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10 Facts on the Industrial Revolution

Paul graduated from university in 1987. He has done a variety of jobs, including librarian and teacher. He currently resides in Florida.

Here are 10 facts about the industrial revolution that will make you think.

Here are 10 facts about the industrial revolution that will make you think.

The Industrial Revolution is the name given to the enormous changes that took place with technology, farming, mining, manufacturing, and transportation from the middle of the 18th Century through to the middle of the 19th Century.

These changes had a massive impact on people’s social and cultural life, as well as their economic conditions.

10 Industrial Revolution Facts

  1. It Began in Britain
  2. It was one of the Biggest Events in Human History
  3. Machines Replaced People
  4. More People Lived in Cities
  5. Economic Conditions Improved for Most People
  6. Industrialization Caused New Problems
  7. Production of Clothing and Fabrics was Transformed
  8. The Steam Engine Improved Transport and Production
  9. The Industrial Revolution Created a New Economic System
  10. Some Countries Have yet to Experience an Industrial Revolution

I explain each one of these facts in more detail below.

1. It Began in Britain

The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain in the second half of the 18th century, with a number of technical innovations, including the invention of the steam engine, as well as new ways to make iron and steel which made them cheaper and easier to produce.

Britain was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution for three main reasons:

  • Britain had lots of coal and iron ore, which was needed to power and make the machines that were required by industrialization.
  • It helped that Britain was politically stable.
  • Britain was a major colonial power at the time, with the colonies providing both the raw materials for manufacturing and the marketplaces for the manufactured goods to be sold after they had been made.

In the industrial revolution Britain led the world in advances that enabled mass production: trade exchanges, transportation, factory technology and new skills needed for the new industrialised world.

— Lucy Powell

2. It was One of the Biggest Events in Human History

The Industrial Revolution was the most important thing to happen in human history since the time when animals and plants were domesticated. Before the Industrial Revolution happened, each generation of people produced a roughly similar amount of products to their predecessors and overall economic wealth was fairly stagnant. After industrialization, production began to grow quickly and generally continued to grow.

The Industrial Revolution was another of those extraordinary jumps forward in the story of civilization.

— Stephen Gardiner

3. Machines Replaced People

The main thing that happened during the Industrial Revolution was that machines were developed that could perform many of the jobs and tasks that had previously been done by people. This had social as well as economic consequences.

Instead of people using hand tools to make products at home, factories sprung up to house the new manufacturing machines and the need for human involvement was dramatically reduced. Working practices were increasingly decided according to the needs of the machines. People had to travel to the factories each day, where their time and effort was closely monitored for efficiency.

Many animals were also replaced by machines, particularly horses, which for centuries had been used for transport, farming, and other tasks.

Drawing of Marshall's Mills, a flax mill in Holbeck, Leeds, England, showing workers at their machines.  The picture is taken from the Penny Magazine Supplement, December 1843.  The mill was earlier targeted in the Plug Riots of August 1842.

Drawing of Marshall's Mills, a flax mill in Holbeck, Leeds, England, showing workers at their machines. The picture is taken from the Penny Magazine Supplement, December 1843. The mill was earlier targeted in the Plug Riots of August 1842.

4. More People Lived in Cities

Before the Industrial Revolution, societies were largely rural and people made things at home. After industrialization, more people lived in cities where goods were mass produced in purpose-built factories. Many people were forced to move to urban areas, where wages were higher, in order to survive economically. Industrialization also had the effect of increasing the population over time, thanks to factors such as health care improvements, making the cities grow in size.

5. Economic Conditions Improved for Most People

The Industrial Revolution generally brought about much better economic conditions for most people. More efficient production meant that everyday necessities like clothing, shoes, and household tools were more plentiful and cheaper to buy. Health care improved rapidly and children were less likely to die young. The increased needs for technical skills and knowledge led to improved education and scientific advances. More specialist professionals were needed in the newly industrialized cities and towns, which led to a rapid growth in the middle class and higher wages.

If you go back to 1800, everybody was poor. I mean everybody. The Industrial Revolution kicked in, and a lot of countries benefited, but by no means everyone.

— Bill Gates

6. Industrialization Caused New Problems

Although the overall effects of industrialization were positive for most people, there were many downsides too, including all the pollution and waste that was created as a side effect by the machines and chemicals used in industrial processes. Many modern environmental problems, such as climate change, have their roots in the changes to production and transport brought about by the industrial revolution.

Working practices also became more regimented and many people, including children, worked long hours in factories performing repetitive, and sometimes dangerous or unhealthy jobs. Working more than 12 hours each day was considered normal. The poor and working classes often suffered terrible living conditions with entire families crowded into tiny apartments. Dissatisfaction and poverty regularly resulted in social breakdown, protests, and rioting.

The Luddites

The industrial revolution meant that many artisans saw their traditional livelihoods wiped out by the new machines. The Luddites were a group of English textile artisans who protested against the introduction of labour-replacing machinery from 1811 to 1817 often through sabotage and other forms of resistance. Protests broke out in Nottinghamshire and Northern England and became violent in some instances, with fighting between the protesters and the British Army.

Engraving of Ned Ludd, Leader of the Luddites, 1812

Engraving of Ned Ludd, Leader of the Luddites, 1812

7. Production of Clothing and Fabrics was Transformed

The production of textiles was one of the things that was totally transformed by the Industrial Revolution. Before industrialization, people generally made clothes at home. Merchants would often give the clothes makers the raw materials and essential equipment, and then collect and sell the finished products for them. Industrialization meant that clothing and fabrics could be mass produced, making them much cheaper than the homemade version. Two inventions in particular made the mass production of textiles possible, those were the spinning Jenny and the power loom.

Children at work in a mill in Georgia.  Child labor, often with long hours and harsh conditions, was unfortunately common during the early part of the industrial revolution.

Children at work in a mill in Georgia. Child labor, often with long hours and harsh conditions, was unfortunately common during the early part of the industrial revolution.

8. The Steam Engine Improved Transport and Production

The steam engine was one of the most important inventions of the Industrial Revolution. The first practical steam engine was a machine made to pump water out of mines by the English inventor, Thomas Newcomen in 1712. The steam engine design was later improved upon by the Scotsman, James Watt. As well as powering the machines used in factories and mines, steam engines were also used in ships and locomotives, which improved transportation dramatically, making long journeys much quicker and often more comfortable.

The Scottish inventor, James Watt, who dramatically improved steam powered engines.  Through redesigning the engines of his time, he found that he could avoid much of the energy waste, and greatly improve their power and efficiency.

The Scottish inventor, James Watt, who dramatically improved steam powered engines. Through redesigning the engines of his time, he found that he could avoid much of the energy waste, and greatly improve their power and efficiency.

9. The Industrial Revolution Created a New Economic System

The Industrial Revolution effectively created a new economic system, known as: “Industrial Capitalism”. Before then, merchants had been the most important people in regard to trade and the economy. After industrialization, it was the private owners of the factories who made the bigger profits and generated the greatest wealth.

The five main traits of capitalism are:

  • Profit motive. Making a profit is the main aim of capitalists.
  • Free enterprise. People and businesses compete for profit.
  • Property ownership. Individuals and businesses have the right to own land and property.
  • Technological advancement. Capitalism sees technical innovation as a way of increasing production and revenue.
  • Government involvement is kept to a minimum. The economy is allowed to operate without interference when possible.

10. Some Countries Have yet to Experience an Industrial Revolution

In Britain, the industrial revolution was well underway by the end of the 18th Century. Industrialization then spread to Western Europe, North America, and many other places around the world. However, there are still many modern countries in Africa and Asia that have yet to experience industrialization. These countries are sometimes referred to as “Third World” or "Developing" nations.

Steam powered traction engines.  Although these vehicles seem large, heavy and difficult to manoeuvre from a modern viewpoint, they revolutionized agriculture and road haulage when they were introduced.

Steam powered traction engines. Although these vehicles seem large, heavy and difficult to manoeuvre from a modern viewpoint, they revolutionized agriculture and road haulage when they were introduced.

When the Industrial Revolution started, the amount of carbon sitting underneath Britain in the form of coal was as big as the amount of carbon sitting under Saudi Arabia in the form of oil, and this carbon powered the Industrial Revolution, it put the 'Great' in Great Britain, and led to Britain's temporary world domination.

— David J. C. MacKay

Samuel Crompton's Spinning Mule, an important invention in 18th Century textile making.  Mules were operated in pairs by a minder, with the help of two boys, known as the little piecer and the big, or side piercer.

Samuel Crompton's Spinning Mule, an important invention in 18th Century textile making. Mules were operated in pairs by a minder, with the help of two boys, known as the little piecer and the big, or side piercer.

Questions & Answers

Question: How has the industrial revolution benefited our lives today?

Answer: Basic goods like clothes and food are generally much more plentiful and cheaper nowadays, thanks to manufacturing and the mechanization of farming. There is also a much wider choice of products available to people. Travel is quicker, more comfortable and convenient, enabling us to go very long distances in short time periods, as well as large transport amounts of goods. Jobs are generally much better paid and less physically arduous than they were in pre-industrial times, contributing to people living longer. Medical treatments have blossomed with X-ray machines, scanners, and incubators. Communications have advanced with mass-produced books, telephones, televisions, and computers. Labor-saving devices such as vacuum cleaners, washing-machines and driers have taken much of the drudgery out of housework. Our towns and cities are lit and powered by electric. Last but not least, the industrial revolution has contributed to creating a modern society of educated children, a larger middle class, less poverty overall, and an equal role for women in society, as jobs become less physical and, increased production leads to greater affluence and more potential leisure time.

Question: Did kids work for free during the Industrial Revolution?

Answer: Children were paid but received considerably less money than adults. Typically an adult woman would receive half as much as an adult male, and a child would receive around half as much as a woman.

Question: How did the Industrial Revolution make everything possible for us?

Answer: The two main benefits of the Industrial Revolution were that it enabled the mass production of products that were affordable for the general population, and it increased the speed of transport and communication. This was done mainly through the creation and use of machines to replace human and animal labor.

Question: What effect on poverty did the industrial revolution have?

Answer: The Industrial Revolution certainly changed the nature of poverty. Before the Industrial Revolution, poverty generally came with rural serfs working on farms. Afterward, poverty was more likely to be seen among urban working class factory workers. Overall the Industrial Revolution improved lives, with far more children surviving into adulthood than ever before thanks to better conditions. Working class poverty was more visible because it was gathered in pockets, whereas older rural poverty was spread across numerous farms and was harder to see.

Question: Who helped the poor during the Industrial Revolution?

Answer: Help would generally come from two sources: religious charity and government. Charity might consist of food handouts, housing, or other forms of help. Government aid came in the provision of poorhouses or workhouses, where the destitute were housed and fed. Help was very basic by today's standards, and there was generally a more significant social stigma attached to poverty.

Question: When did the industrial revolution begin and end?

Answer: There is no exact agreement on the dates, but the general consensus is that the term covers the period between 1760 and sometime between 1820 and 1840.

Question: What do factories in the Industrial Revolution need that can’t be found in Western Europe?

Answer: There are many examples of raw goods that were taken to Europe from elsewhere and then processed into finished products in factories. Cotton, for example, could be grown in the West Indies and America and sent to England, where it was used to make clothing.

© 2012 Paul Goodman

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Because societies that had been agrarian and rural became industrial and urban in a relatively short period of time. Essentially, many people went from living in small towns and villages, working in the fields and raising animals to living in cities and working in factories, or professions relating to the new industries.

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Interesting facts about the industrial revolution, which changed the way people lived, communicated and made money and war.

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Elias Zanetti from Athens, Greece on March 02, 2013:

Probably the most important revolution Europe has ever met, along with the French Revolution that is...

It changed everything!

Paul Goodman (author) from Florida USA on February 25, 2013:

From the French word, industriel, and from Medieval Latin, industrialis, meaning "diligence, activity, zeal." It took on its modern meaning later in England.

Leyla Badija on February 25, 2013:

Where does the word industrial come from .

Oyewole Folarin from Lagos on April 06, 2012:

Industrialization and urbanization brought some problems, such as, overcrowding of the cities, traffic congestion, pollution, social vices like rape.

As a result of these, urban and regional planning was introduced to manage and control changing human environmental system.