The Industrial Revolution is a term describing major changes in the economic and social structure of many western countries in the 1700s and 1800s. At the beginning of the 1700s, most of Europe’s people lived and worked on the land. By the time the 1800s ended, most Europeans were city dwellers, earning a living in factories or offices. As work became unavailable on the land, huge numbers of Europeans migrated overseas, particularly to America. The political map of Europe was also redrawn during this period.
Revolutions convulsed the continent from the 1820s to the 1870s. They swept away states ruled by hereditary families and replaced them with new nations based on shared history, culture, and language. The European powers also strove to win new colonial territories in Africa and to extend their empires in Asia and the Pacific.
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The transitions of Britain’s industrial revolution were repeated elsewhere as other western countries became industrialized. Farmworkers moved to the towns, seeking work in the new factories. The densely packed, low-quality houses built for them soon became unhealthy slums.
Before the new machines led to manufacturing in factories, the cloth was made in homes. Women and children did the spinning. Weaving was traditionally men’s work. In the early 1800s, children as young as five years old worked underground in the mines. They often had to work shifts of 12 hours and more.
Some toiled half-naked, chained to carts laden with coal which they pulled along dark passageways. Factories also used children. The usual shift was 15 hours a day. Many children were orphans; they lived in crowded, dirty hostels where the death rate could reach 60 percent.
Britain’s industrial revolution was the period (1750-1850) when Britain’s dominance of overseas markets through its empire, and the availability at the home of coal and iron ore, transformed it from a farming to a manufacturing community. The harnessing of steam power and major new inventions led to cheap mass-manufacture of materials such as cotton. Iron, made by the new processes, was strong enough for building structures like bridges in a different way.
In Britain, a system of canals linking the major rivers was built, providing the cheap transport the new factories needed to deliver raw materials and take away finished goods. The goods were loaded onto barges pulled by horses along tracks called towpaths. Canal-building reached its peak in Britain in the 1790s. Later in the Industrial Revolution, goods could be moved more easily on the newly built railroads.
George Stephenson opened the first public railroad in Britain in 1825. In 1835, his son Robert built the engine for the first German train, Der Adler (The Eagle). In the 1700s, a revolution also took place in British farming. Jethro Tull’s seed drill and improved plows raised the standard of cultivation. Animals that in an earlier age would have been slaughtered in the winter were now kept alive on root crops. Between 1700 and 1800, the yield of wheat doubled. Selective breeding meant larger, healthier livestock.
These are a couple of more facts about the Industrial Revolution. Hargreaves introduced his 8-thread spinning machine, (called “jenny” after his wife) in 1764. A later model was able to spin 120 threads. After Britain, the next western country to become industrialized was Belgium. By the 1840s France, Germany, Belgium, and the U.S. had all begun to build railroads; the coming of the railroads revolutionized travel since ordinary people were able to move about more easily. Towns grew rapidly: in Britain, in 1801, Manchester’s population was 75,000. By 1851, it was 303,000.
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