Facts about the Industrial Revolution

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1. The Industrial Revolution was not an armed uprising like the French Revolution. It was termed a revolution because of the far-reaching, widespread changes it brought about. It refers to the time period from the mid- 18th century onward to the early part of the nineteenth century. The Industrial Revolution was centred in Britain, from where it spread to other countries. Before this time, most of the people in Britain were occupied in agriculture, and lived in villages and small towns. Most goods were made by hand, or with simple tools. The advent of the Industrial Revolution heralded a transition to machine made goods and the growth of cities.

2. Historians have commented that the changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution mark a turning point in world history. These changes were technological, social, economic, cultural and political. Not only did lifestyles change, but society itself underwent a gradual change. The old class structure had to accommodate a burgeoning middle-class and urban working class. The middle-class prospered, and gained political and educational benefits. Later, these benefits spread to the working class. As food and goods became more affordable, life expectancy and demand grew. As transport and communication became more efficient, movement of passengers and goods increased and information spread easily.

3. The Industrial Revolution was facilitated by a number of inventions. The textile industry grew from a cottage industry to the birthplace of factories. Spinning machines replaced spinning wheels. The breakthrough came in the 1760s, with the spinning jenny and the water frame invented by James Hargreaves and Richard Arkwright respectively. Both these machines were later replaced by the spinning mule, invented by Samuel Crompton. From the mid-1780s to the early 1800s, British machine makers developed steam powered looms, and by the 1830s, cotton cloth was mostly woven using power looms.

4. The new industries required cheap, efficient power. This need was met by the steam engine, which was produced by Thomas Savery in 1698, improved upon by Thomas Newcomen in 1712, and further developed more efficiently in 1785 by James Watt.

5. Coal and iron were necessary for production. Coal was used as fuel for steam engines and also in the manufacture of iron. Iron was used for a large number of essential items ranging from tools to ships. Both these industries flourished during the Industrial Revolution. Ironmaking improved in 1783, with the use of a puddling furnace, improved upon by Henry Cort.

6. There was rapid development in transport and communication, due to the Industrial Revolution. The steam engine was used for locomotives, and the railway system expanded for freight and passengers. The steamboat was built by an American in the early 1800s, and soon, steamships were used for long distances. John McAdam and Thomas Telford developed new ways of constructing roads, which greatly improved road transport. The telegraph was invented by W Cooke and C Wheatstone in1837, which led to the speedy dispatch of information.

7. The Industrial Revolution brought in its wake the factory system of production, which was characterised by mass production of goods, using power driven machine tools, and greater specialisation of the workforce termed division of labour. Banking facilities and finance were needed to provide capital for industrial enterprise, and these sectors expanded. The London Stock Exchange started in the 1770s and the New York Stock Exchange followed in the 1790s.

8. The growth of modern industries took place in Britain due to many favourable conditions. Britain had vast deposits of coal and iron ore. The political situation was stable, and Britain had a number of colonies which provided raw materials as well as markets for finished products. Belgium was the next country to industrialise, followed by USA and Japan. Germany changed after its unification in 1871, but made rapid strides thereafter.

9. The Industrial Revolution brought great wealth to those who owned the factors of production (termed bourgeois by Karl Marx). But the workers, who were called the proletariat by Marx, were poor, and lived and worked in harsh conditions. Child labour was rampant, and many children were injured and contracted fatal illnesses. The loss of traditional livelihoods led to a backlash by the Luddites, a group who opposed mechanisation, and destroyed machinery. Over the years, conditions gradually improved, and by the early 20th century, many of these ills had been redressed. Child labour was abolished, wages and working conditions improved, and the general population reaped the benefits of improved health care, education and universal franchise.

10. Towards the end of the 19th century, a new furnace was invented for the production of steel by Henry Bessemer. This development marked the beginning of Second Industrial Revolution. New materials were discovered or produced, the most important being plastic. Factories became automated, and research became the cornerstone of innovation. Ownership of factors of production became more broad based with the sale of stocks and shares. The welfare of labour is even now a major political consideration, thanks to the consolidation and power of trade unions. These conditions continue to the present day, underlining the permanent effects of the Industrial Revolution.

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