History of the Industrial Revolution

The industrial revolution completely changed Massachusetts in the 19th century and the world in general.

The industrial revolution is considered a major turning point in world history because it impacted almost every aspect of daily life across the world.

Industrialization changed the economy, transportation, health and medicine and led to many inventions and firsts in history.

Prior to the industrial revolution, societies across the world were merely surviving. Disease was rampant, famines were common, poverty was widespread and trade was limited to neighboring geographic regions.

When industrialization finally began, these new technological advancements helped societies finally grow and thrive. Food production increased, certain diseases were eradicated or minimized, life spans were extended, populations rose, economic changes led to a wider distribution of wealth and international trade increased.

The following is an overview of the industrial revolution:

What Is the Industrial Revolution?

The industrial revolution was the transition to new manufacturing processes. During the industrial revolution, local economies changed from an agricultural and handicraft economy to an industrial and machine-based economy.

Mills on the Merrimack River, Lowell, Mass, circa 1900

Mills on the Merrimack River, Lowell, Mass, circa 1900

Many everyday tasks that were once done by hand, such as sewing, construction, food production and etc, were now being done by machines which greatly increased productivity by allowing for mass production, faster and more efficient manufacturing processes and higher profitability, according to Peter N. Stearns in his book The Industrial Revolution in World History:

“The two central features of industrialization – revolutions in technology and in the organization of production – yeilded one clear result: a great increase in the total output of goods and in individual worker output. Per capita productivity went up, in some cases massively…Increased output could and often would be used in various ways: to increase inequality in the standard of living, to support higher tax revenues, to provide for rapidly growing populations, or to change and possibly improve material conditions for the masses.”

When Was the Industrial Revolution?

The industrial revolution is divided into two phases: the first industrial revolution, which took place between 1750 and 1850, and the second industrial revolution, which took place between 1850 and 1914.

The first industrial revolution led to iron, coal and steam technology, the expansion of railroads and the mass production of textiles.

The second industrial revolution, also known as the technological revolution, replaced steam power with electric power, increased steel production and introduced the use of petroleum, all of which greatly improved transportation and led to the inventions of cars, airplanes and electric-powered trolleys and subway trains.

Check out this article on the timeline of the industrial revolution for a chronology of important events.

Where Did the Industrial Revolution Take Place?

The industrial revolution took place in various countries across the world. It began in England and eventually spread to Continental Europe and the United States at different times in the 19th century.

The first countries to be industrialized after England were Belgium, France, the German states and the United States in North America in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The industrial revolution didn’t spread to the rest of Europe or other parts of the world until after 1850.

Spain, Portugal, Austria-Hungary, Italy and the Ottoman Empire started to industrialize very late in the 19th century. The kingdom of Sardinia in Italy started to industrialize in the 1850s but the whole of Italy remained poor and agricultural.

It was only in the 20th century that industrialization finally spread to Asia, Africa and Latin America.

According to Peter N. Stearns in his book The Industrial Revolution in World History, the industrial revolution spread across the world in waves:

“Outright industrial revolutions occurred in three waves. The first happened in western Europe and the new United States beginning with developments in Britain in the 1770s. A second wave burst on the shores of Russia and Japan, some other parts of of eastern and southern Europe, plus Canada and Australia from the 1880s onward. The most recent unfolding began in the 1960s in the Pacific Rim and, two decades later, in Turkey and India, and in Brazil and other parts of Latin America.”

Why Did the Industrial Revolution Start in England?

There are a number of reasons why the industrial revolution began in England. One reason was that it had large deposits of coal and iron ore, which were essential for industrialization.

Another reason was that England was politically stable and a leading colonial power with a number of colonies to harvest raw materials from.

Since England had higher wages and cheaper energy costs than other countries, it gave British manufacturers a greater incentive to develop faster, more cost-effective methods of manufacturing, which led to mechanization and the factory system.

Inventions of the Industrial Revolution:

Inventions of certain machines and new manufacturing processes during the 18th and 19th centuries helped spur industrialization.

Before the industrial revolution, most work was done by hand using manual tools. Manufacturing processes were limited to how fast an individual could work.

The inventions of machines, which utilized more powerful forms of energy, made these processes faster and increased production volume, according to Stearns:

“The key invention in Europe’s industrial revolution was the steam engine, which harnessed the energy potential of coal. Later industrial revolutions also used electric and internal combustion motors (developed by the 1870s) and petroleum as well as coal. Before the industrial revolution, almost all production in manufacturing and agriculture relied on equipment powered by people or draft animals, with some assistance from waterwheels. Except for waterwheels, used mainly to mill grain, almost all tools were designed for manual use…The industrial revolution progressively introduced steam or other power to the production process and steadily increased the proportion of the process accomplished by equipment without direct human guidance.”

Some notable inventions of the industrial revolution include:

Atmospheric steam engine, invented by Thomas Newcomen in 1712
Cotton gin, invented by Eli Whitney in 1793
Telegraph, invented by Samuel F.B. Morse in 1836
Sewing machines, invented by Elias Howe in 1844
Telephone, patented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876
Phonograph, invented by Thomas Edison in 1877
Induction electric motor, invented by Nikola Tesla in 1888
Roller Coaster, patented by Edwin Prescott in 1898
Airplane, invented by Orvile and Wilbur Wright in 1903
Model T Ford and the large scale moving assembly line, invented by Henry Ford in 1908 and 1913

What Caused the Industrial Revolution?

The causes behind the industrial revolution are still hotly debated today but are believed to be the result of the rise in capitalism, European imperialism, an increase in world trade and the growth of laissez-fair politics, according to R.M. Hartwell in his book The Causes of the Industrial Revolution:

“A full range of variables is listed below, but most historians have come down in favour of one or more of the following causes of the industrial revolution: an increase in the rate of capital information (either because of low interest rates encouraging investment, or because of profit inflation); an increase in world trade (the natural result of an expanding geographical frontier), in which England gained disproportionately (thus stimulating export industries, and, finally general growth); a technological revolution (the result of an autonomous increase in knowledge, the application of which transformed the machinery and organization of industry, making it much more productive); and growth of laissez-faire and of a rational ethic towards wealth (the result of changes both in philosophic and religious convictions), which liberalized the context and possibilities of enterprise.”

For more information about the industrial revolution, check out the following articles about the best books about the industrial revolution.

Sources:
Swanson, Ana. “Why the industrial revolution didn’t happen in China.” Washington Post, 28 Oct. 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/10/28/why-the-industrial-revolution-didnt-happen-in-china/?utm_term=.98de4cc2c374
Toynbee, Arnold. Lectures on the Industrial Revolution of the Eighteenth Century in England. Longmans, Green, and Co., 1908.
Hartwell, R.M. The Causes of the Industrial Revolution in England. Methuen, 1967. 2 vols.
Dean, Phyllis. The First Industrial Revolution. Cambridge University Press, 1965.
“Causes of the Industrial Revolution.” History Crunch, www.historycrunch.com/causes-of-the-industrial-revolution.html
“The Rise of Industrial America, 1876-1900.” Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/timeline/riseind/
Gordon, John Steele. “How the Industrial Revolution Began.” Barron’s Magazine, Dow Jones & Company, Inc, 13 Feb. 2015, www.barrons.com/articles/how-the-industrial-revolution-started-1423887383
“Who is credited as inventing the telephone? Was it Alexander Graham Bell, Elisha Gray or Antonio Meucci?” Library of Congress, 31 July. 2017, www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/telephone.html

History of the Industrial Revolution

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the writer and publisher of the History of Massachusetts Blog. Rebecca is a freelance writer and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism. Visit this site's About page to find out more about Rebecca.

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