Industrial Revolution

From New World Encyclopedia

A Watt steam engine, the steam engine that propelled the Industrial Revolution in Britain and the world.

The Industrial Revolution was a transformation of human life circumstances that occurred in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (roughly 1760 to 1840) in Britain, the United States, and Western Europe due in large measure to advances in the technologies of industry. The Industrial Revolution was characterized by a complex interplay of changes in technology, society, medicine, economy, education, and culture in which multiple technological innovations replaced human labor with mechanical work, replaced vegetable sources like wood with mineral sources like coal and iron, freed mechanical power from being tied to a fixed running water source, and supported the injection of capitalist practices, methods, and principles into what had been an agrarian society.

The Industrial Revolution marked a major turning point in human history, comparable to the invention of farming or the rise of the first city-states—almost every aspect of daily life and human society was, eventually, in some way altered. As with most examples of change in complex systems, the transformation referenced by "Industrial Revolution" was really a whole system effect wrought through multiple causes, of which the technological advances are only the most apparent.

The First Industrial Revolution merged into the Second Industrial Revolution around 1850, when technological and economic progress gained momentum with the development of steam-powered ships and railways, and later in the nineteenth century with the internal combustion engine and electrical power generation. The torrent of technological innovation and subsequent social transformation continued throughout the twentieth century, contributing to further disruption of human life circumstances. Today, different parts of the world are at different stages of industrialization with some of the countries most behind in terms of industrial development being in a position, through adopting the latest technologies, to leapfrog over even some more advanced countries that are now locked into the infrastructure of an earlier technology.

While the Industrial Revolution contributed to a great increase in the GDP per capita of the participating countries, the spread of that greater wealth to large numbers of people in general occurred only after one or two generations, during which the wealth was disproportionately concentrated in the hands of a relatively few. Still, it enabled ordinary people to enjoy a standard of living far better than that of their forebears. Traditional agrarian societies had generally been more stable and progressed at a much slower rate before the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the emergence of the modern capitalist economy. In countries affected directly by it, the Industrial Revolution dramatically altered social relations, creating a modern, urban society with a large middle class. In most cases, the GDP has increased rapidly in those capitalist countries that follow a track of industrial development, in a sense recapitulating the Industrial Revolution.

Historical background

The industrial revolution started in the United Kingdom in the early seventeenth century. The Act of Union uniting England and Scotland ushered in a sustained period of internal peace and an internal free market without internal trade barriers. Britain had a reliable and fast developing banking sector, a straight forward legal framework for setting up joint stock companies, a modern legal framework and system to enforce the rule of law, and a developing transportation system.

In the latter half of the 1700s the manual labor based economy of the Kingdom of Great Britain began to be replaced by one dominated by industry and the manufacture of machinery. It started with the mechanization of the textile industries, the development of iron-making techniques and the increased use of refined coal. Once started, it spread. Trade expansion was enabled by the introduction of canals, improved roads and railways. The introduction of steam power (fueled primarily by coal) and powered machinery (mainly in textile manufacturing) underpinned the dramatic increases in production capacity.[1] The development of all-metal machine tools in the first two decades of the nineteenth century facilitated the manufacture of more production machines for manufacturing in other industries. The effects spread throughout Western Europe and North America during the nineteenth century, eventually affecting most of the world. The impact of this change on society was enormous.[2]

The first Industrial Revolution merged into the Second Industrial Revolution around 1850, when technological and economic progress gained momentum with the development of steam-powered ships, railways, and later in the nineteenth century with the internal combustion engine and electric power generation.

History of the name

The term "Industrial Revolution" applied to technological change was common in the 1830s. Louis-Auguste Blanqui, in 1837, spoke of la révolution industrielle. Friedrich Engels, in The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, spoke of "an industrial revolution, a revolution which at the same time changed the whole of civil society."

In his book Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, Raymond Williams states in the entry for Industry:

The idea of a new social order based on major industrial change was clear in Southey and Owen, between 1811 and 1818, and was implicit as early as Blake in the early 1790s and Wordsworth at the turn of the century.

Credit for popularizing the term may be given to Arnold Toynbee, whose lectures given in 1881 gave a detailed account of the process.


The commencement of the Industrial Revolution is closely linked to a small number of innovations, made in the second half of the eighteenth century:

  • TextilesCotton spinning using Richard Arkwright's water frame. This was patented in 1769 and so came out of patent in 1783. The end of the patent was rapidly followed by the erection of many cotton mills. Similar technology was subsequently applied to spinning worsted yarn for various textiles and flax for linen.
  • Steam power—The improved steam engine, invented by James Watt, was initially used mainly for pumping out mines, but from the 1780s, was applied to power machines. This enabled rapid development of efficient semi-automated factories on a previously unimaginable scale in places where waterpower was not available.
  • Iron founding—In the Iron industry, coke was finally applied to all stages of iron smelting, replacing charcoal. This had been achieved much earlier for lead and copper as well as for producing pig iron in a blast furnace, but the second stage in the production of bar iron depended on the use of potting and stamping (for which a patent expired in 1786) or puddling (patented by Henry Cort in 1783 and 1784).

These represent three "leading sectors," in which there were key innovations, permitting the economic take off by which the Industrial Revolution is usually defined. This is not to belittle many other inventions, particularly in the textile industry. Without some earlier ones, such as the spinning jenny and flying shuttle, in the textile industry, and the smelting of pig iron with coke, these achievements might have been impossible. Later inventions such as the power loom and Richard Trevithick's high pressure steam engine were also important in the growing industrialization of Britain. The application of steam engines to power cotton mills and ironworks enabled these to be built in places that were most convenient because other resources were available, rather than where there was water to power a mill.

In the textile sector, such mills became the model for the organization of human labor in factories, epitomized by Cottonopolis, the name given to the vast collection of cotton mills, factories, and administration offices based in Manchester. The assembly line system greatly improved efficiency, both in this and other industries. With a series of men trained to do a single task on a product, then having it move along to the next worker, the number of finished goods also rose significantly.

Transfer of knowledge

Knowledge of new innovation was spread by several means. Workers who were trained in the technique might move to another employer or might be poached. A common method was for someone to make a study tour, gathering information where he could. During the whole of the Industrial Revolution and for the century before, all European countries and America engaged in study-touring; some nations, like Sweden and France, even trained civil servants or technicians to undertake it as a matter of state policy. In other countries, notably Britain and America, this practice was carried out by individual manufacturers anxious to improve their own methods. Study tours were common then, as now, as was the keeping of travel diaries. Records made by industrialists and technicians of the period are an incomparable source of information about their methods.

A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery (ca. 1766)
Informal philosophical societies spread scientific advances

Another means for the spread of innovation was by the network of informal philosophical societies, like the Lunar Society of Birmingham, in which members met to discuss "natural philosophy" (i.e. science) and often its application to manufacturing. The Lunar Society flourished from 1765 to 1809, and it has been said of them, "They were, if you like, the revolutionary committee of that most far reaching of all the eighteenth century revolutions, the Industrial Revolution."[3] Other such societies published volumes of proceedings and transactions. For example, the London-based Royal Society of Arts published an illustrated volume of new inventions, as well as papers about them in its annual Transactions.

There were publications describing technology. Encyclopaedias such as Harris's Lexicon technicum (1704) and Dr. Abraham Rees's Cyclopaedia (1802-1819) contain much of value. Cyclopaedia contains an enormous amount of information about the science and technology of the first half of the Industrial Revolution, very well illustrated by fine engravings. Foreign printed sources such as the Descriptions des Arts et Métiers and Diderot's Encyclopédie explained foreign methods with fine engraved plates.

Periodical publications about manufacturing and technology began to appear in the last decade of the eighteenth century, and many regularly included notice of the latest patents. Foreign periodicals, such as the Annales des Mines, published accounts of travels made by French engineers who observed British methods on study tours.

Technological developments in Britain

Textile manufacture

Model of the spinning jenny in a museum in Wuppertal, Germany. The spinning jenny was one of the innovations that started the revolution

In the early eighteenth century, British textile manufacture was based on wool which was processed by individual artisans, doing the spinning and weaving on their own premises. This system was called a cottage industry. Flax and cotton were also used for fine materials, but the processing was difficult because of the pre-processing needed, and thus goods in these materials made only a small proportion of the output.

Use of the spinning wheel and hand loom restricted the production capacity of the industry, but incremental advances increased productivity to the extent that manufactured cotton goods became the dominant British export by the early decades of the nineteenth century. India was displaced as the premier supplier of cotton goods.

Lewis Paul patented the Roller Spinning machine and the flyer-and-bobbin system for drawing wool to a more even thickness, developed with the help of John Wyatt in Birmingham. Paul and Wyatt opened a mill in Birmingham which used their new rolling machine powered by a donkey. In 1743, a factory was opened in Northampton with fifty spindles on each of five of Paul and Wyatt's machines. This operated until about 1764. A similar mill was built by Daniel Bourn in Leominster, but this burnt down. Both Lewis Paul and Daniel Bourne patented carding machines in 1748. Using two sets of rollers that traveled at different speeds, it was later used in the first cotton spinning mill. Lewis's invention was later developed and improved by Richard Arkwright in his water frame and Samuel Crompton in his spinning mule.

Other inventors increased the efficiency of the individual steps of spinning (carding, twisting and spinning, and rolling) so that the supply of yarn increased greatly, which fed a weaving industry that was advancing with improvements to shuttles and the loom, or "frame." The output of an individual laborer increased dramatically, with the effect that the new machines were seen as a threat to employment, and early innovators were attacked, their inventions destroyed.

To capitalize upon these advances, it took a class of entrepreneurs, of which the most famous is Richard Arkwright. He is credited with a list of inventions, but these were actually developed by people such as Thomas Highs and John Kay; Arkwright nurtured the inventors, patented the ideas, financed the initiatives, and protected the machines. He created the cotton mill which brought the production processes together in a factory, and he developed the use of power—first horse power and then water power—which made cotton manufacture a mechanized industry. Before long steam power was applied to drive textile machinery.


The Reverberatory Furnace could produce wrought iron using coal, which was mined. Earlier finances burned charcoal, made from wood—which takes time to grow

The major change in the metal industries during the era of the Industrial Revolution was the replacement of organic fuels, based on wood, with fossil fuel, based on coal. Much of this happened somewhat before the Industrial Revolution, based on innovations by Sir Clement Clerke and others from 1678, using coal reverberatory furnaces known as cupolas. These were operated by the flames, which contained carbon monoxide, playing on the ore and reducing the oxide to metal. This has the advantage that impurities (such as sulfur) in the coal do not migrate into the metal. This technology was applied to lead from 1678, and to copper from 1687. It was also applied to iron foundry work in the 1690s, but in this case the reverberatory furnace was known as an air furnace. The foundry cupola is a different (and later) innovation.

Coalbrookdale by Night, 1801, Philipp Jakob Loutherbourg the Younger
Blast furnaces light the iron making town of Coalbrookdale

This was followed by Abraham Darby, who made great strides using coke to fuel his blast furnaces at Coalbrookdale in 1709. However, the coke pig iron he made was used mostly for the production of cast iron goods such as pots and kettles. He had the advantage over his rivals in that his pots, cast by his patented process, were thinner and cheaper than theirs. Coke pig iron was hardly used to produce bar iron in forges until the mid 1750s, when his son Abraham Darby II built Horsehay and Ketley furnaces (not far from Coalbrookdale). By then, coke pig iron was cheaper than charcoal pig iron.

Bar iron for smiths to forge into consumer goods was still made in finery forges, as it long had been. However, new processes were adopted in the ensuing years. The first is referred to today as potting and stamping, but this was superseded by Henry Cort's puddling process. From 1785, perhaps because the improved version of potting and stamping was about to come out of patent, a great expansion in the output of the British iron industry began. The new processes did not depend on the use of charcoal at all and were therefore not limited by charcoal sources.

Up to that time, British iron manufacturers had used considerable amounts of imported iron to supplement native supplies. This came principally from Sweden from the mid seventeenth century and later also from Russia towards the end of the 1720s. However, from 1785, imports decreased because of the new iron making technology, and Britain became an exporter of bar iron as well as manufactured wrought iron consumer goods.

Since iron was becoming cheaper and more plentiful, it also became a major structural material following the building of the innovative Iron Bridge in 1778 by Abraham Darby III.

An improvement was made in the production of steel, which was an expensive commodity and used only where iron would not do, such as for the cutting edge of tools and for springs. Benjamin Huntsman developed his crucible steel technique in the 1740s. The raw material for this was blister steel, made by the cementation process.

The supply of cheaper iron and steel aided the development of boilers and steam engines, and eventually railways. Improvements in machine tools allowed better working of iron and steel and further boosted the industrial growth of Britain.


Coal mining in Britain, particularly in South Wales started early. Before the steam engine, pits were often shallow bell pits following a seam of coal along the surface which were abandoned as the coal was extracted. In other cases, if the geology was favorable, the coal was mined by means of an adit driven into the side of a hill. Shaft mining was done in some areas, but the limiting factor was the problem of removing water. It could be done by hauling buckets of water up the shaft or to a sough (a tunnel driven into a hill to drain a mine). In either case, the water had to be discharged into a stream or ditch at a level where it could flow away by gravity. The introduction of the steam engine greatly facilitated the removal of water and enabled shafts to be made deeper, enabling more coal to be extracted. These were developments that had begun before the Industrial Revolution, but the adoption of James Watt's more efficient steam engine from the 1770s reduced the fuel costs of engines, making mines more profitable.

Steam power

Newcomen's steam powered atmospheric engine was the first practical engine. Subsequent steam engines were to power the Industrial Revolution

The development of the stationary steam engine was an essential early advance of the Industrial Revolution; however, for most of the period of the Industrial Revolution, the majority of industries still relied on wind and water power as well as horse and man-power for driving small machines.

The industrial use of steam power started with Thomas Savery in 1698. He constructed and patented, in London, the first engine, which he called the "Miner's Friend" since he intended it to pump water from mines. This machine used steam at 8 to 10 atmospheres (120-150 psi) and did not use a piston and cylinder, but applied the steam pressure directly on to the surface of water in a cylinder to force it along an outlet pipe. It also used condensed steam to produce a partial vacuum to suck water into the cylinder. It generated about one horsepower (hp). It was used as a low-lift water pump in a few mines and numerous water works, but it was not a success since it was limited in the height it could raise water and was prone to boiler explosions.

The first successful model was the atmospheric engine, a low performance steam engine invented by Thomas Newcomen in 1712. Newcomen apparently conceived his machine quite independently of Savery. His engines used a piston and cylinder, and it operated with steam just above atmospheric pressure which was used to produce a partial vacuum in the cylinder when condensed by jets of cold water. The vacuum sucked a piston into the cylinder which moved under pressure from the atmosphere. The engine produced a succession of power strokes which could work a pump but could not drive a rotating wheel. They were successfully put to use for pumping out mines in Britain, with the engine on the surface working a pump at the bottom of the mine by a long connecting rod. These were large machines, requiring a lot of capital to build, but produced about 5 hp. They were inefficient, but when located where coal was cheap at pit heads, they were usefully employed in pumping water from mines. They opened up a great expansion in coal mining by allowing mines to go deeper. Despite using a lot of fuel, Newcomen engines continued to be used in the coalfields until the early decades of the nineteenth century because they were reliable and easy to maintain.

By 1729, when Newcomen died, his engines had spread to France, Germany, Austria, Hungary and Sweden. A total of 110 are known to have been built by 1733 when the patent expired, of which 14 were abroad. A total of 1,454 engines had been built by 1800 (Rolt and Allen 145).

Its working was fundamentally unchanged until James Watt succeeded in making his Watt steam engine in 1769, which incorporated a series of improvements, especially the separate steam condenser chamber. This improved engine efficiency by about a factor of five, saving 75 percent on coal costs. The Watt steam engine's ability to drive rotary machinery also meant it could be used to drive a factory or mill directly. They were commercially very successful, and by 1800, the firm Boulton & Watt had constructed 496 engines, with 164 acting as pumps, 24 serving blast furnaces, and 308 to power mill machinery. Most of the engines generated between 5 to 10 hp.

The development of machine tools, such as the lathe, planing, and shaping machines powered by these engines, enabled all the metal parts of the engines to be easily and accurately cut and in turn made it possible to build larger and more powerful engines.

Until about 1800, the most common pattern of steam engine was the beam engine, which was built within a stone or brick engine-house, but around that time various patterns of portable (readily removable engines, but not on wheels) engines were developed, such as the table engine.

Richard Trevithick, a Cornish blacksmith, began to use high pressure steam with improved boilers in 1799. This allowed engines to be compact enough to be used on mobile road and rail locomotives and steam boats.

In the early nineteenth century after the expiration of Watt's patent, the steam engine underwent many improvements by a host of inventors and engineers.


The large scale production of chemicals was an important development during the Industrial Revolution. The first of these was the production of sulphuric acid by the lead chamber process, invented by the Englishman John Roebuck (James Watt's first partner) in 1746. He greatly increased the scale of the manufacture by replacing the relatively expensive glass vessels formerly used with larger, less expensive chambers made of riveted sheets of lead. Instead of a few pounds at a time, he was able to make a hundred pounds (45 kg) or so at a time in each of the chambers.

The production of an alkali on a large scale became an important goal as well, and Nicolas Leblanc succeeded, in 1791, in introducing a method for the production of sodium carbonate. The Leblanc process was a "dirty" series of reactions that produced a lot of harmful wastes along the way. The process started with the reaction of sulphuric acid with sodium chloride to yield sodium sulphate and hydrochloric acid (a toxic waste). The sodium sulphate was heated with limestone (calcium carbonate) and coal to give a mixture of sodium carbonate and calcium sulphide. Adding water separated the soluble sodium carbonate from the calcium sulphide (a useless waste at that time). Although the process produced a large amount of pollution, its product, sodium carbonate or synthetic soda ash, proved economical to use when compared with natural soda ash from burning certain plants (barilla) or from kelp, the previously dominant sources of soda ash,[4] and also to potash (potassium carbonate) derived from hardwood ashes.

These two chemicals were very important because they enabled the introduction of a host of other inventions, replacing many small-scale operations with more cost-effective and controllable processes. Sodium carbonate had many uses in the glass, textile, soap, and paper industries. Early uses for sulphuric acid included pickling (removing rust from) iron and steel, and for bleaching cloth.

The development of bleaching powder (calcium hypochlorite) by Scottish chemist Charles Tennant in about 1800, based on the discoveries of French chemist Claude Louis Berthollet, revolutionized the bleaching processes in the textile industry by dramatically reducing the time required (from months to days) for the traditional process then in use, which required repeated exposure to the sun in bleach fields after soaking the textiles with alkali or sour milk. Tennant's factory at St Rollox, North Glasgow, became the largest chemical plant in the world.

The Thames Tunnel (opened 1843)
Cement was used in the world's first underwater tunnel

In 1824, Joseph Aspdin, a British brick layer turned builder, patented a chemical process for making portland cement, an important advance in the building trades. This process involves sintering a mixture of clay and limestone to about 1400°C, then grinding it into a fine powder which is then mixed with water, sand, and gravel to produce concrete. It was utilized several years later by the famous English engineer, Marc Isambard Brunel, who used it in the Thames Tunnel. Cement was used on a large scale in the construction of the London sewerage system, a generation later.

Machine tools

The Industrial Revolution could not have developed without machine tools, for they enabled manufacturing machines to be made. Machine tools have their origins in the tools developed in the eighteenth century by makers of clocks and watches and scientific instruments to enable them to batch-produce small mechanisms. The mechanical parts of early textile machines were sometimes called "clock work" because of the metal spindles and gears they incorporated. The manufacture of textile machines drew craftsmen from these trades and is the origin of the modern engineering industry.

A good example of how machine tools changed manufacturing took place in Birmingham, England, in 1830. The invention of a new machine by William Joseph Gillott, William Mitchell, and James Stephen Perry allowed mass manufacture of robust and cheap steel nibs (points) for dip writing pens. The process had previously been laborious and expensive.

Machines were built by various craftsmen—carpenters made wooden framings, and smiths and turners made metal parts. Because of the difficulty of manipulating metal and the lack of machine tools, the use of metal was kept to a minimum. Wood framing had the disadvantage of changing dimensions with temperature and humidity, and the various joints tended to rack (work loose) over time. As the Industrial Revolution progressed, machines with metal frames became more common, but they required machine tools to make them economically. Before the advent of machine tools, metal was worked manually using the basic hand tools of hammers, files, scrapers, saws, and chisels. Small metal parts were readily made by these means, but for large machine parts, production was very laborious and costly.

A lathe from 1911. A type of machine tool able to make other machines

Apart from workshop lathes used by craftsmen, the first large machine tool was the cylinder boring machine used for boring the large-diameter cylinders on early steam engines. The planing machine, the slotting machine, and the shaping machine were developed in the first decades of the nineteenth century. Although the milling machine was invented at this time, it was not developed as a serious workshop tool until the Second Industrial Revolution.

Military production had a hand in the development of machine tools. Henry Maudslay, who trained a school of machine tool makers early in the nineteenth century, was employed at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, as a young man where he would have seen the large horse-driven wooden machines for cannon boring. He later worked for Joseph Bramah on the production of metal locks, and soon after he began working on his own. He was engaged to build the machinery for making ships' pulley blocks for the Royal Navy in the Portsmouth Block Mills. These were all metal and were the first machines used for mass production and the first that made components with a degree of interchangeability. Maudslay adapted the lessons he learned about the need for stability and precision for the development of machine tools, and in his workshops he trained a generation of men to build on his work, such as Richard Roberts, Joseph Clement, and Joseph Whitworth.

James Fox of Derby had a healthy export trade in machine tools for the first third of the century, as did Matthew Murray of Leeds. Roberts was a maker of high-quality machine tools and a pioneer of the use of jigs and gages for precision workshop measurement.

Gas lighting

The gas lamp was an improvement on candles and oil lamps

Another major industry of the later industrial revolution was gas lighting. Though others made a similar innovation elsewhere, the large scale introduction of this was the work of William Murdoch, an employee of Boulton and Watt, the Birmingham steam engine pioneers. The process consisted of the large scale gasification of coal in furnaces, the purification of the gas (removal of sulfur, ammonium, and heavy hydrocarbons), and its storage and distribution. The first gaslighting utilities were established in London, between 1812-20. They soon became one of the major consumers of coal in the UK. Gaslighting had an impact on social and industrial organization because it allowed factories and stores to remain open longer than with tallow candles or oil. Its introduction allowed night life to flourish in cities and towns as interiors and streets could be lit on a larger scale than before.

Transport in Britain

At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, inland transport was by navigable rivers and roads, with coastal vessels employed to move heavy goods by sea. Railways or wagon ways were used for conveying coal to rivers for further shipment, but canals had not yet been constructed. Animals supplied all of the motive power on land, with sails providing the motive power on the sea.

The Industrial Revolution improved Britain's transport infrastructure with a turnpike road network, a canal, and waterway network, and a railway network. Raw materials and finished products could be moved more quickly and cheaply than before. Improved transportation also allowed new ideas to spread quickly.

Coastal sail

Sailing vessels had long been used for moving goods around the British coast. The trade transporting coal to London from Newcastle had begun in medieval times. The major international seaports, such as London, Bristol, and Liverpool, were the means by which raw materials, such as cotton, might be imported and finished goods exported. Transporting goods onward within Britain by sea was common during the whole of the Industrial Revolution and only fell away with the growth of the railways towards the end of the period.

Navigable rivers

All the major rivers of the United Kingdom were navigable during the Industrial Revolution. Some were anciently navigable, notably the Severn, Thames, and Trent. Some were improved, or had navigation extended upstream, but usually in the period before the Industrial Revolution, rather than during it.

The Severn, in particular, was used for the movement of goods to the Midlands which had been imported into Bristol from abroad, and for the export of goods from centers of production in Shropshire (such as iron goods from Coalbrookdale) and the Black Country. Transport was by way of trows—small sailing vessels which could pass the various shallows and bridges in the river. The trows could navigate the Bristol Channel to the South Wales ports and Somerset ports, such as Bridgwater and even as far as France.


Canals began to be built in the late eighteenth century to link the major manufacturing centers in the Midlands and north with seaports and with London, at that time itself the largest manufacturing center in the country. Canals were the first technology to allow bulk materials to be easily transported across country. A single canal horse could pull a load dozens of times larger than a cart and at a faster pace. By the 1820s, a national network was in existence. Canal construction served as a model for the organization and methods later used to construct the railways. They were eventually largely superseded by the spread of the railways from the 1840s on.

Britain's canal network, together with its surviving mill buildings, is one of the most enduring features of the early Industrial Revolution to be seen in Britain.


The Iron Bridge (1781)
The first large bridge made of cast iron

Much of the original British road system was poorly maintained by thousands of local parishes, but from the 1720s (and occasionally earlier) turnpike trusts were set up to charge tolls and maintain some roads. Increasing numbers of main roads were turnpiked from the 1750s, to the extent that almost every main road in England and Wales was the responsibility of some turnpike trust. Newly engineered roads were built by John Metcalf, Thomas Telford, and John Macadam. The major turnpikes radiated from London and were the means by which the Royal Mail was able to reach the rest of the country. Heavy goods were transported along the roads by means of slow, broad wheeled carts hauled by teams of horses. Lighter goods were conveyed by smaller carts or by teams of pack horses. Stage coaches transported rich people. The less wealthy walked or paid to ride on a carrier cart.


Wagonways for moving coal in the mining areas had started in the seventeenth century and were often associated with canal or river systems for the further movement of coal. These were all horse drawn or relied on gravity, with a stationary steam engine to haul the wagons back to the top of the incline. The first applications of the steam locomotive were on wagon or plate ways (as they were then often called from the cast iron plates used). Horse-drawn public railways did not begin until the early years of the nineteenth century. Steam-hauled public railways began with the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825, and the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830. The construction of major railways connecting the larger cities and towns began in the 1830s but only gained momentum at the very end of the first Industrial Revolution.

After many of the workers had completed the railways, they did not return to their rural lifestyles, but instead remained in the cities, providing additional workers for the factories.

Railways helped Britain's trade enormously, providing a quick and easy way to transport goods and passengers.

Industrial Revolution elsewhere

United States

As in Britain, the United States originally used water power to run its factories, with the consequence that industrialization was essentially limited to New England and the rest of the Northeastern United States, where fast-moving rivers were located. However, the raw materials (cotton) came from the Southern United States. It was not until after the American Civil War in the 1860s that steam-powered manufacturing overtook water-powered manufacturing, allowing the industry to spread across the entire nation.

Samuel Slater (1768–1835) is popularly known as the founder of the American cotton industry. As a boy apprentice in Derbyshire, England, he learned of the new techniques in the textile industry and defied laws against the emigration of skilled workers by leaving for New York in 1789, hoping to make money with his knowledge. Slater started Slater's mill at Pawtucket, Rhode Island, in 1793, and went on to own thirteen textile mills.

While on a trip to England in 1810, Newburyport, Massachusetts merchant Francis Cabot Lowell was allowed to tour the British textile factories, but not take notes. Realizing the War of 1812 had ruined his import business but that a market for domestic finished cloth was emerging in America, he memorized the design of textile machines, and on his return to the United States, he set up the Boston Manufacturing Company. Lowell and his partners built America's first cotton-to-cloth textile mill at Waltham, Massachusetts. After his death in 1817, his Associates built America's first planned factory town, which they named after him. This enterprise was capitalized in a public stock offering, one of the first such uses of it in the United States. Lowell, Massachusetts, utilizing 5.6 miles of canals and ten thousand horsepower delivered by the Merrimack River, is considered the "Cradle of the American Industrial Revolution.' The short-lived, utopia-like Lowell System was formed, as a direct response to the poor working conditions in Britain. However, by 1850, especially following the Irish Potato Famine, the system was replaced by poor immigrant labor.

Continental Europe

The Industrial Revolution on Continental Europe came later than in Great Britain. In many industries, this involved the application of technology developed by Britain in new places. Often the technology was purchased from Britain, or British engineers and enterpeneurs in search of new opportunities abroad. By 1809, part of the Ruhr Valley in Westphalia were being called "Miniature England" because of its similarities to the industrial areas of England. The German, Russian, and Belgian governments did all they could to sponsor the new industries by the provisions of state funding.

In some cases (such as iron), the different availability of resources locally meant that only some aspects of the British technology were adopted.


Main article: Meiji Restoration

In 1871, a group of Japanese politicians known as the Iwakura Mission toured Europe and the U.S. to learn western ways. The result was a deliberate, state led industrialization policy to prevent Japan from falling behind. The Bank of Japan, founded in 1877, used taxes to fund model steel and textile factories. Education was expanded and Japanese students were sent to study in the west.

Second Industrial Revolution

The insatiable demand of the railways 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 1850. 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 Britain to the United States and Germany.

The introduction of hydroelectric power generation in the Alps enabled the rapid industrialization of coal-deprived northern Italy, beginning in the 1890s. The increasing availability of economical petroleum products also reduced the importance of coal and further widened the potential for industrialization.

Marshall McLuhan analyzed the social and cultural impact of the electric age. While the previous age of mechanization had spread the idea of splitting every process into a sequence, this was ended by the introduction of the instant speed of electricity that brought simultaneity. This imposed the cultural shift from the approach of focusing on "specialized segments of attention" (adopting one particular perspective), to the idea of "instant sensory awareness of the whole," an attention to the "total field," a "sense of the whole pattern." It made evident and prevalent the sense of "form and function as a unity," an "integral idea of structure and configuration." This had major impact in the disciplines of painting (with cubism), physics, poetry, communication, and educational theory.[5]

By the 1890s, industrialization in these areas had created the first giant industrial corporations with burgeoning global interests, as companies like U.S. Steel, General Electric, and Bayer AG joined the railroad companies on the world's stock markets.

A revolution in human life

To speak of the Industrial Revolution is to identify only the most immediately obvious aspects of a total social revolution that occurred during the period called the Industrial Revolution.

The short-term effects were in many cases drastic as traditional family-centered agrarian lifestyles with all family members playing a role were torn asunder by long hours of tedious factory work required of men, women, and children if the family were to earn enough to survive. These new work patterns, over time, fostered the emergence of laws, regulations, inspectors, and labor unions to protection factory workers from exploitation by the factory owners. Aided by these protections families became more stable and factory workers in the cities became the source of an emergent middle class occupying such positions as managers or independent entrepreneurs or government employees.

Over the long term, the Industrial Revolution marked a period in which the living standard of the people in the affected countries rose tremendously as did the power of the human species to use technology for exploiting nature to human purpose and the image of the human being as the rightful dominating owner of the natural world. The resulting destructive consumption of the natural world has grown to such dimensions that in recent decades equally powerful counter currents calling for sustainable development and responsible stewardship of nature have arisen.


No single explanation as to why the Industrial Revolution began in England has gained widespread acceptance. Causes offered differ according to the worldview of the source of the proposed explanation. Among possible explanations, at least two primary different types have been offered:

  • Changes in human behavior
  • Changes in institutions

Changes in human behavior have been further explained in at least three different ways:

  • Changes in human behavior—Due to genetic change
  • Changes in human behavior—Due to changes in values
  • Changes in human behavior—Due to changes in worldview

One the theories that changes in human behavior lie behind the Industrial Revolution has been compiled and published in the 2007 book A Farewell to Alms by the economic historian Gregory Clark. His analysis of English data from 1200 to 1800 shows that as the upper classes tended toward large families with higher rates of survival than the lower classes, descendants of the upper class would, over centuries, have tended to spread downward into the lower class ranks. At the same time, he writes, "Thrift, prudence, negotiation and hard work were becoming values for communities that previously had been spendthrift, impulsive, violent and leisure loving." These spreading values were precisely those needed for the accumulation of wealth to raise people out of abject poverty and also to support the institutions that were so essential to the Industrial Revolution.[6]

Clark assumes there was a kind of natural selection operating in England that led to the ascendancy of genes inclining people toward the values he observed. He chooses to overlook the role of religion in contributing to the spread of the values he has identified, while others would assert that religion must be considered as a primary source of values for a people. Indeed the sociologist Max Weber asserted a century ago, that the Calvinist Protestant work ethic was an essential feature of the capitalist economy that grew up together with the Industrial Revolution and without which the Industrial Revolution may well not have occurred.

Others have argued that among all the factors necessary for the Industrial Revolution to have occurred in England when it did perhaps the single most essential factor differentiating England from China and even continental Europe in the mid-eighteenth century was the pervasive worldview that the natural world could be harnessed to support of betterment human life through the development of machines. Such a worldview, grounded in the Newtonian synthesis of human knowledge of celestial mechanics, tied to mathematics, formalized in universities, propagated widely by a band of eager popularizers, and applied to mundane tasks by a new breed of educated gentleman entrepreneurs, captured the English imagination and provided the vital intellectual energy behind the Industrial Revolution.

In terms of institutions, the centuries preceding the Industrial Revolution were deemed important for the development in Europe of the concept of corporations, which were a new distinct entity and neither individuals, nor the state, nor the individuals collectively forming the corporation. Among the important corporations, the universities provided slowly developing lines of thought and academic programs that in England first broke solidly out of the mold of the scholastic synthesis of science and religion and gave birth not only to Newton's Principia (in 1681) but to the proliferation of thought and applied technology based on its model.

Multiple other factors in eighteenth century England identified as part of the causal complex underlying the Industrial Revolution include: Enclosures (the practice of enclosing previously communally used agricultural lands), commercial farming, improved mines and forges, village shops, an active mortgage market, restraints on the arbitrary behavior of the monarchy, colonies providing raw materials and markets, improved intellectual property protection, and greater security of financial and real property.


  1. Gerald M. Meier and James E. Rauch, Leading Issues in Economic Development (Oxford University Press, 2000, ISBN 0195115899).
  2. Lester Russell Brown, Eco-Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth (Earthscan, 2003, ISBN ‎ 8125022031).
  3. Bob Miles, The Lunar Society. Retrieved September 23, 2021.
  4. Archibald Clow and Nan L. Clow, Chemical Revolution (Ayer Pub, 1952, ISBN ‎0836919092), 65-90.
  5. Marshall McLuhan and Lewis H. Lapham, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (The MIT Press, 1994, ISBN 0262631598).
  6. Nicholas Wade, In Dusty Archives: A Theory of Affluence New York Times, August 7, 2007. Retrieved September 23, 2021.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Ashton, Thomas S. The Industrial Revolution (1760-1830). Oxford University Press, 1948. ISBN 0195002520
  • Berlanstein, Lenard R. The Industrial Revolution and Work in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Routledge, 1992.
  • Bernal, John Desmond. Science and Industry in the Nineteenth Century. Routledge, 2006. ISBN 9780415379809
  • Paul Bairoch. Economics and World History: Myths and Paradoxes. University of Chicago Press, 1995. ISBN 9780226034638
  • Brown, Lester Russell. Eco-Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth. Earthscan, 2003. ISBN ‎ 8125022031
  • Clapham, J. H. An Economic History of Modern Britain: The Early Railway Age, 1820-1850. Cambridge University Press, 1926.
  • Clow, Archibald, and Nan L. Clow. Chemical Revolution. Ayer Pub, 1952. ISBN ‎0836919092
  • Daunton, M. J. Progress and Poverty: An Economic and Social History of Britain, 1700-1850. Oxford University Press, 1995.
  • Derry, Thomas Kingston and Trevor I. Williams, A Short History of Technology: From the Earliest Times to A.D. 1900. New York: Dover Publications, 1993. ISBN 9780486274720
  • Hughes, Thomas Parke. Development of Western Technology Since 1500. MacMillan, 1980.
  • Kranzberg, Melvin and Carroll W. Pursell, Jr. (eds.). Technology in Western Civilization. Oxford University Press, 1967. ISBN 9780195009385
  • Landes, David S. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor. W. W. Norton & Company, 1999. ISBN 9780393318883
  • Lines, Clifford. Companion to the Industrial Revolution. London: Facts on File, 1990. ISBN 0816021570
  • Meier,Gerald M., and James E. Rauch. Leading Issues in Economic Development. Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0195115899
  • Mokyr, Joel. The British Industrial Revolution: An Economic Perspective. 1999.
  • More, Charles. Understanding the Industrial Revolution. 2000.
  • Pollard, Sidney. Peaceful Conquest: The Industrialization of Europe, 1760-1970. Oxford University Press, 1981.
  • Toynbee, Arnold. Lectures on the Industrial Revolution of the Eighteenth Century in England Whitefish, Montana: Kessinger Publishing, 1884. ISBN 141912952X
  • Usher, Abbott Payson. An Introduction to the Industrial History of England. 1920.
Social and political impact
  • Gill, Graeme. "Farm to Factory: A Reinterpretation of the Soviet Industrial Revolution," Economic Record, Vol. 80, 2004
  • Hayek, Friedrich A. Capitalism and the Historians. University of Chicago Press, 1963. ISBN 0226320723
  • Hobsbawm, Eric J. Industry and Empire: From 1750 to the Present Day. Penguin, 1990. ISBN 9780140137491
  • McLuhan, Marshall, and Lewis H. Lapham. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. The MIT Press, 1994. ISBN 0262631598
  • Smelser, Neil J. Social Change in the Industrial Revolution: An Application of Theory to the British Cotton Industry. University of Chicago Press, 1959.
  • Stearns, Peter N. The Industrial Revolution in World History Westview Press, 1998.
  • Thompson, E. P. The Making of the English Working Class. Peter Smith Publisher, 1999. ISBN 9780844669939
  • Clark, Gregory. A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World. Princeton University Press, 2007. ISBN 9780691121352
  • Dunham, Arthur Louis. The Industrial Revolution in France, 1815-1848. Exposition Press, 1955.
  • Landes, David S. The Unbound Prometheus: Technical Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present, 2nd edition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN 9780521534024
  • Mantoux, Paul. The Industrial Revolution in the Eighteenth Century. First English translation 1928, revised edition 1961.
Local Studies
  • Green, Constance McLaughlin. Holyoke, Massachusetts: A Case History of the Industrial Revolution in America. Yale University Press, 1939.
  • Kisch, Herbert. From Domestic Manufacture to Industrial Revolution The Case of the Rhineland Textile Districts. Oxford, 1989
  • Trinder, B. The Industrial Revolution in Shropshire. Phillimore, 2000. ISBN 9781860771330
Coal, metallurgy
  • Birch, A. The Economic History of the British Iron and Steel Industry 1784 to 1879. London: Cass, 1967.
  • Hyde, C. K. Technological Change and the British Iron Industry 1700-1870. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977.
  • Rott, R. A. Henry Cort: the Great Finer. 1983. ISBN 0904357554
  • Tylecote, R. F. A History of Metallurgy. Inst of Materials, 1976. ISBN 9780904357066
Machine tools
  • Atkinson, Norman. Sir Joseph Whitworth. Sutton Publishing, 1996. ISBN 0750912111
  • Cantrell, John, and Gillian Cookson (eds.). Henry Maudslay and the Pioneers of the Machine Age. Tempus Publishing, 2002. ISBN 0752427660
  • Hills, Rev. Dr. Richard L. Life and Inventions of Richard Roberts, 1789-1864. Landmark Publishing, 2002. ISBN 1843060272
  • Roe, Joseph Wickham. English and American Tool Builders. Yale University Press, 1916. ISBN 0917914740
Steam power
  • Hart, Ivor Blashka. James Watt and the History of Steam Power. 1949.
  • Hills, Rev. Dr. Richard L. James Watt. Landmark Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1843061937
  • Rolt, L. T. C. and J. S. Allen. The Steam Engine of Thomas Newcomen. Landmark Publishing Ltd, 1997. ISBN 190152244X
  • Smil, Vaclav. Energy in World History. Westview Press, 1994.
  • Pawson, E., Transport and Economy: The Turnpike Roads of 18th Century England. 1977.
  • Szostak, Rick. The Role of Transportation in the Industrial Revolution: A Comparison of England and France. McGill-Queens University Press, 1991.

External links

All links retrieved September 23, 2021.


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