The Industrial Revolution

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Handout 1: The Industrial Revolution

Beginnings of the Industrial Revolution

A revolution in agriculture in the 1700s created conditions that favored the Industrial Revolution.Farmers began growing new crops and using new technology such as the seed drill and the iron plow. Increased food production improved people's diet and health, which in turn contributed to rapid population growth. Better farming methods meant that fewer people were needed to farm. As a result, unemployed farmers formed a large new labor force.
The factory system

The Industrial Revolution began in the textile industry, where a series of inventions created new demands for laborers. Between 1733 and 1793, inventors produced new machines, such as the flying shuttle, the spinning jenny, and a water-powered loom, that speeded up the spinning and weaving of wool and cotton. Many new machines were powered by running water, so inventors built spinning mills near rivers and hired many workers to run the machines. The new machines led to the growth of the factory system, which brought workers and machines together in one place to manufacture goods. By the late 1700s, steam began to replace water as a source of power. Inventors such as Thomas Newcomen and James Watt improved the steam-powered engine. Steam engines gave a boost to two other industries that were essential to the Industrial Revolution&emdash;coal and iron. New processes were developed to produce stronger iron. In the mid-1800s, Henry Bessemer developed a process to improve the production of steel, a mixture of iron and other materials. Steel triggered the growth of still other industries.

Improvements in transportation and communication

During the Industrial Revolution, advances were made in transportation and communication. In Britain, roads made of longer-lasting surfaces and canals connected all parts of the nation. A mining engineer, George Stephenson, developed the first steam-powered locomotive, opening the way for the building of railroads. Railroads and steam-powered ships improved transportation around the world. In 1837, an American inventor, Samuel F.B. Morse, devised the telegraph, which revolutionized communications.

Why Britain took the lead

Great Britain enjoyed many advantages that helped it take the lead in the Industrial Revolution. It had plentiful iron and coal resources and a good transportation system. It was a leading commercial power so merchants had the capital to invest in new enterprises. It had colonies that supplied raw materials and bought finished goods. The British government encouraged improvements in transportation and used its navy~ to protect British trade. Finally, the British accepted the idea that people could move ahead in society by hard work and talent.

The Industrial Revolution Spreads

After the 1850s, the Industrial Revolution entered a new phase as Belgium, France, Germany, the United States, and later Japan industrialized rapidly. The French government supported projects to improve transportation. After Germany became unified in the 1870s, its industries forged ahead.

The Industrial Revolution in the United States

The Industrial Revolution unfolded in the United States even more vigorously than it had in Great Britain. The young nation began as a weak, loose association of former colonies with a traditional economy. More than three-quarters of the labor force worked in agriculture in 1790. Americans soon enjoyed striking success in mechanization, however. This was clear in 1851 when producers from many nations gathered to display their industrial triumphs at the first World’s Fair, at the Crystal Palace in London. There, it was the work of Americans that attracted the most attention. By the end of the century, the United States was the world leader in manufacturing, unfolding what became known as the Second Industrial Revolution. The American economy had emerged as the largest and most productive on the globe.

American Advantages: The United States enjoyed many advantages that made it fertile ground for an Industrial Revolution. A rich, sparsely inhabited continent lay open to exploitation and development. It proved relatively easy for the United States government to buy or seize vast lands across North America from Native Americans, from European nations, and from Mexico. In addition, the American population felt that economic growth was desirable.With settlement stretched across the continent from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, the United States enjoyed a huge internal market.

Critical to furthering industrialization in the United States were machines and knowledgeable people. The lure of the open, growing United States was strong. Its opportunities attracted knowledgeable, ambitious individuals not only from Britain but from other European countries as well. In 1800, for example, a young Frenchman named Eleuthère Irénée du Pont de Nemours brought to the United States his knowledge of the latest French advances in chemistry and gunpowder making. In 1802 he founded what would become one of the largest and most successful American businesses, E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, better known simply as DuPont.

American Challenges: Although the United States had many natural resources in abundance, some were more plentiful than others. The profusion of wood in North America, for example, led Americans to use that material much more than Europeans did. Taking advantage of the vast forest resources in their country, Americans built the world’s best woodworking machines.

Transportation and communication were special challenges in a nation that stretched across the North American continent. Economic growth depended on tying together the resources, markets, and people of this large area. From 1815 to 1860 state and local governments also provided almost three-quarters of the financing for canal construction and related improvements to waterways. When the British began building railroads, Americans embraced this new technology eagerly, and substantial public money was invested in rail systems. By 1860 more than half the railroad tracks in the world were in the United States.

The most critical 19th-century improvement in communication, the telegraph, was invented by American Samuel F. B. Morse. The telegraph allowed messages to be sent long distances almost instantly by using a code of electronic pulses passing over a wire. The railroad and the telegraph spread across North America and helped create a national market, which in turn encouraged additional improvements in transportation and communication.

Another challenge in the United States was a relative shortage of labor. Much more than in continental Europe or in Britain, labor was in chronically short supply in the United States. This led industrialists to develop machinery to replace human labor.

Changes in Industry: Americans soon demonstrated a great talent for mechanization.

Continuous-Process Manufacturing: An important American development was continuous-process manufacturing. In continuous-process manufacturing, large quantities of the same product, such as cigarettes or canned food, are made in a nonstop operation. The process runs continuously, except for repairs to or maintenance of the machinery used. Mechanized, continuous processing yielded uniform quantity production with a minimum need for human labor.

Standardization - The American System: In a closely related development, by the mid-19th century American manufacturers shaped a set of techniques later known as the American system of production. This system involved using special-purpose machines to produce large quantities of similar, sometimes interchangeable, parts that would then be assembled into a finished product.

Soon a group of knowledgeable mechanics and engineers spread the American system. Many industries began to use special-purpose machines to produce large quantities of similar or even interchangeable parts for assembly into finished goods. The American system was used by inventor and manufacturer Cyrus Hall McCormick to produce his innovative reapers; Samuel Colt used it to make revolver pistols; and inventor Isaac Merrit Singer produced his popular sewing machines using this system. These kinds of products won prizes and attracted much attention at the Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851.

The Second Industrial Revolution: As American manufacturing technology spread to new industries, it ushered in what many have called the Second Industrial Revolution. The first had come on a wave of new inventions in iron making, in textiles, in the centrally powered factory, and in new ways of organizing business and work. In the latter 19th century, a second wave of technical and organizational advances carried industrial society to new levels. While Great Britain had been the birthplace of the first revolution, the second occurred most powerfully in the United States.

Factories and their production output became much larger than they had been in the first stage of the Industrial Revolution. Some industries concentrated production in fewer but bigger and more productive facilities. In addition, some industries boosted production in existing (not necessarily larger) factories. This growth was enabled by a variety of factors, including technological and scientific progress; improved management; and expanding markets due to larger populations, rising incomes, and better transportation and communications.

It was in the automobile industry that continuous-process methods and the American system combined to greatest effect. In 1903 American industrialist Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company. His production innovation was the moving assembly line, which brought together many mass-produced parts to create automobiles. Ford’s moving assembly line gave the world the fullest expression yet of the Second Industrial Revolution, and his production triumphs in the second decade of the 20th century signaled the crest of the new industrial age.

Organization and Work: Just as important as advances in manufacturing technology was a wave of changes in how business was structured and work was organized.

Changes in Agriculture: As it had done in Britain, industrialization brought deep and often distressing shifts to American society. The influence of rural life declined, and the relative economic importance of agriculture dwindled. The proportion of the work force dependent on agriculture shrank constantly from the time of the first federal census in 1790. From that time until the end of the 19th century, farm workers dropped from about 75 percent of the work force to about 40 percent.

New technology was introduced in agriculture. Machinery increased productivity so that fewer hands could produce more food per acre. New plows, seed drills, cultivators, mowers, and threshers, as well as the reaper, all appeared by 1860. After that, better harvesters and binding machines came into use, as did the harvester-threshers known as combines. Farmers also used limited steam power in the late 19th century, and by about 1905 they began using gasoline-powered tractors. At about the same time, Americans began to apply science systematically to agriculture, such as by using genetics as a basis for plant breeding. These techniques, plus fertilizers and pesticides, helped to increase farm productivity.

Changes in Society: As in Britain, the Industrial Revolution in the United States led to major social changes. Urban population grew, rural population declined, and the nature of labor changed dramatically.

Growth of Cities: As a result of the shift in economic importance from agriculture to manufacturing, American cities grew both in number and in population. From 1860 to 1900 the number of urban areas in the United States expanded fivefold. Even more striking was the explosion in the growth of big cities. In 1860 there were only 9 American cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants; by 1900 there were 38. Like the British critics of the preceding century, many Americans viewed these industrial and commercial centers as dark and dirty places crowded with exploited workers. But whatever the drawbacks of city life, urban growth in the United States was unstoppable, fueled both by the movement of rural Americans and a swelling tide of immigrants from Europe. In 1790 only about 5 percent of the American population lived in cities; today more than 75 percent does.

Effects on Labor: Industrialization brought to the United States conflicts and stresses similar to the ones encountered in Britain and in Europe. Often, skilled workers found their income and their status under attack from the new machines and the relentless division of labor. Women in households who had earned income from spinning found the new factories taking away their source of income. Traditional handloom weavers could no longer compete with the mechanized production of cloth. Skilled laborers sometimes lost their jobs as new machines replaced them.

In the factories, people had to work long hours under harsh conditions, often with few rewards. Factory owners and managers paid the minimum amount necessary for a work force, often recruiting women and children to tend the machines because they could be hired for very low wages. Soon critics attacked this exploitation, particularly the use of child labor.

The nature of work changed as a result of division of labor, an idea important to the Industrial Revolution that called for dividing the production process into basic, individual tasks. Each worker would then perform one task, rather than a single worker doing the entire job. Such division of labor greatly improved productivity, but many of the simplified factory jobs were repetitive and boring. Workers also had to labor for many hours, often more than 12 hours a day, sometimes more than 14, and people worked six days a week. Factory workers faced strict rules and close supervision by managers and overseers. The clock ruled life in the mills.

Businesses had always enjoyed considerable power in their relationships with the labor force, but the balance tipped even more in their favor as firms grew larger. In order to counter the power of business, workers tried to form trade unions to represent them and bargain for rights. Initially they had only limited success. Occasional strikes, sometimes violent, appeared as signs of underlying tensions. Until the Great Depression of the 1930s, skilled craft workers were almost the only groups able to sustain unions. The most successful of these unions were those in the American Federation of Labor. They did not seek fundamental social or economic change, such as socialists advocated; instead they accepted industrial society and concentrated on improving the wages and working conditions of their members.

Eventually the United States digested the tensions and dislocations caused by the coming of industry and the growth of cities. The government began to enact regulations and antitrust laws to counter the worst excesses of big business. The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 was created to prevent corporate trusts, monopoly enterprises formed to reduce competition and allow essentially a single business firm to control the price of a product. Laws such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, enacted in 1938, mandated worker protections, including the maximum 8-hour workday and 40-hour workweek. Above all, the rising incomes and high rates of economic growth proved calming. Material progress convinced most Americans that industrialization had been a positive development, although the challenge of balancing business growth and worker rights remains an issue to this day.

In the long run the Industrial Revolution has brought economic improvement for most people in industrialized societies. Many enjoy greater prosperity and improved health, especially those in the middle and the upper classes of society. There have been costs, however. In some cases, the lower classes of society have suffered economically. Industrialization has brought factory pollutants and greater land use, which have harmed the natural environment. In particular, the application of machinery and science to agriculture has led to greater land use and, therefore, extensive loss of habitat for animals and plants. In addition, drastic population growth following industrialization has contributed to the decline of natural habitats and resources. These factors, in turn, have caused many species to become extinct or endangered.

Contributed by: Glenn Porter, B.A., M.A., Ph.D.

"Industrial Revolution," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2004 © 1997-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

© 1993-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Edited By: Stephanie Nardei, University of Arizona, SW Environmental Health Science

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