Luddites During the Industrial Revolution: Definition & Overview

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  • 0:00 Definition of Luddites
  • 0:39 The Grievances
  • 1:30 The Protests Begin
  • 2:22 Ned Ludd
  • 3:17 Government Response
  • 4:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Lively

Amy has an M.A. in American History. She has taught history at all levels, from university to middle school.

The Luddites were British workers who staged protests during the Industrial Revolution. Learn more about the reasons for their protests and the government's response, then test your knowledge with a quiz.

Definition of Luddites

The Industrial Revolution was a period of time in the early 19th century during which machinery began to replace hand production, water and steam power began to improve, and the factory system became implemented. This sped along the modernization of civilization in great strides, but not everyone was completely onboard, including the Luddites. Luddites were textile workers during the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain. They protested the introduction of machines that threatened to make their jobs obsolete. The term 'luddite' continues to be used today and refers to someone who is opposed to new technology.

The Grievances

Unemployment, a food shortage, and a war against France that seemed as if it would never end had many of the British working class on edge as the 19th century began. It was a bad time for skilled workers to see their wages drop and work hours decrease. Unfortunately for 'stockingers' in Nottinghamshire in 1811, that is what happened.

The stockingers' job was to make stockings using a knitting machine called a stocking frame. However, it was the Industrial Revolution, and new technology had arrived that could make stockings faster and more cheaply. New wide frame machines could do the work of five stockingers. Not only that, the wide frames could be operated by unskilled apprentices who worked for less money. However, stockingers insisted that faster and cheaper was not necessarily better because the quality of stockings made on the new frames was very poor.

The Protests Begin

The first organized protest against the new technology took place in Nottinghamshire on March 11, 1811. Meanwhile, another protest was happening in a village not far away. Soon, protests began to occur all across northern England. Occasionally, fires were set to factories but in most cases, the protestors targeted only the machines.

In Yorkshire, large sledgehammers nicknamed 'Great Enoch' were used to smash several machines. The nickname 'Great Enoch' came from the blacksmith who made both the sledgehammers and the wide frames. Some of the protests did become violent. In April 1812, in an incident near Manchester, a mill owner instructed his men to shoot into a crowd of 2,000 protesters. Three protesters were killed, 18 were wounded, and British troops killed five additional protesters the next day.

Ned Ludd

A primary focus of the British government's effort to end the protests was on capturing the alleged leader of the protest movement. Some called him Ned Ludd, others referred to him as King Ludd or Captain Ludd. He was seen at a protest in Nottinghamshire in November 1811, and blamed for organizing protests across the region. A member of the militia offered a description, saying he had an unusually pale face.

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