Industrial Revolution: Definitions, Causes and History

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The Industrial Revolution was a period of time between the 18th and 19th century that sparked the beginning of a major change in modern society from old ways of farming and agriculture to a shift in urbanization and modern machine manufacturing. Prior to the industrial revolution, most of the manufacturing was done in people’s houses using hand tools and other basic machines. However, with the new advanced machinery and factories, the mass producing of products would soon be more efficient and manufactured significantly faster. Not only were machines and factories an essential part of the revolution, the development of iron and textile industries along with the steam engine allowed for improvements in transportation, communication, and banking. The industrial revolution also brought forth many job opportunities and allowed people to start a new life in the cities. However, even though the industrial revolution was beneficial in bringing mass production of products with the new development of factories and other important inventions, it resulted in harsh unemployment that encouraged child labor and unhealthy living conditions for the poor and working class.

Moreover, before the Industrial Revolution, many people lived in small rural communities where their activities and work were based on farming and agriculture. During this time, the average person’s life was difficult with low incomes and many diseases that brought upon further hardships. Because advanced machines were almost nonexistent during this time, the majority of the population had no other choice but to produce their own food along with clothing and furniture in order to survive. Most of the manufacturing was also done in homes or small shops with hand tools and simple machines. The origins of the industrial revolution took place in Britain because “it had great deposits of coal and iron ore, which proved essential for industrialization” and because Britain was powerful and politically stable, “its colonies could serve as a source for raw material, as well as a marketplace for manufactured goods.”(History) Britain was also an essential place for the industrial revolutions origins because of its large abundance of coal deposits which made it possible to power all the new machines such as the steam engine. Another reason that Britain was an essential origin for the industrial revolution was because of the agricultural revolution which increased food production and increased the population in England first.

Also, Britain had navigable rivers and canals which allowed for easier transportation of raw materials and they had financial innovation which encouraged people to take risks in trade and new technologies. Finally, one of the major reasons was because of world trade which allowed European countries to gain access to raw materials and other goods and increased their overall economy. Because of this, “Europe had technological supremacy over the rest of the world in shipbuilding, navigation, and metallurgy (metalworking).”

Furthermore, the industrial revolution brought new innovative inventions that would change the way products were manufactured and also contributed to faster productions. These new inventions would eliminate the need for mass labor bringing benefits to the workers and the production line. One of the most important inventions during this period was the Spinning Jenny. The spinning jenny was invented by British carpenter, James Hargreaves and it made the tasks of pulling and twisting cotton cloth easier. This machine was important because it could be operated by unskilled workers and children and could be fit into small spaces. Another important invention was the steam engine which was invented by Thomas Newcomen and was primarily used for coal mining to pump water out from mines that would ultimately allow the miners to dig down further. Even though this invention was effective, it required large amounts of coal to function reducing its efficiency. Not only were inventions created to help benefit the manufacturing production line, but new inventions also helped create faster transportation and quicker trade routes for more efficient trading of goods and other materials. One major invention that helped strengthen transportation was the locomotive.

The locomotive was essential because it could carry men along with other necessary minerals such as iron along long distances for faster transportation speeds. Another major invention that changed the way people communicated in the period of the industrial revolution was the telegraph. The telegraph was first created on July 25, 1837, by William Fothergill and Charles Wheatstone and they successfully created the first electrical telegraph. The telegraph was beneficial because it allowed communication between long distances and allowed messages to be traveled quickly which resulted in quicker and more efficient communication. For example, in the source of William Cobbett on the decline of the Old Woollen Towns, he explains the benefits of new machines including “The greater part of manufactures consists of clothing and bedding. Now, if by using a machine, we can get our coat with less labor than we got it before, the machine is a desirable thing.” These inventions shaped the era of the industrial revolution and brought forth new technologies that would eliminate labor and allow for quicker communication.

In addition, the Industrial Revolution was also beneficial because it brought economic stability and increased the quality of life for the average person. Because of the new machines and the mass production of items, the costs of regular household items including clothes and other necessary tools declined which allowed people to save their money for the use of other tasks. Also, due to new machines being invented and factories being constructed, more employment opportunities arose with stable working hours for workers. Before factories were constructed, people relied on the success of their farms to generate income which fluctuated greatly because of various weather conditions and competition. However, with new machines and factories, people could rely on more stable income because of the demand for manufactured goods in the cities. This resulted in people being able to “save some portion of their wages, and many had the opportunity to invest in profitable businesses, thereby growing their family “nest eggs.” (Britannica). Overall, the creation of new machines and factories helped increase the economic stability of average workers that resulted in better wages and allowed people to save their money.

In contrast, even though the industrial revolution brought many benefits to the average person and the creation of new inventions allowed for faster production times, it also resulted in unsafe working conditions, overcrowding of cities, and encouraged child labor. Because of the better wages and more stable job positions that factories were now providing for the average person, many migrants began to move to the cities in search of more stable income and a better life. This resulted in cramped living conditions with poor quality housing in slum areas. Also, due to the massive influx of people to the cities, the sewage and sanitation systems were starting to become overwhelmed and resulted in contaminated drinking water. The lack of sanitation also contributed to the spreading of diseases because many homes did not have proper sanitation which resulted in people getting rid of their garbage on the street. This led to further poor living conditions and contamination. (History crunch). These unsafe working conditions resulted in the Factory of 1819 which added new laws to establish “no person, being under the age of 16 years, shall be employed … for more than 12 hours in any one day, exclusive of the necessary time for meals;” and “There shall be allowed to every such person . . . not less than half an hour to breakfast, and not less than one full hour for dinner . . . between the hours of 11 o’clock in the forenoon and 2 o’clock in the afternoon.”(Factory Act of 1819)

All of these factors including overcrowding of areas, poor housing conditions, and a lack of sanitation resulted in the spread and outbreaks of new diseases including typhus, smallpox, tuberculosis, and other harmful diseases.

On the other hand, new machines and factories during the Industrial Revolution contributed to large amounts of pollution and other environmental issues. Fueling the factories required “each and every type of manufactured goods, natural resources (water, trees, soil, rocks and minerals, wild and domesticated animals, etc.) were transformed,” (Britannica) and this caused a reduction in the planet’s stock of valuable resources. Factories also contributed to water and air pollution which caused the destruction of wildlife and other habitats and they also began to cause global warming because of the large amount of carbon dioxide being released in the air. The industrial revolution continued to use more and more of earth’s resources resulting in biodiversity problems and also was continuing to harm the environment because of the frequent pollution from factories.

However, even though there was a large increase in the availability of jobs for the average person during the time of the industrial revolution, the working conditions that came alongside these jobs were poor and brought upon a variety of health-related concerns. The owners of factories had little concern for the safety of their workers and only cared about the profit that their factory was generating. While the new factories provided workers with higher wages from their previous jobs in the agricultural industry, they came with serious downsides. The average factory worker worked an average of 14-16 hours per day six days a week leaving almost no time for any other activity. Also, the wages varied dramatically among men, women, and children with men earning the most and children earning the least. Also, the workers were exposed to the dirty machines and the unhealthy fumes they gave off which resulted in health-related conditions and other injuries.

Furthermore, another major downside of the industrial revolution was its encouragement of child labor in the factories. Factors owners wanted to employ children because they could be paid significantly less than adults for doing the same amount of labor and also because the children were “more obedient than adults in terms of completing work and accepting punishment “(history crunch), therefore they were able to perform more disciplined work. Also, another reason children benefited in the factor jobs was because they were naturally smaller which allowed them to fit into smaller spaces. This benefited factor owners because children would be able to fix any problems with the machines making them important to the production process in the factories. For example, The Sadler report of 1832 demonstrates insights on the life of factory workers that started working at a young age and how they were treated in the factory. The main goal of this report was to help regulate the working conditions of children in textile mills. In most of the examinations, many of the workers began working in the factories throughout the ages of 6-8 and worked for about 14-16 hours. In the examination of MR. MATHEW CRABTREE, he stated that there is only one period of resting time at noon, and after that, there is not the time to do anything else. He also stated that if he was ever late, he was severely beaten and he stated that children were beaten at the end of the day if they were showing signs of fatigue in their working habits. These unhealthy working habits and the encouragement of child labor left workers prone to health-related issues and other problems.

Overall, the Industrial Revolution changed modern society in both positive and negative ways. It brought forth a major change from old farming and agricultural techniques and shifted to modern urbanization and factories. It contributed to new inventions that changed the workforce by eliminating the need for skilled labor, created new transportation/communication ways for faster transportation of goods and quicker communication times, and allowed people to move into the cities to establish a new life for themselves with more stable hours and wages from the new factories. While the industrial revolution created a major change in the world with its new technologies and opportunities, it also came with various downsides that would impact society negatively. The new factory jobs resulted in dangerous and unhealthy working conditions due to long working hours and various machines releasing fumes, the encouragement of child labor affected families leaving them no choice but to make their children work due to economic issues, overpopulation due to rapid urbanization, and various other diseases and pollutions that were emitted due to factories. Even though the industrial revolution was beneficial to society, the rapid change in technology and urbanization affected the working and poor class.

Works Cited

Secondary sources:

  • “10 Key Inventions of the Industrial Revolution.” History Hit, www.historyhit.com/key-inventions-of-the-industrial-revolution/.
  • “Child Labor in the Industrial Revolution.” History Crunch – History Articles, Summaries, Biographies, Resources and More, www.historycrunch.com/child-labor-in-the-industrial-revolution.html#/.
  • “Living Conditions in Industrial Towns.” History Crunch – History Articles, Summaries, Biographies, Resources and More, www.historycrunch.com/living-conditions-in-industrial-towns.html#/.
  • Rafferty, John P. “The Rise of the Machines: Pros and Cons of the Industrial Revolution.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., www.britannica.com/story/the-rise-of-the-machines-pros-and-cons-of-the-industrial-revolution.
  • “The Industrial Revolution Begins in England (1760-1850).” Untitled Document, webs.bcp.org/sites/vcleary/modernworldhistorytextbook/industrialrevolution/IRbegins.html.
  • Editors, History.com. “Industrial Revolution.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 29 Oct. 2009, www.history.com/topics/industrial-revolution/industrial-revolution.

Primary Sources:

  • Koot, Gerard. “Aspects of the Industrial Revolution in Britain.” Industrial Revolution in Britain: Resources, www1.umassd.edu/ir/resources/textileindustry/. William Cobbett. Rural Rides, 1893 edn. II, 78?80, 95, 103, 105, 163?4; in J. T. Ward, ed., The Factory System, Vol. I
  • The Sadler Report: Child Labor: Michal Thomas Sadler. https://www.polk.k12.ga.us/userfiles/555/Classes/239076/Ch.%2019%20Sources%20Industrialization.pdf
  • The Factory Act of 1819. (Statutes at Large, 59 Geo. III, c. 66, LXXIII, pp. 418-419; in A. Aspinall and E. Anthony Smith, eds., English Historical Documents, XI, 1783-1832, New York: Oxford University Press, 1959,.pp. 734-35.)
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