Encyclopedia  |   World Factbook  |   World Flags  |   Reference Tables  |   List of Lists     
   Academic Disciplines  |   Historical Timeline  |   Themed Timelines  |   Biographies  |   How-Tos     
Sponsor by The Tattoo Collection
Industrial Revolution
Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution is the name given to the massive social, economic, and technological change in 18th century Great Britain. It commenced with the introduction of steam power (fuelled primarily by coal) and powered, automated machinery (primarily in textile manufacturing). The technological and economic progress of the Industrial Revolution gained momentum with the introduction of steam-powered ships, boats and railways. In the 19th Century it spread throughout Western Europe and North America, eventually impacting the rest of the world.

Table of contents
1 Introduction
2 Causes
3 Effects
4 The Second Industrial Revolution
5 Why Europe?
6 Intellectual paradigms
7 See also
8 External links


The combination of improving transportation and the development of large scale power sources to drive industrial machinery led to an overall economic shift towards large scale industry rather than small scale individual operations. Individual artisans who made and sold complete products in local markets gave way to factories in which each worker completed only a single stage in the manufacturing process, and to vast systems of continental and worldwide distribution for both industrial goods and mass-produced consumer goods. Parallel revolutions in agriculture (see British Agricultural Revolution) freed large numbers of people from the land, while creating an increasingly abundant food supply, partly from international trade. As modes of production became more and more optimized for efficiency, cities, corporations, and individual citizens' wealth all became able to grow to sizes hitherto unknown in the history of human society. In western Europe and North America, vast numbers of people were drawn out of rural agricultural settlements and into urban centers of production, with farming replaced by wage-earning as factory workers. Many rapidly successive improvements in the technology of communications and transportation, as well as industrial production, encouraged the tremendous pace of socioeconomic change.


The causes of the Industrial Revolution were complex and remain a topic for debate, with some historians seeing the Revolution as an outgrowth of social and institutional changes wrought by the final end of feudalism in Great Britain following the English Civil War in the 17th century. The Enclosure movement and the British Agricultural Revolution made food production more efficient and less labor-intensive, forcing the surplus population who could no longer find employment in agriculture into the cities to seek work in the factories. The colonial expansion of the 17th century with the accompanying development of international trade, creation of financial markets and accumulation of capital is also cited as a set of factors, as is the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century.


On politics

The social and economic changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution had profound impacts on the nature of
politics and the purposes and structure of government, which became unmistakably apparent in the 1830s. Economic development, publicly-funded education, and social welfare projects became primary issues for governments. The rapid economic changes were impoverishing entire classes of skilled workers at the same time that they were expanding overall output, as one function after another formerly performed by humans was mechanized (see e.g. Luddite and sabotage). The increasing concentration of population in urban centers intensified the demand for political reform, while egalitarian ideas and unease with the various economic changes created pressure for political reform.

The application of steam power to the industrial processes of printing supported a massive expansion of newspaper and popular book publishing, which reinforced rising literacy and demands for mass political participation. Universal male suffrage was adopted in the United States, resulting in the election of the popular General Andrew Jackson in 1828 and the creation of political parties organized for mass participation in elections. In the United Kingdom, the Reform Act of 1832 addressed the concentration of population in districts with almost no representation in Parliament, expanding the electorate, leading to the founding of modern political parties and initiating a series of reforms which would continue into the 20th century. In France, the July Revolution widened the franchise and established a constitutional monarchy. Belgium established its independence from the Netherlands, as a constitutional monarchy, in 1830. Struggles for liberal reforms in Switzerland's various cantons in the 1830s had mixed results. A further series of attempts at political reform or revolution would sweep Europe in 1848, with mixed results, and initiated massive migration to North America, as well as parts of South America, South Africa, and Australia.

The Second Industrial Revolution

The insatiable demand of the railroads for more durable rail led to the development of the means to cheaply mass-produce steel. Steel is often cited as the first of several new areas for industrial mass-production, which are said to characterize a "Second Industrial Revolution," beginning around 1870. This "second" Industrial Revolution gradually grew to include the chemical industries, petroleum refining and distribution, electrical industries, and, in the twentieth century, the automotive industries, and was marked by a transition of technological leadership from Great Britain to the United States and Germany.

The introduction of hydroelectric power generation in the Alps enabled the rapid industrialization of coal-starved northern Italy, beginning in the 1890s. The increasing availability of economic petroleum products also reduced the relation of coal to the potential for industrialization.

By the 1890s, industrialization in these areas had created the first giant industrial corporations with often nearly global international operations and interests, as companies like U.S. Steel, General Electric, and Bayer AG joined the railroads on the world's stock markets and among huge, bureaucratic organizations.

Why Europe?

One question that has been of active interest to historians is why the Industrial Revolution occurred in Europe and not in other parts of the world, particularly China. Numerous factors have been suggested including ecology, government, and culture. Benjamin Elman argues that China was in a high level equilibrium trap in which the non-industrial methods were efficient enough to prevent use of industrial methods with high capital costs. Kenneth Pommeranz, in the Great Divergence, argues that Europe and China were remarkably similar in 1700, and that the crucial differences which created the Industrial Revolution in Europe were sources of coal near manufacturing centres and raw materials such as food and wood from the New World which allowed Europe to economically expand in a way that China could not. Indeed, a combination of all of these factors is possible.

Why Great Britain?

The debate around the concept of the initial startup of the Industrial Revolution also concerns the thirty to hundred year lead the British had over the continental European countries and America. Some have stressed the importance of natural or financial resources the United Kingdom received from its many overseas colonies or that profits from the British slave trade between Africa and the Caribbean helped fuel industrial investment.

Alternatively, the greater liberalisation of trade from a large merchant base may have been able to utilise scientific and technological developments emerging in the UK and elsewhere, more effectively than other states with stronger monarchies, such as China's Emperors and Russia's Tzars. The UK's extensive exporting cottage industries also ensured markets were already open for many forms of early manufactured goods. The nature of conflict in the period resulted in most British warfare being conducted overseas, reducing the devastating effects of territorial conquest impacting much of the rest of Europe.

The "Protestant work ethic"

Another theory is that the British advance was due to the presence of an entrepreneurial class which believed in progress, technology and hard work. The existence of this class is often linked to the Protestant work ethic and the particular status of so-called Dissenter Protestant sects that had flourished with the English revolution. Reinforcement of confidence in the rule of law, which followed the establishment of the prototype of constitutional monarchy in Great Britain in the Glorious Revolution of 1689, and the emergence of a stable financial market there based on the management of the National Debt by the Bank of England, contributed to the capacity for, and interest in, private financial investment in industrial ventures.

The Dissenters found themselves barred or discouraged from some public offices when the restoration of the monarchy took place and membership in the official Anglican church became, once more, an important advantage. Historians sometimes consider this social factor to be extremely important, along with the nature of the national economies involved. While members of these sects were excluded from certain circles of the government, they were considered as fellow Protestants, to a limited extent, by many in the middle class, such as traditional financiers or other businessmen. Given this relative tolerance and the supply of capital, the natural outlet for the more enterprising members of these sects would be to seek new opportunities in the technologies created in the wake of the Scientific revolution of the 17th century.

This argument has, on the whole, tended to neglect the fact that several inventors and entrepreneurs were rational free thinkers or "Philosophers" typical of a certain class of British intellectuals in the late 18th century, and were by no means normal church goers or members of religious sects. Examples of these free thinkers were the Lunar Society of Birmingham (which flourished from 1765 to 1809). Its members were exceptional in that they were among the very few who were conscious that an industrial revolution was then taking place in Great Britain. They actively worked as a group to encourage it, not least by investing in it and conducting scientific experiments which led to innovative products.

The transition to industrialization was not wholly smooth, for in England the Luddites — workers who saw their livelihoods threatened — protested against the process and sometimes sabotaged factories.

Industrialization also led to the creation of the factory. One of the earliest reformers of early factory conditions was Robert Owen Josiah Wedgwood was another prominent early industrialist. The factory system was largely responsible for the rise of the modern city, as workers migrated into the cities in search of employment in the factories.

Intellectual paradigms


The advent of
The Enlightenment provided an intellectual framework which welcomed the practical application of the growing body of scientific knowledge — a factor evidenced in the systematic development of the steam engine, guided by scientific analysis, and the development of the political and sociological analyses, culminating in Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations.


Karl Marx saw the industrialization process as the logical dialectical progression of feudal economic modes, necessary for the full development of capitalism, which he saw as in itself a necessary precursor to the development of socialism and eventually communism. According to Marx, industrialization engenders the polarization of societies into two classes, the bourgeois — those who own the means of production, i.e. the factories and the land — and the much larger proletarian working class who actually perform the labor necessary to extract something valuable from the means of production. Marx asserts that the relationship between the two classes is fundamentally parasitic, insofar as the proletariat are always undercompensated for the true value of their labor by the bourgeois (according to the labor theory of value), which allows the bourgeois to grow absurdly wealthy through nothing more than the wholesale exploitation of the proletarians' labor.

Rapid advancements in technology left many skilled workers unemployed, as one agricultural and manufacturing task after another was mechanized. The flight of millions of newly unemployed people from rural areas or small towns to the large cities, and thus the development of large urban population centers, led to unprecedented conditions of poverty in the slums that housed workers for the new factories. At the same time, the bourgeois class, at only a small fraction of the proletariat's size, became exceedingly wealthy.

Marx says that the industrial proletariat will eventually develop class consciousness and revolt against the bourgeois, leading to a more egalitarian socialist and eventually Communist state where the workers themselves own the means of industrial production. See Marxism.

See also

External links