What Was the Industrial Revolution?

The Industrial Revolution was a watershed in the history of mankind. Three forces – technology, economic organization, and science, in this sequence – each from separate and undistinguished parentage, linked up, inconspicuously at first, to form, hardly a hundred years ago, into a social maelstrom that is still engulfing new and new millions of people, in an irresistible rush.

- Karl Polanyi, For a New West

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Between the middle of the eighteenth century and the early years of the nineteenth, Britain was transformed. This was a revolution, but not a political one: over the course of a few generations industrialisation swept the nation. Inventions such as the machine loom and the steam engine changed the face of manufacturing; cheap iron and steel became widely available; and vast new cities grew up around factory towns. All this had profound effects - not all of them positive - as an agrarian and primitive society was turned into an industrial empire, the richest nation on Earth. But why did this revolution take place here rather than abroad? And why did it begin in the first place?

Listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the industrial revolution of the In Our Time podcast

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...The shift out of agricultural jobs, while eventually a boon for virtually all of humanity, brought significant problems along the way. This time probably won’t be different, and that’s exactly why we should be concerned.

Consider, for instance, the history of wages during the Industrial Revolution. Estimates vary, but it is common to treat the Industrial Revolution as starting around 1760, at least in Britain. If we consider estimates for private per capita consumption, from 1760 to 1831, that variable rose only by about 22 percent. That’s not much for a 71-year period. A lot of new wealth was being created, but economic turmoil and adjustment costs and war kept down the returns to labor...

Continue reading Tyler Cowen's article: Industrial Revolution Comparisons Aren't Comforting

Further Reading

The Industrial Revolution was the transition to new manufacturing processes in the period from about 1760 to sometime between 1820 and 1840. This transition included going from hand production methods to machines, new chemical manufacturing and iron production processes, the increasing use of steam power, the development of machine tools and the rise of the factory system...

The precise start and end of the Industrial Revolution is still debated among historians, as is the pace of economic and social changes. Eric Hobsbawm held that the Industrial Revolution began in Britain in the 1780s and was not fully felt until the 1830s or 1840s, while T. S. Ashton held that it occurred roughly between 1760 and 1830. Rapid industrial first began in Britain, starting with mechanized spinning in the 1780s, with high rates of growth in steam power and iron production occurring after 1800. Mechanized textile production spread from Great Britain to continental Europe and the United States in the early 19th century, with important centres of textiles, iron and coal emerging in Belgium and the United States and later textiles in France...

Continue reading the Wikipedia article on The Industrial Revolution

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Capitalism | ColonialismEconomics | Globalization

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