Causes of the First Industrial Revolution: Examples & Summary

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  • 0:05 Origins of the…
  • 1:56 Technological Changes
  • 3:06 Transportation
  • 4:44 Industrialization Spreads
  • 5:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Patricia Chappine

Patricia has a Ph.D. in Progress, History and Culture as well as a master's degree in Holocaust and genocide studies. She has taught heritage of the western world and U.S. history.

The Industrial Revolution was a period when new sources of energy, such as coal and steam, were used to power new machines designed to reduce human labor and increase production. The move to a more industrial society would forever change the face of labor.

Origins of the Industrial Revolution

The first Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain after 1750. There were several factors that combined to make Great Britain an ideal place for industrialization. First, the Agricultural Revolution of the 18th century created a favorable climate for industrialization.

By increasing food production, the British population could be fed at lower prices with less effort than ever before. The surplus of food meant that British families could use the money they saved to purchase manufactured goods. The population increase in Britain and the exodus of farmers from rural to urban areas in search of wage-labor created a ready pool of workers for the new industries.

Britain had financial institutions in place, such as a central bank, to finance new factories. The profits Britain had enjoyed due to booming cotton and trade industries allowed investors to support the construction of factories.

British entrepreneurs interested in taking risks to make profits were leading the charge of industrialization. The English revolutions of the 17th century had fostered a spirit of economic prosperity. Early industrial entrepreneurs were willing to take risks on the chance that they would reap financial rewards later.

Britain had a vast supply of mineral resources used to run industrial machines, such as coal. Since Britain is a relatively small country, these resources could be transported quickly and at a reasonable cost. The British government passed laws that protected private property and placed few restrictions on private business owners. Britain's merchant marine could transport goods to foreign markets. Lastly, Great Britain's colonial empire created a ready supply of consumers to purchase its manufactured goods.

Technological Changes

Without important technological changes, the first Industrial Revolution would not have been possible. In the 18th century, Britain's cotton industry charged ahead of many other countries. With James Hargreaves' invention of the spinning Jenny in 1764, yarn could be produced in greater quantities.

In 1787, Edmund Cartwright's power loom revolutionized the speed of cloth weaving.

In the 1760s, the steam engine (developed by James Watt) further transformed the cotton industry.

Unlike early devices powered exclusively by water, these steam engines were powered by coal. This meant that factories no longer needed to be located next to sources of water.

Another change occurred in the production of iron. During the early 18th century, a new method of smelting iron by using coke or 'courke' was introduced. Since the coke could heat iron more quickly than charcoal, production rates increased. This iron was instrumental in creating industrial machinery and railroad lines.


During the 18th century, British entrepreneurs sought an efficient system of transportation. Recognizing the need to move goods and resources, new networks of canals and roads were built beginning in 1760. However, railroads quickly surpassed other modes of transportation.

As early as 1700, wooden railroad tracks were being replaced by iron ones. Before the invention of the steam engine, railroad cars were moved by horsepower.

In 1804, Richard Trevithick developed the first working steam powered locomotive.

First tested in Wales, Trevithick's locomotive ran at five miles per hour.

In 1829, George Stephenson's Rocket locomotive ran at 16 miles per hour.

His design would influence train engines in Britain up until the 1960s. The British system of railroad tracks more than doubled from 1840 to 1850.

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