits that were pumped back into their businesses. The federal government gradually began to heed the voices of small business owners, who called for reform, and the cries of American workers, who had begun launching the country's first organized labor unions in the face of company-sponsored violence and public ridicule.

In 1890 the Sherman Anti-Trust Act was enacted in an effort to curb the power of the trusts, but the robber barons continued to maintain their privileged positions in the American system. Blessed with access to abundant natural resources, valuable technological advances, a growing labor force, and a congenial political environment, these men and the monopolies they held dominated the U.S. economy. So much so that, for a generation after the Civil War, political power of the presidency paled in comparison to the economic talent and power of the robber barons.

The railroad industry particularly transformed the business landscape of the United States. By the early 1850s several railroads had established lines that allowed them to transport freight back and forth between the Great Lakes region and the East Coast, and new railroad construction projects were generating across eastern America. This ever-growing network of rail lines, many of which spanned relatively short distances, came to be seen as a more timely, reliable, and inexpensive way to transport goods than other options previously available. The explosive growth of the railroad industry in the eastern states, coupled with the potential wealth contained in the country's western territories and the nation's accompanying desire to expand in that direction, convinced growing numbers of people that a transcontinental railroad stretching from coast to coast should be built. Begun in 1863, the effort was hampered by the Civil War and the daunting obstacles of western geography and weather, but on May 10, 1869, the rail lines of the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific railroads were finally joined in Utah. Celebrations of the epic achievement erupted across the nation as Americans hailed this giant step forward in the country's westward expansion.

Farmers benefited from increased mechanization, sophisticated transportation options, and scientific cultivation methods. Nonetheless, the financial situations of many farming families grew precarious in the 1880s and 1890s. Record crop yields resulted in lower prices while production costs increased, a combination that threw many farmers into debt. They responded by forming unions and alliances that insisted on populist reforms. Many of their themes, dismissed as outlandish when first expressed, later became cornerstones of progressive reform in the early 1900s.

The surging economic and technological growth of the United States caused tremendous changes in the character of American life during the last decades of the nineteenth century. The rural farming culture of previous generations gave way to an increasingly urban and industrial one, as manufacturing plants sprang up and cities mushroomed in size; the nation's urban population rose 400 percent between 1870 and 1910.

Still, for many Americans, city life was less an immediate experience than a distant and powerful lure. The attraction was powerful, for the drain on the countryside was particularly noticeable, especially in the Midwest and in the East. As the 1870s and 1880s witnessed the worst agricultural depression in the country's history, large numbers of farmers succumbed to the temptations of urban promises and packed their bags. Jobs, higher wages, and such technological wonders as electricity and the telephone gradually took its toll on rural defenses.

Joining these farmers were an increasing number of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe, who, like their American counterparts, came mostly from the countryside and knew very little of urban life. These "new" immigrants, as they were calledas opposed to the more established generation of largely Protestant immigrants from the western and northern European countries of Britain, Ireland, Germany, and Scandinaviacame largely from Italy, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Serbia, and Russia and were predominantly Catholic or Jewish. These "new" immigrants typically congregated in the urban centers of the East, particularly New York.

As Americans gradually came to favor urban over rural life, there was much about the Industrial Revolution that would justify the prejudices of the old rural ideals. Cities of the late nineteenth century grew without plan, with a minimum of control, and typically by the direction of industrial enterprise. Accordingly, American cities seemed to harbor all the afflictions that plague modern society: poverty, disease, crime, and decay. For members of the urban working class, life was often marked by hardship and uncertainty. Layoffs were common, and as much as 30 percent of the urban work force was out of work for some period during the year. Child labor was common as well, and in 1900 as many as three million of America's children were forced to work on a full-time basis to help support their families.

Living conditions in the cities were often deplorable, with thousands of families forced to reside in slums that were breeding grounds for typhoid, smallpox, cholera, tuberculosis, and other diseases that swept through the cities on a regular basis. City tenement housing quickly degenerated into slums that not only brought unsanitary living conditions, but also increased poverty, prostitution, and organized crime. In 1881 the homicide rate in America was 25 per million; in 1898, the rate had risen to 107 per million. Diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever, and diphtheria increasingly plagued cities and wreaked havoc on working-class populations. Several factors made many problems in American cities more pronounced. In the 1880s and 1890s the gulf between social classes was dramatically emphasized. The term "Gilded Age," coined by Mark Twain, came into common use and indicated corruption, profiteering, and false glitter. In both Chicago and New York, elegant and lavish homes were often built on the same street or within view of the slums. A few blocks from New York's elite Fifth Avenue, the desolation of Shantytown, with its Irish paupers and roaming livestock, presented a sharp 60-block contrast. While a relatively high degree of residential mobility did exist, ethnic neighborhoods such as Little Italy, Polonia, and Greektown also served to highlight and define urban poverty.

The industrialization of the United States also produced a fundamental reorganization of public consumption. As the nation's manufacturing plants and farms produced greater quantities of goods and products, an increasingly consumer-oriented economy emerged. Products of conveniencesuch as processed and preserved foods, ready-made clothing, and telephonesappeared and were made available to a far greater number of consumers than ever before.

Leisure time activities blossomed as well. Revolutions in transportation, technology, and urbanization all fostered an environment favorable to the pursuit of recreational activities. Americans with money in their pockets and time on their hands looked to spend both on entertainment, and businessmen rushed to supply consumers in this newest lucrative economic niche. Organized sports, previously the territory of only the wealthiest American families, were embraced by all classes of spectators and participants. Circuses, vaudeville shows, theatrical dramas, and musical comedies attracted tens of thousands of citizens, too. As one commentator on the times noted, "while telephones, typewriters, cash registers, and adding machines sped and made routine the conduct of business, cameras, phonographs, bicycles, moving pictures, amusement parks, and professional sports defined the mass popular culture that still dominates our times."

See also: Child Labor, Immigration, Industrialization, Monopoly, Robber Barons, Sherman Anti-Trust Act, Slums, Tenements, Urbanization


Bruchey, Stuart. Enterprise: The Dynamic Economy of a Free People. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.

Cochran, Thomas. Frontiers of Change: Early Industrialism in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.

North, Douglas. The Economic Growth of the United States, 17901860. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1961.

Sellers, Charles. The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 18151846. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Taylor, George Rogers. The Transportation Revolution, 18151860. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1951.

the surging economic and technological growth of the united states caused tremendous changes in the character of american life during the last decades of the nineteenth century.

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Industrial Revolution

Industrial Revolution, term usually applied to the social and economic changes that mark the transition from a stable agricultural and commercial society to a modern industrial society relying on complex machinery rather than tools. It is used historically to refer primarily to the period in British history from the middle of the 18th cent. to the middle of the 19th cent.

Nature of the Industrial Revolution

There has been much objection to the term because the word revolution suggests sudden, violent, unparalleled change, whereas the transformation was, to a great extent, gradual. Some historians argue that the 13th and 16th cent. were also periods of revolutionary economic change. However, in view of the magnitude of change between 1750 and 1850, the term seems useful.

Dramatic changes in the social and economic structure took place as inventions and technological innovations created the factory system of large-scale machine production and greater economic specialization, and as the laboring population, formerly employed predominantly in agriculture (in which production had also increased as a result of technological improvements), increasingly gathered in great urban factory centers. The same process occurred at later times and in changed tempo in other countries.

The Industrial Revolution in Great Britain

The ground was prepared by the voyages of discovery from Western Europe in the 15th and 16th cent., which led to a vast influx of precious metals from the New World, raising prices, stimulating industry, and fostering a money economy. Expansion of trade and the money economy stimulated the development of new institutions of finance and credit (see commercial revolution). In the 17th cent. the Dutch were in the forefront financially, but with the establishment (1694) of the Bank of England, their supremacy was effectively challenged. Capitalism appeared on a large scale, and a new type of commercial entrepreneur developed from the old class of merchant adventurers. Many machines were already known, and there were sizable factories using them, but these were the exceptions rather than the rule. Wood was the only fuel, water and wind the power of these early factories.

As the 18th cent. began, an expanding and wealthier population demanded more and better goods. In the productive process, coal came to replace wood. Early-model steam engines were introduced to drain water and raise coal from the mines. The crucial development of the Industrial Revolution was the use of steam for power, and the greatly improved engine (1769) of James Watt marked the high point in this development. Cotton textiles was the key industry early in the Industrial Revolution. John Kay's fly shuttle (1733), James Hargreaves's spinning jenny (patented 1770), Richard Arkwright's water frame (1769), Samuel Crompton's mule (1779), which combined the features of the jenny and the frame, and Edmund Cartwright's power loom (patented 1783) facilitated a tremendous increase in output. The presence of large quantities of coal and iron in close proximity in Britain was a decisive factor in its rapid industrial growth.

The use of coke in iron production had far-reaching effects. The coal mines from the early 1700s had become paramount in importance, and the Black Country developed in England at the same time that Lancashire and Yorkshire were being transformed into the greatest textile centers of the world. Factories and industrial towns sprang up. Canals and roads were built, and the advent of the railroad and the steamship widened the market for manufactured goods. The Bessemer process made a gigantic contribution, for it was largely responsible for the extension of the use of steam and steel that were the two chief features of industry in the middle of the 19th cent. Chemical innovations and, most important of all, perhaps, machines for making machines played an important part in the vast changes.

The Industrial Revolution did not in fact end in Britain in the mid-1800s. New periods came in with electricity and the gasoline engine. By 1850, however, the transformation wrought by the revolution was accomplished, in that industry had become a dominant factor in the nation's life.

The Worldwide Revolution

France had in the 17th and most of the 18th cent. kept pace with Britain, but it later lagged behind in industrial development, and the British victory in their long-standing commercial rivalry kept markets away from France. The revolution did not make the rapid progress that it did in Britain, but after 1830 it developed steadily. The railroad and improved transportation preceded the introduction of the revolution into Germany, which is conventionally said to have accompanied the formation of the Zollverein; industrial Germany was created after 1850.

The United States made some contributions to the early revolution, notably the cotton gin (1793) of Eli Whitney. But the transformation of the United States into an industrial nation took place largely after the Civil War and on the British model. The textile mills of New England had long been in existence, but the boom period of industrial organization was from 1860 to 1890. The Industrial Revolution was introduced by Europeans into Asia, and the last years of the 19th and the early years of the 20th cent. saw the development of industries in India, China, and Japan. However, Japan is the only country of E Asia that may be said to have had a real Industrial Revolution. The Russian Revolution had as a basic aim the introduction of industrialism.

Its Effects

The Industrial Revolution has changed the face of nations, giving rise to urban centers requiring vast municipal services. It created a specialized and interdependent economic life and made the urban worker more completely dependent on the will of the employer than the rural worker had been. Relations between capital and labor were aggravated, and Marxism was one product of this unrest. Doctrines of laissez-faire, developed in the writings of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, sought to maximize the use of new productive facilities. But the revolution also brought a need for a new type of state intervention to protect the laborer and to provide necessary services. Laissez faire gradually gave way in the United States, Britain, and elsewhere to welfare capitalism. The economic theories of John Maynard Keynes reflected this change. The Industrial Revolution also provided the economic base for the rise of the professions, population expansion, and improvement in living standards and remains a primary goal of less developed nations.


See F. C. Dietz, The Industrial Revolution (1927, repr. 1973); T. S. Ashton, The Industrial Revolution (1948); W. O. Henderson, The Industrialization of Europe, 1780–1914 (1969); J. W. Osborne, The Silent Revolution: The Industrial Revolution in England as a Source of Cultural Change (1970); R. M. Hartwell, The Industrial Revolution and Economic Growth (1971); P. N. Stearns, The Impact of the Industrial Revolution (1972); B. Bracegirdle et al., The Archaeology of the Industrial Revolution (1973); R. C. Allen, The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective (2009); W. Rosen, The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention (2010); C. R. Morris, The Dawn of Innovation: The First American Industrial Revolution (2012).

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Industrial Revolution

Industrial Revolution

Industrial Revolution is the name given to changes that took place in Great Britain during the period from roughly 1730 to 1850. It was originated by German author Friedrich Engels (18201895) in 1844. In general, those changes involved the transformation of Great Britain from a largely agrarian (farming) society to one dominated by industry. These changes later spread to other countries, transforming almost all the world.

The Industrial Revolution involved some of the most profound changes in human society in history. Most of the vast array of changes took place in one of three major economic industries: textiles, iron and steel, and transportation. These changes had far-reaching effects on the British economy and social system.

The textile industry

Prior to the mid-eighteenth century, the manufacture of textiles (woven cloth or fabric) in Great Britain (and the rest of the world) took place almost exclusively in private homes. Families would obtain thread from wholesale outlets and then produce cloth by hand in their own houses. Beginning in the 1730s, however, a number of inventors began to develop machines that took over one or more of the previous hand-knitting operations.

In 1733, John Kay (17041764) invented the first fly shuttle. This machine consisted of a large frame to which was suspended a series of threads. A shuttle, a device that carried more thread, was then passed through the suspended threads, weaving a piece of cloth. Workers became so proficient with the machine that they could literally make the shuttle "fly" through the thread framework.

Over the next half century, other machines were developed that further mechanized the weaving of cloth. These included the spinning jenny (invented by James Hargreaves in 1764), the water frame (Richard Ark-wright, 1769), the spinning mule (Samuel Crompton, 1779), the power loom (Edmund Cartwright, 1785), and the cotton gin (Eli Whitney, 1792).

At least as important as the invention of individual machines was the organization of industrial operations for their use. Large factories, powered by steam or water, sprang up throughout the nation for the manufacture of cloth and clothing.

The development of new technology in the textile industry had a ripple effect on society. As cloth and clothing became more readily available at more modest prices, the demand for such articles increased. This increase in demand had the further effect of encouraging the expansion of business and the search for even more efficient forms of technology.

Iron and steel manufacture

One factor contributing to the development of industry in Great Britain was that nation's large supply of coal and iron ore. For many centuries, the British had converted their iron ores to iron and steel by heating the raw material with charcoal, made from trees. By the mid eighteenth century, however, the nation's timber supply had largely been used up. Iron and steel manufacturers were forced to look elsewhere for a fuel to use in treating iron ores.

The fuel they found was coal. When coal is heated in the absence of air it turns into coke. Coke proved to be a far superior material for the conversion of iron ore to iron and steel. It was eventually cheaper to produce than charcoal and it could be packed more tightly into a blast furnace, allowing the heating of a larger volume of iron.

The conversion of the iron and steel business from charcoal to coke was accompanied, however, by a number of new technical problems. These, in turn, encouraged the development of even more new inventions. For example, the use of coke in the smelting (melting or fusing) of iron ores required a more intense flow of air through the furnace. Fortunately, the steam engine that had been invented by Scottish engineer James Watt (17361819) in 1763 provided the means for solving this problem. The Watt steam engine was also employed in the mining of coal, where it was used to remove water that collected within most mines.


For nearly half a century, James Watt's steam engine was so bulky and heavy that it was used only as a stationary power source. The first forms of transport that made use of steam power were developed not in Great Britain, but in France and the United States. In those two nations, inventors constructed the first ships powered by steam engines. In the United States, Robert Fulton's steam ship Clermont, built in 1807, was among these early successes.

During the first two decades of the nineteenth century, a handful of British inventors devised carriage-type vehicles powered by steam engines. In 1803, Richard Trevithick (17711833) built a "steam carriage" which he carried passengers through the streets of London. A year later,

one of his steam-powered locomotives pulled a load of 10 tons for a distance of almost 10 miles (16 kilometers) at a speed of about 5 miles (8 kilometers) per hour.

Effects of the Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution brought about dramatic changes in nearly every aspect of British society. With the growth of factories, for example, people were drawn to metropolitan centers. The number of cities with populations of more than 20,000 in England and Wales rose from 12 in 1800 to nearly 200 in 1900.

Technological change also made possible the growth of capitalism. Factory owners and others who controlled the means of production rapidly became very rich. In the years between 1800 and 1900, the total national income in Great Britain increased by a factor of ten.

However, working conditions in the factories were poor. Men, women, and children alike were employed at extremely low wages in crowded, unhealthy, and dangerous environments. Workers were often able to afford no more than the simplest housing, resulting in the rise of urban slums.

These conditions soon led to actions to protect workers. Laws were passed requiring safety standards in factories, setting minimum age limits for young workers, establishing schools for children whose parents both worked, and creating other standards for the protection of workers. Workers then began to establish the first labor unions to protect their own interests; as a group they had more power when bargaining with their employers over wages and working conditions.

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industrial revolution

industrial revolution. In 1837 Louis-Auguste Blanqui used the phrase to describe the changes Britain had undergone during the previous half-century in its social and economic life. Widespread use of the term followed from Arnold Toynbee's Lectures on the Industrial Revolution of the Eighteenth Century in England published in 1884. Debates about the precise period and its meaning reflected efforts to identify what brought about the transformation from a predominantly rural society, whose major source of livelihoods derived from the land, to a rapidly urbanizing country whose wealth came from commerce and manufacturing.

Symbolic of the industrial revolution was the use of coal as a source of energy. The conversion of coal to coke made cheaper iron ore smelting possible and simultaneously produced town gas, used from the early 19th cent. for lighting. Coal-fuelled boilers provided steam-power for mines drainage, factory machinery, and locomotives, making speed and repetitive activities less arduous and greatly augmenting output. Particularly associated with such changes were cotton textiles, made cheaply in large quantities. Inventions of processes and discoveries of new materials increased the sophistication of products available. Examples of these occurred in metallurgy in the uses of iron and in chemicals. Organizational developments as well as large-scale capital investments gave impetus to the construction of well-built roads run by turnpike trusts and to the making of a nation-wide canal network. The better distribution of raw materials and finished products expanded the domestic economy and made exporting easier.

Social changes occurred simultaneously. Many new jobs were created between the later 18th and the mid-19th cent. from the ever widening applications of technical innovations such as in gas-making, in the chemical industry, in canal and railway transport, and in textiles. In the case of textiles, increased output depended on water- or steam-powered machinery installed in purpose-built factories. Although the total number of jobs in textiles rose, much unemployment was experienced in areas where factory products undercut the prices of the old domestic system of production. New methods of industrial production also required many people to move to urban locations. Some existing towns such as Manchester expanded very rapidly, whilst new towns emerged, such as St Helens (Merseyside). Rapid urban growth posed many unforeseen problems of overcrowded houses, inadequate sanitation, and law and order.

Marx's ideas about the making of capitalist society had their origins in his observation of British industrialization, particularly in Manchester during the 1830s. Marxists went on to argue that the triumph of capitalist organization of production and trade was exemplified most completely in the history of Britain between the accession of George III and the accession of William IV. This process was accomplished by the emergence of the middle class and the creation of an industrial working class from the landless labourers and smaller peasant farmers.

In 1958 W. W. Rostow in his Stages of Economic Growth proposed a model of economic and social change to challenge the Marxist analysis. This ‘non-communist’ manifesto identified five stages in the growth of economies. The crucial third stage was ‘take-off ’ which, in the case of Britain, corresponded to the onset of rapid industrialization in the late 18th cent. and lasted until the early years of Victoria's reign when the economy became ‘mature’. The fourth stage involved having a variety of heavy industries and commercial institutions and imperial ambitions. Rostow claimed for his model predictive capabilities which could be applied world-wide.

Many historians, geographers, and political economists have sought to explain the origins of the changes during the second half of the 18th cent. and why they should have occurred in Britain. The search for one main underlying cause has led to elaborate and careful studies of both economic activities and social developments, including geographical determination, religious discrimination against nonconformists, technological innovations in sources of power, and the rise of literacy.

In contrast other historians have challenged the very concept of an industrial revolution. For example, econometric techniques applied by N. F. R. Crafts and others indicate slow rates of change in British economic life. Innovations in technology and in organization occurred piecemeal in different parts of the economy, suggesting that the image of revolution seems inappropriate. Others have pointed to important economic changes both earlier and later than the period usually identified. For example, E. M. Carus-Wilson identified an industrial revolution in the 13th cent. associated with using water-powered fulling mills in woollen cloth-making. J. U. Nef used the term to describe developments between 1540 and 1640 when the greater use made of coal and metallic ores was accompanied by innovations in agriculture and the growth of overseas trade.

Ian John Ernest Keil


Clarkson, L. A. , Proto-industrialization: The First Phase of Industrialization? (1985);
Crafts, N. F. R. , British Economic Growth during the Industrial Revolution (Oxford, 1985);
Hudson, P. , Britain's Industrial Revolution (1992).

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Industrial Revolution

Industrial Revolution Social and economic transformation of agricultural societies into industrial societies. The Industrial Revolution began in Britain in the 18th century. By 1870, France, Germany, and the USA were rapidly developing an industrial base. The Russian Revolution (1917) led to the rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union. In the UK, a rapid increase in population, which was both a cause and result of the Agricultural Revolution, preceded the Industrial Revolution. The inventions of Richard Arkwright, Edmund Cartwright, Samuel Crompton, and James Hargreaves revolutionized the production of textiles. The new machines necessitated the building of factories. The steam engine, invented (1769) by James Watt, was the main driving force of the Industrial Revolution and led to the placing of factories near coalfields, which in turn led to the growth of large cities, especially in Scotland, the North, the Midlands, and South Wales. Mass production required an expansion of the network of canals and roads. The construction of railways began in c.1830. Work in the factories was based on the division of labour. At first, the economic doctrine of laissez-faire allowed the growth of industrialization without restrictions on working conditions, but the Factory Acts (1802 onwards) brought regulations in employment of children and length of the working day. The Industrial Revolution produced major social changes, in particular the creation of a working class.

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"Industrial Revolution." World Encyclopedia. . 16 Dec. 2017 <>.

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"Industrial Revolution." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from

Industrial Revolution

In·dus·tri·al Rev·o·lu·tion the rapid development of industry that occurred in Britain in the late 18th and 19th centuries, brought about by the introduction of machinery. It was characterized by the use of steam power, the growth of factories, and the mass production of manufactured goods.

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"Industrial Revolution." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . 16 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Industrial Revolution." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . (December 16, 2017).

"Industrial Revolution." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from

Industrial Revolution

Industrial Revolution the rapid development of industry that occurred in Britain in the late 18th and 19th centuries, brought about by the introduction of machinery.

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"Industrial Revolution." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . 16 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Industrial Revolution." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . (December 16, 2017).

"Industrial Revolution." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from