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For a more general overview, see Industrialisation.
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c. 1760 – c. 1840
A Roberts loom in a weaving shed in 1835.
Location Western Europe North America Key events
Mechanized textile production
Canal construction Steam engine Factory system
Iron production increase
← Preceded by
Proto-industrialization Followed by →
Second industrial revolution
History of technology
By technological eras
By historical regions
By type of technology
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The Industrial Revolution was the transition to new manufacturing processes in Great Britain, continental Europe, and the United States, in the period from about 1760 to sometime between 1820 and 1840. This transition included going from hand production methods to machines, new chemical manufacturing and iron production processes, the increasing use of steam power and water power, the development of machine tools and the rise of the mechanized factory system. Output greatly increased, and a result was an unprecedented rise in population and in the rate of population growth.
Textiles were the dominant industry of the Industrial Revolution in terms of employment, value of output and capital invested. The textile industry was also the first to use modern production methods.: 40
The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain, and many of the technological and architectural innovations were of British origin. By the mid-18th century, Britain was the world's leading commercial nation, controlling a global trading empire with colonies in North America and the Caribbean. Britain had major military and political hegemony on the Indian subcontinent; particularly with the proto-industrialised Mughal Bengal, through the activities of the East India Company. The development of trade and the rise of business were among the major causes of the Industrial Revolution.: 15
The Industrial Revolution marked a major turning point in history. Comparable only to humanity's adoption of agriculture with respect to material advancement, the Industrial Revolution influenced in some way almost every aspect of daily life. In particular, average income and population began to exhibit unprecedented sustained growth. Some economists have said the most important effect of the Industrial Revolution was that the standard of living for the general population in the western world began to increase consistently for the first time in history, although others have said that it did not begin to meaningfully improve until the late 19th and 20th centuries.
GDP per capita was broadly stable before the Industrial Revolution and the emergence of the modern capitalist economy, while the Industrial Revolution began an era of per-capita economic growth in capitalist economies. Economic historians are in agreement that the onset of the Industrial Revolution is the most important event in the history of humanity since the domestication of animals and plants.
The precise start and end of the Industrial Revolution is still debated among historians, as is the pace of economic and social changes. Eric Hobsbawm held that the Industrial Revolution began in Britain in the 1780s and was not fully felt until the 1830s or 1840s, while T. S. Ashton held that it occurred roughly between 1760 and 1830. Rapid industrialization first began in Britain, starting with mechanized spinning in the 1780s, with high rates of growth in steam power and iron production occurring after 1800. Mechanized textile production spread from Great Britain to continental Europe and the United States in the early 19th century, with important centres of textiles, iron and coal emerging in Belgium and the United States and later textiles in France.
An economic recession occurred from the late 1830s to the early 1840s when the adoption of the Industrial Revolution's early innovations, such as mechanized spinning and weaving, slowed and their markets matured. Innovations developed late in the period, such as the increasing adoption of locomotives, steamboats and steamships and hot blast iron smelting. New technologies, such as the electrical telegraph, widely introduced in the 1840s and 1850s, were not powerful enough to drive high rates of growth. Rapid economic growth began to occur after 1870, springing from a new group of innovations in what has been called the Second Industrial Revolution. These innovations included new steel making processes, mass-production, assembly lines, electrical grid systems, the large-scale manufacture of machine tools, and the use of increasingly advanced machinery in steam-powered factories.
Why was Britain the First Country to Industrialize?
Why was Britain the first Country to Industrialize? - Britain was the first country to undergo the Industrial Revolution. Details several reasons important to the Industrial Revolution such as: Agricultural Revolution, supplies of iron and coal and polit
WHY WAS BRITAIN THE FIRST COUNTRY TO INDUSTRIALIZE?
The Industrial Revolution began first in Britain in the 1700s. Historians have identified several reasons for why the Industrial Revolution began first in Britain, including: the effects of the Agricultural Revolution, large supplies of coal, geography of the country, a positive political climate, and a vast colonial empire.
The Agricultural Revolution was a major event in world history and had a profound effect on life in Britain. For example, many historians consider the Agricultural Revolution to be a major cause of the Industrial Revolution, especially in terms of when and how it began in Britain. For instance, the Industrial Revolution began due in part to an increase in food production, which was the key outcome of the Agricultural Revolution. Food production increased due to new innovations and inventions, including: the discovery of crop rotation by Charles Townshend and the invention of the seed drill by Jethro Tull. The increased food production allowed Britain’s population to also increase which benefitted the Industrial Revolution in two ways. First, the increased population helped produce workers for the factories and mines that were so important to the Industrial Revolution. Second, the larger population created a market for goods to sold to which helped the owners of the factories to make a profit off of the sale of their goods.
The next main reason for why Britain was the first to industrialize was the large supplies of coal present in the country. Coal was a necessary ingredient in the industrial process as it fueled the steam engines that were used in trains, ships and all other sorts of machinery. Not only did Britain have large supplies of the resource, but it was also easily obtainable. Unlike other European nations, coal in Britain was relatively close to the surface and was therefore relatively easy for miners to find and extract it. The mining of coal became even easier after the invention of the steam engine by Thomas Newcomen, which was originally used to pump water out of coal mines.
Canals were very important to the Industrial Revolution.
The third main reason for Britain’s industrialization was the basic geography of the country. An important aspect of early industrialization was the ability of people to transport goods and resources easily across the country. For example, goods produced in factories needed to be able to be transported cheaply and reliably to market so that they could be sold for a profit. At the same time, factory owners needed to have raw materials shipped to their factories so that they could be turned into consumer goods. At the time Britain had some of the best rivers for easily and affordably transporting goods and resources. Improvements in shipbuilding and the introduction of the steamboat furthered Britain’s dominance in this area. As well, as the Industrial Revolution began in the country, several entrepreneurs, constructed canal systems that helped expand Britain’s transportation capabilities. As such, the geography of the country allowed industrialization to flourish because it made transporting goods easy for the factory owners.
The next major reason for Britain being the first country to industrialize was the political climate of the time. In the 1700s, Britain had a stable government after having gone through civil war and revolution in the decades before. In contrast, France underwent its own revolution in the late 1780s and 1790s (French Revolution), meaning it was not concerned with industrialization and was instead focused on its own internal conflict. As well, the British government was open to the ideas of laissez-faire capitalism which were necessary for industrialization to occur. For example, the British government promoted free trade policies with its neighbouring countries which helped create markets for British produced goods. Also, the government implemented the Enclosure Acts, as part of the Enclosure Movement, which promoted private property, and allowed wealthy land owners to increase their farms. This then led to the mass movement of smaller farmers to towns and cities in search of work. Finally, the British government supported other aspects of capitalism, which helped entrepreneurs to create wealth by owning and operating factories and mines. For example, in the early years of the Industrial Revolution, the government allowed child labor and did not restrict owners in terms of rules and regulations, such as: minimum wage laws or worker rights. As such, the political climate created a system in which wealthy business-minded people were able to easily start companies.
The final reason for why Britain was the first country to industrialize was due in large part to its vast colonial empire. When the Industrial Revolution began, Britain was in the midst of the Age of Imperialism, which saw European nations explore and dominate vast areas of land around the world. Britain had the largest empire out of all of the countries participating in the Age of Imperialism. For example, by the 1700s, Britain had control over areas such as: North America, South Africa, Egypt, India and Australia. This is important because it gave Britain access to huge amounts of natural resources that it could then use in the factories that developed during the Industrial Revolution. As well, the colonies also gave Britain exclusive trading rights to hundreds of millions of people. This resulted in Britain having a massive market for its goods to be sold in. For example, during the Industrial Revolution, Britain collected cotton from India, transported it to Britain, where it was turned into cloth and clothing and then sold the finished goods back to India.
How the Industrial Revolution expanded throughout Europe
The first Industrial Revolution
In the period 1760 to 1830 the Industrial Revolution was largely confined to Britain. Aware of their head start, the British forbade the export of machinery, skilled workers, and manufacturing techniques. The British monopoly could not last forever, especially since some Britons saw profitable industrial opportunities abroad, while continental European businessmen sought to lure British know-how to their countries. Two Englishmen, William and John Cockerill, brought the Industrial Revolution to Belgium by developing machine shops at Liège (c. 1807), and Belgium became the first country in continental Europe to be transformed economically. Like its British progenitor, the Belgian Industrial Revolution centred in iron, coal, and textiles.
A map depicting the spread of the Industrial Revolution through Europe in the 19th century.
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc./Kenny Chmielewski
France was more slowly and less thoroughly industrialized than either Britain or Belgium. While Britain was establishing its industrial leadership, France was immersed in its Revolution, and the uncertain political situation discouraged large investments in industrial innovations. By 1848 France had become an industrial power, but, despite great growth under the Second Empire, it remained behind Britain.
Understand the economic boom in Germany during 1870–71
Overview of Germany's economic boom in 1870–71.
Contunico © ZDF Enterprises GmbH, Mainz
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Other European countries lagged far behind. Their bourgeoisie lacked the wealth, power, and opportunities of their British, French, and Belgian counterparts. Political conditions in the other nations also hindered industrial expansion. Germany, for example, despite vast resources of coal and iron, did not begin its industrial expansion until after national unity was achieved in 1870. Once begun, Germany’s industrial production grew so rapidly that by the turn of the century that nation was outproducing Britain in steel and had become the world leader in the chemical industries. The rise of U.S. industrial power in the 19th and 20th centuries also far outstripped European efforts. And Japan too joined the Industrial Revolution with striking success.
The eastern European countries were behind early in the 20th century. It was not until the five-year plans that the Soviet Union became a major industrial power, telescoping into a few decades the industrialization that had taken a century and a half in Britain. The mid-20th century witnessed the spread of the Industrial Revolution into hitherto nonindustrialized areas such as China and India.
The technological and economic aspects of the Industrial Revolution brought about significant sociocultural changes. In its initial stages it seemed to deepen labourers’ poverty and misery. Their employment and subsistence became dependent on costly means of production that few people could afford to own. Job security was lacking: workers were frequently displaced by technological improvements and a large labour pool. Lack of worker protections and regulations meant long work hours for miserable wages, living in unsanitary tenements, and exploitation and abuse in the workplace. But even as problems arose, so too did new ideas that aimed to address them. These ideas pushed innovations and regulations that provided people with more material conveniences while also enabling them to produce more, travel faster, and communicate more rapidly.