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The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution may be defined as the application of power-driven machinery to manufacturing. It had its beginning in remote times, and is still continuing in some places. In the eighteenth century all of western Europe began to industrialize rapidly, but in England the process was most highly accelerated. England's head start may be attributed to the emergence of a number of simultaneous factors.
Britain had burned up her magnificent oak forests in its fireplaces, but large deposits of coal were still available for industrial fuel. There was an abundant labor supply to mine coal and iron, and to man the factories. From the old commercial empire there remained a fleet, and England still possessed colonies to furnish raw materials and act as captive markets for manufactured goods. Tobacco merchants of Glasgow and tea merchants of London and Bristol had capital to invest and the technical know-how derived from the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century. Last, but not least important, the insularity of England saved industrial development from being interrupted by war. Soon all western Europe was more or less industrialized, and the coming of electricity and cheap steel after 1850 further speeded the process.

I. The Agricultural Revolution

The English countryside was transformed between 1760 and 1830 as the open-field system of cultivation gave way to compact farms and enclosed fields. The rotation of nitrogen-fixing and cereal crops obviated the necessity of leaving a third or half the land fallow each planting. Another feature of the new farming was the cultivation of turnips and potatoes. Jethro Tull (1674-1741) and Lord Townshend popularized the importance of root crops. Tull's most original contributions were the seed drill and horse hoe. The seed drill allowed a much greater proportion of the seed to germinate by planting it below the surface of the ground out of reach of the birds and wind. "Turnip" Townshend was famous for his cultivation of turnips and clover on his estate of Raynham in Norfolk.

He introduced the four-course rotation of crops:

  • wheat
  • turnips
  • oats or barley
  • clover

Robert Bakewell (1725-1795) pioneered in the field of systematic stock breeding. Prior to this, sheep had been valued for wool and cattle for strength; Bakewell showed how to breed for food quality. Bakewell selected his animals, inbred them, kept elaborate genealogical records, and maintained his stock carefully. He was especially successful with sheep, and before the century's end his principle of inbreeding was well established. Under Bakewell's influence, Coke of Holkham in Norfolk not only improved his own farms, but every year held "sheep shearings" to which farmers from all over Europe came for instruction and the exchange of knowledge.

Propaganda for the new agriculture was largely the work of Arthur Young. In 1793 the Board of Agriculture was established, and Arthur Young was its secretary. Although a failure as a practical farmer, he was a great success as a publicist for scientific agriculture. Even George III ploughed some land at Buckingham Palace and asked his friends to call him "Farmer George".

II. Technological Change since 1700

The technological changes of the eighteenth century did not appear suddenly. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the methods of making glass, clocks, and chemicals advanced markedly. By 1700 in England, and by 1750 in France, the tendency of the state and the guilds to resist industrialization was weakening. In fact, popular interest in industrialization resembled the wave of enthusiasm elicited by experimental agriculture.

By the beginning of the eighteenth century in England, the use of machines in manufacturing was already widespread. In 1762 Matthew Boulton built a factory which employed more than six hundred workers, and installed a steam engine to supplement power from two large waterwheels which ran a variety of lathes and polishing and grinding machines. In Staffordshire an industry developed which gave the world good cheap pottery; chinaware brought in by the East India Company often furnished a model. Josiah Wedgewood (1730-1795) was one of those who revolutionized the production and sale of pottery. From 1700 on, the Staffordshire potters used waterwheels or windmills to turn machines which ground and mixed their materials. After 1850 machinery was used extensively in the pottery-making process. The price of crockery fell, and eating and drinking consequently became more hygienic.

The textile industry had some special problems. It took four spinners to keep up with one cotton loom, and ten persons to prepare yarn for one woolen weaver. Spinners were busy, but weavers often had to be idle for lack of yarn. In 1733 John Kay, a Lancashire mechanic, patented his flying shuttle. Weaving could then be done more quickly, but it still was delayed until yarn was available in more abundance. In 1771 Richard Arkwright's ''water frame'' was producing yarn. About the same time, James Hargreaves (d. 1778) patented a spinning jenny on which one operator could spin many threads simultaneously. Then in 1779 Samuel Crompton combined the jenny and the water frame in a machine known as "Crompton's mule", which produced quantities of fine, strong yarn. The yarn famine had come to an end.

Between 1780 and 1860 other textile processes were mechanized. In 1784 a machine was patented which printed patterns on the surface of cotton or linen by means of rollers. In 1894 Northrup produced an automatic loom, and when the power loom became efficient, women replaced men as weavers, although there were still hand weavers in the paisley shawl trade as late as 1850. By 1812 the cost of making cotton yarn had dropped nine-tenths, and by 1800 the number of workers needed to turn wool into yarn had been reduced by four-fifths. And by 1840 the labor cost of making the best woolen cloth had fallen by at least half.

A. The Steam Engine

The steam engine provided a landmark in the industrial development of Europe. The first modern steam engine was built by an engineer, Thomas Newcomen, in 1705 to improve the pumping equipment used to eliminate seepage in tin and copper mines. Newcomen's idea was to put a vertical piston and cylinder at the end of a pump handle. He put steam in the cylinder and then condensed it with a spray of cold water; the vacuum created allowed atmospheric pressure to push the piston down. In 1763 James watt, an instrument-maker for Glasgow University, began to make improvements on Newcomen's engine. He made it a reciprocating engine, thus changing it from an atmospheric to a true "steam engine". He also added a crank and flywheel to provide rotary motion.

In 1774 the industrialist Michael Boulton took Watt into partnership, and their firm produced nearly five hundred engines before Watt's patent expired in 1800. Water power continued in use, but the factory was now liberated from the streamside. A Watt engine drove Robert Fulton's experimental steam vessel Clermont up the Hudson in 1807.

B. Electric Power

It was not until 1873 that a dynamo capable of prolonged operation was developed, but as early as 1831 Michael Faraday demonstrated how electricity could be mechanically produced. Through the nineteenth century the use of electric power was limited by small productive capacity, short transmission lines, and high cost. Up to 1900 the only cheap electricity was that produced by generators making use of falling water in the mountains of southeastern France and northern Italy. Italy, without coal resources, soon had electricity in every village north of Rome. Electric current ran Italian textile looms and, eventually, automobile factories. As early as 1890 Florence boasted the world's first electric streetcar.

The electrification of Europe proceeded apace in the twentieth century. Russia harnessed the Dneiper River and the Irish Free State built power plants on the River Shannon. Germany was supplied with electricity in the 1920's, and by 1936 Great Britain had built an "electric grid" completely covering the country. Electricity was a major factor in the phenomenally rapid industrialization of Russia in the 1930's.

C. Railroads

The coming of the railroads greatly facilitated the industrialization of Europe. At mid.eighteenth century the plate or rail track had been in common use for moving coal from the pithead to the colliery or furnace. After 1800 flat tracks were in use outside London, Sheffield, and Munich. With the expansion of commerce, facilities for the movement of goods from the factory to the ports or cities came into pressing demand. In 1801 Richard Trevithick had an engine pulling trucks around the mine where he worked in Cornwall. By 1830 a railway was opened from Liverpool to Manchester; and on this line George Stephenson's "Rocket" pulled a train of cars at fourteen miles an hour.

The big railway boom in Britain came in the years 1844 to 1847. The railway builders had to fight vested interests-for example, canal stockholders, turnpike trusts, and horse breeders-but by 1850, aided by cheap iron and better machine tools, a network of railways had been built. By midcentury railroad trains travelling at thirty to fifty miles an hour were not uncommon, and freight steadily became more important than passengers. After 1850 in England the state had to intervene to regulate what amounted to a monopoly of inland transport. But as time went on the British railways developed problems. The First World War (1914-1918) found them suffering from overcapitalization, rising costs, and state regulation.

British success with steam locomotion, however, was enough to encourage the building of railroads in most European countries, often with British capital, equipment, and technicians. Railroads became a standard item of British export. After 1842 France began a railroad system which combined private and public enterprise. The government provided the roadbed and then leased it to a private company which provided the equipment. In Russia, Canada, and the United States, railways served to link communities separated by vast distances. In Germany there were no vast empty spaces, but railroads did help to affect political and economic integration.

D. Advances in Transportation

The internal combustion engine was developed in Europe before 1900, but in the American automobile it came into its own. By mid-twentieth century, middle-class and working-class people owned automobiles in Europe as well as in the United States, and the motorcar began to transform social patterns. It has been said with some truth that Americans in the twentieth century carried on a love affair with their automobiles; certainly motorcars were marketed as sex and status symbols. But at the same time, the growth of the automobile industry created large fields for investment, produced new types of service occupations, and revolutionized road-making. This was true in western Europe as well as in America after the Second World War.

The First World War saw the beginning of commercial aviation. Germany's geographical position and the ban on military aircraft imposed by the peace treaty led to the development of civilian airlines. By 1929 commercial planes were flying out of the European capitals to all important places on the globe. And the day was not far off when airplanes were to eclipse railroad trains as commercial passenger carriers.

E. The Steamship

At the beginning of the nineteenth century the steam-driven ship appeared on the horizon. From 1770 onward various men had experimented with engines in boats in England, Scotland, and the United States. When Robert Fulton's Clermont travelled up the Hudson to Albany, tradition has it, people on the bank seeing the sparks from the smokestack thought the Devil had gone by on a raft. In 1811 Bell built the Comet and ran it for eight years between Glasgow and a port twenty-five miles distant. Two basic economic problems in connection with steam vessels soon came to light. First, the self-propelled ship was more expensive to build and operate than sailing vessels; and second, its boiler and machinery were so bulky that there was little room left for passengers. The technical problems were solved shortly, but the economic aspects took more time. Yet the steamship had some undeniable advantages: lt could not be becalmed, it was not helpless in a storm, and it could arrive and depart under its own power. By the 1840's the North Atlantic was crossed regularly by steamship.

In 1839 Sir Samuel Cunard secured from the British government a contract to carry mails between Liverpool, Halifax, and Boston. The run was a great success, and soon Cunard was operating a regular schedule. The tremendous growth of steamship traffic in the last half of the nineteenth century was accompanied by significant improvements in hull design, engines, and fuel. By 1839 the propellor had replaced the paddle wheel, steel replaced iron in the hull, and multi-cylinder engines became available. After 1920 the diesel engine, much smaller and lighter than a steam unit of equal power, marked another major changeover.

III. Communications

A penny post on all letters was inaugurated in Britain in 1840 after it was discovered that handling, not the distance sent, was the critical cost in delivering mall. All letters weighing a half-ounce or less could be carried for an English penny (two cents). By 1875 the Universal Postal Union had been established to facilitate the transmission of mail between foreign countries. In 1871 telegraph cables reached from London to Australia; massages could be flashed halfway around the globe in a matter of minutes, speeding commercial transactions.

Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 transmitted the human voice over a wire, although it was several decades before the telephone became popular. At the end of the century the wireless telegraph became a standard safety device on oceangoing vessels. Radio did not come until 1920; then it was commercially exploited in America to a much greater extent than in Europe. In Europe the broadcasting systems were either operated or closely controlled by the state and did not carry commercial advertising. The world continued to shrink at a great rate as new means of transport and communication speeded the pace of life.

IV. Changing Social Patterns

The Industrial Revolution brought with it an increase in population and urbanization, as well as new social classes. The increase in population was nothing short of dramatic. England and Germany showed a growth rate of something more than one percent annually; at this rate the population would double in about seventy years. In the United States the increase was more than three percent, which might have been disastrous had it not been for a practically empty continent and fabulous natural resources. Only the population of France tended to remain static after the eighteenth century. The general population increase was aided by a greater supply of food made available by the Agricultural Revolution, and by the growth of medical science and public health measures which decreased the death rate and added to the population base.

Until the Industrial Revolution, most of the world's population was rural. However, by mid-nineteenth century, half of the English people lived in cities, and by the end of the century, the same was true of other European countries. Between 1800 and 1950 most large European cities exhibited spectacular growth. At the beginning of the nineteenth century there were scarcely two dozen cities in Europe with a population of 100,000, but by 1900 there were more than 150 cities of this size. The rise of great cities can be accounted for in various ways:

  • First, industrialization called for the concentration of a work force; and indeed, the factories themselves were often located where coal or some other essential material was available, as the Ruhr in Germany and Lille in northern France.
  • Second, the necessity for marketing finished goods created great urban centers where there was access to water or railways. Such was the case with Liverpool, Hamburg, Marseilles, and New York.
  • And third, there was a natural tendency for established political centers such as London, Paris, and Berlin to become centers fort he banking and marketing functions of the new industrialism

Rapid growth of the cities was not an unmixed blessing. The factory towns of England tended to become rookeries of jerry-built tenements, while the mining towns became long monotonous rows of company-built cottages, furnishing minimal shelter and little more. The bad living conditions in the towns can be traced to lack of good brick, the absence of building codes, and the lack of machinery for public sanitation. But, it must be added, they were also due to the factory owners' tendency to regard laborers as commodities and not as a group of human beings.

In addition to a new factory-owning bourgeoisie, the Industrial Revolution created a new working class. The new class of industrial workers included all the men, women, and children laboring in the textile mills, pottery works, and mines. Often skilled artisans found themselves degraded to routine process laborers as machines began to mass produce the products formerly made by hand. Generally speaking, wages were low, hours were long, and working conditions unpleasant and dangerous. The industrial workers had helped to pass the Reform Bill of 1832, but they had not been enfranchised by it.

 

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