Industrial Revolution: Why Great Britain?
The period roughly beginning in 1750 and ending in 1870 is the Industrial Revolution: machine power replaces man and animal power, industrial organization becomes large scale, and productive work becomes highly specialized. Technological innovations that characterize the Industrial Revolution began earlier in other places, but only in Great Britain in this period is there such an early great leap in national economic productivity accompanied by widespread social transformation of an agrarian society into an industrialized one. The Industrial Revolution's dramatic impact on Great Britain lay possibly in the social, political, and legal conditions which were particularly favorable to change there. Private property was protected by British law and less subject to arbitrary seizure by the monarchy; taxation was not any more onerous than in other Western states; intellectual property rights were protected by established patent law; and, a combination of limited monarchy with an undercurrent of popular democratic sentiments, favored entrepreneurial risk-taking and private wealth creation more-so than anywhere else in Europe. Consistent with Max Weber's thesis: Protestantism had rooted firmly in Great Britain with the king as head of the Church of England. While most of Europe still followed mercantilism, Great Britain's government pursued a relatively hands-off economic policy in matters of commerce. The Bank of England, established in 1694, also promoted economic development. The Bank was a private stock company (until nationalized in 1946) and in return for securing national debts had authority to issue currency -- promoting the circulation of money for business exchanges and a national monetary system. Colonialism favored the development of the corporation, permitting capitalization through the sale of stocks. Early exchanges had been organized throughout Europe but traded mostly in commodities and currencies. Although Amsterdam's Bourse was the first to formally begin trading in securities in 1785, soon the London Stock Market was organized to trade in commercial stocks. In 1856 Parliament enacted the the English Joint Stock Companies Act, granting limited liability to investors and providing for public accounting of invested funds and earnings. Natural resources also played a determinative role in Great Britain's Industrial Revolution. The country had ample coal and iron deposits to create an early iron industry. Thomas Newcomen in 1705, improving upon an earlier patent by John Calley, successfully built a steam engine that pumped water from coal mines. In 1760 John Smeaton applied the steam engine to fan the furnaces used in manufacturing iron. Iron production rose from 12 tons per furnace to 40 tons per furnace. This increased productivity made available a large supply of iron at low cost, and led to new uses for iron: bridges, ships, and other machines. If iron was the key metal of the Industrial Revolution, at the center of the Industrial Revolution was replacement of human and animal labor with that of the machine, the steam engine. A mechanical engineer James Watt improved the Newcome engine to create a truly workable and reliable source of power. In 1775, Watt went into business with the British manufacturer Matthew Boulton, owner of the Soho Engineering Works at Birmingham, to manufacture steam engines that could be used in a variety of industrial settings, not just in mining. This partnership became one of the most important businesses of the Industrial Revolution. Boulton & Watt served as a kind of creative technical center for much of the British economy. They solved technical problems and spread the solutions to other companies. Similar firms did the same thing in other industries and were especially important in the machine tool industry. This type of interaction between companies was important because it reduced the amount of research time and expense that each...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document