The Industrial Revolution occurred in Britain between the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Its characterized by the transition from an old to new process of manufacturing. It was a period during which predominantly agrarian, rural societies in Europe and America became industrial and urban.
Prior to this revolution, manufacturing was often done in peoples homes, using hand tools or basic machines. Industrialization marked a shift to powered, special-purpose machinery, factories and mass production. (Heller 176) Although prior revolutions such as the French Revolution had a significant impact on our society, none of them drastically changed the way we produced and handled the manufacturing world in the way the Industrial Revolution changed it when it first began its process in Britain. For this reason, the Industrial Revolution resulted in one of the most profound and far-reaching changes in the history of our society. This revolution was responsible for changing thoughts, creating technology, urbanizing countries, and improving workers conditions among Europe, as well as the entire globe.
Britain was the foundation for the start of this revolution. During the eighteenth century, the country had a strong combination of natural, economic, and cultural resources. The small and secure island nation had a robust empire and a significant control over crucial lanes across the oceans. It had ample supplies of coal, rivers, and well-developed network of canals. Furthermore, Great Britain had the most commercialized agriculture system among any other country.
They had transformed their style with new techniques, new crops, and the enclosure of fields and pastures, which turned smallholdings into a large fenced tract that were privately owned and individually managed by commercial landlords. By the second half of the eighteenth century, the British Parliament had encouraged enclosure with a series of bills, since commercialized agriculture was more productive and yielded more food for a growing and increasingly urban population. However, the concentration of property in fewer hands drove small farmers off the land, sending them to look for work in other sectors of the company.
Additionally, commercialized agriculture produced higher profits, which would be invested in the industry in the future. Although all of those are key factors, industrialization wouldnt be possible without Britains growing supply of available capital in the forms of private wealth, well-developed banking, and credit institutions. Due to the simple process of transferring money and goods, London became the leading center for international trade. Furthermore, the city was a headquarter for the transfer of raw materials, capital, and manufactured products throughout the world. (Cole, Joshua & Symes, Carol 623) With all this by their side, Britain became the perfect environment to start a process as large and important as the Industrial Revolution.
The Industrial Revolution has two phases, one is social, concerning the making of men. The other is material, concerning the making of things. This time period created the idea that a mans work and the conditions under which its work is performed are significant factors when it comes to determine his character and his actions. For this reason, the process changed the way of production, so it wouldnt consume all human energy and it would allow men to have time to focus on building themselves and organizing their life. (Beard, Charles 2) During this period, the pursuit of wealth was perceived to be a worthy goal.
British aristocrats respected those who were able to make money, and their desire to enclose their land reflected a great interest in commercialization and investment. The barriers between merchants and the rural elite were slowly being broken. One big demonstration of this is illustrated by many of the entrepreneurs during the early Industrial Revolution came from the small gentry or independent farmer class. Thus, the growing domestic and international markets made Britain a prosperous country with voracious consumers. (Cole, Joshua & Symes, Carol 624) Consequently, men became producers resulting in the creation and improvement of the means around them. From the standpoint of achievement by brain and hand, the Industrial Revolution possesses a long-lasting and continuously increasing fascination. (Beard, Charles 3)
During the 1760s, one-third of the employees in England worked in the field of agriculture. A large portion of those workers that engaged in regular manufacturing industries continued to work in the field during certain portions of the year. Although this area of work contributed to a great part of the populations jobs, none of the great mechanical inventions had been introduced yet. For instance, machinery had not yet been employed into manufacturing to any great extent. (Toynbee, Arnold 7) Therefore, land was being wasted due to low productivity and the need for a new process was constantly increasing.
For this reason, even before the Industrial Revolution began, agriculture had already been through extensive improvements in their methods. These improvements were mostly brought on by the landed gentry who had acquired knowledge of experimental farming. (Beard, Charles 6) Consequently, many believe agriculture had an initial economic stimulus for the followed economic growth and the Industrial Revolution. Others argue there is no reason to believe that the changes in the agriculture output in the 1740s was an enough cause either the surge of economic growth or the Industrial Revolution.
Regardless of whether agriculture was what started the process, it was a key factor for this period of revolution. (Thompson, Allan 45) It supplied raw materials, provided food, contributed to new jobs, and created investable funds that helped with the constant advance of industrialization and the urbanization of the economy. Additionally, with the increase of incomes, the growth of agricultural productivity allowed consumers to purchase more quantities of manufactured goods and services stimulating the economy. (O’Brien, Patrick 773)
The industrial development had significant impacts to the world, some positives and other negatives. With Britains high standard of living, the population growth rate started accelerating in drastic ways. Not only Britain, but the entire continent of Europe felt this change. This is because populations began a gradual shift from high fertility and high mortality to lower death rates and fewer births. According to social scientists, this is a process called demographic transition.
This happened due the improvement of medicine and new conditions of work that were brought with the new ideas of this time period. For example, the spread of rural manufacturing allowed couples to marry and settle down at a younger age, resulting in an increased number of births and larger family sizes. Not only did the age of marriage fall but more people started getting married. Thus, population growth increased the amount of young and fertile people. This process only reinforced itself for future generations, creating a period of constant growth. It was not till the twentieth century that this process of demographic dynamism in Europe finally began to stabilize, since families became more conscious about the number of children they had. (Cole, Joshua & Symes, Carol 638)
Furthermore, the Industrial Revolution also affected other areas. One of its most significant contributions to the nineteenth century was the urbanization of Europe. By the end of the nineteenth century, the overall population of Europe doubled; meanwhile the percentage of those living in the cities tripled. Due to this rapidly and unorganized growth, almost all cities during that period were overcrowded and unhealthy.
Additionally, their infrastructures were still medieval and demanded a greater industrialization to satisfy the population. Men and women who had come to the cities in order to provide to their families were being forced to live in temporary lodging houses because the constructions didnt meet the needs necessary for the population growth. (Cole, Joshua & Symes, Carol 642) These poor living conditions were not only a discomfort for those in the cities, but also a safety hazard.
There was no proper disposal of trash resulting in it usually being left on the floor to ferment and rot, threatening the health of the entire town. As a result, governments started taking actions in an attempt to provide some order into the urban areas and prevent the spread of epidemics. The goal was to improve sanitary conditions by supplying both water and drainage. That being said, these projects didnt go as expected. Paris, that received the best supply of water, only had enough for two baths per person in the time of a year. Meanwhile, in London, human waste was not collected in 250,000 domestic cesspools.
With this, Europe faced a horrific problem that required strong government imposition and that would take time to finally settle in order to create a safe and welcoming environment. (Cole, Joshua & Symes, Carol 643)
Moreover, the revolution brought important changes to the way labor was seen and imposed. With new business being introduced to the market, the need for employees increased and there were a large amount of people willing to work resulting in a low minimum wage, as well as poor work conditions. However, the constant growth of the population and the spread of news being more easily accessible to the public, resulted in the working class eventually protesting for their rights.
Citizens started questioning the hierarchy inside the capitalist production and how much power over its workers could a boss hold. According to Karl Marx, one of the most important figures during this time period were protests because it tended to force the development of capitalism. (Heller, Henry 189) Marx believed the machine and factory aspects of the Industrial Revolution were the leading factor of a new era that made possible the expansion of manufacturing, providing the transformation of the ways of production. It was through these means that the image of the industrial capitalist was created, who commanded the work force and dominated this new age. (Heller, Henry 190) For instance, great movements regarding womens rights took place during this time period. Before industrialization, the areas where a woman could work were very limited.
As industrialization began more visible, womens job opportunities continued to be a problem. However, womens work became more known, and so did the inequalities they faced. Domestic service carried a big problem during that time. According to various testimonies, single women in the working area had to deal with very low wages and coercive sexual relationships with male employers or their sons. During this time, it was quite impossible for a single lady to be able to sustain herself.
Consequently, they were faced with limited options: marriage, which was unlikely to happen right away; renting a room in a boardinghouse, where you would usually have centers of prostitution; or deal with the unethical conditions of domestic service. Due to this injustice, woman started questioning their rights, which contributed to the future womens suffrage movements that emerged during the late nineteenth century. (Cole, Joshua & Symes, Carol 654)
All things considered, its clear that the Industrial Revolution was indeed a key factor to many improvements and movements that occurred in Europe after the nineteenth century. The arrival of new technologies created new opportunities for the working class and provided space for new creations necessary for future advances within several working areas. Furthermore, the revolution was responsible for a rapid increase on Europes population and its urbanization.
Due to the unexpected growth, severe government assistance was required to properly build the cities and make sure the countries were building a safe environment for their citizens. Additionally, this time period was the basis for the rise of movements about human rights and it contributed to the new ideas about the conditions of work. As well it outlined the inequalities faced between men and women regarding salaries and labor opportunities. For these reasons, the Industrial Revolution is one of the most impactful processes that has happened during the history of our society.
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