For thousands of years, much of the world made objects in about the same way.
Then, just over 250 years ago, something changed in England. Learn about how the First Industrial Revolution came about, then test yourself.
Do your older relatives ever go on and on about the old days, and how much things have changed? Granted, the world has changed a lot in the past 50 years. In fact, the very act of watching this video would have been unthinkable when your parents, much less your grandparents, were children. But imagine if you were part of a generation that saw the world change in ways that had not been seen for hundreds of years? That’s what happened to the people who lived during the First Industrial Revolution, a period from approximately 1760 to 1840, that saw a rapid growth of machines and industrialization.
But wait, why are we calling it the ‘First’ Industrial Revolution? In short, because there was another one from 1840 to 1890, but this second revolution was much more widely spread. By contrast, the First Industrial Revolution largely centered on Britain and parts of the northeastern United States.
Causes of the First Industrial Revolution
So what caused this Industrial Revolution? Britain especially was growing rich off of its large empire. While losing the American colonies in 1783 was a considerable setback, it had finally managed to gain control over much of the trade coming out of India. With this increase in trade, people were growing wealthier, and they wanted to spend that money on new things. As a result, demand for all sorts of goods shot up considerably.Meanwhile, the groups that were best positioned to profit off of this increased trade were the colonies themselves.
Britain was already seeing the results of letting colonies grow too rich in North America and was determined not to make the same mistakes twice. This was especially true since India was able to produce textiles at a very low cost. Meanwhile, much of the small business throughout the English countryside had long been textile production. If Britain was going to save its industry, it would have to increase its efficiency.
New Inventions and Mass Production
As a result, much of the innovation from this period, especially early in the Industrial Revolution, had to do with the textile industry. Soon, new inventions were filling factories throughout the great industrial cities of Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham.
While these innovations would not save small business, they did save the British textile industry, which meant that the Indian textile market was soon buying British cloth! In fact, one of the only places that could compete with the British dominance of the textile industry was the United States. This was due to the invention of the cotton gin, a machine that removed seeds from cotton fibers, which meant that Northern U.S.
factories had a cheap supply of cotton from Southern plantations.These new factories often used the same types of tools and machines throughout, which made it easier for repairmen to service them. It also made them much easier to buy.
As a result, new factories were built to create the machines necessary to make textiles. These new factories were built on their own revolutionary idea, that of replaceable parts. For centuries, if someone needed a new part for a machine they would have to find a blacksmith who could hopefully fit the original shape and composition. Now, both the machines and the parts were produced in large amounts, and for the first time ever, everything from iron fittings to screws were manufactured to be absolutely identical.These great new machines required an equally great amount of energy to run.
Early in the Industrial Revolution, power from water mills ran much of the equipment. However, because the water came from rivers and streams, that severely limited the number of sites where factories could be built. Also, watermills were dependent on a steady flow of water, which was not always possible.
Steam engines, on the other hand, could produce a consistent amount of energy by burning wood. Smokestacks soon filled the skylines of the industrial powerhouses, but it was really coal that took them to new literal and metaphorical heights. No longer dependent on heavy loads of wood or nearby forests, location now could be prioritized based on economic reasons.
Improvements in Infrastructure
For centuries, the main way of moving large amounts of materials around had been by water. For almost as long, canals, or artificial waterways, had presented a way of allowing waterborne traffic to reach otherwise landlocked areas. However, with the technological advances of the Industrial Revolution, these canals grew larger and more elaborate. Namely, systems of locks with steam-powered pumps allowed canals to reach highland areas that had been off-limits before.
Additionally, coal-fueled steam power was soon put to work powering ships, replacing the great sailing vessels of the past.Yet the most enduring and transformative change in infrastructure would come at the end of the First Industrial Revolution. Canals were limited in where they could be built, as the cost often made more than a few miles of canal impractical. Railroads, on the other hand, could move vast amounts of freight just about anywhere, and they could travel much faster than even the fastest steamships.
Legacy of Industrialization
Still, with all of these so-called advances, the First Industrial Revolution was not a great time for everyone.
Most importantly for us today, it began the problem of pollution from fossil fuels. More than 200 years later, we are still facing the same problems of air pollution and soot that the people of the First Industrial Revolution faced so many years ago. However, for the people of this period, the more immediate issue was the new economic divides in society. With the Industrial Revolution, the rich quickly grew incredibly rich, leaving the poorest people behind. This phenomenon is best encapsulated by the writings of Charles Dickens, who often used an economically disadvantaged person as his protagonist.
On a much broader scale, the demands of factories in New England and Manchester meant that for millions in the American South and the Indian subcontinent, servitude would continue. In the South, the small planter class grew wealthy from the sale of raw cotton to mills in New England and Britain.
In this lesson we looked at the First Industrial Revolution, a period of time from 1760 to 1840 that saw great changes in manufacturing in the United Kingdom and United States. Textile manufacturing served as a way to save the British cloth industry, but its lessons soon reached other parts of the economy due to replaceable parts. Such new industry relied on new infrastructure, at first based on canals and steamships but ultimately ending in the development of railroads.
Still, such rapid change was not good for everyone, as it created pollution and social injustice from the plantations of the American South to the novels of Charles Dickens.
First Industrial Revolution Terms ; Definitions
- First Industrial Revolution: A period from approximately 1760 to 1840 that saw a rapid growth of machines and industrialization.
- Cotton Gin: A machine that removed seeds from cotton fibers, which allowed Northern U.
S. factories to have a cheap supply of cotton from Southern plantations.
- Replaceable parts: Everything from iron fittings to screws were manufactured to be absolutely identical and produced in large amounts.
- Steam Engines: Engines that could produce a consistent amount of energy by burning wood.
- Coal: An energy source that took the Industrial Revolution to new heights by allowing people to no longer be dependent on heavy loads of wood or nearby forests.
- Canals: Artificial waterways.
- Charles Dickens: An author from the era who often used an economically disadvantaged person as his protagonist.
After reviewing this lesson, you should be able to:
- Describe the causes of the First Industrial Revolution
- Explain the First Industrial Revolution’s impact on society at the time