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The Causes of the Industrial Revolution

Posted July 9th, 2012 at 05:34 AM by jttwong

I was on reading something on this forum a few minutes ago (when I started writing at least, 2 weeks + now. was really busy XD) and made an observation. Despite the significance of the Industrial Revolution to the contemporary world, people are not truly familiar with the subject. Yet, people don’t realize that the problems faced by the Industrial Revolution are still being face in developing nations. Forgetting the lessons of the past is a dangerous event. Hence, here is a brief introduction to the Industrial Revolution.


Friedrich Engels, famous for his work on communism, made a note in The Conditions of the Working Class in England in 1844 that the Industrial Revolution which “changed the whole of the civil society” after making observations in Manchester. During this time, Manchester was a cottonopolis which a culture based upon capitalism and a new civilization built on a foundation on industry. This was further elaborated by renowned historian that the industrial revolution “will be understood as a period of accelerated structural change in the economy, involving a rapid rise in industrial output, in the share of manufacturing in national product, and in factory-based activity (implying a different kind of economy), based on major technological innovation.

In other words, the industrial revolution was period of time when widespread replacement of manual labor by machines occurred. This led to significant social upheaval; an example of this would be the emergence of radicals such as Luddites. They believed that machines would take over the job of the people causing them to turn to the symbolic destruction of mechanized looms. The changes of the time were drastic agricultural economies were transformed into industrial and urban-based ones. The impacts of this were also severe as it led to the emergence of a new social class structure, the proletariats referenced by Engels and Marx.

Besides this, the nature of production was evolving including what was produced, where it was produced and how it was produced. This is because of the emergence of factories, and application of power technologies to the workplace. The introduction of power from machinery, beyond the means of just human or animal, greatly increased productivity and technical efficiency. This had two effects – growth in business enterprises and growth of existing urban settlements the population migrated from area areas into urban communities for employment reasons.

Contributing Factors

There were many factors that allowed for the industrial revolution to occur. The significance of each can be argued to be greater than the other. Personally, I have always believed that the rural situation played a major role in the industrial development of the time. Firstly, proto-industrialization had begun in rural areas which led to the rise of capitalism, a major driving force of the Industrial Revolution, in the countryside. Secondly, a change in farming methods thanks to the Agricultural Revolution also cannot be overlooked. This is because increased amounts of food also led to a growth in the British population and changing demographics with increasing numbers of younger population every day. Yet, this began a vicious cycle – improved agricultural technology meant that less people were required to work the lands; yet, at the same time, there were more and more population reaching working age. This compelled agricultural potential laborers to seek employment elsewhere.

Besides the development of the agriculture, major sector-al, regional and institional changes in the banking and financial sectors also coincided with this timeframe. Capital throughout the England was greatly increased as the financial sector begins its modernization. On the other hand, the British engine was also beginning to roar. By the 1700s, the dominance of the British navy had increased the possibility for the importation or exportation of goods. This naval advantage was particularly showcased during the resounding victories of the royal navy over the French during the Napoleonic Wars.

Causes and Effects

A. Transportation
The Industrial Revolution began to change England, and subsequently the rest of the Europe, into the modern world we live in today. Beginning in mid-late 18th to early 19th century, different means of transportation began developing. Originally, the primary focus was on the construction of canals which began on an unprecedented scale during this time. This period is now called Canals Mania. Canals were very functional at the way as they provided an inexpensive means to connect landlocked regions to the sea where trade can occur.

This growth in infrastructure allowed for improved connections from one place to another where they previously isolated from each other. This was vital in two different ways. Firstly, time-space compression began taking place as the time required to travel from one area to another was decreased and in sense, shrinking the Earth. More importantly, the area of influence of cities, the hinterlands was further developed, because of the greater ease of transportation.

Yet, technology was always developing and the 19th century, trains had begun replacing smaller canals as the predominant method of transport. There were heavy investments in trains and in order to further their process, train companies began buying canals and halting their transportation. This allowed trains to begin monopolizing the transportation market. (for more information on trains during the Victorian era, please refer to http://www.historum.com/blogs/jttwon...n-england.html )

B. Knowledge

The education was one of the fields most influenced by the Industrial Revolution. This improvement can be best accredited to the increased accessibility of books and the enlightenment that had occurred soon before. As the technology of printing and publishing matured, the amount of books and journals being published reached record highs. This led to an enhanced spread of new ideas within the general public. Information recorded by industrialists and technicians of the period provided a great amounts of information inexpensively compared to previous ages.

Even during the time, people had begun noticing this change. Jean le Rond d’Alembert, a French mathematician, physicist, philosopher and music theorist was one of the people who began noticing the social change during the 18th century before the beginning of the Industrial Revolution He remarked in “Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopedia of Diderot” that “if one looks at all closely at the middle of our own century, the events that occupy us, our customs, our achievements and even our topics of conversation, it is difficult not to see that a very remarkable change in several respects has come into our ideas; a change which, by its rapidity, seems to us to foreshadow another still greater. Time alone will tell the aim, the nature and the limits of this revolution, whose inconveniences and advantages our posterity will recognize better than we can.” In one short passage, he provided the a shorter summary of the improved knowledge of the people following the Enlightenment. He also perceived the impact of his contemporary changes and predicted the Industrial Revolution potential for greater growth.

To summarize, there were several major evolutions in learning and knowledge during this period of time. Firstly, technological improvements had led to the development of science in the modern sense. Because of their faith in the new technologies, people had begun to view to universe as being ordered. This meant that institions are becoming increasingly secular and scientific. Secondly, the importance of education had changed drastically over the past hundred years from the 16th century to the 17th. This is because the availability of books have increased literary rate. This is significant as this period also conincided with rapid economic growth. Newly wealthy individuals and the recently emerging middle classes without an aristocratic upbringing required another method to demonstrate their improved social statuses. The only possible at the way were to pursue and support scientific study and ventures. This led to third major evolution, which was the enhanced spread of scientific ideas. Wealth began pouring into academies and publications which directly increased the speed with which knowledge could be transferred from one individual to another.

The thinkers of this era were united under a common objective: social reform. They trusted that science to transfer Europe from a feudal society to the modern society we have today. With this mind, it is obvious that they perceived themselves as social engineers from a New Europe, a modern Europe. It is important to remember that despite the emergence of additional riches and hence, more prosperous individuals than previously, many of these people had an affluent upbringing. However, their abundance also reflected the limitations and social injustices of Europe at the time. Examples of this include the exploitation of working-class people into estates which is particularly true in the countryside. Furthermore, nepotism and corruption was the norm because democracy and liberty simply did not exist. Instead, absolutism ruled the day. The primary purpose behind this new age of thinkers was to overthrow the system of the day and instate a new form of government and society, one that is guided by liberal and democratic factors. The best way to do is this through science and education.

C. Technology and Enginnering

With increased knowledge comes improved technology. Unlike previous times, innovations had allowed for the appearance of mechanical energy on demand. Man/animal power no longer placed a limitation upon production. This became possible with the invention and usage of steam power in 1712 with the invention of the Atmospheric Engine. Particularly, steam energy significant enhanced the efficiency of cotton spinning and iron manufacturing. While these two industries may seem insignificant today, they were the staple industries of the time. It was because of these two fields that steam power spread across Europe piecemeal. This new technology allowed the creation of powered, automatic and continuous machines. This meant that industrial production was no longer done in small homes but instead large to development of large-scale factories.

The usage of factory greatly improved the means of production of the day. The original spread of mechanical production was small but by 1850, it had permeated through all layers of industry and not just iron and cotton production. While water power was still the norm in most industries, the invention of steam power had made industrial expansion spread into areas where other forms of power cannot supply. This meant that production can occur away from rivers in areas with little wind. Production on a large scale in such environments was previously impossible as the only source of power was man/animal.

This was perhaps the greatest cause of the industrial Revolution. New technology and its potential for significantly increasing output heralded the change to come. The social engineers and reformers of the previous age had their wish – science and technology effectively changed the relationships between the people in Europe. The end result was a creation of a entirely new social class, the urban population. This began a cultural change that continues well in the 1900s and persists to this day in underdeveloped regions. Yet all of this was begun by the British Industrial Revolution that started in the 18th century.

1. Berlanstein, Lenard R., “The Industrial Revolution and Work in Nineteenth-Century Europe”, London: Routledge, 1992.
2. Burnette, Joyce, Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
3. Kiely, Ray, Industrialization and Development, London: University College London Press Limited, 1998.
4. King Steven and Timmins Geoffrey, “Making sense of the Industrial Revolution”, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001.
5. Mokyr, Joel, “The Liver of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic progress”, New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
6. More, Charles, “Understanding the Industrial Revolution”, London: Routledge, 2000.
7. O’Brien, Patrick and Quinault, Roland, The Industrial Revolution and British Society, Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1993.
8. Snooks, Graeme D., Was the Industrial Revolution Necessary?, New York: Routledge, 1994.
9. Stearns, Peter N., “The Industrial Revolution in World History”, Boulder: Westview Press, 1998.
10. Teich, Mikulan and Potter, Roy, “The Industrial Revolution in National Context: Europe and USA”, Cambridge: University Press, Cambridge, 1996.
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