Steel-Hard Facts About The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution refers to a time of transition in Britain and the United States, when manufacturing became the main form of production. Lasting from the mid-18th century to the mid-19th century, the world saw the rise of mechanized machinery that shaped the world as we know it. However, not only did industrialization influence production and trade, but it also had astounding social effects that can still be felt today. Interested in what it was really like during the Industrial Revolution? Take a look and find out.

It Started In Britain

Man with coal
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Although the Industrial Revolution spread across the world, it’s commonly agreed upon to have started in Britain. At the time, the country was already one of the leading commercial nations, giving it the upper hand to the rest of the world.

However, Britain also sat on large amounts of coal used to power machines, and the country was politically stable. Nevertheless, their colonial power also allowed for large quantities of raw materials from other countries to be supplied and then transformed into goods that were then sold.

Textile Companies Were One Of The First To Go Industrial

Woman working on a power loom
Universal History Archive/Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Getty Images

As the demand for manufactured goods became more prevalent, English inventors in the textile industry took notice. As far back as 1733, James Kay improved upon the handloom with his flying shuttle.

Over the years, it continued to evolve with the help of James Hargreaves and Samuel Crompton. In 1785, Edmund Cartwright patented the power loom, which used water as a power source. It was so popular that there were more than 260,000 in Britain by 1850.

The Bessemer Process Changed Everything

Men making steel
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

One of the most notable inventions brought about by the Industrial Revolution was steel. In the 18th century, Abraham Darby created a process of producing pig iron in a blast furnace that was fueled by coke instead of charcoal. While this was impressive at the time, the process was yet to be perfected.

Then, in the 1850s, Henry Bessemer developed the unmatched Bessemer Process, which efficiently and inexpensively created steel from pig iron. Steel soon became the most prominent metal to build machines, ships, buildings, and more, and remains so today.

Pollution Became Rampant

Oxford Science Archive/Print Collector/Getty Images
Oxford Science Archive/Print Collector/Getty Images

Because of all the new forms of machinery and ways of production and transportation, the Industrial Revolution resulted in widespread pollution and environmental damage. The new machines required energy, so fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum were burned without regard.

Burning these fuels made a significant impact on air quality and is one of the leading causes of global warming today. Furthermore, the chemicals that were used for various processes weren’t disposed of properly, with many of them ending up in lakes, rivers, and streams.

There Were Little To No Labor Laws

Painting of men working
Archiv Gerstenberg/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Archiv Gerstenberg/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Eventually, the owners of the new factories realized that they could do whatever they wanted with their workers, as they had no power to demand fewer hours or better working conditions. Because of this, working conditions were not only dismal but downright deadly. Many worked up to 14 hours a day, six days a week, for very little pay.

On top of that, most of the work was extremely dangerous. Workers purifying iron to make steel worked environments with temperatures more than 130 Fahrenheit. Regardless of the job, it wasn’t uncommon for workers to be severely maimed or killed on the job, with those injured losing their job and receiving no compensation.

The Steam Engine Revolutionized Production And Transportation

Newcomen with his steam engine
Oxford Science Archive/Print Collector/Getty Images
Oxford Science Archive/Print Collector/Getty Images

The invention of the steam engine is arguably one of the most critical moments in the Industrial Revolution. The first version of the steam engine was introduced in 1712 by inventor Thomas Newcomen, to pump water out of mines to reach coal at great depths. However, the engine was later improved by Scotsman James Watt.

His new steam engine was capable of powering the machines used in factories as well as ships and trains. So, not only was production increased but so was the speed and the number of goods that could be transported.

People Flocked To Cities

Women in a textile mill
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Before industrialization, many people lived in self-sufficient rural communities, with people making what they needed by hand. However, as the Industrial Revolution took hold, more and more people began to move into cities where they could find work, goods were massed produced, and in some cases, wages were higher.

By the end, those still living in rural areas were the minority, whereas the population of the cities was booming. Furthermore, because of health care improvements, increased education, and more work, the population as a whole grew significantly.

It Had An Effect On The Employment Of Women

Women working
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Prior to the boom of the Industrial Revolution, men and women worked side by side in the fields, tending to animals, raising children, and any other tasks needed to survive. Then, during industrialization, the work was increased with both men and women starting work from a young age and for most of their lives.

However, it wasn’t until after the Industrial Revolution that there was a noticeable change. Once things had settled down, the norm was that the men went off to work in the factories, while the women stayed home with the children. It wouldn’t be until the 1960s in the United States that women would become prominent members of the workforce once again.

It Resulted In The Rise Of The Middle Class

Merchants in textile factory
Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images
Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images

Before the Industrial Revolution, England, in particular, only had two classes, which were the haves and the have-nots. Despite the terrible conditions that the working class still faced, the development of new businesses led to the establishment of new “white collar” jobs such as shopkeepers, businessmen, bankers, accountants, and more.

This new middle class also led to an increase in retail shops in England, which skyrocketed from an estimated 300 in 1875 to 2,600 by 1890. Those with new money could also afford to hire domestic servants with the number of servants growing from 900,000 in 1851 to 1.4 million by 1871.

A Change In Political Power

Cartoon of workers and businessmen
Stock Montage/Getty Images
Stock Montage/Getty Images

With the new middle class becoming richer and richer, they began to invest in industrial technologies, eventually replacing England’s landowners as the rulers of the nation’s economy and political power.

During that time, only around the top 3% of Britain’s could vote, allowing for several laws to be passed in order to condemn labor unions and suppress workers. In response to this, new political ideals began to arise among the less fortunate such as the concept of socialism.

Cities Were A Grim Place To Live

Industrial Revolution living conditions
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

With the population of cities growing out of control, the working-class neighborhoods became increasingly unsanitary. It was polluted, and houses were poorly built and packed with multiple families. On top of that, homes lacked toilets and appropriate sewage systems, resulting in much of the drinking water becoming contaminated.

Diseases were rampant as well, with severe outbreaks of cholera, typhus, tuberculosis, influenza, and more becoming the norm. Approximately, during each decade of the 19th century, around 70,000 people died from tuberculosis alone.

Some People Were Forced Into Cities

Women working in the fields
SSPL/Getty Images
SSPL/Getty Images

Before the industrial revolution, people living in rural areas relied on open land to harvest crops, breed livestock, fish, and to live on. Unfortunately, due to a series of Acts by Parliament known as the Enclosure Acts, the government began to privatize the land.

This resulted in the peasant farmers losing their lands and, therefore, their way of life. These Acts then forced the farmers into the cities where they became factory workers while the government took over the land for their own profits.

The Invention Of The Miner’s Lamp Helped The Workers, Kind Of

Men working in mine
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Mining was one of the most critical aspects of the Industrial Revolution since the coal taken from the ground was used to power the machines. Unsurprisingly, it was incredibly dangerous, and in the early 1800s, the miners’ only way to navigate the methane-filled mines was with an open flame. This led to countless deaths until Humphrey Davy created the miner’s lamp.

It was a candle with a heat-absorbing metal mesh wrapped around the outside that lowered the temperature to prevent the methane from combusting. While this lowered the number of explosions, mining companies then demanded their workers to dig deeper.

There Were Some Social Benefits

People working in a factory
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Although it may have taken some time, eventually, some positive aspects began to come out of the Industrial Revolution. One of these was compulsory schooling for children in Britain. In 1833, the Factory Act was passed, which enforced two hours of education a day for each child, which was a significant step in establishing public schooling by the government.

Furthermore, it also helped to spark a wave of philanthropy. Some industrialists with vast amounts of wealth began using their fortunes to help others, such as establishing health care initiatives, public libraries, and more.

There Was A War On The Machines

Luddites invading
Archiv Gerstenberg/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Archiv Gerstenberg/ullstein bild via Getty Images

The Luddites were an anti-industrial group, supposedly led by a man who is believed to be a fictional figure named Ned Ludd. They were made up of disgruntled independent artists and craftsmen that were infuriated that the industries and machines had replaced them.

So, beginning in 1811, the Luddites began attacking British soldiers, burning factories, and destroying machinery in revolt. The Luddites that were caught were either killed by British soldiers, executed by the government, or sent into exile in Australia.

Adults Weren’t The Only Ones Suffering In The Workforce

Children working
PHAS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
PHAS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Unfortunately, those in power discovered that people were desperate enough that even children would join the labor force. So, much like adults, they worked long hours for minimal pay, although performing other jobs. Due to their size, they were used for horrifyingly dangerous duties such as cleaning the machinery and other daunting tasks.

By the early 1860s, more than one-fifth of the workers in Britain’s textile factories were under the age of 15. English doctor Turner Thackrah described the children in the Manchester cotton mills as “almost universally ill-looking, small, sickly, barefoot, and ill-clad. Many appeared no more than seven.”

Alcohol Was Not In Short Supply

Men carrying alcohol
SSPL/Getty Images
SSPL/Getty Images

One of the things that both the aristocracy and the laborers enjoyed from the Industrial Revolution was the better and cheaper production of alcohol. However, this resulted in many workers taking up drinking regularly, often being intoxicated on the job, something that industry owners were not happy with.

So, a number of temperance groups began to spring up including the Methodist Church, who encouraged people to put down the bottle despite more and more alcohol being produced and drank.

The Term “Industrial Revolution” Was Coined By An English Economic Historian

Portrait of Toynbee
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The term “Industrial Revolution” can be traced back to 1799, and was first used by the co-founder of Marxism, Frederich Engles, in his book The Condition of the Working Class in 1844. However, it wasn’t popularized until used by English economic historian Arnold Toynbee in 1881, who used it in his lectures.

Regardless of this contribution to history, today, many historians challenge Toynbee’s initial ideas, who claimed that industrialization started much later and occurred at a far more rapid pace.

The First Modern Factory

Workers in the mill
SSPL/Getty Images
SSPL/Getty Images

The first modern factory was a water-powered cotton spinning mill. It was constructed by a man named Richard Arkwright in 1771 and was located in the village of Cromford in Derbyshire.

When operations first began, the mill employed 200 workers and ran 24-hours a day. Many of the mill’s employees were migrant workers, and the surrounding area didn’t have enough housing for all of them. So, Arkwright built housing for the workers near the mill, one of the first manufacturers to do so.

There Was A Second Industrial Revolution

Man sending a telegraph
Universal History Archive/Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Getty Images

The Second Industrial Revolution, also known as the Technological Revolution, spanned from the late 19th century into the early 20th century and was significantly felt in the United States. It built off of the accomplishments of the first period of industrialization by making improvements on machinery, production, and transportation.

However, it is also responsible for the creation of even more impressive technological advancements such as electrical power, the telegraph, railroad systems, gas and water supply, and more. The era is credited with starting the new age of globalization.