The Industrial Revolution first started in Great Britain during the 18th century. It was a period when the main source of work changed from agriculture to industry, and society from rural to urban. Before the Industrial Revolution, manufacturing usually took place in people’s houses using basic tools and machines. Most people’s lives were difficult, because of their meager incomes, so people produced their own clothing and food. When the Industrial Revolution started, powered machines, factories and mass production took place. People began to move into cities to get jobs in industry. It also improved transportation, communication and banking. The Industrial Revolution improved the standards of living for most people, but resulted in tragic living and working conditions for the working class.
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During the Industrial Revolution, people began migrating to the cities for a better life. For so many people migrating in, the factory owners had to build housing quickly. These houses were called back-to-back houses. Back to back houses were literally built back to back, sharing a rear wall with another house or factory, and most consisted of one room. Often one room housed a whole family and the whole building was shared between 15-20 families. The houses were tightly packed with no plumbing systems. Back then, there was no knowledge of germs, so disease spread rapidly and easily over wide areas. Diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and typhus were very common. Cholera was a threat; because it was caused by contaminated water. Cholera hit Britain in the time about 1830 to 1867, with a tiny break in the middle. Sewage could come into contact with the water, as people mostly used rivers as their source of drinking water, so the disease spread fast. In London, in 1831-1832, about 7000 people died of cholera. The disease was not always fatal when you got it, but it had a 50 percent likelihood of dying. 15000 died of the disease in 1848-49. The disease mostly affected the poorer people (working class) and it did not the upper class as much. Another common disease was tuberculosis (TB), which killed one third of all the people who died in Britain, was caused by poor diet and damp homes. People became less resistant because of their poor diet. Normal middle class people ate three meals a day whereas the working class ate once or sometimes twice a day with only a piece of bread and a bowl of porridge. Another reason is the working class had to work long hours in factories. They could only have a little sleep and continued to work the day after. Air pollution had a major effect on people’s lungs. London became a city with high air pollution concentration. When fog and smoke combine, smog forms. Smog could be deadly; in 1873, 700 Londoners died of smog in a week.
Neighbourhoods were filthy; people often threw their household waste out into the streets. People had to wear long boots to cross the dirty streets full of excrement and dead animal bodies. Sanitation was almost non-existent and many toilets were found outside of the houses, because they smelt bad. Lack of policing led to an increase in the crime rate. More crime led to overcrowded prisons, and with that, it led to more death sentences. With diseases poisoning the water, factories producing coal air everywhere and no police protection, the poor people didn’t live long. In rural areas in Britain the life expectancy was 45 years; in London, it was 37 years. Other places like Liverpool it was 26 years and in the early 19th century 25-33 percent of English children died before the age of 5.
Richard Arkwright was one of the first people to improve the working conditions in factories. Arkwright set up a true factory at Cromford in 1769. From that time, most of the working class worked in factories. Life at a factory was harsh. People had to work 12 to 16 hours a day, 6 days a week. The wages for working at a factory were also extremely low. The whole family had to work (including children) in order to support their income. People would wake up early in the morning, eating their breakfast while running to the factory and work and work until lunch break. Lunch breaks only had 30 minutes and after that the workers would have to work again until around 9 p.m (some until 11p.m) and start again tomorrow.
Child labor was a serious problem during the Industrial Revolution. 80 percent of the entire work force was made up of children. Children were really easy to hire. There were plenty of them in orphanages and they could be replaced easily if accidents happened. Some of the richer factory owners would take the children to his care to feed them and provide them a place to sleep in exchange of the children working in their factory. Children did not earn the wages that they should have. It only provided them with the basic needs and it’s barely enough to survive. Children were lot cheaper than hiring adults as the factory owners could pay less to support the factory and the children were small enough so they could craw under machines and fix it. The dangerous conditions and the long working hours made them have no time to do other extra activities. These children had no education. This meant they had nothing better to do but to work in factories for the rest of their lives, and it continues on to their next generation after another. At first, there were no laws to protect these children. The factory owners would simply bribe the factory inspectors and that would be the end of it. By the early 18th hundreds, 107000 children were employed for textile industry. Numerous laws were passed to protect children. The first act was in 1819 that states that children at the age under 9 could only work a maximum time of 12 hours. The most important labor law that the British parliament passed was the Ten Hour Bill of 1847. It limited the working hours for children and women to 10 hours with better wages.
Working in coal mines was probably the most dangerous job during the Industrial Revolution. There were many dangers, such as roof collapsing. The tunnel connecting the ground and the mine were very narrow and low. It made it hard for workers to move from place to place. Explosions also occurred which often killed a lot of people. Working in a coal mine for too long, the coal air the workers breathed in would eventually cause serious damage to their lungs. Workers in coal mines did not have a long life expectancy. For all those accidents, roof collapsing was the most common. Women and children also were empolyed in coal mines and did the same jobs as men.
The Industrial Revolution was a major change in lifestyle and brought new kinds of technology. Without the Industrial Revolution, the modern world would not have railroads, factories, or mass production of goods. The upper and middle classes had better and wealthier living conditions. The middle class could afford not just the basic needs, but other extra luxuries like more clothing, furniture, some wine on the dinner table and a bigger house. The rich got richer and the poor, unfortunately, got even poorer. The working class clearly suffered from the Industrial Revolution. They had to live in poor and crowded houses, with the threat of diseases. Most of them didn’t have a lot to eat and many starved to death. Whole families had to work and members were separated. In this period children were one of the groups which suffered the most out of it. With the lack of education and because they were cheap to hire by factories owners, they became the main work force and were often beaten. Although there were good long term effects for the working class and labour laws set to protect workers, it was still hard for the working class to live in industrial towns in such horrible conditions after the Industrial Revolution.
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