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Published: Thursday 31st of October 2013
The Industrial Revolution represents a process of fundamental change that began in Britain in 1760 and spread all over the world initially by 1820-1840 but also later throughout the 19th century.
The economy changed from being primarily agrarian and handicraft to the one driven by industrial manufacturing. This paper will portray the main elements of the Industrial Revolution, followed by a discussion of its social and cultural consequences. The technological changes brought on by the Industrial Revolution included the following:
The Industrial Revolution also had an enormous impact on daily lives of all citizens, which will be discussed later on in the paper.
The Agricultural Revolution which happened in the 18th century set the stage for the Industrial Revolution, by creating a favorable climate for industrialization. The Agricultural Revolution increased the food supply with decreased labor needed to produce it. The traditional small farm food production motivated by fear of famine was no longer the primary agricultural organization unit. Instead, large commercial farming operations took over using more advanced farming methods and new crops. This created a surplus of food allowing more and more farm workers to migrate to towns and start working in new industries. A numerous new labor force was in place to fuel the development of an industrialized society. The Industrial Revolution would not have been possible without technological changes, including inventions of machines and new methods of production.
In its initial phases, the Industrial Revolution was mainly limited to Britain. The British were keen on preserving their leading position, and therefore they did not allow the export of the new machinery, skilled workers or manufacturing techniques. This situation could not last forever. Continental Europe, primarily Belgium and France sought to bring the industrialization to their countries. At the same time, British businessman also saw lucrative industrial opportunities abroad. Thus, the process of change did not stay confined to Britain for long. Belgium was the first country on European mainland which had their economy transformed by the Industrial Revolution after the first machine shops were developed in Liege. France came aboard more slowly with industrial changes in that country having to wait for the political climate to change. The political situation in France before 1848 was unstable and discouraging for significant investments to be made in technical improvements. The industrialization of Germany only began after the country was united in 1870, but when it finally started, it grew at a staggering pace, surpassing that of Britain, particularly in steelworks and chemical industries. The United States was also late to start but became a much stronger industrial power than any European country in the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. Japan also joined the Industrial Revolution with great success, while Eastern European countries lingered behind until the five-year plans were put in place in the 20th century. In the 1950s the Industrial Revolution spread to Asia, to previously non-industrialized countries like India and China.
The textile industry saw the most significant progress. It was here that the modern production methods were first put in place. Mechanized cotton spinning driven by steam or water made it possible to mass produce cotton cloth in Britain. The cloths were of inferior quality to those handwoven by Indian low-wage labor, but it prevailed due to the high production rates of British textile manufacturing.
The iron industry saw wood and other bio-fuels replaced with coal during the Industrial Revolution. Further advances included the development of a stationary steam engine and machine tools made of metal such as the planing machine, the milling machine, the shaping machine, to name but a few. The chemical industry was also significantly affected, and so was agriculture which experienced ever increasing productivity levels with the use of industrial technologies such as the seed drill, the Dutch plow containing iron parts and the threshing machine. In the late 19th century there was already a mass-production of agricultural equipment.
Transportation was another area of vast improvement during the Industrial Revolution. A turnpike road network was established, along with the canal and waterway network and a railway network. Steam locomotives became widely used.
Along with developing large domestic markets for the mass-produced commodities, international trade was also blooming, made possible by the 17th-century European colonial expansion. The surplus of goods was exchanged in an open market making nations like Great Britain, France, and the United States ever richer and allowing them to control the worldwide trade for years to come.
Industrialization had a profound impact on the society as a whole. The structure of the society changed and material wealth increased. More and more individuals were employed outside their local environment, in large factories equipped with the newest machinery. Agricultural workers and artisans had to adapt to learning new manual skills and to working in an environment that is enclosed and follows a strict schedule. It was unlike anything they had to do before. Both men and women were expected to work in factories for long hours all year long. This was especially hard on women who also had to fulfill their duties within their households and were commonly bullied by their bosses at work as well as their husbands at home. Women were still not allowed to vote or to own property. The transition proved to be very difficult so that many people who had previously been diligent agricultural workers could not hold industrial jobs for long since they were unable to adjust to new work expectations. The exploitation of child labor was also common. Generally speaking, at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution men, women and children were considered to be expendable, and it was not before the legislation was passed in the 1830s that they were at least to a certain degree protected in their workplace.
The accelerated rate of urbanization was accompanied with the rise in crime as well. The reasons for this were poverty, unemployment, and overcrowding. Job security and social security were non-existent. The quality of life of the working class was extremely poor. The cities were totally unprepared for thousands of workers streaming into their already crowded streets. Working-class neighborhoods were dirty, polluted and crime-ridden. In an attempt to bring order into the society, a professional police force was established and prisons were reformed.
Initially, the only ones who actually profited from the Industrial Revolution were wealthy industrialists. Later on, the general population was also able to experience some benefits. A higher income allowed them to spend the money they earned and to increase their living standards.
The Industrial Revolution eventually succeeded in raising productivity and employment levels and brought an end to the economic pessimism typical of the early 19th century. Utilitarian and socialist views emerged. A new philosophy based upon the notion that political, social and economic models should have the concern for the welfare of masses at heart and that the benefits of industrialization should be shared by all. This gave an opportunity for the socialist ideology to rise, demanding the exploitation of workers to be brought to an end and the goods to be distributed equally and rationally.
The Industrial Revolution is considered to be one of the most significant events in the history of humankind. With it began a new age dominated by technological advances, accelerated use of science in the development of new technologies, and an overall enhanced quality of life for all. Material wealth was increased particularly in Western European countries and the United States. Along with better working conditions, the average life expectancy got increased. The division of the society in classes, more specifically the capitalist class and the working class was inevitable but the middle class started to emerge by the end of the industrialization era as well. Governments did not interfere with mechanisms of the free market. The idea of non-interference was dominant during the Industrial Revolution and it led to a concept of liberalism allowing substantial economic progress of industrial capitalists.
A significant change was observed in the numbers of people living in rural and urban areas. Modern agricultural production made a lot of agricultural workers redundant, which forced them to migrate to towns like London, Manchester or Boston in search of employment in the industry. The trend of urbanization has not stopped to this day.
In the beginning, the Industrial Revolution led to huge exploitation of workers living and working in appalling conditions. This eventually changed with the introduction of workers` trade unions and legislation protecting the workers` rights and limiting the possibilities of mistreatment by factory owners.
The consequences of the Industrial Revolution were not only felt within the borders of the countries from which they originated. The establishment of international markets for the sale of mass-produced goods had a crippling effect on small industries of the colonies unable to respond to the excess of cheap industrially produced goods.
One can argue that industrialization changed the world. A few places on earth have not felt its consequences, although their nature varied from place to place. Overall it was a global phenomenon which continues to exert its effects even to this day.