The Industrial Revolution, which transformed economic life in the West, began in England in the 18th century. After the Napoleonic period, it spread to Western Europe, and, by the end of the 19th century, it had touched most of Western civilization. The Industrial Revolution was characterized by unprecedented economic growth, the factory system of production, and the use of new, artificially powered machines for transportation and mechanical operations. The potential was tremendous; for the first time, human beings had the ability to produce far more than was needed to sustain a large percentage of the population. Whether that potential would be realized, and at what cost, remained to be seen.
In the wake of industrialization came great social changes. The middle and working classes were most affected by industrialization, and both grew in number and social influence as did the urban areas in which they worked and lived. But it was the middle class that benefited the most, enjoying a rising standard of living, increased prestige, and growing political influence. Whether the working class benefited from industrialization during the early decades is a matter for debate among historians. Clearly, it was this class that bore the burdens of urban social problems: overcrowded slums, poor sanitation, insufficient social services, and a host of related problems. The aristocracy, the peasantry, and the artisans – classes tied to the traditional agricultural economy and older means of production – slowly diminished in numbers and social importance as industrialization spread.
Document 1: Testimony for the Factory Act of 1833: Working Conditions in England
Industrialization carried with it broad social and economic changes that were quickly felt by those involved. The most striking changes were in the working conditions in the new factories and mines. During the first decades of industrialization, there was little government control over working conditions and few effective labor organizations; laborers were thus at the mercy of factory owners who were pursuing profit in a competitive world. Investigations into conditions in factories and mines conducted by the British Parliament in the 1830s and 1840s led eventually to the enactment of legislation, such as the Factory Act of 1833. These parliamentary investigations provide us with extensive information about working conditions and attitudes toward them.
1a). Testimony of the Commission of Medical Examiners
“The account of the physical condition of the manufacturing population in the large towns in the North-eastern District of England is less favourable. It is of this district that the Commissioners state, “We have found undoubted instances of children five years old sent to work thirteen hours a day; and frequently of children nine, ten, and eleven consigned to labour for fourteen and fifteen hours.” The effects ascertained by the Commissioners in many cases are, “deformity,” and in still more “stunted growth, relaxed muscles, and slender conformation:” “twisting of the ends of the long bones, relaxation of the ligaments of the knees, ankles, and the like.” “The representation that these effects are so common and universal as to enable some persons invariably to distinguish factory children from other children is, I have no hesitation in saying, an exaggerated and unfaithful picture of their general condition; at the same time it must be said, that the individual instances in which some one or other of those effects of severe labour are discernible are rather frequent than rare….
Upon the whole, there remains no doubt upon my mind, that under the system pursued in many of the factories, the children of the labouring classes stand in need of, and ought to have, legislative protection against the conspiracy insensibly formed between their masters and parents, to tax them to a degree of toil beyond their strength.
“n conclusion, I think it has been clearly proven that children have been worked a most unreasonable and cruel length of time daily, and that even adults have been expected to do a certain quantity of labour which scarcely any human being is able to endure. I am of opinion no child under fourteen years of age should work in a factory of any description for more than eight hours a day. From fourteen upwards I would recommend that no individual should, under any circumstances, work more than twelve hours a day; although if practicable, as a physician, I would prefer the limitation of ten hours, for all persons who earn their bread by their industry.”
a). What did the medical examiners consider the worst abuses of factory labor?
b). Explain how the work patterns of the factory system of production, including the ones described
in this document, were different from the way work was performed in the pre-industrial period in
1b). Testimony of William Harter, a Silk Manufacturer
What effect would it have on your manufacture to reduce the hours of labour to ten? – It would instantly much reduce the value of my mill and machinery, and consequently of far prejudice my manufacture.
How so? – They are calculated to produce a certain quantity of work in a given time. Every machine is valuable in proportion to the quantity of work which it will turn off in a given time. It is impossible that the machinery could produce as much work in ten hours as in twelve. If the tending of the machines were a laborious occupation, the difference in the quantity of work might not always be in exact proportion to the difference of working time; but in my mill, and silk-mills in general, the work requires the least imaginable labour; therefore it is perfectly impossible that the machines could produce as much work in ten hours as in twelve. The produce would vary in about the same ratio as the working time.
a). In your own words, explain the argument presented by William Harter. How might he defend
himself against the charges that he was abusing the working class?
Document 2: The Condition of the Working Class in England by Friedrich Engels (1845)
To many contemporaries, child labor in factories and mines under harsh conditions was the most shocking change in working conditions brought on by industrialization. However, several investigators documented a whole range of problems facing England’s industrial working class. One of the most famous of these investigators was Friedrich Engels (1820-1895), the son of a German textile manufacturer. Engels moved to England in the 1840s, where in addition to learning about business, he traveled through cities visiting working-class areas and interviewing people. He would soon become a collaborator with his friend, Karl Marx, and one of the founders of modern socialism. The ways in which the vast mass of the poor are treated by modern society is truly scandalous. They are herded into great cities where they breathe a fouler air than in the countryside which they have left. They are housed in the worst ventilated districts of the towns; they are deprived of water because this is only brought to their houses if someone is prepared to defray the cost of laying the pipes. River water is so dirty as to be useless for cleansing purposes. The poor are forced to throw into the streets all their sweepings, garbage, dirty water, and frequently even disgusting filth and excrement. The poor are deprived of all proper means of refuse disposal and so they are forced to pollute the very districts they inhabit. And this is by no means all. There is no end to the sufferings which are heaped on the heads of the poor. It is notorious that general overcrowding is a characteristic feature of the great towns, but in the working – class quarters, people are packed together in an exceptionally small area. Not satisfied with permitting the pollution of the air in the streets, society crams as many as a dozen workers into a single room, so that at night the air becomes so foul that they are nearly suffocated. The workers have to live in damp dwellings. When they live in cellars the water seeps through the floor and when they live in attics the rain comes through the roof. The workers’ houses are so badly built that the foul air cannot escape from them. The workers have to wear poor and ragged garments and they have to eat food which is bad, indigestible and adulterated. Their mental state is threatened by being subjected alternatively to extremes of hope and fear. They are goaded like wild beasts and never have a chance of enjoying a quiet life. They are deprived of all pleasures except sexual indulgence and intoxicating liquors. Every day they have to work until they are physically and mentally exhausted. This forces them to excessive indulgence in the only two pleasures remaining to them. If the workers manage to survive this sort of treatment, it is only to fall victims to starvation when a slump occurs and they are deprived of the little that they once had.
How is it possible that the poorer classes can remain healthy and have a reasonable expectations of life under such conditions? What can one expect but that they should suffer from continual outbreaks of epidemics and an excessively low expectation of life? The physical condition of the workers shows a progressive deterioration.
a). What did Engels consider the worst health conditions facing the poor?
b). Engels mentions that the poor “eat food which is bad, indigestible, and adulterated.” Explain the
meaning of the term “adulterated food.” Why was it such a widespread practice in England,
especially during the first part of the 19th century? (For help see p. 621 in your textbook)
c). What do you think Engels meant when he stated that the poor are “subjected ….to extremes of hope
and fear?” (Make sure to address both the “hope” and the “fear” in your response)
d). (textbook/research question) Describe efforts to improve the conditions of the working poor in the
first part of the 19th cen. (at least three specific individuals, movements, or laws – see pp.621-630)
a). What does the author actually mean when he quotes a “well tried maxim” – “‘Heaven helps those
who help themselves’?” How did the social class of the author and the time period influence his
opinion about “self-help” in the first paragraph in particular and the value of “bodily and mental”
labor in the whole document in general?
b). What is the author’s view on the role of government and laws in changing/fostering the right attitude
c). Could the author be classified as an “economic liberal” of his time? Explain.
d). What does the author mean when he argues that “great social evils” could not be effectively dealt
with without “radically improved conditions of personal life and character?”
e). How would Samuel Smiles analyze the situation of the working class and how would he react to the
testimonies in Document 1 (1a and 1b) as well as conditions described in Document 2?
Document 4: Woman in Her Social and Domestic Character
by Elizabeth Poole Sandford, 1842.
Industrialization also had its effects on middle-class women. As the wealth and position of these women rose in a changing economic environment, previous models of behavior no longer applied. A variety of books and manuals appeared to counsel middle-class women on their proper role and behavior. The following is an excerpt from one of these manuals written by Mrs. John Sandford.
a). What are the chief roles/responsibilities of a woman in her domestic life? Explain and provide
specific examples from the document.
b). What does the author mean when she says: “We do not like to see a woman affecting tremours;
but still less do we like to see her acting the amazon. A really sensible woman feels her
dependence.” (Paraphrase/explain in your own words).
c). (Research question) Define/explain “Cult of Domesticity.” Explain at least several ways in which
this document reflects the virtues associated with the “cult.”
Visual Primary and Secondary Sources
Document 1: Gare Saint Lazare by Claude Monet, 1877.
From a visual standpoint, industrial civilization was strikingly different from its predecessor. The 1877 painting of a railroad station in the heart of nineteenth-century Paris by the French Impressionist Claude Manet epitomizes the new industrial civilization. Examine the painting below and answer the attached questions.
1). Identify multiple elements of the “new industrial civilization” portrayed in the painting. What types
of associations would a nineteenth-century viewer have upon viewing this painting?
2). Contrast the subject and the style of the painting with any other artistic style(s) of the previous eras.
Explain the differences.
Document 2: Illustration from Life and Adventures of Michael Armstrong
The following illustration is from a novel, Life and Adventures of Michael Armstrong (1840) by the well-known British author, Mrs. Frances Trollope. The illustration depicts several of the main elements of the Industrial Revolution in England. Examine the illustration and provide answers to the attached questions.
1). Explain at least three economic and social aspects of the Industrial Revolution in England depicted in
2). In one of the interpretations of the illustration, it is believed that, in the foreground, a child worker
embraces his middle-class counterpart for some kindness he has displayed. In what way is this
particular part of the illustration and its interpretation a reflection of the typical middle-class view of
the poor and poverty? Explain.
Document 3: Industrialization and Demographic Change
1). After closely examining each map, explain connections between shifting population density,
urbanization, and industrialization during the period of early, rapid modernization of England’s
2). (Thinking question – based on PPT and textbook info.) What were some of the social consequences
of changes presented in the maps below? Provide multiple social consequences with explanations.
Document 1: The Making of Economic Society: England, the First to Industrialize
by Robert L. Heilbroner (1980) Although it is clear that industrialization occurred first in England, it is not apparent why this should be so. During the eighteenth century France was relatively prosperous and economically advanced. Other countries, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, possessed certain economic advantages over England and might have industrialized but did not. Robert Heilbroner, an economist and economic historian, addresses the question of why England was first and points out the differences between England and most other European nations in the eighteenth century. Why did the Industrial Revolution originally take place in England and not on the continent? To answer the question we must look at the background factors which distinguished England from most other European nations in the eighteenth century.
The first of these factors was simply that England was relatively wealthy. In fact, a century of successful exploration, slave-trading, piracy, war, and commerce had made her the richest nation in the world. Even more important, her riches had accrued not merely to a few nobles, but to a large upper-middle stratum of commercial bourgeoisie. England was thus one of the first nations to develop, albeit on a small scale, a prime requisite of an industrial economy: a “mass” consumer market. As a result, a rising pressure of demand inspired a search for new techniques.
Second, England was the scene of the most successful and thoroughgoing transformation of feudal society into commercial society. A succession of strong kings had effectively broken the power of the local nobility and had made England into a single unified state. As part of this process, we also find in England the strongest encouragement to the rising mercantile classes. Then too, as we have seen, the enclosure movement, which gained in tempo in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, expelled an army of laborers to man her new industrial establishments.
Third, England was the locus of a unique enthusiasm for science and engineering. The famous Royal Academy, of which Newton was an early president, was founded in 1660 and was the immediate source of much intellectual excitement. Indeed, a popular interest in gadgets, machines, and devices of all sorts soon became a mild national obsession: Gentlemen’s Magazine, a kind of New Yorker of the period, announced in 1729 that it would henceforth keep its readers “abreast of every invention” – a task which the mounting flow of inventions soon rendered quite impossible. No less important was an enthusiasm of the British landed aristocracy for scientific farming: English landlords displayed an interest in matters of crop rotation and fertilizer which their French counterparts would have found quite beneath their dignity.
Then there were a host of other background causes, some as fortuitous as the immense resources of coal and iron ore on which the British sat; others as purposeful as the development of a national patent system which deliberately sought to stimulate and protect the act of invention itself. In many ways, England was “ready” for an Industrial Revolution. But perhaps what finally translated the potentiality into an actuality was the emergence of a group of new men who seized upon the latent opportunities of history as a vehicle for their own rise to fame and fortune….
Pleasant or unpleasant, the personal characteristics fade beside one overriding quality. These were all men interested in expansion, in growth, in investment for investment’s sake. All of them were identified with technological progress, and none of them disdained the productive process. An employee of Maudslay’s [British inventor of machine tool technologies] once remarked, “It was a pleasure to see him handle a tool of any kind, but he was quite splendid with an 18-inch file.” Watt was tireless in experimenting with his machines; Wedgwood stomped about his factory on his wooden leg scawling, “This won’t do for Jos. Wedgwood,” wherever he saw evidence of careless work. Richard Arkwright was a bundle of ceaseless energy in promoting his interests, ….
“With us,” wrote a French visitor to a calico works in 1788, “a man rich enough to set up and run a factory like this would not care to remain in a position which he would deem unworthy of his wealth.” This was an attitude entirely foreign to the rising English industrial capitalist. His work was its own dignity and reward; the wealth it brought was quite aside. Boswell, on being shown Watt and Boulton’s great engine works at Soho, declared that he never forgot Boulton’s expression as the latter declared, “I sell here, sir, what all the world desires to have – Power.”
The new men were first and last entrepreneurs – enterprisers. They brought with them a new energy, as restless as it proved to be inexhaustible. In an economic, if not a political, sense, they deserve the epithet “revolutionaries,” for the change they ushered in was nothing short of total, sweeping, and irreversible.
QUESTIONS: a). What does the author mean by a “’mass’ consumer market?” What are the economic advantages of
developing a mass economic market in any society?
b). List political and social conditions present in England that made the country “ready” for the Industrial
c). What were the unique characteristics of the “new men” described in the document?
d). (Thinking question) Was it simply the circumstances that gave rise to the “New Men” or were the
“New Men” took advantage of the circumstances when men in most other nations would not have?
1 From “Western Civilization: Sources, Images, and Interpretations,” 7th ed., by Dennis Sherman, New York, 2008.