Britain in the Industrial Revolution: Essential or Extraneous?
Why eighteenth-century Britain? Among the several movements through the course of human civilization, the study of the Industrial Revolution has left the question of Britain’s influence in the process. Could the Revolution have proceeded without Britain? What changes would there be in history? Britain’s strategic position in trade and the economy, as well as its social distinctiveness in Europe, resulted in a situation where no other country could have initiated the movement at the same time. The country’s influence on the Revolution after its beginnings was instrumental in determining the course of events.
Through consulting the sources, Civilizations: The West and the Rest, by Niall Ferguson, The Industrial Revolution in Britain, by Don Nardo, and Sweat and Inspiration: Pioneers of the Industrial Age, by Martin Worth, it is evident that without Britain’s influence on the Industrial Revolution, the economic transformation would have been delayed and changed. Eighteenth-century Britain’s unique characteristics were instrumental in setting the nation as the birthplace of large-scale industry. Britain’s influence on leading the world to a revolution of technological and innovative transformations is evident through an examination of Britain’s unprecedented economic growth, the British cultural mentality, and production process innovations.
A significant cause for Britain’s development into the industrial centre of the world was its economic boom. Beginning in the mid-to late 1700s, the sudden economic progress was a prominent cause for the Industrial Revolution. The industrialization of Britain, and, eventually, the remainder of Europe, was spurred by the demand for textiles. “…The Industrial Revolution would not have begun in Britain and spread to the rest of the West without the simultaneous development of a dynamic consumer society, characterized by an almost indefinitely elastic demand for cheap clothes” (Ferguson 198), and the increasingly consumption-oriented mentality in society led to a surge in demand for clothing. Britain’s colonies and position in trade for textiles were unique in Europe, and strengthened the country’s influence in the Industrial Revolution. In order to meet consumer demand, increased productivity and efficiency was necessary, and this new proficiency led to sudden economic prosperity. “Between 1700 and 1750, British export trade in textiles doubled; by 1800 it had trebled, and, with two-thirds of the total generated by cotton goods, British manufactured exports amounted to 40% of national income— the largest percentage ever enjoyed by any nation before or since” (Worth 219). Britain’s ability to meet the demand for textiles was significant in the economic growth.
To further satisfy the demand, their large fleets of ships allowed Britain to reach a diversity of areas for a variety of products. British colonies also provided trade opportunities and increased competition (Nardo 11). This created a multitude of luxury goods— affordable due to the competition— that made Britain more appealing as a trading partner in Europe, further supporting Britain in its economic development. The pursuit of unending economic progress led to industrialization in order to continue the development of land, labour, and capital resources. Britain’s exclusive traits included success in trade, accessibility of textiles, and the monopoly of the water. These characteristics were vital to the rapid and monumental growth of the economy and the Industrial Revolution. They also allowed mass industrialization to proceed in the eighteenth-century and take its revolutionary course of action. Without the appeal of Britain’s economic growth, the Industrial Revolution would not have spread to the rest of Europe.
The spread and impact of the Industrial Revolution was also due, in large part, to the effect of the British cultural mentality in the society....
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