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The Industrial Revolution – Industria

Key features

EEA: increasingly urban as population moves from the country into the cities
Communication: verbal+written+printed
Lasts: c. 500 yrs
Energy source & use: animal and plant food with complex social structure maintained by fossil fuels and consumption at over 200,000 kcal/capita/day
Group size: towards the end of the period with most people in the world living in increasingly interdependent cities of up to tens of millions of people
World pop: from 500 million to c. 6 billion around 2000
Diet: domesticated animals and plants, increasingly processed
Values: former religious, political, economic, and gender hierarchies now being questioned. These farmers of the Neolithic Revolution instigated strong political, wealth and gender hierarchies while containing violence
Ecological impact: increasing

The Industrial Revolution

The onset of the Industrial Revolution, which spans the period from about 1760 to 1830, marked the most important economic, social, and environmental transition since the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution.


This was, more than anything else, a revolution in energy management – the harnessing of the concentrated energy of fossil fuels (first coal, then oil), driving industry, manufacturing and economic production.

Beginning in Britain it was a dramatic social transition that spread first to western European countries and their colonies, and subsequently to the world.

This phase of human history, sometimes referred to by the general term
Industria lasted for about 250 yrs and is associated with an average daily per capita energy consumption of about 200,000 kcal.

Heavy consumption of fossil fuels began in the 18th century western Europe as part of the Industrial Revolution with massive improvements in technology building on the scientific achievements of the 17th century and a rapid increase in trade and communication across the world’s oceans that led to globalization and today’s international integration and interdependency as the human population rapidly increased from 450 million in 1500 to 7 billion today, the momentum gathering with the ‘Great Acceleration’ after the second world war when the world population in 1950 was just 2.5 billion. Commerce centred largely around the Mediterranean at the time of the Roman Empire, moving to the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans by the time of the British Empire. Through the 20th century American power increased, especially in the Pacific. After 1950 we see a gradual Asian ascendancy. Today, with most of the world’s people living in cities, we are suspicious of political and gender hierarchies and resist violence, but accept some wealth differentiation. With the abundant fossil fuels for food production and manufacturing productivity soared, increasing 7-fold in the most industrialised Western economies so that energy consumption rose from roughly 38,000 kcal/cap/day in 1800 to about 230,000 kcal/cap/day in the 1970s.


Industria was a period during which predominantly agrarian, rural societies in Europe and America became industrial and urban. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, which began in Britain in the late 1700s, manufacturing was often done in people’s homes, using hand tools or basic machines.

Social transition

Industrialization marked a shift to powered, special-purpose machinery, factories and mass production. The iron and textile industries, along with the development of the steam engine, played central roles in the Industrial Revolution, which also saw improved systems of transportation, communication and banking. While industrialization brought about an increased volume and variety of manufactured goods and an improved standard of living for some, it also resulted in often grim employment and living conditions for the poor and working classes.

Human-plant coevolution

From the perspective of the coevolution of plants and people the Agricultural Revolution had accelerated the creation of anthropogenic plants and sedentary human communities that could store food, releasing people to follow the division of labour that included efficient government administration, academic pursuits, manufacturing industries on a vast scale, and including an enlarged military , diet of reduced variety, and trade over larger distances.


From a sustainability perspective this was a resource-hungry social revolution, starting in Britain, that would be gradually taken up by the world. The transition was from man to machines as rural workers being replaced by the machinery of a new agricultural revolution sought work in the industrial cities., from rural to urban as from agriculture to industrial manufacture all fuelled by a quantum leap in communication and transportation releasing the energy needed to initiate exponential population growth, increased average income and standard of living. This was bought at the price of back-breaking and long hours of toil in factories and mines.


The world prior to the Industrial Revolution had essentially a rural economy –  people living on the land in small mostly self-sustaining farming communities that eked out a meagre subsistence based on just a few staple crops. It was individual resourcefulness in the home, supplemented by a few specialised workshops and craftsmen that produced the houses, food, clothing, furniture and tools.

With a conjunction of relatively sophisticated social organization, rich supplies of iron and coal, and colonies to supply additional raw materials and labour while providing a market for manufactured goods, Britain was ideally situated for economic growth built on ingenuity, rising population, and a ready energy supply.

Increasing demand led to increased wealth, a merchant class, the drive for greater efficiencies, technologies, and mechanization. As demand for British goods increased, merchants needed more cost-effective methods of production, which led to the rise of mechanization and the factory system in the spiral of productivity and competition that we associate with vibrant capitalism.

Rapid social change in the 18th and 19th centuries did not appeal to everyone. By 1800 coal was Britain’s foremost industry and as, in the Victorian era, Britain produced more coal than any other country. A whole industrial and mining ethos was created in the north of England where one in ten men were miners with lives that found some respite in pigeon racing and breeding, greyhounds, brass bands, creative hobbeys, garden allotments and self-education.
Cotton was the other major industrial resource. Imported from India, America and Africa cities like Manchester were able to use half of the world cotton production making money from a resource without needing the land on which it was grown. Vast mills were the largest buildings seen in England apart from cathedrals and churches. Construction of canals, railways and improved roads announced the curtailing of distance and the general acceleration of communication and life.

Cultural & political change

The word “luddite” refers to a person who is opposed to technological change. The term is derived from a group of early 19th century English workers who attacked factories and destroyed machinery as a means of protest. They were supposedly led by a man named Ned Ludd, though he may have been an apocryphal figure.

The Industrial Revolution brought about a greater volume and variety of factory-produced goods and raised the standard of living for many people, particularly for the middle and upper classes. However, life for the poor and working classes continued to be filled with challenges. Wages for those who labored in factories were low and working conditions could be dangerous and monotonous. Unskilled workers had little job security and were easily replaceable. Children were part of the labor force and often worked long hours and were used for such highly hazardous tasks as cleaning the machinery. In the early 1860s, an estimated one-fifth of the workers in Britain’s textile industry were younger than 15. Industrialization also meant that some craftspeople were replaced by machines. Additionally, urban, industrialized areas were unable to keep pace with the flow of arriving workers from the countryside, resulting in inadequate, overcrowded housing and polluted, unsanitary living conditions in which disease was rampant. Conditions for Britain’s working-class began to gradually improve by the later part of the 19th century, as the government instituted various labor reforms and workers gained the right to form trade unions. The Factory Act of 1847 reduced worker hours and organised sport gathered in popularity leading to the codification of many of today’s popular sports entertainments.

As wealth accrued so more fine public monuments appeared including town halls, public buildings and the new public parks and gardens.

Innovation and Industrialization

The textile industry, in particular, was transformed by industrialization. Before mechanization and factories, textiles were made mainly in people’s homes (giving rise to the term cottage industry), with merchants often providing the raw materials and basic equipment, and then picking up the finished product. Workers set their own schedules under this system, which proved difficult for merchants to regulate and resulted in numerous inefficiencies. In the 1700s, a series of innovations led to ever-increasing productivity, while requiring less human energy. For example, around 1764, Englishman James Hargreaves (1722-1778) invented the spinning jenny (“jenny” was an early abbreviation of the word “engine”), a machine that enabled an individual to produce multiple spools of threads simultaneously. By the time of Hargreaves’ death, there were over 20,000 spinning jennys in use across Britain. The spinning jenny was improved upon by British inventor Samuel Compton’s (1753-1827) spinning mule, as well as later machines. Another key innovation in textiles, the power loom, which mechanized the process of weaving cloth, was developed in the 1780s by English inventor Edmund Cartwright (1743-1823).

Developments in the iron industry also played a central role in the Industrial Revolution. In the early 18th century, Englishman Abraham Darby (1678-1717) discovered a cheaper, easier method to produce cast iron, using a coke-fueled (as opposed to charcoal-fired) furnace. In the 1850s, British engineer Henry Bessemer (1813-1898) developed the first inexpensive process for mass-producing steel. Both iron and steel became essential materials, used to make everything from appliances, tools and machines, to ships, buildings and infrastructure.

The steam engine was also integral to industrialization. In 1712, Englishman Thomas Newcomen (1664-1729) developed the first practical steam engine (which was used primarily to pump water out of mines). By the 1770s, Scottish inventor James Watt (1736-1819) had improved on Newcomen’s work, and the steam engine went on to power machinery, locomotives and ships during the Industrial Revolution.

Manufacturing & raw materials

In Britain manufacturing based in the new factories was mainly in cotton-based textiles.



Prior to the Industrial Revolution transportation of people and goods was based on horsepower, carriages, wagons, barges and shipping. The advent of fossil fuel energy made the world more accessible producing a quantum leap in globalization. Factories and steam engines produced not only profits but smoke, grime and noise. Factory workers endured long working hours and aristocrats fought railways wishing to run in straight lines through their country estates.

Rivers &Canals
American Robert Fulton (1765-1815) built the first commercially successful steamboat, and by the mid-19th century while small steamships plied the rivers and canals of Europe, the Mississippi and Australia’s Murray-Darling.

Iron hulled ships were built first for trade across the Atlantic and then further to Australia.

The journey from London to Edinburgh by horse and carriage took five days. As steam-powered ships were making their debut, the steam locomotive was also coming into use. In the early 1800s, British engineer Richard Trevithick (1771-1833) constructed the first railway steam locomotive and in 1830, England’s Liverpool to Manchester (Stockton to Darlington) Railway became the first to offer regular, timetabled passenger services as cotton products developed in the mills of Manchester could be transported by rail the 20 miles to the docks at Liverpool. Robert Stephenson steam locomotive ‘Rocket’ designed in 1829 averaged 29 mph on this journey which was faster than any other means of transport at that time. This led to a frenzy of rail construction and the civil engineering of bridges, tunnels and viaducts connecting the industrial north of Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham to London and thence to trade with India and southeast Asia through the Mediterranean, Suez, and the Red Sea. By 1850, Britain had more than 6,000 miles of railroad track and by the end of the 19th century this had increased to about 20,000 miles. For a period the publicly owned railways produced investment returns of around 10% but by 1847 it was a bubble that had run its course, taken over by private companies. Animals disappeared from the cities, shopping became more exciting, lower classes travelled to the countryside and football matches and, though train carriages were divided into first, second and third class they seemed to be devouring both hierarchy and the countryside. Railroad construction moved to America, Canada, Australia and elsewhere. Emphasis moved to luxury, speed and food. The 1901 soccer cup final brought 114,000 people to London by train. With the advent of war in 1914 troops travelled to Folkestone and Southampton to join the front. By 1923 cars had arrived and the rail network, which had become large and unwieldy, was taken over by four conglomerates their competition culminating in a steam train land speed record of 126 mph, but as cost blew out the network was again taken over by government.

Around 1820, Scottish engineer John McAdam (1756-1836) developed a new process for road construction. His technique, which became known as macadam, resulted in roads that were smoother, more durable and less muddy.

Massive sea-going ships were steadily replacing sail, helping to building up the cities of north-west Europe on the money earned from the Atlantic in a continuous triangle of trade that passed down the West African coast to the Americas and back to Europe – consisting of European manufactured goods, African slaves, and plantation-produced sugar, rum, cotton, and tobacco.


Became greater, faster and further. easier during the Industrial Revolution with such inventions as the telegraph. In 1837, two Brits, William Cooke (1806-1879) and Charles Wheatstone (1802-1875), patented the first commercial electrical telegraph. By 1840, railways were a Cooke-Wheatstone system, and in 1866, a telegraph cable was successfully laid across the Atlantic.


The Industrial Revolution also saw the rise of banks and industrial financiers, as well as a factory system dependent on owners and managers. A stock exchange was established in London in the 1770s; the New York Stock Exchange was founded in the early 1790s. In 1776, Scottish social philosopher Adam Smith (1723-1790), who is regarded as the founder of modern economics, published “The Wealth of Nations.” In it, Smith promoted an economic system based on free enterprise, the private ownership of means of production, and lack of government interference.

For instance, railroads in the mid-19th century needed stronger rails and armies wanted stronger cannon barrels, so there was a ready reception for Henry Bessemer’s new steel-making process in 1856.

Beyond Britain

In spite of deliberate legislation prohibiting the export of technology and skilled workers in the early 19th century the new money-making formula, especially textile manufacture, spread from Britain to Belgium, France, Germany, and the United States, all with their own coal and iron supplies.


Geographically by the mid-19th century industrial manufacture and mining was evident across western Europe and northeastern America. For 100 years Britain rules the seas and, through its colonies, the largest empire the world has ever seen encompassing 25% of the world population until, in the early 20th century, this economic and industrial supremacy was eclipsed by the United States.



While this period of rapid change was taking place in Britain there was the British coastal exploration of Cook and Banks in 1768, settlement in 1788 and the march towards Australian independence. This period was like a cashing in of the Enlightenment’s faith in science and reason, especially the application of scientific ideas to technology and engineering.

Alexander Graham Bell invented
the telephone in 1876, he found few people who wanted to buy his invention and use it;
indeed, it took the Bell Telephone Company decades to convince Americans that every
home should have a telephone.
‘’supply push’’, “demand-pull,”

Post-industrial society 1830 to today

The role of plants in recent technological development has become more subtle as each new technology modifies and supplements what went before. The Industrial Revolution (c. 1760 to c. 1840) is a phase characterised by the use of coal-fired steam engines, most notably in the textile industry. Between c. 1870 and c. 1914 major changes occurred with the investigation of oil products including kerosene and gas but quickly outdated by the introduction of the use of electricity and electrical lighting, steel production, and accelerated industrialisation. After 1914 petroleum became important with the introduction of cars, the manufacture of steel, and mass-production followed by the introduction of electricity that would, in the 21st century superimpose information technology on existing systems until today we are entering a new period of intelligent software.


1694 – First Central Bank established in England
1712 – Thomas Newcomen invented the first productive steam engine.
1719 – John Lombe starts his silk factory
1733 – James Kay invented the Flying Shuttle, a simple weaving machine.


1764 – James Hargreaves invented the Spinning Jenny, which allowed one worker to spin eight spindles
1769 – Richard Arkwright invented the water frame, which hooked up spinning machines to a water wheel.
1769 – James Watt patented his revision of the steam engine, featuring a separate condenser.
1774 – Samuel Crompton invented the spinning mule which combined spinning and weaving into one machine.
1776 – Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations.
1781 – Watt adapts his steam engine from a reciprocal to a rotary motion.
1785 – Edmund Cartwright invented the power loom, which, after 1800 was powered by new steam engines. Replaced the flying shuttle.
1785 – Henry Cort invented highly successful iron refining techniques.
1790 – Carkwright changes his huge factories over from water power to steam engines
1794 – Eli Whitney patents the cotton gin a machine that separates cotton seeds from cotton fibre.
1799 – Combination Acts make it illegal in England for workers to unionize in order to bargain for higher pay or better working conditions.
1800 – 10 million tons of coal mined in Great Britain.
1801 – Richard Trevithick drives the Cornish “puffer” steam powered locomotive down the street of Camborne, England.
1811 – Luddite Rebellion begins.
1812 – Parliament passes law making it illegal by penalty of death to destroy industrial machines.
1813 – 14 Luddites hanged in Manchester after a rushed one-day trial.
1816 – George Stephenson patented a steam engine locomotive that ran on rails.
1817 – Bicycle.
1825 – Stephenson commissioned to construct a 30-mile railway from Liverpool to Manchester.
1825 – Typewriter.
1827 – Photography.
1829 – Stephenson’s Rocket wins the speed contest on the new Liverpool to Manchester railroad. 51 miles of railroad track in Great Britain and the entire world.


1832 – Sadler Committee investigates child labor in factories and issues report to Parliament.
1833 – The first Factory Act provides first small regulation of child labor in textile factories.
1834 – Poor Law created “poorhouses” for the destitute.
1835 – 106,000 power looms operating in Great Britain.
1836 – Morse code.
1844 – Friedrich Engels publishes his observations of the negative effects of industrialization in The Condition of the Working-Class in England.
1844 – Samuel Morse invents the telegraph. By 1860 telegraph wires in America pass from east coast to the Mississippi River.
1846 – Elias Howe invents the sewing machinemaking factories possible
1848 – British government sets up the General Board of Health to investigate sanitary conditions, setting up local boards to ensure safe water in cities.
1848 – Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published The Communist Manifesto.
1849 – 10,000 people die in three months in London from Cholera epidemic.
1849 – 6,031 miles of railroad track in Great Britain.
1853 Lifts/Elevators were already invented by 1853, Elisha Otis invents a safety break.
1855 – Henry Bessemer invents a process for making steel out of iron.
1866 – Alfred Nobel creates dynamite.
1866 – Alfred Nobel invents dynamite.
1870 – Louis Pasteur develops vaccines for diseases.
1876 – Alexander Graham Bell patents the telephone.
1875 – Public Health Act gives government responsibility to ensure public health for housing and sewage.
1876 – Alexander Graham Bell was the first to get a patent for telephone.
1877 – Phonograph.
1879 – Thomas Edison uses a light bulb to light a lamp.
1880 – Education Act made school compulsory for children up to age 10.
1883 – Brooklyn Bridge is completed: longest suspension bridge in the world.
1890 – 90% of all ships in the world are built in Great Britain.
1890 – 35,00 miles of railroad track in Great Britain.
1901 – This Factory Act raised the minimum work age to 12 years old.
1903 Orville and Wilbur Wright invent the first plane not powered by wind. October 1908
1905 – 236 million tons of coal mined in Great Britain.
1908 – Henry Ford creates Model T made on an assembly line.
1918 – Education Act made school compulsory for children up to age 14.
1944 – English government mandates and funds compulsory education for all over 18.

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