The Industrial Revolution is the name historians have given to the period in history when there was a large and rapid change in the way things were made. This meant that instead of things being hand made in small workshops, they were made more cheaply in large quantities by machines in factories.
Many people began to move from an agricultural based life in the country to the towns where the factories offered more and better paid work.
The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain in the middle of the 18th century. In particular, the County of Shropshire was important, for it had both minerals (e.g. iron ore) and transport on the River Severn. This led to the group of industries near the Ironbridge Gorge and the town of Coalbrookdale.
The revolution spread to Europe and the Americas, especially the United States, by the early 19th century. As new inventions were being created, factories followed soon after. England wanted to keep its industrialization a trade secret, so they prohibited anyone who had worked in a factory to leave the country. Meanwhile, Americans offered a reward to anyone who could build a cotton-spinning machine in the United States. Samuel Slater, who had been an apprentice in an English cotton factory, disguised himself and came to America. He reconstructed a spinning machine from memory and built a factory of his own.
New ideas and inventions were also taken up and used in mining, the working of metals, and in the transport of goods. Around the same time new ideas in farming were leaving some farm workers without jobs. They added to the move to the industrial towns where they sought out work in factories.
The most important new invention of the industrial revolution was the steam engine. The steam engine, improved by James Watt around 1776 was used to power the factories and pump out the deeper mines. It was also used in railway engines. The heat from burning coal became the main source of power.
Some historians see the period called the industrial revolution as finishing about 1820, but they agree this was only the start of change in the way we make things, which continues right up to the present time. Many refer to the period after 1820 as the "Second Industrial Revolution".
Historians still disagree on why the Industrial Revolution happened when it did, and why it happened in England first. It built on a new spirit of studying things through science. The 17th century began a period now called the Enlightenment during which people asked more questions about the way the world worked. England also was a politically stable country throughout the 1700s with no wars at home (although it had many abroad). England was also lucky that it had many of the raw materials needed to make and power the new machines within its borders. It also had an overseas empire that would buy the goods it made and provide it with a cheap source of other raw materials such as cotton and sugar. At the time of the industrial revolution slavery was practiced in many British Empire lands, this supplied a source for some of the money which could be spent on building the new industries. Also, England had much less land that could be farmed compared to other European countries.
Living standards rose and people generally became richer and healthier and had more children who survived to be adults. This led a strong growth in the number of people in England. However, this caused new problems. The environment was damaged. Only a few people became very rich thanks to industry, and many lived in poor conditions. Children and women had to work for a long time for little pay. Often several families crowded into very small apartments. Working at different times, family members would take turns sleeping when they were not working. Families were usually unable to get together. 12, 14, or even 18-hour workdays were common. The Industrial Revolution brought problems of its own.
During the industrial revolution, many changes were brought upon with the rise of new technology. For example:
- Canals were built to allow heavy goods to be moved easily where they were needed.
- The steam engine became the main source of power. It replaced horses and human labour.
- Cheap iron and steel became mass-produced. Steel replaced wood as material for building much of the new things.
- Machine tools became commonplace. Things could now be mass-produced in factories instead of making them by hand.
- Seed drills and other agricultural machinery meant that less people were needed to work in farming. Many people moved to towns and found new jobs in the factories.
- Railways were built all around England and then the world. They carried people much more quickly than before.
- Steamships began to replace sailing ships. They could be larger than sailing ships and were not dependent of wind and weather.
- The spinning machine and power loom made it easy to mass-produce clothes and fabrics.
Since the industrial revolution began, more and more agricultural machines were being made such as the seed drill, consequently people lost their jobs and had to move to the cities.
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