Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution
Before the emergence of the Industrial Revolution, most people lived in small, rural communities where their everyday existence revolved around farming. The average person found life difficult, as incomes were skimpy, and disease and malnutrition were common. People produced the majority of their own food, tools, furniture and clothing. Manufacturing was done in small, rural shops or homes, using simple machines or hand tools.
Britain was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. This is partly because it had huge deposits of iron ore and coal, which was essential for industrialization. In addition, Britain’s society was politically stable, and Britain was the leading colonial power, which resulted in its colonies serving as sources for raw materials, as well as marketplaces for manufactured products.
Merchants required more cost-effective methods of production as demand for Britain’s goods increased, which resulted in the rise of the factory system and mechanization.
Industrialization and Innovation
In particular, the textile industry was transformed by industrialization. Before factories and mechanization, textiles were made in people’s homes. During the 1700s, a succession of innovations resulted in ever-increasing productivity and required less human energy.
Innovations in the iron industry also played a key role in the Industrial Revolution. Englishman Abraham Darby, in the early 18th century, discovered an easier, cheaper way to produce cast iron using a coal-fueled furnace instead of a charcoal-fired one. British engineer Henry Bessemer developed the first cheap process for mass-production of steel in the 1850s. Both steel and iron became vital materials and were used to make everything from machines, tools and appliances to infrastructure.
The steam engine was also essential to industrialization. It went on to power locomotives, ships and machinery during the Industrial Revolution.
Before the arrival of the steam engine, raw materials and finished products were transported via horse-drawn wagons, as well as by boats along rivers and canals. By the mid 19th century, steamships were transporting freight across the Atlantic. While steam-powered ships were appearing, the steam locomotive was also appearing on the scene. In 1830, England’s Liverpool and Manchester Railway was the first to provide regular, timetabled passenger services. Britain had over 6,000 miles of railroad track by 1850. Scottish engineer John McAdam’s new technique for road construction resulted in smoother roads that were more durable and less muddy.
Communication and Banking
Communication became simpler during the Industrial Revolution with inventions like the telegraph. Two Brits, William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone, patented the first commercial electrical telegraph in 1837, and in 1866 a cable telegraph cable was laid across the Atlantic – successfully. The Industrial Revolution also brought about the rise of industrial financers and banks, and a factory system dependent on managers and owners. In the 1770s, a stock exchange was established in London; the New York Stock Exchange came about in the early 1790s.
Quality of Life
The Industrial Revolution also brought with it a bigger variety and volume of factory-produced goods and uplifted the standard of living for a lot of people, especially the middle and upper classes. Unfortunately, life for the poor and working classes was still filled with challenges. Those who labored in factories suffered low wages and dangerous working conditions. Unskilled workers were easily replaceable. Children were included in the labour force and frequently worked long hours in hazardous roles. Industrialization also resulted in some craftspeople being replaced by machines. By late in the 19th century, the government instituted various labour reforms which also allowed workers to form trade unions. Quality of life then gradually improved.
Industrialization beyond Britain
Industrialization expanded from Britain to other European countries. Industrialization was well-established all over the western part of Europe as well as America’s northeastern region.