The Effects of the Industrial Revolution





The fact that the Industrial Revolution, which originated in England, changed the world is undisputed. Our present lifestyle would have been vastly different had the related events not have occurred. However, we must not romanticize the early changes. They were plagued with disease, poverty, exploitation of children, and the deterioration of the working class. Badly needed reforms came slowly, but inventions and improvements grew at a rapid pace, all of which evolved into the Post-Industrial society of today.


The Industrial Revolution can be defined as the application of power-driven machinery to manufacturing. It had its beginning in remote times, and is still continuing in some places. In the eighteenth century all of Western Europe began to industrialize rapidly, but in England the process was most highly accelerated. England’s head start may be attributed to the emergence of a number of simultaneous factors.


Britain had burned up her oak forests in its fireplaces, but large deposits of coal were still available for industrial fuel. There was an abundant labor supply to mine coal and iron, and to man the factories. From the old commercial empire there remained a fleet, and England still possessed colonies to furnish raw materials and act as captive markets for manufactured goods. Tobacco merchants of Glasgow and tea merchants of London and Bristol had capital to invest and the technical know-how derived from the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century. Last, but no least important, the isolation of England saved industrial development from being interrupted by war. Soon all Western Europe was more or less industrialized, and the coming of electricity and cheap steel after 1850 further speeded the process.


The Industrial Revolution brought with it an increase in population and urbanization, as well as new social classes. “Cities and towns grew dramatically in the first half of the nineteenth century. They were rapidly becoming places for manufacturing and industry; the dramatic growth of such cities produced miserable living conditions for many of the inhabitants.” (Western Civilization, 416). “There were 63 families where there were at least five persons to one bed; and there were some in which even six were packed in one bed, lying at the top and bottom—children and adults. Sanitary conditions in these towns were appalling. City streets were often used as sewers and open drains.” (Western Civilization, 417).


In addition to a new factory-owning bourgeoisie, the Industrial Revolution created a new working class. The new class of industrial workers included all the men, women, and children [as young as age seven] laboring in the textile mills, pottery works, and mines. Often skilled artisans found their selves degraded to routine process laborers as machines began to mass produce the products formerly made by hand.


Generally speaking, wages were low, hours were long, working conditions unpleasant and dangerous, and parents were forced to give up the discipline of their children to the factory boss. “Work hours ranged from twelve to sixteen hour a day, six days a week, with a half hour for lunch and dinner. There was no security of employment and no minimum wage. The worst conditions were endured by workers in the cotton mills, where temperatures were especially debilitating.” (Western Civilization, 418). “Conditions in the coal mines were also harsh. Inside the mines, men still bore the burden of digging the coal out while horses, mules, women, and children hauled coal carts on rails to the lift. Dangers abounded in coalmines; cave-ins, explosions, and gas fumes were a way of life. The cramped conditions—tunnels often did not exceed 3 or 4 feet in height—constant dampness in the mines resulted in deformed bodies and ruined lungs.” (Western Civilization, 418).


By the middle of the nineteenth century, sociology grew out of the social upheaval. “The Factory Act of 1833 stipulated that children between nine and thirteen could work only eight hours a day; those between thirteen and eighteen, twelve hours. Another piece of legislation in 1833 required that children between nine and thirteen have at least two hours of elementary education during the working day. In 1847, the Ten Hours Act reduced the workday for children between thirteen and eighteen to ten hours. Women were also now included in the ten-hour limitation. In 1842,