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Industrial Revolution

Dominic Wesley, Amy Troolin
  • Author
    Dominic Wesley

    Dominic Wesley holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Political Science from University of Washington. He has extensive knowledge in world history and has taught American History at Berea College Kentucky for more than seven years.

  • 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.

Learn about the Industrial Revolution. Explore when the Industrial Revolution in America started, and discover the inventions during this time period. Updated: 05/11/2022

What was the Industrial Revolution?

The Industrial Revolution dates back to the 18th century. It was a period characterized by significant reforms in the agricultural and industrial sectors and massive development in the rural areas. Most of these rural areas in the world were purely agrarian. Before the Industrial Revolution in America began, the country was dominated by a cottage industry, where people mainly worked in their homes using their own hands or using simple tools; this made the production of goods like clothes very slow. The spinning wheel and weaving looms were the most common machines used at this time. The advent of the Industrial Revolution transformed these communities from rural to urban and industrialized societies.

An Industrial Revolution is the process whereby a society changes from an agrarian economy and adopts a modern economy dominated by industries, machines, and technology. During the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century, there was a cultural and economic shift from the old traditional types of agriculture and human labor to manufactured goods produced in factories by complex machines using new sources of energy and technology. The advancement of technologies improved goods production, transportation, and the emergence of new towns and cities.

Where did the Industrial Revolution Start?

The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain and later spread to the United States and other parts of the world. In the 18th century, Europe experienced significant economic advancement in the agricultural process. Major agricultural and technological development occurred during this period. New farming techniques, new animal species, and new factories were introduced, leading to a significant increase in food production. The increase in food production allowed people to leave their rural homes and migrate to the cities to seek job opportunities in the new factories. Food was also available to support people working in rural areas far away from their farms.

The textile industry triggered the Industrial Revolution in Britain. As the European population increased, the demand for clothes increased. This led to a need for new machines that would produce textile materials in large quantities and at a lower cost. Machines were invented, like the spinning jenny, which made assorted spindles of threads at a single time, and the power loom, which operated through steam power to weave faster and more efficiently. These machines were used in factories. This created more job opportunities, which drove people to leave rural areas and move to the cities. The rural-urban migration contributed significantly to the expansion and growth of cities and towns.

The availability of coal also contributed significantly to the success of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. The demand for coal increased during this time period, as well. This was because coal was plentiful, easily accessible, and very efficient. For this reason, it quickly replaced wood which was the primary source of energy. The new head of power and the textile industry contributed significantly to Britain's massive production of clothes. The extra clothes and materials were exported to other countries like the United States and China.

The demand and growth of the textile industry forced inventors like Samuel Slater to leave Europe and relocate to the United States. Samuel Slater established his textile firm in 1789, which initiated the Industrial Revolution in the United States. His contributions and technology revolutionized the American textile sector, earning him the title of "the Father of American Industries." Industrialization spread quickly once it reached the United States. Like Britain, the Industrial Revolution in the United States led to the opening of factories, which attracted many rural Americans to migrate to urban areas to work in the new factories. The rural-urban migration witnessed the transformation of many large cities like New York City and Boston. The Industrial Revolution also played a significant role in provoking the rise of unskilled labor. It also led to the availability of cheap and affordable commodities for the Americans, which improved their living standards.

Impact of the Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution had several impacts. One of the major impacts of the Industrial Revolution was the development of industries that produced higher-quality goods in large quantities. Many new inventions improved the quality of life since large quantities of goods were produced easily and quickly. This improved the living standards of people and generally improved the economy.

There were also negative impacts as a result of the Industrial Revolution. One negative impact was the pollution of the environment, as factories produced dangerous gasses and waste was poorly disposed of. The poor disposal of wastes exposed people to dangerous diseases. Another negative impact of the Industrial Revolution was child labor and low wages. Children were often employed, as they were easier to exploit, but adults were also poorly paid.

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.

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Industrial Revolution Inventions

The Industrial Revolution's inventions led to the increased production of vital goods and services, and these innovations changed the world's way of life. It was a time characterized by steam power and machinery introduction and development. Transformation of transport and cities was highly witnessed, and significant technological advancements increased the textile industry.

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 world 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.

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Video Transcript

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 world 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.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How did the Industrial Revolution begin?

The Industrial Revolution initially started in Great Britain. It started when new machines were invented and replaced human labor. Before the Industrial Revolution, simple hand tools and hands were used to produce goods, making the production of goods hard and slow. The invention of new working machines triggered the Industrial Revolution.

When was the Industrial Revolution?

The era of the Industrial Revolution began in the 18th century in Great Britain. It was when significant changes occurred in the agricultural and industrial sectors. Machines were invented, and factories were established, which increased the production of goods.

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