The term Industrial Revolution has been used to describe the most extensive change the world has ever experienced. It was coined by English philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806–73) but brought into popular use by English historian Arnold Toynbee (1889–1975).
The most significant aspect of the Industrial Revolution was that it changed much of the world from a collection of separate agrarian communities into interconnected industrialized cities. In the process, much of the work that had been done by human hands for centuries was performed by machines, which were faster and more efficient than humans could ever be. While many scholars accept 1760–1850 as the official period in which the Industrial Revolution took place, it actually continued into the 20th century in parts of the world and continues to evolve in developing nations into the 21st century.
The Industrial Revolution is said to have actually started in England during the early 18th century when Abraham Darby at Madeley, in Shropshire, in the west of the country, and others, became involved in improving the production of iron, as well as improving its quality. This led to the building of ironworks, and later steelworks, in some parts of England, with charcoal use being phased out, and with coke iron being used to increase the production of iron and then steel. Much of this development took place close to the coalfields in the Midlands and also in the north of England. By 1770 there were over 170 steam engines being used in various industries around Britain, and in 1775 James Watt started to develop his first steam engine, which generated much more power using far less fuel than before. Watt’s design helped manufacturers such as Matthew Boulton produce buttons, buckles, and plate metal cheaply. There were also major developments in the textile industry, with Richard Arkwright developing water-driven mills (although others have claimed to have invented them), with the result that large wool and cotton mills were built in Lancashire. Artisan riots led to the smashing of machines in the Luddite attacks.
Other pioneers during the Industrial Revolution in Britain included Thomas Telford, who worked with canals and locks, and Humphrey Davy, who invented the miner’s safety lamp in 1815. Although there was extensive use of child labor and exploitation of the poor, there were also many industrialists who exhibited a strong social conscience. The heavy emphasis on the Protestant work ethic led to Quakers such as John Cadbury (1801–89) and others like Josiah Wedgwood (1730–95) and William Lever (1851–1925) introducing medical care, pensions, and profit-sharing for employees, who were often provided with company housing.
British manufacturing was so important to the British economy by the time of the Napoleonic Wars that the French blockade, known as the “Continental System,” which prevented the sale of British goods in the European continent, severely affected the British economy. The end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 led to a resurgence in British manufacturing, exporting goods to many parts of Europe and South America. This helped create an Industrial Revolution in Scotland during the late 1810s and the 1820s, leading to the building of factories in Edinburgh and Glasgow. The
invention of the steam locomotive by George Stephenson in 1833 led to private railway companies building lines throughout the British Isles, starting in the 1840s. Shipbuilding in London, Glasgow, Newcastle, Clyde, Belfast, Hull, and Sunderland developed and became increasingly important to the British economy. Rapid improvements in printing and book production meant that the ideas of the Industrial Revolution spread quickly around the world.
The first part of the European mainland to take part in the Industrial Revolution was Belgium (then a part of France), with William and John Cockerill moving from Britain to establish small factories in Liège, in about 1807. After 1830 Belgium became wealthy due to its iron, coal, and textile industries, and also its railways, which were also constructed by the government. France developed later industrially, with the emergence of manufacturing in northern France and in Alsace-Lorraine. It was not until 1848 that France emerged as a major industrial power.
Some parts of Germany experienced industrial development, with a large pottery industry in Meissen, near Dresden. However, in the 1840s parts of Germany industrialized quickly, especially Dusseldorf in the Ruhr Valley and Saarland, with the shipyards of Hanover and the coal and steel industries at Chemnitz and in Silesia, as well as factories built in Dortmund, Munich, Posen, Stuttgart, and Wurzburg. All ensured that Germany became one of the world’s major industrial powers by the end of the 19th century, with the Krupp steel works and other businesses selling raw materials and products around the world. Part of the impetus of the Industrial Revolution in Germany was the building of the railway system and the construction of large shipyards. Although there was also industrial development around Prague, the coalfields near Kraców, the textile mills near Łódz´, and even in some parts of Russia, such as the Donets coalfields in the Ukraine, industrialization in much of eastern and southern Europe did not take place until the 20th century.
In the United States, inventors such as Benjamin Franklin had developed devices that proved popular, and the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney changed the cotton industry in the southern United States. Gradually, industrialization was centered in the northern states, with the iron, steel, and coal industries and, later, with textiles and food processing, as well as the construction of a vast railway network. This led to the building of factories in New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and by the end of the 19th century, Chicago and Detroit. With the large distances between cities in the United States, the telegraph system proved to be exceptionally important with the emergence of Western Union. In the late 1870s the telephone network followed with the invention of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone. Both the telegraph and the telephone systems were rapidly introduced to other countries around the world.
Outside of Europe, there were factories built in Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, India, and China, especially in Shanghai, taking advantage of cheap labor and access to raw materials. The industrialization introduced into Japan after the Meiji Restoration in 1868 was largely organized by the state. This led to the building of foundries, toolmaking, and railways and shipbuilding, but all of this did not begin until well after the start of the 20th century.