The Industrial Revolution


Causes of the Industrial Revolution



  • Identify the historical events that prepared Europe for the Industrial Revolution
  • Define the pre-conditions of industrialization
  • Describe why the Industrial Revolution began in Britain

Before the Industrial Revolution, most people in European society made a living in agriculture.  During the period of feudalism there was virtually no trade in Europe.  Any trade that did take place was done by bartering.  Since there was no real need for it and governments were not powerful enough money—cash—was not used.  This all started to change after the Crusades when trade was revitalized—brought back to life—due to the interaction with the Middle East.  This sparked a number of changes that transformed European economies and societies.

Industrialization is the process by which an economy changes from an agrarian economy—one based on farming—to one that includes heavy industry.  The Industrial Revolution—with a capital “I” and a capital “R,” because it refers to a specific event of industrialization—was the rapid industrial growth that occurred in Europe during the late 18th and early 19th centuries in which machine made goods (made in large quantities in factories) replaced hand made goods (made in small numbers in people’s homes).

Long-term causes of the Industrial Revolution

Several key economic changes in Europe set the continent up for industrialization.   The Commercial Revolution (1450-1700) was the economic expansion beginning in Europe in the late Middle Ages characterized by the growth of towns, banking, a money economy, and extensive trade among nations.  The Commercial Revolution led to a new economic system called capitalism.  Capitalism is the economic system in which private individuals own and control the means of production and the distribution of goods and wealth in a country.  The goal of capitalism is to invest money to make more money.

An economic system called mercantilism developed. Mercantilism was the imperialist economic policy in which colonies were established to gain inexpensive natural resources to use as raw materials.  These raw materials are made into finished products and sold back to the people in the colonies for a profit.  Colonies are only allowed to trade with the mother country.

The Agricultural Revolution (not to be confused with the Neolithic Revolution) also helped cause the Industrial Revolution.  The Agricultural Revolution was the application of technology to improve farming methods, beginning in the 1700’s.  In particular, it was when people began using farm machinery and scientific agriculture.  Use of new technology, such as Jethro Tull’s seed drill, Charles Townshend’s crop rotation, Robert Bakewell’s selective breeding, and Justus von Liebig’s chemical fertilizer ,created more food with less labor.

As the food supply increased, leading to a population increase (more workers).  As farming became more efficient, less farmers were needed (less jobs on farms).  Farming changed from subsistence (just enough to get by) to big business.  Large farms using the new technology took the place of small farms.

Pre-conditions for industrialization

In order for industrialization to occur in a society, it must have certain characteristics for it to happen.  Industrialization does not happen in a country until it has these things.  The first three are called the factors of production.  One of them is land.  A society needs to have raw materials (coal, iron ore, etc) and transportation systems to industrialize (whether natural, such as harbors, or man-made, such as canals or railroads).  Another factor of production is called labor.  In order to industrialize, a society needs a large group of people available to work outside of agriculture.  And the third is capital—capital, which is money invested to make more money.  A society must have people with large amounts of money willing to invest to build factories and industry.  In addition to the factors of production, a society must also have political stability, meaning a strong government that isn’t threatened with revolution or invasion.  The Industrial Revolution started in England because it had all of these things before any other European country.


Key events of the Industrial Revolution


  • Explain why the Industrial Revolution developed in Great Britain first
  • Identify some of the key resources of the Industrial Revolution
  • Identify some of the key inventions of the Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution can be understood looking at Great Britain as a case study because this is where it began.  England had all of the pre-conditions of industrialization before any of the other countries in Europe, allowing it to industrialize first.  From England, the Industrial Revolution spread to the other European countries once they were ready for it.

The textile industry—or clothing—was the first to mechanize.  Several key inventions made the processing of raw materials, production of cloth and the manufacture of clothing more efficient.  Processing of wool, and later cotton, into thread was made easier with inventions like Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, James Hargreaves’ spinning jenny, Richard Arkwright’s water frame and Samuel Compton’s spinning mule (a spinning jenny and water frame combined into one machine, for example.  Production of cloth was improved with John Kay’s flying shuttle and Edmund Cartwright’s power loom.

These machines were too big to be in homes and too expensive for the average person to buy.  So factories had to be built to house them and entrepreneurs—people who invest in industry—had to finance the construction of them and buy the machines.

Over the course of the Industrial Revolution, new forms of power came into use.  Initially, industry relied upon water power.             Early mills and factories were powered by water wheels, using rivers and streams.  So early factories had to be built in places were the geographic conditions were right.  Consequently, many of the early industrial cities in Great Britain sprang up in places where there were not cities before.  Cities like Manchester, Leeds, etc., were new industrial cities.

Water power would later be replaced by steam power.  The steam engine, perfected by James Watt, became the next important source of power.  They were powered by large coal furnaces and allowed factories to be built anywhere, not just near water.  The steam engine was also used for transportation.  Railroads and steam ships became important components of industrialization as they were used to move raw materials to factories and their finished products to markets, faster and cheaper than before.

Much later, electricity changed things even more.  After steam power, it became the next great power source.  Electricity, like steam power, allowed factories to be built anywhere.  Once the demand for electrical power was built for businesses, it also came into use for everyday people, drastically changing the way people live.

And even later, petroleum became a key resource for industrialized societies.  Oil is still used in business, especially in the transportation of raw materials and trade goods.  But it is also used in many other ways, from the operation of machines within factories and in the creation of construction materials, like plastic.

Key resources of industrialization

In addition to these main sources of power, there were other important industrial resources that were in high demand for industrialized countries.  As already mentioned, wool and cotton were two of these resources. Wool, taken from sheep, was used to spin thread and make thread for clothing.  European countries raised lots of sheep for their wool (and as a source of meat).  As industrialization continued, cotton became the preferred material for making thread to be woven into cloth.  Cotton grows in hot climates and most of it had to be imported from outside of Europe (usually from colonies) because their climate was not well suited for growing it.

As also mentioned earlier, coal was a vital resource in industrialization.  Once the steam power started to be used in factories, it became an important resource.  Coal had to be mined—not an easy process that is extremely dangerous in several ways—and there were many problems associated with its use, not the least of which was pollution.  Yet, mass quantities of coal were need to power industry.  But coal was also used for transportation.  Steam ships and railroads—which were built specifically for industry—used tons of coal too.

The preferred materials of industry also changed through the Industrial Revolution.  At its beginning, wood was the primary material.  During industrialization, the preferred material for products shifted from wood to metal.  At first, iron was the strongest and easiest metal to work with.  But it was heavy.

It was replaced with a new type of metal.  Steel is an alloy—a mixture of metals—and is stronger and lighter than iron.  Steel became the chief material of industrialization as everything—from pots and pan to battleships—started to be made with it.


Short-term effects of industrialization


  • Describe the problems countries faced during the industrialization
  • Describe the different philosophies about how/who should fix these issues
  • Evaluate the costs and benefits of industrialization

The effects of the Industrial Revolutions are best understood if separated into long- and short-term.  Economically, industrialization caused a need for raw materials that caused the rise of imperialism.  European factories consumed large amounts of raw materials.  In fact, they needed more raw materials than were available in Europe.  To get the raw materials industry needed, European countries began taking over parts of Africa and Asia, establishing them as colonies.  This is called imperialism (empire building).

And industrialization gave rise to new economic philosophies.  One was lassiez Faire Capitalism.  It was the prevalent philosophy of the Industrial Revolution.  It said that government should not interfere with the economy.  It was believed that governments should not make laws to regulate business because it would hurt economic growth.  It was also thought that the natural laws of economics would eventually solve any problems in the economy.

Another economic philosophy developed called socialism.  It was a new economic philosophy that came out in response to problems caused by laissez faire capitalism.  Socialists believed that government had a responsibility to regulate the economy to create an equal society.  Socialism even believes in government ownership and control of businesses to create a fair society.

Marxism—or communism—is an extreme form of socialism that developed as a response to the Industrial Revolution and the problems associated with it.  Economist Karl Marx predicted that the working class (the proletariat) would revolt against the capitalist class (business owners who exploited the workers) and create an equal, class-less society.  In this society, government would run businesses to promote equality.

In the short-term, a host of social problems were caused by industrialization.  Fore example, workers were subjected to long hours and low pay.  Early in the Industrial Revolution, people worked twelve hour days, six days a week.  They would get one lunch break through these long days.  Despite all of the hours, workers were paid little and kept perpetually poor.   This is called economic slavery.  The workers, although not bought and sold, were treated as if they were slaves.

They also toiled in unsafe working conditions.  Machines in the early factories were unsafe.  They didn’t have the safety precautions machines have today.  As a result, many people were injured and killed in early factories.  Unlike today, if you got injured at work, it was your fault, you were not compensated and you lost your job because you couldn’t work anymore.

Child labor was common.  Children worked in the early factories, putting in the same long hours in the same poor conditions as adults.  Children were often treated harshly in the factories.  They were frequently beaten for not working hard enough.  Since children were working, they were not being educated.

Life in the new, industrial cities was also a problem.  These cities were overcrowded and living conditions were unsanitary and dangerous.  Industrial cities were not ready for the flood of people that moved in from the countryside.  This mass urbanization cause major problems, such as several families living in one small apartment.  In addition to the problems with industrial pollution, this overcrowding was a problem because of the waste produced by the large population.  Cities had no systems for cleaning out garbage and sewage, which led to problems with disease.

All of these problems contributed to class tensions.        A new class system developed in industrial societies.  The upper class was the very rich industrial & business families, much like the old noble classes.  The middle class—the bourgeoisie—was divided into two groups.  The upper-middle class was made up of business people and professionals, such as lawyers and doctors.  The lower-middle class containted other professionals, such as teachers, shop owners, and office workers.  At the bottom of the social class structure was the working class, the factory workers and small farmers who were treated very poorly.

The division between the upper and middle classes—who lived a comfortable life—and the working classes—who struggled to survive—grew.  Fighting between the working classes and the upper/middle classes often erupted during economic hard times.  This fighting led to the creation of labor unions.  To try and fight against the exploitation of workers by upper class, labor unions formed.  Labor unions are when workers bargain with the business owners as a group, instead of as individuals.  This way they have more power and can’t be taken advantage of.  In extreme cases, unions struck—when everyone doesn’t come to work—to force the owners to meet their demands. During the early part of the Industrial Revolution, labor unions were illegal.  Governments protected the rights of businesses over the rights of individuals.  The police and strike-breakers attacked picket lines.

The Industrial Revolution’s short-term political effect were potentially dangerous.  In the beginning, governments, due to the philosophy of laissez faire, were not protecting people.  Governments wouldn’t make regulations as they do today, such as pollution controls, safety regulations, setting a minimum wage or limits on the length or the work day.  Some governments were flirting with revolution as they didn’t address the problems caused by industrialization.  If they didn’t start making changes, people’s dissatisfaction could cause a revolt.


Long Term Effects of the Industrial Revolution


  • Identify the long-term effects of industrialization within a society
  • Identify the long-term effects of industrialization in world politics
  • Describe how industrialization helped lead to great global interdependence

Despite the problems of early industrialization, the Industrial Revolution gradually improved people’s lives.  Originally governments were not responsive to fixing the problems (child labor, overcrowded/unsanitary cities, long work hours, low wages, etc.) of industrialization because they adopted the economic philosophy of lassiez faire.  People who believe that the government should not be involved believed that the problems would correct themselves with time due to the natural laws of economics.  But these problems were not correcting themselves quickly and people began to change their minds about the proper role of government in the economy.

Things changed in two ways.  One way in which the problems of industrialization were solved was by government regulation, meaning laws passed by government to stop the abuses.  Laws were passed in industrial societies concerning child labor, minimum wage, limits on working hours, regulation of working conditions, etc.  Another way in which things were improved in early industrialization was by the formation of labor unions, where workers work together to get better treatment by their employers.

Labor unions were initially illegal.  But workers gained the legal right to unionize after a while.  Labor unions use collective bargaining—the process by which workers negotiate with employers as a unit to get better treatment.  Some people come up with new ideas about how society and/or the economy should work after seeing the problems of industrialization

Capitalism was the economic system at the beginning of industrialization.  It is an economic system in which money is invested in ventures with the goal of making a profit.  These ideas helped bring about the Industrial Revolution. But the pursuit of profits also led to the exploitation of the workers.

Socialism is the economic philosophy that states that the government should be involved in the economy to improve the lives of people.   In socialism, the factors of production (land, labor and capital) are owned by the public and operate for the welfare of all.  Socialists argued that government control of factories, mines, railroads, and other key industries would abolish poverty and promote equality.  Socialists argued that the government should actively plan the economy rather than depending on free-market capitalism to do the job and wanted to off-set the negative effects of Industrial Revolution.

An extreme type of socialism called Marxism wanted even more change.  Karl Marx, a German journalist, introduced the world to a radical type of socialism called Marxism.  Marx and Friedrich Engels outlined their ideas in a 23-page pamphlet called the Communist Manifesto.  Marx and Engels argued that society had been divided into warring classes, the “haves” (upper and middle class/bourgeoisie) and the “have-nots” (workers/proletariat).  According to Marx and Engels, the Industrial Revolution had enriched the wealthy and impoverished the poor.  They predicted that the workers would overthrow the owners:  “the proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.  They have a world to win.  Workingmen of all countries, unite.”

Marx believed that the capitalist system would eventually destroy itself by causing a revolution. The proletariat would revolt, seize the factories and mills from the capitalists, and produce what society needed. Workers would share the profits and bring about economic equality for all people. Workers would control the government in a “dictatorship of the proletariat.” After a period of cooperative living and education, the state or government would wither away as a classless society developed that Marx called communism.

Marx defined communism as a form of complete socialism in which all the means of production – all land, mines, factories, railroads, and business – would be owned by the people.  Private property would cease to exist and all goods and services would be shared equally.  In 1900’s, Marxism inspired revolutionaries such as Russia’s Lenin, China’s Mao Zedong, Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh, and Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

Over time, the Industrial Revolution improved people’s lives in many ways.  For one, people in industrialized societies have a higher standard of living—meaning that in all major population statistics, they live a better life than people in unindustrialized societies.  These statistics included life expectancy, which is the age to which most people live, indicating level and availability of health care in a society.  Another key statistic education level – how much schooling people, on average attain in a society.  During industrialization, average income—how much money people make a year on average—increased.  Industrialization had a big impact on the infant mortality rate—the number of babies that die before the age of three (also indicates the level and availability of health care).  Eventually, people’s leisure time—the amount of time people don’t work—expanded.  Finally, disposable incomes—how much extra money people have after paying for necessities—increased in industrial societies.

Industrialization caused the development of infrastructure that improved life.  Transportation systems—such as canals, railways, roads, etc.—originally built for industry, also improved people’s lives.  Water delivery, also originally developed for industry, was also expanded to homes, giving everyone running water and indoor plumbing.  Power delivery—specifically electricity—was not developed for homes first, but for factories.  But once the lines were run, they were extended to people’s homes too.

Industrialization created an explosion in the affordability, availability and variety of consumer goods available.  Before the Industrial Revolution most consumer goods were rare and expensive.  Due to mass production, goods became affordable for everyone and people—particularly the lower classes—had the opportunity to have many things they would never have been able to afford before.

Global History and Geography 10

Before:  French Revolution

After: Global Nationalism


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