The homes created to house the workers

The Industrial Revolution had a lasting effect on class structure, urbanization and lifestyle.

In this lesson, we will learn how the Industrial Revolution changed various aspects of European society.

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Urbanization

The Industrial Revolution changed material production, wealth, labor patterns and population distribution. Although many rural areas remained farming communities during this time, the lives of people in cities changed drastically.

The new industrial labor opportunities caused a population shift from the countryside to the cities. The new factory work led to a need for a strict system of factory discipline.During this time, child labor and the unsafe working conditions rampant in many factories led to reform movements.

Population movement was caused by people living in small farming communities who moved to cities. These prospective workers were looking for wage labor in newly developed factories.During the early 19th century, there was a large population growth caused by the improvements of the Agricultural Revolution of the 18th century. Many historians believe this population increase was due to a dramatic decline in the death rate. A drop in famines, warfare and illnesses, and an increase in food sources, all mixed to cause a population spike. As early as 1850, many European cities were centers of industrial growth. In fact, by 1850, over 50% of the entire population of Great Britain lived in either a town or a city instead of in a rural community.

The growth of cities led to horrible living conditions. The wealthy fared far better than the industrial workers because they could afford to live in the suburbs on the outskirts of the city. However, for most of the factory workers, cities were dirty, crowded places where epidemics frequently broke out.Overcrowded row homes created to house the workers and their families contributed to these conditions. Government reports of the time indicated people sleeping as many as six to one bed.The sanitary conditions in early industrial cities were filthy as well.

Since the municipal governments did not concern themselves with cleanliness at the time, the cities did not have proper waste disposal systems, and people threw trash and sewage directly into the streets. The burning coal of the industrial factories coated cities in a layer of grime and polluted the air, and water supplies were polluted by waste.

Working Conditions

Conditions in factories were deplorable as well.

Those workers who had come from agricultural backgrounds were faced with a big adjustment. While farming required irregular hours and periods of work alternating with rest, the factory system required constant labor. Factory owners were faced with the task of breaking the habits of these workers and getting them accustomed to time-based labor.The discipline of the workers directly impacted their productivity and, ultimately, the profit of the factory. Factory owners instituted regular hours for workers to ensure that their machines were always producing. The employers instituted strict rules and punishment for those who disobeyed.

For instance, workers could be fined for being late or fired for being intoxicated at work.The early factories were extremely unsafe. Imagine going to work without safety regulations and with no protections in place. If you were injured, you were not compensated. If you could not work anymore, you received nothing.

It was a very real possibility that a person could become homeless from being out of work.Also, imagine that there were no laws about how long you could work or how many consecutive days you could labor without time off. A person could work a shift of 12-16 hours.

This same person could be asked to work this grueling shift six days per week. Many of these factories were also dusty, unventilated and sweltering hot in the summer.Conditions in the coal mines were hazardous as well. Usually, men hunched in cramped tunnels that were only about three or four feet high, dug coal and placed it in carts. Then, small children or women would push the carts to the surface.

Coal miners were faced with damp, cramped conditions, along with the danger of cave-ins and toxic gas. Many children who worked in the mines had long lasting health effects, such as lung disease and stunted growth.

Trade Unions

The deplorable working conditions in early Industrial Europe led to a quest for change. Workers were among the earliest groups to band together in an effort to gain rights. Skilled workers of many crafts began to form trade unions. These organizations attempted to limit the number of people who could enter into their trade and negotiate for benefits from employers.

These early trade unions were only concerned with better conditions for their own particular trade. Some unions organized strikes to achieve their goals. Ultimately, these early industrial unions paved the way for the labor unions more familiar today.

Reform

Efforts at reform were far-reaching. Many individuals pushed for regulations on issues such as:

  • Child labor
  • Safety measures in factories
  • Protections for women workers
  • Legislation on urban sanitation
  • And a variety of other issues

Edwin Chadwick, an English reformer, was concerned with the reform of the English Poor Laws and public health issues. In a report written in 1842, he stated, ‘That the annual loss of life from filth and bad ventilation are greater than the loss from death or wounds in any wars in which the country has been engaged in modern times.’ His report was essential in the eventual passing of the Public Health Act of 1848.Other reform efforts in Britain focused on labor issues.

In 1802, the first of a series of factory acts passed, limiting labor hours for children, prohibiting the employment of children under 9 years old, and requiring children between 9 and 16 to be educated in math and writing during work. Other important legislation followed.In 1833, The Factory Act prohibited children between the ages of 9 and 13 from working more than 8 hours per day and barred children between the ages of 13 and 18 from working more than 12 hours per day. The Coal Mines Act of 1842 prohibited the employment of women and boys of 10 years old and younger in mines.

As the decades proceeded, workers continued to gain more rights and safety conditions in cities and factories improved.

Lesson Summary

The changes spurred by the Industrial Revolution affected many aspects of society. This period in Western history is considered one of the major forces of historical change. Not only did industrialization lead to a machine-based modern society, but it changed Europe’s economy from agriculture to wage-labor and money exchange.The horrible conditions in early industrial factories and cities caused many hardships for new workers. Epidemics, unregulated workplaces and unsanitary living conditions caused the death of many urban workers.

In response, many people took up the cause of reform. Through tireless efforts, the conditions of workers continued to improve.

Learning Outcomes

After this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Describe the negative aspects of the Industrial Revolution that led people to seek change
  • Summarize the creation of trade unions
  • Identify the areas of early reform efforts
  • Explain the impact of Edwin Chadwick’s reform efforts
  • List regulations of the 1800s that led to better working conditions
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