In the 1700s, the world was on the verge of a great change – the industrial revolution. By the end of the eighteenth century, the industrial revolution was well under way in England and would spread to the rest of Europe, the United States, and Japan during the next hundred years. Before the industrial revolution, Europe and the rest of the world were rural societies. Over three quarters of the population lived on farms, and in the busiest of countries only a few hundred thousand out of several million lived in towns and cities.
Tools and the few machines that existed then were made mostly from wood. European products were handmade and the power to operate these tools came from human muscles. The only other available power sources were wind and water, but the use of wind and water-powered machinery was restricted to places where the wind and water power was reliable. Therefore, what’s known as the domestic system was used.
The domestic system is a form of manufacturing in which goods were produced in the homes, either alone or in very small groups. A few industries used simple factories, single-room buildings or workshops for the manufacture of luxury goods, such as cloth and the production on certain military weapons. “This world of cottage industries and wooden tools was about to be transformed. After the industrial revolution, only traces of this former existence would remain.” (Corrick, 12)
The industrial revolution began in eighteenth-century England. England had money and natural resources, but most importantly, people. The industrial revolution required both workers and consumers. England had a population boom in the 1700s due to cured diseases, healthier childbirths, and more and better food. Economic historian Phyllis Deane says, “Without the rising demand for goods…which reflected…the growth of population, there would have been less incentive for British producers to expand…and hence some of the dynamism which powered the industrial revolution would have been lost.” (Corrick, 18) With the growth of population came the demand for goods and the need for better, easier, and cheaper ways to make these goods.
England also had a natural abundance of iron and coal. Iron became increasingly important because it was a common building material and an essential factor in the development of mechanical production. With England’s jagged coastline, which provided excellent natural harbors, iron became a major export. In addition to people, natural resources, and inventions, money was needed to start the industrial revolution. England had roads, banks, insurance brokers, and all the things needed to open a business. Rich English traders were more than eager to put their wealth to work and invest in English industry. England had all the factors of production and was the ideal region for the start of the industrial revolution.
Another great English industry aside from iron production was the textile industry. “The export of cloth accounted for about a third of all English trade, both at home and abroad.” (Corrick, 20) In 1733 John Kay invented the flying shuttle. When added to the regular hand loom, a single weaver was able to work the loom. Even though the weaving was still done by hand, it went faster and weavers turned out cloth much more rapidly. Following the invention of the flying shuttle were James Hargreaves and his spinning jenny, Richard Arkwright and the water frame, Samuel Crompton and Crompton’s mule, and probably most importantly, James Watt and the steam engine.
With the ending of Watt’s patents, other inventors were able to make the steam engine more powerful and find more uses for it. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the industrial revolution played an important role in England. New and larger factories were filling the English landscape. In the meanwhile, the revolution began to spread: first to Western Europe, then all over the world....
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