The changes brought by the Industrial Revolution overturned not only traditional economies, but also whole societies. Economic changes caused far-reaching social changes, including the movement of people to cities, the availability of a greater variety of material goods, and new ways of doing business. The Industrial Revolution was the first step in modern economic growth and development. Economic development was combined with superior military technology to make the nations of Europe and their cultural offshoots, such as the United States, the most powerful in the world in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain during the last half of the 18th century and spread through regions of Europe and to the United States during the following century. In the 20th century industrialization on a wide scale extended to parts of Asia and the Pacific Rim. Today mechanized production and modern economic growth continue to spread to new areas of the world, and much of humankind has yet to experience the changes typical of the Industrial Revolution.
The Industrial Revolution is called a revolution because it changed society both significantly and rapidly. Over the course of human history, there has been only one other group of changes as significant as the Industrial Revolution. This is what anthropologists call the Neolithic Revolution, which took place in the later part of the Stone Age. In the Neolithic Revolution, people moved from social systems based on hunting and gathering to much more complex communities that depended on agriculture and the domestication of animals. This led to the rise of permanent settlements and, eventually, urban civilizations. The Industrial Revolution brought a shift from the agricultural societies created during the Neolithic Revolution to modern industrial societies.
The social changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution were significant. As economic activities in many communities moved from agriculture to manufacturing, production shifted from its traditional locations in the home and the small workshop to factories. Large portions of the population relocated from the countryside to the towns and cities where manufacturing centers were found. The overall amount of goods and services produced expanded dramatically, and the proportion of capital invested per worker grew. New groups of investors, businesspeople, and managers took financial risks and reaped great rewards.
In the long run the Industrial Revolution has brought economic improvement for most people in industrialized societies. Many enjoy greater prosperity and improved health, especially those in the middle and the upper classes of society. There have been costs, however. In some cases, the lower classes of society have suffered economically. Industrialization has brought factory pollutants and greater land use, which have harmed the natural environment. In particular, the application of machinery and science to agriculture has led to greater land use and,...