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The Industrial Revolution (1750-1850): Growth & Impact

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  • 0:02 The Way Things Were
  • 0:59 The Industrial…
  • 3:11 Major Impacts
  • 4:52 The Spread of the Revolution
  • 5:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

This lesson will introduce the First Industrial Revolution. We will study the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, some of its major impacts, and its spread throughout the world.

The Way Things Were

For hundreds of years, life in Europe focused on agriculture. Most people lived in the country and farmed a small piece of land for the subsistence of their own families. They made most of what they needed, including tools, furniture, and clothing, right at home and traded for anything that they couldn't produce on their own.

Some families earned a bit of extra money by producing surplus goods, especially spun thread and woven textiles, for sale to their neighbors or to traveling merchants, who provided them with raw materials. In this cottage industry, as it was called, household workers set their own schedules and their own pace; did their work by hand, using simple machines, like spinning wheels and weaving looms; and produced only a limited quantity of merchandise. By the middle of the 18th century, however, the merchants were demanding greater production and more profits, and innovations were arising that would soon give them exactly what they wanted and change the face of the world.

The Industrial Revolution Begins

By 1750, the Industrial Revolution was on the horizon. The Industrial Revolution was a cultural and economic shift from the cottage industry, traditional agriculture, and manual labor to a system of factory-based manufacturing that included complex machinery, continual technological growth, new energy sources, and developments in transportation. As the Industrial Revolution took hold, society's attention turned from the rural home to the urban factory and from human power to mechanical power.

The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain, where a series of inventions increased the production of manufactured goods. Soon, people all over the country were turning to more complex machines that could perform tasks faster and more efficiently than human labor alone.

The textile industry led the way. Europe's population was growing in the 18th century, and merchants were clamoring for more and more textiles to make clothing for more and more people. Inventors got to work and developed a series of machines that transformed the industry. These innovations included the spinning jenny, which could produce several spools of thread at the same time; the spinning mule, which combined spinning and weaving in one machine; and the power loom, which used steam power for fast weaving. With such inventions, textiles could be produced in factories rather than at home with much greater speed, efficiency, and profit.

Another industrial game changer developing in 18th century Britain was steam power, which could be used to operate new machinery. In the early 1700s, Thomas Newcomen created an engine that used steam to push a piston up and down and pump water. Later in the century, James Watt made Newcomen's engine more efficient and added a rotating action that could power machines in factories.

At the same time, Britain's iron industry was growing and changing. Early in the century, inventors discovered a more efficient, less expensive method for making cast iron and later developed a process of refining iron that created a strong product that could easily be used in all kinds of factories and manufactured goods.

Major Impacts

These inventions and processes, and the Industrial Revolution they spurred and sustained, made some major impacts on British society. Let's look at a few of these.

Factories, which sprang up across the country, gathered production into centralized locations, employed hundreds of workers, featured machines powered by steam or coal, and turned out massive amounts of product. Manufacturing was no longer based in the home and the family but in the factory and the labor force.

Cities expanded rapidly, and new cities emerged near factories to house industrial workers, who had to live somewhere. This kind of urbanization wasn't always a good thing. City dwellers often lived in cramped, overcrowded housing with poor sanitation, and disease and crime ran rampant.

Workers faced harsh conditions at work as well as at home. Men, women, and children labored long hours for low wages in dangerous conditions with no job security. The government made little effort to find a solution to these humanitarian problems or to protect the working class.

On a more positive note, the Industrial Revolution improved transportation throughout Britain. Merchants and factory owners had to have efficient ways to ship their products to market. Pretty soon, steam-powered ships were sailing up and down rivers and across the sea. Steam locomotives huffed and puffed along iron rails, including those of the Manchester-to-Liverpool Railway, which was hauling passengers and freight by the 1830s. In fact, by 1850, Great Britain could boast over 6,000 miles of railroad track.

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