Industrial Revolution, term which gained currency

during the mid-19thcentury and became widely used by the 1880s. It has traditionally been used
to describe dramatic transformations occurring in manufacturing industry
between approximately 1750 and 1850 that set the pattern for
industrialization. The first Industrial Revolution occurred in Great
Britain, and profoundly altered its economy and society. The most immediate
changes were in production: what was produced, as well as where and how.

Labour was transferred from provision of primary products to the production
of goods and services. Far more manufactured goods were produced than ever
before, and technical efficiency rose dramatically. In part, the growth in
productivity was achieved by systematic application of scientific and
practical knowledge to the manufacturing process. Efficiency was also
enhanced when large agglomerations of enterprises were located within
limited areas. Thus, the Industrial Revolution involved urbanization,
through migration from rural to urban communities.


Perhaps the most important changes occurred in the organization of work. In
general, production took place within the firm or the public enterprise
instead of the family or manor. Tasks became increasingly routine and
specialized. Industrial production became heavily dependent upon the
intensive use of equipment produced for the express purpose of increasing
efficiency. A reliance on tools and machinery allowed individual workers to
produce more goods, and commitment to a particular task or device
reinforced the trend towards specialization.


The industrial landscape of mid-19th-century Britain was vastly different
to that of the mid-18th century; evidently some sudden change in the
British economy did occur in the intervening period. The move from agrarian
and primarily rural-based occupations to urban, and subsequent industrial
and service, employment rapidly increased. This transformation was
accompanied by social and political unrest in the form of rioting, machine-
breaking, and political campaigns aimed at reforming hours of labour and
other working conditions, as well as Poor Law legislation. Agriculture was
sufficiently developed, having undergone its own Agricultural Revolution,
to allow the economy to support a growing urban labour force. The growth in
population in turn enlarged the domestic demand for goods and services.

Marketing techniques were devised which primarily targeted the wealthy
middle and upper strata of society. Trade became increasingly associated
with a developing laissez-faire ideology that was gradually absorbed by
British institutions. These unprecedented changes were focused in
particular sectors and regions of Britain. Furthermore, the organization of
manufacturing techniques cannot be separated from changes within Britain’s
developing commercial infrastructure, marketing, finance, emerging
consumerism, established handicraft skills, and the expansion of
international trade. All these factors and more played a large and
interconnected role in the Industrial Revolution.


Foundations for the Revolution: Capital, Credit, and Empire
The Industrial Revolution was fuelled by the prior accumulation of capital.

The release of capital and labour from the land was faster in Britain than
in any other country in Europe. This, together with efficient British
agriculture and a growing industrial workforce enabled rapid population
growth and urbanization to be sustained. Contemporary observers in Britain
and the European continent certainly looked on in awe at the changes
sweeping the country.


The formation of capital continued to increase during the Industrial
Revolution, as did the manufacture of goods for export. The expansion of
foreign markets for British goods was greatly assisted by the establishment
of a fiscal-military state, the British Empire and its domestic
institutional base, in which overseas markets were carved out during wars
often motivated by trade and defended by British military might. The
Carnatic Wars in India, for example, were fought between the British East
India Company and its French rival (with their Indian allies) for
commercial supremacy in India; the War of Jenkins’ Ear in 1739 was
triggered by British traders’ incursions into the Spanish Empire. The
doctrine of mercantilism, which inspired the 17th- and 18th-century
Navigation Acts, specifically advocated the use of the State’s armed might
to defend and promote the nation’s economic interests.


To finance such wars, the government raised funds through loans
underwritten by the State’s ability to collect revenue through taxation.

The majority of war revenue was, however, raised on the London capital
market. The government thus formed a close alliance with the Bank of
England and leading London financiers. The interest payments on the British
national debt by the end of the 18th century amounted to 40-50 per cent of
all the revenue raised through tax. The South Sea Bubble was an ill-fated
attempt to make merchants shoulder this debt in return for trading
privileges; but the incident showed how Britain’s military expenditure had
helped create a thriving capital market ready to invest in trading and
speculative schemes. Much of the tax income came from the collections made
by the Excise Department on home-produced goods. The Customs Department was
far less efficient at taxing imports and only managed to provide for a
fraction of the costs involved in meeting Britain’s huge naval needs.

Consequently, it was indirect taxation that propelled Britain to global
mercantile leadership during the 18th century-primarily through its role in
underpinning wars.


As well as both creating and guarding new markets for British goods,
military investment created a demand for military products, and led to
innovative engineering developments. For example, the demands of the War of
the Austrian Succession led to pioneering improvements in coke-smelting
techniques, while the Seven Years’ War (with its needs for large numbers of
uniforms) corresponded with the introduction of the fly shuttle for looms.

However, the major impact of war was the growth in export demand for
British goods. The resulting monopoly on carrying and re-export trades
ensured communication with distant and European markets, while encouraging
shipping and shipbuilding. Wars also soaked up many of the unskilled and
potentially unemployed sections of the workforce.


Military ventures, however, did crowd out possibilities for the government
to invest in the country’s own infrastructure. Indeed, it was British
businessmen and investors who financed the construction of regional
networks of turnpike roads, canals, and ports. Nor did the government
invest in education, science, or technology (apart from that involving the
maritime and military sectors). These external political policies
encouraged private enterprise. Naval power protected the British Isles from
invasion, and provided the security for capitalists to invest in the long-
term future of the economy.


British currency for much of the 18th century was in a poor state. Fixed
unit prices and parities encouraged the export of gold and silver bullion
and the melting down of coins. Consequently, a network of financial
intermediaries developed to provide paper substitutes (in the form of
banknotes, bills of exchange, book credit, and cheques) for coins. Private
commercial enterprise thus underpinned the developments needed to supply
the nation’s money, and consequently produced a financial system which
managed to bring the country through eight wars and an Industrial
Revolution.


Industry
British manufacturing in the Industrial Revolution benefited considerably
from new technology. Thomas Newcomen had patented a steam-pumping engine in
1707; in 1769 James Watt dramatically improved the design, and in 1801
Richard Trevithick first used it to power a vehicle. In 1733 John Kay
invented the flying shuttle for weavers, while James Hargreaves developed
his spinning jenny in 1764, closely followed by Richard Arkwright, who
patented his spinning machine in 1769 and combined it in his factories with
systematic industrial organization techniques. Edmund Cartwright patented
the first power loom in 1786. Meanwhile, the work of Abraham Darby and his
descendants at Coalbrookdale in Shropshire typified the developing British
mastery of cast-iron manufacture which gave the world its first major cast-
iron structure at Ironbridge in 1777-1779. National emphasis on trade had
helped direct these inventors’ minds towards production of textiles and
iron and steel manufacture, drawing on a scientific tradition epitomized by
the foundation of the Royal Society in 1660, and their ideas found fertile
soil where they might have withered in other countries.


The expansion of a credit society greatly assisted industry. However, the
accumulation of fixed capital during the Industrial Revolution was
thwarted, partly because many manufacturers rented their premises, and
partly because machinery was often cheap. Further machines and steam
engines were frequently hired, while it was quite common to find several
concerns sharing manufacturing space and sources of power.


Many customary working practices underwent organizational changes to meet
the realities of a harsh, dynamic, and competitive market. The factory
system emerged from proto-industrialization, in which part of the labour
force had already been organized and disciplined. Numerous manuals on
factory organization and management appeared during the early 19th century,
including works by James Montgomery on cotton-spinning, and Charles Babbage
on the economy of machinery and manufactures. The high profile journalists
gave to the factory raised its visibility in the public mind. However, a
far more common feature of the contemporary British industrial landscape
was more traditional handicraft forms of manufacture, often organized in
competition with factory production. This pattern carried on well into the
19th century. It was typical for 18th- and 19th-century cotton
manufacturers to combine a mixture of steam-powered spinning in factories
with the large-scale employment of handloom weavers. This spread financial
risk, since early machinery was often unreliable, and female labour and
child labour were cheap. Consequently, the traditional sector often
reinforced the modern.


Nevertheless the age of the machine was certainly imminent, and was
becoming a reality on the labour market by the second half of the 18th
century. For example, in one of the earliest recorded labour disputes
during the 1750s and 1760s, skilled coal-heavers in Newcastle upon Tyne
protested for higher rates of pay. Consequently, a new machine was devised
to unload the coal. It was also during this period that industrialists
started to take into account the relationship between wages and
productivity, and natural philosophers started thinking about the measure
of labour as a source of power. Thus, in some industrial sectors human
labour was beginning to be viewed as simply a competing source of power
with alternatives, such as horses and ever-more-efficient machines.


Numerous changes also took place in more traditional industries. For
example, there were new industrial uses for coal which affected brewing,
brick-making, malting, sugar-making and soap-boiling. Transformations in
materials changed certain luxury industries, such as hat-making and
jewellery production. Product changes in textile industries greatly reduced
the finishing time for certain products. The success of the calico-printing
industry in the late 18th century was due to a reorganization and
disciplining of intensive labour. The Staffordshire Potteries were
transformed from 1759 by the entrepreneurial genius of Josiah Wedgwood,
whose talents were as much for early marketing and manipulation of
contemporary Neo-Classical taste as for technical innovation, and later by
Spode and Minton.


Any account of industrial change has to take into consideration regional
differences and variations between patterns of development for different
products, so one grand picture cannot be applied to the whole of Britain.

Some areas flourished while others stagnated or declined. For example, the
wool textiles of the West Riding district of Yorkshire overtook the south-
west and the East Anglia region. South Lancashire dominated cotton
textiles, and the Midlands created a successful manufacturing complex of
small metalwares and hardwares. Worcester porcelain was probably inspired
by Oriental wares entering the country from Bristol, and used transfer-
printing methods to speed production. Coalfields increasingly dictated
where iron-processing, steel manufacture, and later shipbuilding developed.

Before there was a national system of transport and communications, the
local district was the most important geographical unit for establishing
its own transport, commercial, and credit networks. The developments in
transport facilities, such as improved turnpike roads and canals, were
primarily regionally based, while district banks and commercial ties
formed, by which most capital rarely left its area of origin. The growth of
provincial towns led to local lobby groups, often in opposition to the
interests of powerful economic groups in London. Indeed, the metropolitan
economy of London and the south-east was of a different structure to those
of industrializing areas of the north. However, even though capital markets
were primarily regional, London was crucial in underpinning and expanding
the role of credit involved in both domestic and international trade.


Certain historians have pointed to Britain’s industrial fresh water
sources, mineral ores, and rich coal supplies as the key factors in its
industrialization. However, although coal was obviously important, many
proto-industrial areas had already become well established before it became
a major factor of development or source of energy. More important in
defining original industrial locations were social and institutional
factors peculiar to particular regions. For example, resistance to
innovation and mechanization tended to occur in areas characterized by well-
established structures in trade and the organization of labour. Counties
such as Yorkshire were far more accommodating to innovations than rival
wool districts such as the West Country. The latter, for example, had a
tradition of solidarity and collective action, while the domestic system
prevailing in the West Riding was characterized by a lack of specialization
and was consequently more amenable to technological and organizational
change. Furthermore, local merchants in this area monitored changing tastes
and fashions in Europe, and bought for cash or short-term bills of
exchange, thereby enabling manufacturers to quickly acquire funds. Regions
such as Lancashire, and to a certain extent the Midlands, experienced
changes similar to those in the West Riding. In the coal areas of the north-
east a diversified economy had been forming since at least the 16th
century. Other areas, such as the Weald and perhaps even Cumbria, underwent
manufacturing decline during this period.


Social Upheaval and Protest
The Industrial Revolution was accompanied by rapid population growth and
urbanization. It was also attended by a huge increase in the wage-earning
portion of the population, as well as a bourgeoisie whose income came
primarily from the profits made in industry, in addition to the traditional
landed aristocracy whose wealth stemmed mainly from rents. Market
conditions were beginning to dictate the social structure. The
paternalistic agrarian world of the 18th century was being transformed, and
with this came social unrest. Protest at the changing moral economy
manifested itself in riots over agricultural enclosure and supplies of
grain, as well as incensed gangs of machine-breakers. More than ever, the
poor and low-paid were seen as a real threat to social stability. It is
therefore not surprising that a heightened sensitivity to crime emerged,
accompanied by a rapid increase in recorded crime rates. The pillar of 18th-
century criminal law-the so-called “Bloody Code” (periodical public
hangings as a deterrent)-was no longer seen to be working. New ways of
dealing with criminals were established, mainly through a large programme
of prison-building. The early 19th century also saw the emergence of
regional police forces. For many contemporary commentators, crime became
directly associated with industrialization.


Workplaces were often built to house a greater number of workers, to
improve the efficiency of production. This required greater regulation and
centralization of the labour process. To achieve this often required the
restructuring of traditional skills and working rhythms. The emergence of a
centralized factory system generally met with equal resistance in all
regions. Such a system challenged traditional apprenticeship and the
regulation of production methods. These changes also came at a price for
the owners of production, since they enabled workers to build up a
collective alliance through common interests, which in turn led to the
formation of organized and more effective protest against their employers.

However, the reorganization of skills and the labour process did not follow
some determined re-skilling path. For example, many areas of industry
remained distinctly fragmented, and sweatshops, workshops, and putting-out
existed alongside centralization and the emerging factory system. Any view
of the Industrial Revolution has to appreciate the diverse and innovative
alternatives to the factory system. Nonetheless, by the mid-19th century
industrial management had become far more involved in the organization of
work.


Although the factory system never dominated production, it was certainly
very apparent in certain regions, and had undoubtedly become embedded
within 19th-century culture. During this period, labourers in all spheres
of production, from factories and workshops to cottage industries, did lose
some control over the rhythm and nature of their work. They also became
increasingly subject to the demands of larger industrialists or merchants
for either credit or work. More often than not, there was no security
against unemployment, and social unrest was the only means of protest
available. Certain regions became identified with protest movements-for
example, factory reform became associated with Yorkshire and Poor Law
reform with Lancashire.


The most exploited members of the working population were women and
children. The woollen and cotton industries primarily employed these groups
because their labour was plentiful and therefore cheap. Subsequently, many
new work regimes were first tried out on this section of the working
population, and indeed some machines were developed with children in mind-
for example the original spinning jenny was designed for children between
the ages of 9 and 12. Women’s work was generally seen as less skilled, and
of a low status. This was partly legitimated via biological notions that
women were not as robust and intelligent as men. Consequently, by
increasing and intensifying this cheap source of labour, the substitution
of capital for labour was often discouraged.


Population
As early as 1700 nearly half of Britain’s population was employed outside
of direct agricultural labour. Britain had an agricultural capacity ready
to support its rising population. It also had accumulated stocks of skilled
labour necessary for the construction of an urban and industrial society.

The distinctive tenurial system of land ownership was characterized by
great estates and enclosed, consolidated, and relatively large farms, which
encouraged agriculture to adjust to the growing pressure of an expanding
population. This also released capital and labour for rapidly expanding
urban areas. By the 1840s Britain was more urban than any other European
country.


The rapid growth in population during the Industrial Revolution was also
dependent on region, occupation, and social rank. For example, fertility
and migration patterns were very different for textile and mining
districts. Obviously, mortality rates were higher for the unemployed and
low-paid, and greatly increased in urban areas. Consequently, the spread of
urbanization required the immigration of labour from rural areas, since
urban mortality far exceeded its birth rates. In many ways the high urban
death rate acted as a check on the spiralling rural birth rate.

Furthermore, rapid bursts of population growth often followed a major war,
famine, or outbreak of disease. Clearly one of the most important factors
to affect the population was an improved diet, and to a certain extent
developments in medicine.


Trade
Demand for goods within the domestic economy was primarily restricted to
those with large incomes. The vast majority of the population could
probably not afford to consume fashionable products. However, the expansion
of the proletariat did increase the demand for certain basic products, such
as clothes, candles, beer, butter, and crockery. It was the wealthier
members of the increasing middle class who provided the market for mass
manufacturers. Ironically, upper- and middle-class consumerism may have
negatively affected the production of domestic products in the search for
individual and fashionable items.


Britain’s external trade was crucial, since exported goods consisted
primarily of home manufactures. Many of these products had the potential to
be mass-produced, such as textiles, iron, and metalwares. During the
Industrial Revolution, imports and exports rapidly grew, while re-exports
increased ninefold. Because of European protectionism, the main market for
Britain was British colonies-mainly the West Indies and North America.

Britain’s excellent coastal and internal waterways provided an ideal
platform to exploit an expanding Atlantic economy. With the loss of North
America the situation altered during the 1780s. Invariably, during economic
depressions Britain would use its military might to expand its trading
conquests. One of the most important commodities of British trade during
the 18th century was slaves. These underpinned the dynamic growth of the
Atlantic economy, and also built up elaborate trade routes for other goods.

Africa was the second-largest destination after the United States for
British iron in the mid-18th century, and took almost a quarter of British
cotton by the 1790s. The most important domain for British trade from the
1830s was India, which made up for the decline in trade with the West
Indies.


Accompanying overseas expansion came much more sophisticated forms of
commercial and financial organization, including joint-stock insurance
companies and private banks. Investments were made in internal transport
systems such as canals and roads, in dockyards, and in mining industries.

By the late 18th century Britain dominated the seas, supported by an
effective internal financial complex. External trade was a fundamental
determinant of the shape British industrialization took. Without
international markets, the cotton trade would not have existed, both the
woollen and iron industries would have been much smaller, and agriculture
would have evolved much more slowly.


Changing Views of the Industrial Revolution
Over the past three decades the idea of an Industrial Revolution has
undergone serious revision. Indeed, the very notion of a revolution has
become a highly contested issue. Broadly, there are two competing
perspectives. Those who maintain there were momentous changes point to
developments in technology, the organization of work, and economic growth.

They claim that these encouraged a rapid increase in population,
urbanization, the transference of labour from agriculture to manufacturing
industry, social class formation, and the restructuring of the family.

However, this account has been challenged by recent economic historians
who, primarily through an examination of contemporary statistics, claim
that Great Britain, far from experiencing a dramatic surge in economic
expansion, actually only experienced slight growth.


This revisionist account claims that many of the so-called revolutionary
developments associated with this period were in fact evolutionary
transformations which retained traditional economic and social patterns.

Evidence cited includes slow growth, limited saving and investment, static
standards of living, a predominance of liquid capital as opposed to fixed
assets, and limited personal consumption. Consequently, the idea of an
Industrial Revolution is put in doubt and replaced by a continuity thesis,
which emphasizes developments stemming from an earlier period. The British
economy is described, instead, by traditional sectors and familiar
production methods.


Critics of this gradualist view argue that the Industrial Revolution should
not be equated with macroeconomic growth, and that there really were
dramatic social and institutional transformations in economic organization,
as well as new products and processes. Technological change under this
banner includes changes in skills and tools, as well as simply machinery
and capital-intensive plant and equipment. Furthermore, certain sections of
the economy which seemed to have been growing only slowly were in fact
experiencing transitional changes in mechanization and restructuring
towards a factory system, examples being the wool industry, and chemical
industries such as soap and candle-making. Change did not always result in
economic growth. Equally, rapid growth did not always mean a revolution in
the production process. Furthermore, the statistical data used in producing
the economic figures of the gradualist approach have been questioned,
making the conclusions potentially unreliable.


Assessment
The Industrial Revolution is no longer perceived as a straightforward
juncture in British history. Traditional accounts of sudden and rapid
economic growth, or a mass exodus of capital from land to industry, are no
longer viewed as sound. Nor can we say with confidence that there was a
universal evacuation of agricultural labour to the manufacturing sector, or
a defiant rise to dominance of the machine and the factory system. Rather,
there was a mixture of established and innovative systems of production,
either competing or working together.


Nevertheless, the changes were such that the period was one of social
turmoil in the shape of protest movements and rioting, coupled with rapid
population growth sustained by agricultural capacity, and increasing
urbanization. Of particular importance was the development throughout the
18th century of a fiscal-military state. This carved out new trading routes
and expanded the demand for British-made goods, while simultaneously
creating a robust and sophisticated credit network. We can conclude by
saying that the Industrial Revolution was concentrated in certain
industries and fuelled by foreign trade.


During the 1960s it became fashionable to look at the British Industrial
Revolution as a model which all proto-industrial countries had to copy in
order to become industrialized. However, it is now generally recognized
that those countries that caught up with Britain displayed more contrasts
and varieties than similarities with the British experience. The first
Industrial Revolution was unique, and economists no longer see it as a
necessary stage which proto-industrializing countries have to go through.


By the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851, the eyes of Europe and North
America were firmly set on British industrialization. The jewels of British
industry were displayed for all the world to see, within the impressive
surrounds of the glass Crystal Palace. In many ways, however, Victorian
Britain was already beginning the slow descent of industrial decline. As
other nations flocked to the exhibition to view British industrial power,
it also became apparent from the products displayed by other nations that
Britain’s industrial lead was being quickly eroded. Indeed, the second half
of the 19th century saw the rapid acceleration of German, French, and North
American industrialization at the expense of Britain.1
———————–
1″Industrial Revolution,” Microsoft Encarta 97 Encyclopedia.
1993-1996 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.