Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution was a period of great change. Machinery was developed rapidly, leading to changes in the way that manufacturing functioned. As industry changed, society adapted. There was a shift from a predominantly agricultural society to one in which industry and urban areas dominated. Towns and cities grew quickly around the mills, factories and mines that developed. This brought many challenges as rapidly constructed housing was often inadequate. Whilst conditions were often extremely hard for workers, the Industrial age was one in which trade prospered and the major nations developed rapidly.

Illustration of a factory. 1868. The heart of the Industrial Revolution

In the late 18th Century huge changes occurred in Industrial practises. The changes were so fast and so significant that the era in which the developments happened in called the Industrial Revolution. Before the Industrial Revolution most manufacturing was done in peoples homes. The work was done by hand and the process would often involve different people working, at home, on different elements of the process. This method is sometimes called ‘Cottage Industries’.

Change came about fast. The Industrial Revolution happened because of several things. Firstly, the work of lots of inquisitive inventors, scientists and funding by entrepreneurs. As trade routes opened up and sailing to new markets became faster and more economical, they had a motive to produce more.

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Textile Industry

The first major transformation was the use of water as a source of power. Richard Arkwright patented a Water Frame in 1768. It used a water wheel to turn spinning frames in his cotton mill. His water powered frame was more powerful than workers and could spin cotton faster. Though limited to one thread at a time, it heralded the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

In 1771 Arkwright installed the Water Frame in his Cromford Mill. Workers were given set shifts. They were given employed status. They clocked in and out. In this mill most elements of the manufacturing process were carried out. Raw materials arrived, a product left. It was one of the first examples of a factory being able to use machinery to minimise the need for workers, produce to a high quality and to link the different elements of the process under one roof.

Other machines were making cotton and wool processing faster and more automated. Hargreaves invented the Spinning Jenny in 1764. Samuel Crompton combined the Spinning Jenny and Water Frame ideas into a Spinning Mule. These ideas inspired the development of a Power Loom by Edmund Cartwright. Though it was not an immediate success, this invention, patented 1785, had a great impact in the years to come.

These inventions transformed the textiles industry. They made mill owners very wealthy and sped up the process. It was now easier to regulate how much produce would be available and when it would be completed by. Whilst this sounds excellent, it was not very popular with workers. These machines were much more efficient than hired hands. Many lost their jobs or feared for them. This led to the Luddite movement which used a variety of means to prevent the implementation of mechanisation.

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Steam

In 1712 Thomas Newcomen invented a steam engine. The early use of the engine was to power pumps in mines. The idea was developed by James Watt. He realised that with refinements the Steam Engine could be put to many uses. Watt’s first refinement was in 1765. Eleven years later it was introduced into a design for a fully functioning steam engine. Watt’s steam engine was far more efficient and powerful that the one that Newcomen had invented. Heavy investment in James Watt’s Steam Engine led to it becoming smaller, more efficient, more powerful and more versatile. By the end of the 19th Century Watt’s designs were being used to power factories, trains and boats. Watt’s engine also powered motor vehicles: there were some 60,000 steam powered cars produced in the United States.

There were many adaptations to the steam engines invented by Newcomen and Watt. Richard Trevithick developed a high pressure engine based on their ideas. This design did away with the need for a large turbine. Trevithick’s invention used steam to create high pressure. This could then be used to power an engine. His design did not require a large vacuum to be created and did away with the need for a piston. His stationary engine reduced the amount of space needed. It was first used in a timber yard powering a sawmill.

Transport

The invention of a steam engine led to rapid changes in transport. Prior to the Industrial Revolution moving around the country was slow. Freight was taken by horse and cart or canal. Loads were slow to reach markets and quite small by today’s standards. Goods for export were at sea for quite some time. Journeys across the Atlantic in a wind powered ship could take weeks. Steam changed this.

Trevithick adapted his steam engine for other uses. One, was the development of a Steam powered locomotive. Trevithick’s High Pressure Steam Engines attracted much interest and were technological trailblazers, though he himself did not see his ideas put into much practical use. His successful demonstrations of goods being taken by a steam powered vehicle did prompted much competition though and this was to prove more significant in terms of developing transport.

Engineers such as George and Robert Stephenson, winners of the Rainhill Trials, build engines that could carry freight or passengers on wrought iron tracks at a reasonable speed (12mph). By 1830 several wagonways, tracks with horsedrawn wagons, were converted to steam. New lines, specifically for steam powered steam engines were also opening.

In the 1830’s “Railway Mania” set in. Investors rushed to back new railways as they seemed to be a sure-fire way of making money. Thousands of miles of track were authorised by Acts of Parliament. These linked the major cities of Britain in a rather haphazard way. However they did so, and this made moving goods or people around the country much faster and much cheaper than before.

Steam and improvements to the quality of iron also affected shipping. In the early 19th Century steam power was introduced into vessels. At first they powered paddle ships. Then a design that utilised a screw / propeller was introduced. The vessels cut down voyage times and as they did not rely on wind it allowed new routes to be exploited. Early steam powered ships include the SS Great Western. Built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, this was the first purpose built trans Atlantic steam powered vessel.

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Urbanisation

The new machinery in mills, mines and factories meant that Cottage Industry was in decline. Farming had also experienced an Agricultural Revolution. As the speed of technological change hastened, so too did the demographics of the workforce. Now, most of the jobs were in towns or cities. This led to rapid growth of urban areas. To accommodate the people who were moving into towns and cities houses were built quite hastily. This led to slum conditions soon appearing in many towns and cities.

Slums led to disease. The new urban sprawl had often not been built to any form of regulation. It lacked sanitation, it encouraged the rapid spread of disease. Epidemics of killer diseases became commonplace. Cholera, a waterborne germ, became much feared after it claimed many lives.

The high population in these slum areas posed other problems. Unemployment levels were high. This placed a strain on the local parishes as they had to finance the Workhouses which were often full. Public Health and welfare became significant issues for governments of the 19th and early 20th century.

Industrial Revolution Homepage  
Before the Industrial RevolutionFamous FactoriesWomen and Children during the Industrial Revolution
MigrationInventions and InventorsThe Workhouse
HousingIndustrialists and PhilanthropistsRailways and Canals
Working ConditionsDisease in the Industrial RevolutionChartists and the Peoples Charter
LudditesSwing RiotsRebecca Riots
Protests, Riots and Conspiracies of the Industrial Age