16
Sep
13

European History Pt. 47 — Industrial Revolution

Finally, we’re past the French Revolution, having closed out the Napoleonic era by looking at the Congress of Vienna, which would provide the basis for roughly 100 years without a major great power conflict.

Now we’re going to switch gears and look at the economic revolution that was taking place in this same period, the industrial revolution. The book I’m reading notes that even though both the economic revolution in the industrial revolution and the political changes in the French revolution was surprisingly separate. Of course, there are interrelationships between the two — probably a huge number, the book merely makes the astute point that one did not entail the other because though England was not swept in the revolutionary fervor on the continent, it was the leader of the economic revolution that took place from roughly 1780-1830.

Industrial Revolution

The book starts by talking about how the industrial revolution marks one of the great epochs in human history, the first being started by agriculture. This bold statement is confirmed by reading of another book on population dynamics over human history. Up until the industrial revolution, power was mainly provided by humans and their domesticated animals, with some occasional help from wind and water. But the industrial revolution unleashed a different ORDER of power with steam, coal, oil, and then nuclear power. These massive increased in energy was accompanied by a lasting and large increase in world population.

The industrial revolution was caused mainly by an agricultural system that had been growing more and more sophisticated in the century following the glorious revolution (1688) and relied on a particular British conception of property and risk taking. Throughout this time, England was ruled by the “Gentleman of England” or the “squirearchy.” The advances in agriculture made food more plentiful, living more comfortable, and freed up labor for other tasks.

Where did this “other labor” go? It went largely to the production of cotton in a complicated dance of social and technological innovation lasting decades. In 1733, John Kay invented the fly shuttle cutting weaving labor in half. This increased the demand for yarn. In the 1760s, the spinning jenny was set up to respond to that demand. In 1769 and 1780s, Richard Arkwright patented the water frame, which could spin multiple threads, and his machine became steam powered in times. In the U.S. the demand for raw cotton stimulated the plantation system (damn) which increased outputs with technology like the cotton gin.

The steam engine was being refined at this same time. At first it was not efficient enough to be used outside of coal mines themselves (where their fuel was right there) — the engines pumped water out of the mines at first. Then they were refined, and by 1780, the firm of Watt and Boulton was a profitable steam-engine manufacturing business. 

By the 1830s, one phase of the industrial revolution was complete, that of textile automation. Next would come the railroad phase. The first locomotive was built in 1829.

Social Consequences

The industrialization of Britain brought women from the “putting out” system into factories. Children were employed. Skilled laborers were displaced by machines. Urban life began in tenements and factory cities, especially in new cities in the middle of England like Manchester.

Wages were high by the standards of the time, but sometimes unpredictable due to business cycles. Days were 14 hours long, which sounds brutal — and it was — but it must also be kept in mind that those who worked on a farm at this time easily worked such hours in the care of their land. Of course, one might wonder how those 14 hours FELT in a factory versus on one’s own plot of land.

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