First Industrial Revolution

The First Industrial Revolution brought perhaps the most seismic changes to society since the Agricultural Revolution. Beginning in the early 18th century and over the next, foremost Britain, and then the world, experienced a radical makeover in terms of how people worked and lived, how time was measured throughout their days, what they ate, and how they consumed the products that purportedly made their lives easier and more efficient. What were the causes and effects of this massive societal transformation? Where did it begin and how did it spread? Let's also look at some examples as we trek through the First Industrial Revolution in this explanation. 

First Industrial Revolution First Industrial Revolution

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Table of contents

    Causes of the First Industrial Revolution

    The Industrial Revolution changed chiefly agrarian, rural societies to urban, industrialized ones. These changes were brought about by the invention of new machinery and the advent of steam power. Such innovations strengthened Britain not only from within but also internationally. The industries most profoundly affected were iron-making and textiles.

    First Industrial Revolution The Forge Painting StudySmarterFig. 1 The Forge Painting

    These effects included unsanitary, dangerous, and polluted workplaces. The rapid urban growth that had sprung from technical innovation in the early nineteenth century had not only enriched the country and made its products internationally successful, but also poisoned the drinking water and led to the exploitation of many workers. This in turn led to a number of reforms being passed.

    The First Industrial Revolution - is a period marking a radical change in the social fabric originating in Britain in the 18th century which saw the introduction of machinery in production, steam power, and other advances as well as rapid growth and urbanization.

    First Industrial Revolution in America

    The industrial revolution finally reached America in around 1790 when Samuel Slater opened several textile mills in Rhode Island. Slater had actually worked with the inventor of the water frame and took his designs with him when he immigrated to America. Textile production soon thrived in the New England region, an early stronghold of the first Industrial Revolution.

    The industry eventually expanded westward and to the south; the second Industrial Revolution overtook the American South. Developments in the 19th century included Eli Whitney's cotton gin, which transformed the agricultural industry and had a strong impact on the enslaving enterprise of the South.

    First Industrial Revolution Inventions

    The First Industrial Revolution brought about an abundance of inventions, these inventions caused a spoke in job opportunities, inspired further innovation, created competition among industries, and improved the process of thinking and manufacturing. Let's dig a little deeper into the different inventions of this period!

    Did you know?

    The First Industrial Revolution wasn't all positive, bad living conditions, dangerous workplaces, child labor, and harm to the environment were some of the negative outcomes of this time of innovation.

    Thomas Newcomen's Steam Engine

    From the early to mid-eighteenth centuries, innovations abounded during the First Industrial Revolution. First came the steam engine, which was invented by Thomas Newcomen (though the Chinese had developed their own version 100 years prior but without any practical application in the industry). This would prove crucial to innovations in the textile and iron industries, leading to growth in the rail and shipping industries, which in turn led to a boom in transportation.

    First Industrial Revolution Oil painting of the Great Western Railway StudySmarterFig. 2: Oil painting of the Great Western Railway

    Such inventions as the water frame were crucial, as pioneers like Samuel Slater exported their designs to America and there effectively began the first Industrial Revolution there.

    Industrial Revolution Inventions in the Modern Era

    Below is a timeline that outlines more of the key inventions of the Industrial Revolution that ushered in the modern era:

    1712The invention of the Newcomen steam engine.
    1764James Hargreaves invented the Spinning Jenny.
    1769The invention of the factory. Richard Arkwright is often referred to as the Father of the factory system, as he created the first prototype.
    1786The invention of the Watt steam engine by James Watt.
    1831The invention of the first Electric generator.
    1837The invention of the Telegraph.

    The first use of the Telegraph was on May 24, 1844, at 8:45 AM, it said: "What Hath God Wrought", and was sent to Vail in Baltimore from Morse in Washington.

    August 19, 1839The announcement of the invention of the Photograph by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre.
    1867Dynamite was invented by Alfred Nobel and Ascanio Sobrero.
    1868Christopher Latham Sholes invented the typewriter.First Industrial Revolution First Typewriter StudySmarterFig. 3 First Typewriter

    Effects of the First Industrial Revolution

    While the First Industrial Revolution brought a great deal of wealth to a good many people of the middle and upper classes, it was the working class who were consigned to the sometimes cruel and brutal conditions of the modern factory.

    Charles Dickens, in his famous novel Oliver Twist, which provides an account of life inside such factories, claimed that the workers (many of whom were children) were fed gruel for three meals a day and worked well over 12 hours a day.

    First Industrial Revolution The Works of Charles Dickens StudySmarterFig. 4 The Works of Charles Dickens

    Unfortunately, there was a conundrum: in order to qualify for poor aid, one had to actually enter the factory. This only perpetuated the conditions of forced servitude. These conditions created the need for legislative reform, which introduced laws to protect women and children. Under the conditions of the Poor Act, people had to endure these conditions for eligibility.

    Similarities and differences between the First and Second Industrial Revolution

    The First Industrial Revolution started in the mid-18th century and was focused on the advent of steam power and advances in the textile industry such as the water frame and the spinning Jenny. These advancements allowed a reduction of manual labor in production. Once the steam engine was adapted to accommodate rotary motion, progress was made across all industries.

    The second Industrial Revolution introduced innovations like the modern factory, electricity, and the large-scale manufacture of automobiles. The switch to mass-scale production meant that consumer goods that were once made in the home were now produced in factories. This also introduced industrial standardization of goods, which made them more accessible and affordable, even to factory workers.

    Mass production led to mass consumerism which ultimately brought us to late capitalism, with its phones, androids, and advertising algorithms.

    Automobile Manufacturing

    Automobile manufacturing was crucial to the second industrial revolution, along with electricity and mass communication. Henry Ford was the progenitor of this huge change, as his contribution to production was the assembly line, which allowed his vastly popular Model T car to be put together much more quickly and efficiently.

    On December 1, 1913, the first ever moving assembly line was fitted into the automobile production process. This alteration to the mass production of automobiles reduced the processing time from over twelve hours down to just one hour and 33 minutes! Henry Ford believed that efficiency stemmed from the fact that the work would be brought to the workers, instead of the worker moving to the vehicle.

    By the end of the 1920s, there was one Model T on the road for every four people!

    American automotive industry pioneer, Ransom E. Olds, is credited with the invention of the assembly line. Ford then used this concept in automobile manufacturing.

    Industrial Revolution and British Imperialism

    The British Colonies played a large part in the success of the British Revolution. Even taking into account the loss of America, Britain still had an enormous and powerful empire in its various colonies. The economic practice of mercantilism in the colonies enabled great prosperity.

    First Industrial Revolution British Flag StudySmarterFig. 5 British Flag

    The colonies stood as instant consumers of British products. This also gave the British easier access to international markets, and as British companies were required to use British ships for their trade, their fleet became quite well-known and respected.

    British Economic Growth During the Industrial Revolution

    A few factors contributed to the exponential growth of Britain's economy during the Industrial Revolution. Firstly, there was the absence of international trade barriers; a good portion of their trade was done internally since, unlike many European countries, Brits were allowed by the government to relocate with ease. Therefore, there was no problem moving between towns and cities, and this was further enabled by the highly developed canals and rivers. Further, railway systems were owned by both public and private interests, which also boosted trade and increased the volume of imports and exports.

    First Industrial Revolution - Key takeaways

    • The First Industrial Revolution was a period marking a radical change in the social fabric originating in Britain in the 18th century which saw the introduction of machinery in production, steam power, and other advances as well as rapid growth and urbanization.
    • The First Industrial Revolution reached America via Samuel Slater, who opened several textile mills in New England and brought his water frame designs from England.
    • In Britain, conditions were favorable for the First Industrial Revolution due to the flat terrain, ease of transport, and spirit of competition.
    • The economic practice of mercantilism and a ready-made market for British products were advantages of the British colonial empire.
    Frequently Asked Questions about First Industrial Revolution

    What was the First Industrial Revolution?

    The First Industrial Revolution was a period of time in which new ideas, machinery and innovation started the production of goods in larger quanities.

    What caused the First Industrial Revolution?

    The First Industrial Revolution was caused by European imperialism, the Agricultural revolution, the emergence of the idea of capitalism and its success, and the drive to coal mine.

    How was the First Industrial Revolution different from the second?

    The First Industrial Revolution was centred around the manufactory of textiles, and the steam engine's emergence. Whereas the Second Industrial Revolution was centred around steel, automobile and electric advancements.

    When did the First Industrial Revolution start in America?

     The First Industrial Revolution started in America in 1793, and is usually connected to the opening of the Pawtucket mill that worked with textiles.

    What happened in the First Industrial Revolution?

    During the First Industrial Revolution, both the Factory system and the economy was changed forever. New machines, energy, and industries meant that mechanised manufacturing took over the creation and distribution of goods.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What is the name of the major transformation that Europe and the U.S. underwent between 1760 and 1840?

    Which ancient Greek society was militarist?

    When were chemical weapons used on a large scale for the first time?

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