7. The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution: What Difference Did It Make?
 
A revolution in production, transport, and communications began in Britain in the late eighteenth century. In its background were a primacy in world trade, Enlightenment ideas of ongoing progress and rationality, improvements in food production, a rapid rise in population, and an increasing demand for cotton textiles and iron. It was a global event from the start, since it relied on interactions with foreign countries for industrial raw materials, markets for manufactured goods, and places to invest. The society-transforming Industrial Revolution spread only gradually, first to Western Europe and the United States, and by 1914 to much of the rest of the world.
 
The revolution came about by harnessing new sources of energy to machinery. It began with the use of coal, steam, and iron, with textiles, railways, and steamships as the most significant early areas of change. By the second half of the nineteenth century, the leading edges of the Industrial Revolution became steel, petroleum, electricity, chemicals, cars, and airplanes.
 
The results were dizzily-increasing speed and mobility, with a corresponding reduction in both the time and the number of people it took to do a growing number of jobs of different kinds. The occupational changes spelled long-term hardship for some workers and new opportunities for others. Overall, by World War I, living conditions had improved for most but not all of the population in industrialized countries, which had grown significantly in wealth and power relative to non-industrialized ones.
 
Industrial work itself differed radically from agricultural work. By concentrating work in factories, it moved production out of the home, changed family life, and contributed to the rise of cities and the formation of a self-conscious working class. Parts and people became interchangeable, and workers became depersonalized as "hands." Work went according to clock and machine time, was repetitive, boring, closely supervised, and gave workers no control over timing, conditions, or nature of the work.
 
The rapid and massive growth of cities and the boom-bust cycles of expanding economies brought about human and environmental problems. These gradually resulted in governments undertaking new responsibilities. Some of these were regulating industrial workers and work, putting public health measures in place, organizing police forces, and urban planning. Later came compulsory public education and social welfare measures.
 
Women, the working classes, and peoples in countries that produced raw commodities were exploited, but they also sometimes gained new opportunities. In time, they began organizing and working towards more equal rights and independence. Colonialism and nationalism both influenced, and were influenced by, the Industrial Revolution.
 
Source:  World History for Us All - http://worldhistoryforusall.sdsu.edu/
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