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Impact of the Industrial Revolution

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Can you imagine life without these machines?

Backdrop

Although the medieval period of history was marked by religious teachings, famous rulers, wars, art, architecture, etc., the modern period of history was marked by scientific, agricultural and technical changes which, in the course of time, would eventually change the world completely.

By the beginning of the 18th century, most of the people of Europe were engaged in agriculture. The traditional system of agriculture paved the way for new technology and farming techniques during the 18th century. New machines, crop rotation, manuring of crops, etc. increased agricultural production significantly, even though the number of people working on the land did not increase much. The Agricultural Revolution gave people ample time to pursue other avenues other than agriculture to pass their time. The Agricultural Revolution may be termed as the precursor to the Industrial Revolution that started in England during the 1700s. [1] [2]

Introduction

At the dawn of the 18th century, technological and scientific advancements led to England being one of the most powerful and successful maritime power in the world. Foreign trade had scaled new heights and the demand for manufactured goods had increased. As a result of the use of machinery for agriculture, there was not much work in the rural areas. People migrated to towns looking for opportunities for work. Manufacturers attempted to find ways to increase production to meet the new demands. All these factors, among others, led to what was later termed as ‘The Industrial Revolution’ by historian Arnold Tonybee.

Onset of the Industrial Revolution

Life before the Industrial Revolution was tough. For centuries, man had relied on animals and himself, to do all the work and make objects of daily use. With new technological advancements, man started to rely on technology to perform similar tasks – quickly and efficiently. This change from an agrarian economy where hand tools were used, to one, where machines such as the seed drill, steam engine, etc. were invented, factories were established, resulting in complete change in the life of the people is termed as the Industrial Revolution.

Features of the Industrial Revolution

One of the most important features of the Industrial Revolution was the various inventions made during the time that went on to change the course of history forever. Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin helped separate the cotton from its seed approximately fifty times faster than before. Jethro Hull, a farmer, invented a seed drill which planted grains very efficiently. Increase in the production of raw material meant that there was loads of raw material to be processed, especially in the case of textiles such as cotton. A weaver named James Hargreaves gave the much needed breakthrough by inventing the spinning jenny, a machine that spun many threads at once, though they were thick. Richard Awkright, invented the spinning frame, also known as the water frame. It spun thicker thread into thinner and stronger ones. It was Samuel Crompton’s spinning mule that made the large scale production of yarn possible. Edmund Cartwright invented the power loom that further increased the production of cloth and reduced labour costs as well.

Inventions of machines led to the formation of factories for production of cloth. Mass production of cotton and cotton fabrics led to a great reduction in the prices. These inventions changed the socio-economic structure of England as weavers and workers were able to earn good wages and lead a better life.  

Although the cotton mills marked the beginning of the Industrial revolution, it is the invention of James Watt’s steam engine that powered and continued it. The steam engine used the force of steam to power engines. Invention of this machine brought about many changes in England. Factory owners realised that they could now build factories where people lived and need not construct them it near a water source, as they did earlier. It was Abraham Darby’s ability to cast iron in a coke-fueled furnace that enabled inventors like Thomas Newcomen to have his steam engines cast by Darby[3]. Henry Bessemer’s invention of the Bessemer Converter enabled inexpensive manufacture of steel abundantly. The transportation system was completely overhauled when steam powered trains and other locomotives were built. The transformation of roads and railways made travel and shipping of goods fairly comfortable and cheap. [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]

The invention of the steam engine, usage on iron and steel in ships was useful in manufacturing ships that were much faster. Ships started voyaging through oceans which in turn increased trade even further. This period of intense industrialisation witnessed a major change in architecture and infrastructure. New towns came up that boasted of town halls, libraries, gardens, concert halls, etc. [9]

Another important feature of the Industrial Revolution was the change in the socio-economic life of the people. As factories were set up and towns formed, people moved to towns in search of employment which made urbanization, a common feature of the Industrial Revolution. Historians are of the opinion that although some women stayed at home to look after the children, many worked in factories with their husbands. Sometimes, children were made to work in factories as well.

In general, the Industrial Revolution improved the standard of living of the people as they were able to afford the basic necessities of life and could indulge in leisure activities during their free time. People read books, went on vacation, enjoyed concerts or spent days on the beach, educated themselves, etc. to pass their time. People started to take an active part in politics as well. [10]

Why did the Industrial Revolution originate in England?

Having read about the different features of the Industrial Revolution, it now becomes imperative to read about certain conditions that came together to set the scene for its inception. Colonies like India were a good source of raw material such as cotton for their factories in England. The colonies were good markets too as they sold their manufactured goods there. Being a supreme maritime power with one of the largest ships in the world, it was easy for England to transport the raw material and the finished products. A stable government at the centre, with few restrictions on the economy, helped the industry and commerce to thrive. Laws made by the government favoured the companies that set up factories and businesses. Natural resources such as coal and iron were available in abundance to be used in factories. Streams and rivers in England were used to generate power and served as a medium of transportation of goods and raw materials. England, to begin with, was a prosperous country and people had extra money to spend on other things besides the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter.[11]

Impact of the Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution became the most noteworthy ensemble of social, cultural and economic change that affected human history. Let us discuss some of them.

  • There was a tremendous increase in population during the Industrial Revolution as the standard of living improved and fewer people died due to diseases.
  • The Industrial Revolution led to capitalism, that is, the business was owned privately and operated primarily for profit.
  • The industrial revolution divided the society into different classes - the factory owners who owned the factory and the workers who worked for him. The owners of the factories exploited the workers to maximise their profit.
  • New cities and towns came up as the factory owners established factories closer to where they lived. People who worked in factories had to leave their houses and shift to these places, often with their families.
  • The Industrial Revolution completely changed the lives of the workers. From being a craftsperson who worked using hand tools, he was merely reduced to a machine operator.
  • Weavers and other craftsmen who tried to make a living by making goods at home found it difficult to sell their products as their hand-made goods were more expensive than the machine-made ones.
  • The Industrial Revolution gave rise to imperialism. England was faced with two problems during the Industrial revolution – Procuring of cheap raw materials and a market for their manufactured goods. They solved these problems by gaining political and economic control over weaker countries. [12]

Though the Industrial Revolution began in England, it gradually spread to the other countries of the world as well.

Did You Know?

In 1811 CE, some masked workers attacked a textile factory in Nottingham, England. Unhappy with the mechanization of the textile industry and its effect on workers, these workers called themselves the Ludds or the Luddites and began a movement called the Luddite Movement. Their movement was named after General Ned Ludd, probably a mythical character. The word ‘Luddite’, today, is sometimes used to refer to people who resist or object to the use of modern technology.

Imperialism

Industrialisation stirred the aspirations of England. They wanted to maximise the profit of their industries. England wanted resources to fuel their production as well as a market to sell their goods. Weaker countries such as India were the perfect target. This policy of England to acquire political, economic and social control over a weaker country is known as imperialism. Imperialism was one of the worst impacts of industrialisation. England sourced the raw materials of their products from these countries and sold the manufactured products in these countries itself at exorbitant prices. Imperialism involves the use of power, military or otherwise to exercise control over the weaker country. [13]

Imperialism destroyed the culture and the local industries of the colonies. Inexpensive foreign goods destroyed the markets of local indigenous products. No effort was made to modernize the colonies. Agriculture was also affected as the imperialists allowed the colonies to grow those crops that were beneficial to them, whether or not it was conducive to the locals.

We shall study about the British policies and plans in India later in the book.

Peep into the Past

Iron Bridge

E:\shweta\2015-16\HISTORYThe World’s first Iron Bridge built on River Severnin England is one of the most famous industrial monuments in Britain. Shropshire, the area in which it was built was famous for its coal deposits. The steep Severn gorge posed a problem for transportation of people and goods. Architect Thomas Pritchard suggested ironmaster John Wilenson make the iron bridge. Though Wilkenson started the project in 1777, the iron bridge was completed by Abraham Darby in 1779. It was opened to the public on January 1, 1781. The bridge was used for over 150 years before it was shut down for vehicles in 1934. The Iron Bridge was designated as an ancient monument. It is now a World Heritage Site.


[1] http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/publications/online_research_catalogues/paper_money/paper_money_of_england__wales/the_industrial_revolution.aspx

[2] World Socities – Mckay Hill – pg – 747, 748, 749

[3] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/151458/Abraham-Darby#ref219821

[4] HOLT, Human Legacy, Page 634, 635, 636, 637

[5] World Socities – Mckay Hill – pg – 750-751-752

[6] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/143809/Samuel-Crompton

[7] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/151458/Abraham-Darby

[8] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/642887/Eli-Whitney

[9] http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/publications/online_research_catalogues/paper_money/paper_money_of_england__wales/the_industrial_revolution/the_industrial_revolution_2.aspx

[10] HOLT, Human Legacy, page – 649, 650, 651, and

http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/publications/online_research_catalogues/paper_money/paper_money_of_england__wales/the_industrial_revolution/the_industrial_revolution_3.aspx

[11] HOLT, Human Legacy, pages – 633, 634, 635

[12] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/287086/Industrial-Revolution

[13] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/283988/imperialism


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