The Industrial Revolution

Industrialization occurred first in Great Britain, then in other parts of Western Europe, and later North America, Russia and Japan. The effect of industrialization was to transform agricultural societies into industrial societies. Technology had made possible the development of machines which raised worker productivity and promoted the growth of large scale industrial enterprises. Manufactured products could be turned out more quickly and cheaply than before. In the long run, standards of living were improved in much of the world. It also generated substantial social change, which at time became unsettling, even violent. It encouraged urbanization and migration to cities; although at times city dwellers who worked in factories lived in squalid conditions. The problems of early industrial workers led to a number of calls for reform by social critics.

Patterns of Industrialization: By the mid eighteenth century, many areas, notably Britain, and parts of China and Japan experienced high agricultural productivity which led to high population growth. This encouraged specialization of labor and permitted more people to work at tasks other than agriculture. Navigable rives and canals made trade and transport feasible, and cities and towns often houses banking and financial institutions. At the same time, deforestation and soil depletion threatened continuous population growth and levels of consumption. In Britain and other areas in Western Europe, the response to this problem was to exploit coal deposits located near the surface as well as natural resources imported from abroad.

The location of coal deposits was a primary factor in British industrialization. Coal was far superior to wood for iron production, home heating and cooking. At the same time, demand for wood had led to deforestation and serious wood shortages resulted. Britain’s coal deposits luckily were within close range of rivers and urban areas where pools of labor could be found. Britain also benefited from its colonies in the Americas where plantations supplied the mother country with sugar and cotton, neither of which could have been grown in Europe.

British consumers had become fond of cotton garments, particularly brightly colored prints from India known as calicoes. Cotton was lighter, easier to wash, and quicker to dry than wool. Indeed, cotton was so popular that British wool producers persuaded Parliament to pass a series of laws known as the Calico Acts of 1720 and 1721. The Acts prohibited the import of cotton cloth, and restricted the sale of calicoes in Britain. The law even required corpses to be buried in woolen shrouds. Even so, consumer demand for cotton products continued to grow. The demand was so great that domestic producers had to speed up the spinning and weaving process to keep up.

The demand for more production led artisans to develop new ways of processing cotton rather than the hand methods previously used. In 1733, John Kay invented the flying shuttle which speeded up the weaving process. This, of course, increased the demand for spun thread. In 1779, Samuel Crompton produced a "mule" which, when adapted for steam power in 1790, could produce one hundred times more spun thread than a worker on a manual spinning wheel. This reversed the imbalance, as weavers could no longer keep up with the supply of spun yarn. Then in 1785, Edmund Cartwright developed a water driven power loom. By the 1820’s, the power loom had replaced hand weaving. A weaver working two power looms (it was possible for one weaver to work several machines simultaneously) could produce fifteen times the cloth as the fastest hand weaver. By 1830, 500,000 people worked in the cotton business. Cotton cloth represented forty percent of Britain’s export market.

The most important industrial development was the perfection of the steam engine by James Watt in 1765. Previous steam engines had been used to draw water out of coal mines; but consumed large amounts of fuel. Watt’s engine used steam to force a piston to turn a wheel which converted a simple pump into an engine with multiple uses. His contemporaries used the term horsepower to measure the energy produced by the machine. More than 1000 steam engines were in use in Britain by 1800, primarily in the textile industry. The result was greater productivity and cheaper prices.

Aside from textiles, iron and steel industries benefited from industrialization. Smelters began to use coke (a purified form of coal) rather than charcoal to produce iron. This allowed for larger blast furnaces and more production. Iron production skyrocketed while prices fell, so much so that iron was soon common in the construction of bridges, buildings and ships. Steel production also benefited. Stronger, harder and more resilient than iron, steel had been more expensive to produce until the perfection of the Bessemer process by Henry Bessemer in 1856. Steel soon replaced iron in tools machines and structures.

Steel and steam together led to improvements in transportation technology. In 1815, George Stephenson built the first steam powered railroad locomotive. In 1829, he won a contest by operating his "Rocket" engine at a speed of 28 mph. Refinement of steam engines made them more efficient and burn less coal. The same technology was used to build steamships. Steamships and railroads could carry large amounts of cargo and thus lowered transportation rates. They also led to the creation of dense transportation networks linking areas more closely than ever before. British railroad entrepreneurs laid 13000 miles of track between 1830 and 1870. Passengers as well as cargo were transported. Steamships were especially versatile as it allowed travel upstream.

The Factory System: Previously, manufacturing had relied on the "putting out" system previously discussed. With the rising demand for products such as textiles and the use of water and wind power, factories were born. Factories first emerged in Britain in the late eighteenth century in the textile industry. Newly developed manufacturing machines were too large and expensive for home use and were accordingly moved to areas where large scale production could take place under a single roof. This brought together more workers who performed more specialized tasks than ever before. Under the factory system, each worker performed a single task rather than the entire job. Factory operations allowed managers to maintain strict quality control and produce high quality goods.

Adam Smith explained the process in The Wealth of Nations by an illustration from a pin factory: "One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head….and the important business of making a pin in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations."

Worker productivity and output increased by enormous levels; yet the factory system also led to the emergence of an owner class whose capital financed factory operations which workers themselves could not afford. Industrial workers became wage owners who had nothing to offer but their labor and were dependent on factory owners for their livelihood. Skills workers may have learned were now obsolete; factory work was often repetitious and boring. Many workers were unhappy as a result.

The pace of work and degree of discipline also created problems for workers. Clocks, machines and shop rules established work patterns. Normally one went to work and ended one’s work day at the sound of a whistle with the workday filled with monotonous labor. Supervision was strict; men women and children worked in factories where floor managers often pressured them to speed up production and punished them if they did not reach production expectations. Safety was not a matter of concern, and workers often suffered serious, even fatal accidents.

Violent protest erupted on occasion because industrial production. English hand craftsworkers known as Luddites often destroyed textile machinery which they blamed for their low level of employment and wages. Their leader was called King Lud, named for a legendary boy named Ludlam who broke a spinning frame to spite his father. Luddites usually wore masks and worked at night. The movement spread throughout England, and because they avoided violence to people, they received considerable popular support. However, in 1813, the government hanged fourteen Luddites, thereby serving notice that it would not tolerate such conduct. The movement soon died out.

Industrialization was largely monopolized by Great Britain for over 50 years. There the government was aware of its head start and passed laws forbidding the export of machinery, manufacturing techniques or skilled workers. Still, businessmen in the United States and Continental Europe did their best to obtain workers or machinery by bribes or smuggling. At first their success was minimal; they only managed to get second rate industrialists and drunkards, hardly a good return on their investment. The situation changed, however, after the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars when trade barriers were abolished and trade guilds, which discouraged innovation, were dismantled. The first continental industrial center was Belgium, where coal, iron, textiles glass and armaments production grew in the early nineteenth century. French firms hired skilled British workers and soon caught up. An explosion of railroad construction led to increased economic growth and much lower shipping rates. In Germany, industrialization was slower, largely because of political instability. After Otto von Bismarck managed to unify Germany, industrialization took off rapidly. Among its major firms was the famous Krupp firm, which dominating mining, metallurgy, shipbuilding and armaments.

American industrialization began in the 1820’s, primarily in the textile industry. The industry got a boost when Samuel Slater, a British entrepreneur, disguised himself, memorized the plans for a complete textile factory, and immigrated to the United States. By the 1850’s, over a thousand factories were operating, manufacturing shoes, textiles and armaments. Heavy iron and steel production emerged in Pennsylvania and central Alabama by the 1870’s where there were abundant supplies of iron ore and coal.

The first industry to industrialize was cotton textiles, but innovative techniques helped extend the factory system to other industries. A boost to the factory system came with the invention of machines which produced interchangeable parts by Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin. Whitney first used interchangeable parts to make firearms. The technique was soon applied to other products from clocks and sewing machines to shoes and uniforms. Mass production of interchangeable parts soon became an integral part of industrialization. Assembly line production was introduced in 1913 by Henry Ford. Under this system, a conveyor system carried component parts past workers who performed a specified task. Under his system, a complete chassis could be assembled in 93 minutes. (Previously, it had required 728 minutes.) By the early twentieth century, Ford Motor Company produced half the world’s automobiles. Mass production made automobiles affordable by almost everyone.

With factory production, big business soon emerged. By the 1850’s governments in Britain and France provided for the charter of Corporations whereby business was financed through the sale of stock interests in the company to investors. Investors received dividends on their investment if the company made money; if it failed, their only loss was the price of the stock which they owned. By the late nineteenth century, corporations controlled most businesses which required large investments in land, labor or capital. Banks, brokerage firms, etc. also developed to meet the needs of business.

Some big businesses sought to eliminate their competition altogether. Some formed monopolies by which they controlled every facet of the business. An example was John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company which controlled almost all oil drilling, refining, and distribution in the U.S. This is called vertical organization. Others attempted to eliminate competition by horizontal organization, by forming cartels, in which independent companies worked together to fix prices, regulate production and divide up markets. OPEC is a prime example of a cartel. Some governments outlawed cartels and monopolies, but where not regulated by law the practice continued.

Industrial Society: Industrialization led to dramatic, sometimes unsettling social change. Masses of people moved to cities or across the ocean in search of opportunity, and new social classes developed.

Industrialization raised standards of living in many ways by dramatically reducing the price of items such as clothing. All but the dirt poor could afford several changes of clothes and even light cotton underwear which had not hitherto been worn. Agricultural tools were produced more cheaply and railroads and steamships provided quick, cheap distribution. Food prices also fell; and consumers in early Europe were able to purchase cabinets, porcelain, and decorative objects which their ancestors would have found only in the homes of the wealthiest. With prosperity came a rise in population in the Americas and Europe. Population growth reflected changes in mortality and fertility rates. Child mortality had previously been high, which prevented explosive population growth. With better diets, improved sanitation and improved disease control, child mortality was drastically reduced and population began to grow rapidly. Interestingly fertility went into decline, largely through birth control. In the short run, mortality fell faster than fertility, and caused the population to grow. The result was the demographic transition: shifting patterns of mortality and fertility.

Within newly industrialized societies, large numbers of people moved from the countryside to urban areas where factories were located in search of work. In Europe, the U.S. and Japan, three quarters of the population were soon living in cities. With the change, the size of cities also grew. Several cities, such as London, Paris, Berlin and New York had populations of over one million. In 1900, London was the largest city in the world with over 6.5 million residents.

Inevitably, pollution followed population growth. The air was fouled by fumes from fossil fuels such as wood and coal and led to a number of occupational diseases. Chimney sweeps often contracted cancer of the scrotum from exposure to chimney soot. Sewage and industrial discharge polluted rivers and streams and every part of cities were exposed to the stench of pollution. Water supplies were tainted and resulted in outbreaks of cholera, typhus and dysentery as well as tuberculosis. The presence of disease meant that mortality rates often exceeded birth rates; only the arrival of newcomers kept cities growing.

Family income determined the degree of comfort and security one enjoyed. The wealthy typically moved to elegant homes in the suburbs whereas the working poor lived in crowded areas in the center of cities in shoddy housing. Many lived in overcrowded tenements where family members were often forced to share the same bed, which increased the likelihood of incestuous relationships and disease transmission. The few open spaces normally contained pigs which lived in their own dung or depositories for human waste.

Municipal authorities finally stepped up to deal with the problem of inner cities by the late nineteenth century. Water supplies were improved and sewer systems implemented. Building codes outlawed shoddy construction. As a result, city life became safer and sanitation was improved. Epidemic disease was reduced substantially. Parks and recreational facilities were built to make cities more livable.

Large numbers of people migrated to the Americas in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in search of work, or opportunity. Many Irish came as a result of the potato famine there, and Russian Jews came to escape anti-Semitic policies in Czarist Russia. Many planned to eventually return to their homeland with the fortune they made in America. Some did return, in fact one third of Irish immigrants went home. The vast majority remained in their new home. Immigrants in the early nineteenth century came from Britain, Germany, Ireland and Scandinavia. In the late nineteenth century, they came from eastern and southern Europe.

New social structures appeared with Industrialization. Slavery largely disappeared as industrial society did not favor slave labor. Slaves did not consume the products of industry in large quantity; industrialists preferred wage laborers who spent their money on products which kept factories producing. New social classes also emerged as factory owners and entrepreneurs, so called "Captains of Industry" became fabulously wealthy, so much so that they overshadowed the old military aristocracy and nobility. A new elite middle class also developed, comprised of small business owners, factory managers, engineers, accountants, physicians, attorneys, etc. A large portion of the wealth generated by industry flowed to the middle class, which became its principal beneficiary. A new working class also emerged, comprised of laborers who worked in factories. They were less skilled than the old craftsmen and artisans of former times and their work consisted of tending to machines and providing heavy labor for low wages. The working class was primarily centered in mining and industrial centers in urban areas.

Family structure also changed. Previously, families had worked together and each contributed to the entire group. With industrialization, economic production was moved outside the home, and the result was a sharp distinction between work and family life which had previously not existed. Although during the early days of industrialization, entire families might work in a factory, over time industrialization meant families no longer worked in groups. Wage earners normally worked an average of fourteen hours per day six days per week. As a result, family members led increasingly separate lives. The status of men changed, as they were primarily the family member employed outside the home. Since industrial work was deemed more important than the domestic chores performed by women, the husband’s stature in the family became important. This was especially true in upper class and middle class families where fathers enjoyed increased prestige at home since they were usually the sole source of income for the family. Professional men often dedicated themselves to self improvement, even in their leisure hours. They read books or attended lectures on business or cultural themes. Factory owners and managers imposed their own values on workers with the threats of fines, beatings or firing for such offenses as absenteeism, tardiness or swearing. They even supported churches and Sunday Schools, thus persuading workers to adopt middle class moral and social norms. Male workers often resented workplace discipline and moral pressures. Often, they observed "Holy Monday," and stayed home that day to lengthen the weekend. Their leisure time, though limited, was usually occupied with sporting events: soccer in Europe and baseball in America. They also gambled, socialized at bars and taverns, and attended dog fights and cock fights. Middle class forces attempted to curtail this behavior, but only with limited success.

Women were increasingly unable to work and care for children when the work place was moved away from the home; in fact married women were expected to stay home and raise the children, care for the home, and become the guardian of traditional family values. Middle class women did not work outside the home. They were largely confined to new models of behavior which reflected their role as mothers and wives. Mrs. John Sanford—one of the first to refer to herself by her husband’s name rather than her own—wrote a book entitled Woman in Her Social and Domestic Character (1833) described the ideal British woman: "Domestic life is the chief source of her influence; there is, indeed, something unfeminine in independence." She described independence as working outside the home or "acting the Amazon." The woman "knows that she is the weaker vessel" and takes pride in making the home a happy place for her husband and children.

The demand for domestic servants also increased. One of every three European women was a domestic servant at some point in her life. Their employers replaced their parents as guardians. Most were able to earn enough money to send some home to parents; while others saved money for dowries and to start their own careers as clerks or secretaries.

Children were also greatly influenced. Child labor was common at first, and is replete with horror stories of children abused by overseers who beat them if they did not work; yet their families needed them to work if the family was to survive. Regulations on child labor first appeared in Britain in the 1840’s which removed them from dangerous jobs and restricted the hours they could work. Eventually, they were removed from the workforce. Instead, moral concerns and the realization that modern society demanded a highly skilled and educated work force, mandatory education became the principal task of childhood. England first required mandatory education for children aged five to ten in 1881.

Child labor in the United States did not disappear until well into the 20th century. Your humble author’s paternal grandparents both worked in textile mills at very early ages and received little or no formal education.

Socialism: The term "socialism first appeared around 1830 when social critics worked to establish ideal communities that would work toward an equitable society. Socialists deplored economic inequality, primarily the gap between the wealthy factory owners and captains of industry and the factory labor that were dirt poor. Early socialists sought to expand the Enlightenment understanding of equality to economic as well as political equity. These thinkers were often called utopian socialists, as they hoped to establish an ideal working society. An early socialist, Robert Owen (1171-1858) worked as a salesman and deplored the competition of the marketplace. Rather he called for a system where model communities would be held together by love rather than coercion, and everyone would work according to his personal temperament and inclination. Owen turned a Scottish textile town, New Lanark, into a model industrial community in which workers worked from seventeen to ten hours per day, lived in spacious housing, and purchased goods at a factory store for fair prices. Children went to school rather than work in factories. Strangely, despite his adjustments for the care of his workers, Owens’ factory made a profit. Utopian socialist ideas led followers of the movement to establish experimental communities from the U.S. to Romania; however most encountered economic difficulties and failed. As a result, later socialists looked to large scale organization of working people rather than utopian communities to bring about change.

Among the more prominent socialists were Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) who believed that social problems were the result of capitalism which they said divided people into two classes: the capitalists who owned the means of production, and the proletariat, the working class who had only labor to sell. Their argument was intense competition between capitalists trying to make a profit resulted in ruthless exploitation of the working class. Also, state institutions such as the police and courts of law were agencies of the capitalist ruling class. Their function was to maintain capitalist power and continue the exploitation of the proletariat. Even the fine arts literature and religion were tools of the capitalists used to amuse the workers and keep their minds off their misery. Marx, an atheist, referred to religion as "the opiate of the masses," since it encouraged them to focus on a hypothetical realm of existence beyond this world rather than focus on trying to improve their position in society. Marx published his ideas in a major work, Das Kapital ("Capitalism") and later with Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto. The theme of the communist movement was to abolish private property and establish a radically egalitarian society. The Manifesto claimed to be based on a "scientific study of history," and that history had in fact been a history of class struggle. Eventually, the working class would tire of their exploitation and overthrow the entire capitalist system, and thereby establish a "dictatorship of the proletariat," in which there would be no private property. After the revolution, there would be no need for government and the state itself would eventually wither away, as would coercive institutions such as police forces and law courts. The ideas of Marx and Engels were wildly popular throughout the world, and trade unions, newspapers and educational associations worked to advance socialism. Even so, socialists disagreed on how best to bring about change. Revolutionary socialists, such as Marx and Engels, urged workers to seize control of the state, confiscate the means of production and distribute wealth equitably throughout society. Other, so called evolutionary socialists called for the election of legislators who would support socialist reforms and bring about change gradually and peaceably.

Socialism did not win control of any government until the Russian revolution of 1917; however it did force governments to attack the abuses of industrial society. Parliament prohibited underground employment of women (many women had worked in coal mines as "drawers" in which they pulled carts of coal from the mines with straps attached to their shoulders.) It also prohibited employing children under ten more than nine hours per day. Political reform soon followed. Universal male suffrage was soon enacted. In Germany, medical insurance, unemployment compensation and retirement pensions to provide social security were introduced. Additionally, trade unions (labor unions) worked to improve workers lives by seeking higher wages and better working conditions. Governments and employers considered unions as illegal organizations who restrained trade and violence often erupted as a result. Unions normally applied pressure by calling strikes, whereby workers walked off the job and shut down entire factories and railroads. When factory owners hired replacement workers, called "scabs" by union members, violence frequently resulted, and the military was often called in to put down the strike. In the long run, however, unions improved the lot of workers and became an integral part of industrial society. Thus, workers’ plight was improved without revolution.

Industrialization’s Global Effects: As industrialization grew, industrial powers used their influence to obtain raw materials from pre-industrial societies which became increasingly oriented to the exploitation of their resources. They exercised little control because representatives of industrial countries dominated the commercial and financial institutions of trade. Many saw home markets flooded with cheap manufactured goods from industrial societies which devastated traditional industries and damaged local economies.

Industrialization began in Russia and Japan as early as 1870. The Russian Czarist government encouraged the construction of railroads to link the entire nation. The most impressive project was the trans-Siberian line, built between 1891 and 1904 which stretched over 5,600 miles, and linked Moscow to Vladivostok on the Pacific coast. Railroads stimulated the development of coal, iron and steel industries which allowed Russia to serve as a commercial link between western Europe and east Asia. Industrialization in Russia benefited from the expertise of Count Sergei Witte who served as finance minister from 1892 to 1903. Witte encouraged foreign investment and the establishment of savings banks to raise capital. By 1900, Russia produced half the world’s oil and was fourth in world steel production. In Japan, the government hired foreign experts to instruct Japanese workers and managers in modern industrial techniques, and also modernized iron foundries and dock yards. The government also sponsored the construction of railroads, opening of mines, the organization of a banking system, and mechanizing industries such as ships, armaments, silk, cotton and chemicals. When businesses could operate without government support, they were sold to private entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs often built tremendous empires known as zaibatsu, ("wealthy cliques.") They were similar to the trusts and cartels which developed in the United States and Europe, but were mostly organized around a single family. By 1900, Japan became the most industrialized nation in Asia.

Industrialization brought economic and military strength to societies which encouraged others to work toward industrialization. At first these efforts had limited results. In India for example, entrepreneurs established a large empire on jute production but did not have government support and there was insufficient private investment. Still, industrialization had international ramifications. Industrial societies needed raw materials which often had to be imported from distant regions. Although importation of agricultural products from distant lands had been the norm for many years, demand increased sharply with the growth of industry and the resulting growth of populations. The textile industry in Europe created a tremendous demand for cotton which came largely from the southern U.S., India and Egypt. An explosive demand for rubber led to large scale importation of rubber from Brazil, Malaya and the Congo River basin.

Some nations benefited from the export of raw materials. Argentina, South Africa, Australia, and even Canada saw infusions of foreign capital and labor and became industrialized themselves. High income in these areas encouraged the development of labor saving technologies, but also created flourishing markets. I other areas, such as Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and south and southeast Asia, there was little or no industrialization, even though they exported large amounts of primary products. Most were oriented toward agriculture and produced cotton, sugar and rubber as cash crops. Plantations were owned by foreign investors and most profits went abroad; thus domestic economies did not benefit greatly. The situation was exacerbated by low wages which dampened the demand for manufactured goods. The end result was the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few who contributed little to the domestic market. Free trade policies allowed the unrestricted importation of foreign manufactured goods; and domestic industry thereby had little opportunity to develop. Even so, the process of industrialization increasingly linked the peoples of the world and influenced the development of their societies.