Back To CourseAP World History: Exam Prep
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Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.
The Industrial Revolution was exactly what it sounds like: a revolution in industry and manufacturing. But it was also so much more because it had a profound impact on society as a whole. Let's explore this pivotal time in modern history.
The Industrial Revolution describes the tremendous advances in production, manufacturing, and other fields of engineering occurring between the late 18th century and mid-19th century. It's a little bit tricky because there is no precise beginning and ending date for the Industrial Revolution. In fact, there is quite a bit of debate among historians over when the Industrial Revolution began and ended.
Some historians even argue the term is a misnomer and there was no 'revolution.' They insist it was a paced, gradual transformation, not nearly as rapid and explosive as we tend to think today. Many historians suggest the Industrial Revolution began around the 1760s and lasted up to about the 1840s. Others theorize a second Industrial Revolution lasting between the 1840s to 1870s or 1880s. So, you see, there are many different views on the Industrial Revolution.
The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain and spread to the United States. The developments in the two countries did not take place simultaneously, at least not initially. In the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, the United States lagged behind developments in Great Britain. A good example of technology spreading from Great Britain to the United States is illustrated by the contributions of Samuel Slater.
Samuel Slater (1768-1835) was an Englishman who mastered textile machine operation and illegally brought that technology to the United States. See, during this time, Great Britain had extremely advanced textile-producing machinery and naturally wanted to maintain a monopoly on this type of technology. There were, therefore, British laws against importing textile machinery. Young Slater memorized the designs for cotton-spinning machines and reproduced them in the United States with wild success. For this, he is remembered in the U.S. as the 'Father of the American Industrial Revolution' and in Great Britain as 'Slater the Traitor.' Pretty funny.
The Industrial Revolution was wide-ranging. It affected numerous areas, but its impact was especially felt in the areas of iron production, machine tools, textiles, and steam power. Let's look at these areas in more detail.
Throughout the late 18th century, blacksmiths discovered various processes for producing higher quality and more affordable iron. Improvements in blast furnaces and the use of better quality fuels, like coke, greatly enhanced iron production. In the 1780s, Englishman Henry Cort developed the processes of rolling and puddling. Rolling allowed wrought iron to be thinned out in a much more efficient manner than hammering it into sheets. Puddling was a bit more complex, but basically, it was an improved process for decarburizing pig iron and producing quality bar iron. Improvements in steel production also took place during this time, though steel tended to be more expensive.
The availability of high quality iron and steel launched a revolution in machine tools on both sides of the Atlantic. The demand for nails, screws, and other metal parts resulted in important advances in metal-cutting machinery. By the early 19th century, a number of different models of milling machines had been developed. Milling machines are simply machines used to cut metal or shave off metal until it reaches the desired design. With the introduction of milling machines, metal could be shaped to precise dimensions.
One of the most important advances of the Industrial Revolution was the development of interchangeable parts by American inventor Eli Whitney. Interchangeable parts are parts which can be produced with countless identical spares, making replacement or substitution easy. Before the advent of interchangeable parts, simple machines and other objects were built by skilled craftsmen as one solid, unique piece. It was a laborious process. With the system of interchangeable parts, objects could be mass produced, and if they broke, they could be easily fixed.
Eli Whitney (1765-1825) first used the interchangeable parts system to mass produce rifles in first few years of the 19th century. There is a degree of debate over whether or not Eli Whitney was the first to actually 'invent' interchangeable parts; at the very least, he was the leading pioneer in the United States. Whitney was a prolific inventor. His other contributions include the invention of the cotton gin and improvements to the milling machine.
Textiles experienced a major boom throughout the second half of the 18th century as spinning machines became increasingly complex. Instead of clothing being spun in the home, it was increasingly mass produced in factories. The 'spinning jenny,' invented in 1764 by Englishman James Hargreaves, was an important development within the textiles industry.
Of course, we already mentioned Samuel Slater and his 'traitorous' activity of replicating English-style textile machines in the United States. In time, Lowell, Massachusetts emerged as a leading center of textile production. If you have the time, look up 'Lowell factory girls' to learn about the culture surrounding the women who worked in the Lowell factories.
In the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, power was commonly supplied to mills and factories by wind and water, but throughout the early to mid-19th century, steam power became an increasingly important source of energy. During the 1770s and 1780s, Scotsman James Watt perfected the steam engine, thus paving the way for its eventual use in powering locomotives and steamboats. A leading pioneer of steamboat technology was Robert Fulton. Fulton is often credited with inventing the steamboat, but this is not entirely true; he was more one of many leading pioneers.
If you haven't caught on by now, it's worth mentioning that sometimes Industrial Revolution 'inventions' were actually not invented by the person you've always been told. In many cases, inventions and innovations were pioneered by numerous different people simultaneously.
The Industrial Revolution had profound effects on societies in Europe and America. These effects were both positive and negative. On one hand, the Industrial Revolution modernized society. Daily life was made easier because of the many inventions and innovations available. The economic boom brought on by the Industrial Revolution helped transform the United States into a major world power. On the other hand, some historians point out the rise in child labor and the horrible conditions factory workers experienced. The Industrial Revolution is also cited as contributing to a widening chasm between the rich and the poor, although this there is considerable debate over this issue.
Time for review. The Industrial Revolution lasted from the late 18th century and mid-19th century, although not all scholars agree on the exact time frame. The Industrial Revolution was characterized by rapid advances in manufacturing, production, and other fields of engineering. Iron production, machine tooling, textile production, and steam power technology were especially affected.
The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain and spread to the United States. Samuel Slater was an Englishman who illegally brought textile machine technology to the United States. A key development in the Industrial Revolution was the introduction of interchangeable parts by Eli Whitney. Interchangeable parts revolutionized manufacturing, allowing objects to be mass produced and easily replaced. Robert Fulton, another key figure of the Industrial Revolution, pioneered steamboat technology.
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Back To CourseAP World History: Exam Prep
31 chapters | 283 lessons | 29 flashcard sets