Chapter 18 Industrial Revolution in the West: 1700-1914

Section 2 A New Civilization

The industrial revolution in England was the first revolution in productivity to sustain itself.  In the past, improvements in technology had often made societies more productive by raising them to new levels of production. invariably, however, such improvements had eventually leveled off, as both populations and standards of living were re-established at the new levels. But the population and standard of living could not be sustained beyond this level.  In the nineteenth century, for the first time, the standard of living did not reach a new level and then remain there.  Instead, it continued to rise.  Population grew, moved increasingly into cities or towns, and found employment in an increasing range of occupations.  

The Transportation Revolution

Before the 1800s, transportation had changed little from the Middle Ages. People could travel only as fast as animals could transport them over rough roads, which averaged about five miles an hour in dry conditions.[9] Water transport could be faster but seafaring ships needed wind.  Barges could float downstream on river currents but relied on animals to tow them upstream.

            In the 1700s British landowners and engineers created a network of canals to move bulk goods to rivers and then to the sea. But canal boats still required animal power to move.            

Steamships. The first application of steam power to transport was made by an American engineer, Robert Fulton, who successfully tested a boat powered by a steam engine, nicknamed the Clermont, on the Hudson River in 1807. Within five years, steamboats were introduced to Europe.  The new boats opened the rivers of the United States to trade and settlement, and ocean-going steamships connected North America, Europe, and other continents.  Steamships carried most of the world's ocean-going trade by the 1860s.           

Railroads.  Steam power also revolutionized travel on land. The engineer George Stephenson designed a self-propelled steam engine, or locomotive, that worked by using steam under much higher pressure than a stationary Watt engine.  In 1829 he built and tested a locomotive, the Rocket, which pulled a train of cars at the unheard of speed of 30 miles per hour.[10] 

            Railways made it much easier to move goods and people across long distances.  By the mid-1800s, networks of railroads crossed much of Europe and North America. The coming of the railroad was usually an exciting event for communities. When the first modern railroad, the Liverpool to Manchester Railway, opened in 1830, the actress Fanny Kemble wrote of her travel on it: 

“The most intense curiosity and excitement prevailed, and, though the weather was uncertain, enormous masses of densely packed people lined the road, shouting and waving hats and handkerchiefs as we flew by them.”[11] 

The railroad made possible the movement of food from areas of surplus to areas of need, ending the specter of famine as a result of local crop failure. With railways and steamships, growing cities could supply themselves with food, coal, and other necessities and produce manufactured goods and provide services in exchange.  

Industrial Society

The Industrial Revolution changed many aspects of people's lives, including their homes, their work, and the quality of life.

The population of Britain began to rise dramatically. In 1801 the population was about 10.5 million and by 1851 it had nearly doubled.[12] People began marrying earlier and had more children.  More importantly, the death rate dropped.  One observer, Thomas Malthus, wrote in 1798 that the country could not support a growing number of people.  He predicted that society would run out of food and collapse.

Malthus was mistaken because improvements in productivity and employment kept pace with population growth.  An increase in the rural population led many people to move to the cities, which for the first time were able to employ ever-increasing numbers.  Cities in manufacturing regions grew especially fast. The industrial city of Leeds grew 13 times larger in 1851 than it had been in 1801, while the commercial city of London merely doubled in size.[13]

Living conditions.  As people streamed into the cities, conditions for most of them were hardly easy.  In early factories, laborers often worked 14 hours a day, 6 days a week. The work was not adjusted to the seasons, as it was on farms or under the domestic system. Instead, factory workers had to adjust their lives to the demands of machines. Workers had to arrive at work promptly and had to eat meals and take breaks at set times.

            Early factories were noisy, dirty, and poorly ventilated. The air was hot and steamy in summer and cold and damp in winter. Sanitary facilities were primitive. Early machines had no safety devices, and serious injuries occurred frequently. Employers provided no accident insurance or other form of compensation for injury.  Wages were low because even with the harsh conditions more people wanted work in factories than could find it.

Migrants and the city poor crowded into squalid slums, living in shoddy buildings built so closely together that there was little light or ventilation. Open sewers ran through the slums.[14]  The danger of disease was ever-present.  In the 1830s and 1840s, serious cholera epidemics erupted in Great Britain, as they did on the European continent.[15]  Indeed, the incidence of disease became so bad in London that one observer noted: 

“We might...say here is the typhoid parish, and there the ward of cholera; ...the southern shores of the Thames [could] be christened Pestilentia. As season follows season, so does disease follow disease in the quarters that styled the plague-spots of London.”[16] 

Air pollution was another problem faced in the cities. Factories, railroads, and chimneys spewed out smoke from burning coal. The London fog, which has been much romanticized, was in fact a blanket of smog over the city.[17]

            Compared to conditions in rural areas, however, life in the cities was not so bad. Agricultural workers also had long working hours, poor housing, and low wages.[18]  They suffered from periodic famines and epidemics.  In the cities, steady food and cheap factory-made clothes and other goods raised the standard of living over time. One observer noted [date?] that city dwellers were "in reference to health, domestic comfort, and religious culture, in a truly enviable state, compared with the average of our agricultural villages."[19]  In addition, cities provided parks, soccer matches, free concerts, and inexpensive railroad day trips, which the more prosperous working people had the time and money to enjoy.

Social reform.  Over the nineteenth century, the British government began to regulate hours of work and took steps to improve public health and sanitation.   Florence Nightingale created the new profession of nursing and better standards of hospital care.  Public primary schools came to Britain after 1870.

            Not all workers toiled in the factories. Many were domestic servants. For centuries young women had been hired as maids in other people's houses or businesses, while men had worked as grooms, gardeners, footmen, coachmen, valets, and butlers. After industrialization, more middle-class families could afford to hire servants, and most of those servants were women.

            For many rural women, domestic service smoothed their transition into city life. Because servants lived in their employers’ houses, women moving from the country would be guaranteed a place to live and food to eat. In the early years of industrialization, many women worked as servants temporarily, to save money for a dowry or to supplement their families' farm income, after which they returned to their home villages. In later years, these women stayed in the cities. Some later took jobs in shops or factories, while others married and worked in the home.

Section 2 Review

IDENTIFY and explain the significance of the following:

Robert Fulton

George Stephenson

Thomas Malthus

Florence Nightingale

LOCATE and explain the importance of the following:

Liverpool and Manchester Railway

London and Leeds

1.      MAIN IDEA  How did the railroad change society?

2.      MAIN IDEA  How did factory work change the routine of daily life?

3.      GEOGRAPHY  How did the movement of thousands of people from the countryside to the cities affect the quality of urban life?

4.      ASSESSING CONSEQUENCES  Did life improve for workers who moved from rural areas into industrial cities?