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The Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution took place from the 18th to 19th centuries and was a period of transition for rural communities. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the majority of work was done on the land using only basic equipment. At this time, the world knew only four basic forms of power: human strength, animal strength, wind, and water (The Industrial Revolution: The Growth of Towns and Cities).Because all of these energy sources have their limitations, the Industrial Revolution created a need for more energy and increased manufacturing capabilities. One of the biggest factors contributing to Britain’s role as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution was the large quantity of coal and iron ore at their disposal (Industrial Revolution, History.com). These materials led to the introduction of new jobs in town, which caused a flood of rural workers to start new careers away from the traditional farm and agricultural occupations.
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Of all the changes brought about by the industrial revolution, the greatest by far was in the way of life, the homes, and in the habits of the British people (The Industrial Revolution: The Growth of Towns and Cities). By 1831, over 56% of the local population lived in town. This was a stark contrast to 1700, when only 20% of the population lived in town. The population increase brought on the urgent need for thousands of new homes, but the demand for housing close to the factories caused massive overcrowding. This overcrowding created less than ideal living conditions. Families lived in cramped homes that had been blackened by factory chimney smoke, paid unreasonably high rent charges, and often could only afford to rent half a bed. As no one understood the importance of hygiene yet, overcrowded homes led to serious health problems (What Was The Industrial Revolution, History.com).
The lack of hygiene, clean water supply, sewer systems, and waste disposal made living conditions unbearable. The families living in these poor conditions had to dispose of their own sewage, which led to many people throwing their sewage into canals. Unfortunately, sometimes the streams that were used for drinking water, were the same streams that sewage was dumped into. Other options for water were wells, pumps, or purchasing from carriers. At this time, medical science had not yet discovered that germs could cause diseases, and these diseases were spreading very easily due to the poor living conditions. Common diseases during this time were typhus carried by lice, tuberculosis, typhoid, and cholera.
Up until the Cholera epidemic, the local authorities were very hesitant to intervene in people’s lives. The Cholera epidemic killed over 100,000 people and led to the passing of the 1848 Public Health Act. However, this act only gave the authorities power if they wanted to take action. It wasn’t until 1875 when two important health acts were passed. The 1875 Public Health Act enforced local authorities to provide decent water supply, proper drainage, a medical officer of health, and implement sanitary inspectors. The second act, The Artisans’ Dwellings Act of 1875, also insisted on regulations for good housing. (The Industrial Revolution: The Growth of Towns and Cities)
The next problem that needed to be addressed was the need for good public transport. With options like horse drawn buses and trams, suburban railways, and electric trams, workers now had the ability to live further away from work. Living further away from work meant that for the first time, families had the opportunity to leave their overcrowded homes in town and move to the suburbs. However, working conditions during the construction of these railways were very dangerous, and caused many accidents and fatalities. The high wages attracted a steady supply of workers, and the railway industry created a huge increase in the need for coal. Coal became the first commodity in the history of man that was measured in millions of tons, and most of it was carried by rail (The Industrial Revolution: The Railway Age). The iron industry also expanded in order to keep up with the demand for all of the materials necessary for an ever-expanding railroad industry.
As transportation improved, the city center became a place for work, shopping, and entertainment. Even more exciting, the expansion of railways allowed people to take vacations for the first time ever (The Industrial Revolution: The Growth of Towns and Cities). Interestingly, the first railways offered different levels of comfort for different classes of passengers. First class passengers were offered cushions, upholstery, and a place to hang your top hat. Second class passengers were given a wooden bench, and third class passengers traveled in open carriages that exposed them to weather elements and smoke (The Industrial Revolution: The Railway Age). Fortunately, standards for passengers had drastically improved by the end of the 19th century, eventually allowing third class passengers a luxurious experience as well.
By 1847, nearly 7% of Britain’s national income had been invested in building over 9,500 miles of railway (The Industrial Revolution: The Railway Age). During this time, everyone’s lives were changed by the implementation of the railway. One of the biggest ways the railway effected people was through the transportation of food. In addition to fresh food being brought into cities, food manufacturers could now make standardized food items that could be sold and advertised all over the country (The Industrial Revolution: The Railway Age). Previously, shoppers could only buy items that were made locally, and these items could constantly vary in consistency and quality. The railway also gave shoppers the peace of mind that the fresh milk and fish that they were buying was the same high quality product, no matter where they were.
The concept of time was also changed by the railways. Before railway time tables were invented, each city ran on a different time. Some cities were 14 minutes ahead, while others were 14 minutes behind. Obviously, this could cause a tremendous amount of confusion to those not familiar with the different times. With different cities running on different times, there was no way to organize a proper train schedule, which led to the introduction of standardized time. The railway also allowed construction workers to bring in building materials from other cities, which helped to eliminate local differences and bring people together (The Industrial Revolution: The Railway Age). Other areas that were influenced by the implementation of the railway were the development of management skills like accounting and communication, and the appearance of the countryside. While today, historians view the railways from the Industrial Revolution as great pieces of history, they were originally strongly disliked, and many people thought they ruined the beautiful countryside of Britain. With the passage of time however, residents came to realize that the benefits of the railway far outweighed any suspected negative impact.
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I believe that the Industrial Revolution brought many positive changes and improvements, however there were also several less than favorable outcomes attributed to the Industrial Revolution. From a positive perspective, the Industrial Revolution provided a means for masses of people who lived in cites to be able to enjoy fresh food and other goods and services from other parts of the country. Additionally, the Industrial Revolution also brought about improvements in the areas of health care, improved sanitary conditions, and overall improvements to the quality of life. For example, the Industrial Revolution introduced the first health act that required specific standards be met to ensure the health of the community.
In spite of the many positive outcomes that resulted from the Industrial Revolution, there were also several unfavorable outcomes. For example, the Industrial Revolution provided opportunities for millions of people who were seeking a better lifestyle to leave their family farms and work in cities. The result of this migration to the city was that many farms were abandoned, thus reducing the amount of produce and meat products being produced for the consumer. Additionally, the Industrial Revolution severed the sense of a tight knit community that was enjoyed on the farm. This created a somewhat dysfunctional sense of community because masses of people who came from different areas were thrown together. This combined with overcrowded communities and the rapid spread of diseases, created a less than idea living environment.
In conclusion, nearly all of the modern conveniences we enjoy in our world today are a direct result of the technological advances made during the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution laid the ground work for future discoveries and inventions that would ultimately lead the developed world to the place where we can reap the benefits of this revolution. Today’s modern manufacturing capabilities, for example, are possible because of the early engineering successes of the Industrial Revolution. Additionally, the Industrial Revolution made it possible for people all around the world to communicate with one another. The concept of worldwide communication carries on to this day with the advent of Internet technology. My belief is that the positive outcomes of the Industrial Revolution far outweigh any negative outcomes, and the world is a much better place because of it.
- Editors, History.com. “Industrial Revolution.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 29 Oct. 2009, www.history.com/topics/industrial-revolution/industrial-revolution.
- History.com Staff. “Industrial Revolution.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, css.history.com/topics/industrial-revolution.
- “The Growth of Towns and Cities.” Films Media Group, 1990, digital.films.com/PortalPlaylists.aspx?wID=-1&xtid=3318. Accessed 24 Feb. 2019.
- “The Industrial Revolution: The Railway Age.” Films Media Group, 1990, digital.films.com/PortalPlaylists.aspx?wID=-1&xtid=3318. Accessed 24 Feb. 2019.
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