Thoughts On The First Industrail Revolution Essay

, Research Paper

The Era known as the Industrial Revolution was a period in which fundamental changes

occurred agriculture, textiles and metal manufacture, transportation, economic policies

and the social structure in England. This period is appropriately or inappropriately

classified as a “revolution”, for this period completely destroyed the old ways of doing

things; yet these changes did not occur in an abrupt change as the word “revolution”

implies. The transformation that occurred during the period of (1760-1850) occurred very

slowly with small gradual changes. 1760 the year generally accepted as the “eve” of the

Industrial Revolution was not the “eve” at all. In reality, this “eve” people talked about

occurred more than two hundred years ago. The ninety years labeled the Industrial

Revolution is simply a time where the ideas and discoveries of those who had long passed

on, such as Galileo, Bacon, Descartes and others was brought to a national level. The

large question that becomes apparent when studing these years is why then. Why if many

of the ideas of the Industrial Revolution had been known for nearly two hundred years did

they come into common use now? As I answer this question I will examine advances

applied during the Industrial Revolution and shed some light as to why it occurred in the

late eighteenth century.

Agriculture held a prominent position in the way of life during the eighteenth and

nineteenth centuries. England was no aception as most of the population depended on the

tilling of soil for their livelihood. Not only was Agriculture’s importance rooted in to the

livelihood of the population, but it was an indispensable source of material for the growing

textile industry. The production of wool and cotton for the purpose of manufacturing into

cloth increased every year during the Industrial Revolution. The yield of food crops

increased as well, mainly due to the enclosure movement taking hold in English villages.

Enclosure is the process of enclosing pieces of land by the use of stone walls, tall shrubs

ect. This process helped to increase production because now farmers were able to

introduce new technologies to farming, that before they were unable to do. Before

enclosure there were large farms where villagers worked together to farm. With the

coming of enclosure, farmers were allowed to rent a piece of land and work that land by

themselves. Enclosure gave incentive to try new ways of farming because the more they

produced on their piece of land, the more grain they could sell at the market, and in turn

the more profit they could make. For example, a widely common practice in agriculture at

the time was to allow the land to lie fallow after it had been exhausted of minerals through

cultivation. Soon it was discovered that the growing of clover and other types of legumes

would help restore the fertility of the land. The improved use of manure also helped

replenish land that had been exhausted of minerals. Many of these innovations had been

known for some time but had never been widely used before. The improvements came

into universal use due to the pressure from a rising population. The improvements in

agriculture, led to a greater supply of grain during the winter months to sustain livestock.

This increased the amount of meat on the market throughout the year. All of these

advances made it possible to feed the new populations of people attracted to industrial

centers and large cities. With enough food to sustain a larger work force than ever seen

before, England was on its way for the Industrial Revolution to expand.

Before 1760 the process of manufacturing textiles occurred in the homes. It was a

long and tedious process starting with raw material to finished product. For example

woolen cloth had to be sorted, cleaned and dyed, carded and combed, spun into thread,

then woven into cloth.. Even more processes were performed on the wool to change the

texture and color. Most of each stage of production was performed either by women or


The textile industry in England before the Industrial Revolution was complicated

and grossly inefficient. The process of manufacturing was different from one locality to

another. Generally, a merchant employed putters who distributed the raw materials to

spinners and weavers who were scattered throughout the countryside. Changes in the

process of manufacturing textiles were already occurring in the late seventeen century;

however these changes were not accepted with arms wide open by many Englishmen.

John Kay’s flying-shuttle, which enabled one weaver to do the work of two, and Lewis

Paul’s roller spinner, which was to make spinning more efficient (later to be perfected by

Richard Arkwright), were the precusors of the inventive spirit and the application of new

technology to the textile industry. By the 1760’s the textile industry was experiencing

rapid change. James Hargreaves’ jenny, a device which enabled the operator to

simultaneously spin dozens of threads, was becoming readily adopted. By as early as

1788, 20,000 of Hargreaves jenny were being employed in England and Scotland. Soon

the water frame was developed by Arkwright and others, which performed similarly to

Paul’s roller spinner but now was powered by water rather than muscle. Arkwright,

Samuel Need and Jedidiah Strutt set up a water-powered factory that utilized his

invention. The factory, located in Cromford, had more than six-hundred workers, most of

whom were women and children. The factory spun cotton thread faster than the human

workers could supply the carded and combed raw material.

The adage “necessity is the mother of invention” is appropriate for what was

happening in England during the Industrial Revolution. With larger yields in agriculture

more people could be fed, so in turn England’s population rose. With that rise in

population came a large demand for clothing, mainly cotton clothing. Old textile methods

simply could not produce enough cotton to supply the demand. England’s

non-industrialized textile manufacturing had reached its limits of production, so something

had to be done to expand the limits of production. The development of new technologies

and the movement from textile manufacturing in the home to factories was the cure to

England’s problem.

The changes and development of the textile industry must certainly center about

the inventions and their inventors, though not necessarily be limited to them. The

inventions that were perfected and applied led to tremendous changes in the world of

work. Gone were the old days of domestic system, yielding to the ways of the factory


Developments and improvements in the iron industry came in the early eighteenth

century. Abraham Darby successfully produced pig iron smelted with coke. This was a

huge breakthrough, for before this discovery pig iron was smelted with the use of

charcoal. Charcoal, made from the charring of wood in a kiln, was a good source of

energy to smelt the iron. The downside to using wood to fuel the kiln was the serious

depletion of England’s forests. This new technique developed by Darby was gaining

widespread use during the late eighteenth century, though problems still existed. The iron

produced through the new method was impure and brittle, making it totally unsuitable for

the forgmasters to fashion it into implements. Soon its use was limited to castings,

nevertheless Darby’s breakthrough changed the iron industry forever. Later,

improvements would occur which produced high quality material and improved techniques

in fashioning it. Although there were many developments in the making of iron, the

orginization of iron factories remained nearly the same, “ The scale of operations has

increased enormously: the sapling has become an oak, deep-rooted and widespread;

technique has been revolutionized. But in structure and organization there is no

fundamental change.” (TFIR pg. 103)All of this made iron and steel more common than

ever before and soon large factories were popping up all over the English countryside.

Improvements in transportation stimulated the course of the Industrial Revolution.

Products, raw materials, food and people needed a reliable, quicker and less costly system

of transportation. In England canals and rivers had long been used as a popular means of

internal transportation. In the mid eighteenth century the first construction of canals

between industrial districts began.. However, canals days were numbered with the coming

of the railroad. The principles of rail transportation were in already in use by the late

1700s. Tramways, using cast iron rails were being used in many coal mines in England,

they were the precusers to railway transportation. A number of people were involved in

the development of railroads in England. Between 1804 and 1820 we find a few attempts

that can be concluded as partially successful. For example: Richard Trevithick’s “New

Castle”, a steam driven locomotive that proved to be too heavy for the rails, John

Blenkinsop’s locomotive, which employed a radical toothed, gear like wheel, and William

Hedley’s “Puffing Billy”, which soon came to be used for hauling coal wagons from the

mines. George Stephenson was a pioneer that bears mentioning. He was invited by the

Stockton and Darlington Railway to build a railway between the two cities. This line

became the first public railroad to use locomotive traction and to carry passengers as well

as material. Soon, however, the line became to unprofitable to maintain and was closed.

Railroads became the dominate mode of transportation in England, “…in the seven years

1831-7 between 400 and 500 miles of railway were opened to traffic.”(TFIR pg.172)

The railroad system is another example of economic necessity producing innovation. The

development of reliable, efficient rail service was crucial to the survival and development

of specific industries and the overall English economy.

The greatest technical achievement of the Industrial Revolution has to go to the

development and application of steam power. Many developing industries needed the

ability to apply enormous power, more than could be produced through human muscle.

James Watt is generally credited with the invention and development of the steam engine.

In fact James improved upon a design which was developed by Thomas Savery and

Thomas Newcomen. The development of a practical, efficient steam engine and its

application to industry and transportation caused a great leap for industrialization. Its

application was virtually limitless, and it was responsible for lifting industries from infancy

to adolescence.

The eighteenth century saw a rise in population faster and larger than ever. Four

primary reason are responsible for this increase: decline in the death rate, increase in the

birth rate, virtual elimination of the dreaded plagues and an increase in the availability of

food. The increase in the availability of food is the most significant of these reasons, for

people in England and Scotland were eating a much larger and healthier diet than ever

before. Industry provided higher wages than what could be found in the villages, this

allowed many young people in the urban areas to marry much younger than before and

produce children earlier.

With the factory system becoming more and more common in England during the

eighteenth century we find a shift in population. Factories were created and soon

settlements popped up around these factories. In a few cases housing was provided for

the workers by the employers. Factories were usually located near a readily available

source of power. The most readily available source of power in England at this time was

moving water. Thus, we find factories popping up near streams and rivers all over the

English countryside. When steam power was introduced factories could then be located

near any source of water moving or not.

In many ways the driving force of the Industrial Revolution was investment of

capitol, “One of the most significant differences between a pre-industrial economy and an

industrialized economy is that the latter had a larger stock of capital; in other words, each

member of the industrial labour force has a great deal more physical capital to assist him in

the process of production.”(TFIR pg. 72) Before industrialization land was the primary

source of wealth in England. A new wealth grew from the Industrial Revolution, that

which came from the ownership of factories and machinery. These people had the daring

to seize the opportunity to invest in new ventures, it was these capitalists who gave the

necessary money to ensure the speedy growth of the Industrial Revolution, “Its

development depended on the unfettered response of private enterprise to economic

opportunity.” (TFIR pg. 98) The lack of an adequate banking system in many remote

industrial centers provided many headaches for these new capitalists. By the early

nineteenth century, however, England had established new banks in more remote areas

near large factories solving many problems. Once the Industrial Revolution started,

capitol was the fuel that kept it going strong for nearly a century.

It is hard to say what exactly caused the Industrial Revolution to happen. There

was no one event that sparked all this change. The Industrial Revolution was a slow

process taking nearly a century to accomplish. The strongest cause for the start of the

Industrial Revolution is the rapid growth in population that England experienced during

the late eighteenth century. With more people in the country, pressure was put on many

different parts of the economy to produce enough to sustain these new people. With

breakthrough methods in agriculture becoming widely used, farmers could produce

enough food to feed a larger population. This in my mind is where the barrier of the old

ways was broken. Once food production modernized, textiles modernized to cloth the

larger population and soon a snowball effect was in full force. Industrialization of England

was an effect of a rising population, spurred on by the virtual elimination of plagues and an

increased food availability.

1. The British Industrial Revolution : An Economic Perspective

by Joel Mokyer

2. The Industrial Revolution and British Society, by Roland Quinault

3. The First Industrial Revolution, by Phyllis Deane


1. The British Industrial Revolution : An Economic Perspective

by Joel Mokyer

2. The Industrial Revolution and British Society, by Roland Quinault

3. The First Industrial Revolution, by Phyllis Deane


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