Industrial Revolution | Causes, Effects, Inventions, Timeline

Industrial Revolution | Causes, Effects, Inventions, Timeline

Industrial Revolution

Industrial Revolution Definition

“An industrial revolution has been defined as the change that transforms a people with peasant occupations and local markets into an industrial society with world-wide connections” (Encyclopaedia Britannica). Clearly then many countries have industrial revolutions and more than one, for example it is currently said that Britain is undergoing a new industrial revolution with the advent of automation in industrial processes.

When did the Industrial Revolution Start?

The movement, which began in England in the eighteenth century, spread all over Europe and America in the nineteenth century. By the end of the nineteenth century, the western world had taken great strides in industrialization.

Causes of the Industrial Revolution

  1. Although not, apart from London, a country of great towns, England at the beginning of the 18th century was already a great trading nation, with much private capital ready for investment. Not only was trade free to move throughout the British Isles, but there was considerable freedom of movement between the social classes, which were not rigidly defined also into caste systems as in other European countries, e.g. France. English middle-class religion laid emphasis on the individual conscience as the guide to conduct, and also on the moral excellence of sober, industrious employment; these values encouraged self-reliance and enterprising initiative.
  2. Another reason was that there were great deposits of coal and iron in England. These were the two natural resources that were necessary for industrialisation in its early stages.
  3. During the reign of George III, England had become a great colonial power. Its colonies all over the world not only provided the mother country with raw materials, but also served as a ready market for its finished products. There was a great demand for British goods in the 1700s. In order to meet this demand, English merchants had to increase their production manifold. True to the saying that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, the hard-pressed Englishmen began to devise ways of multiplying their production. These resulted in the introduction of machines that ultimately brought about a revolution.
  4. Agriculture also contributed to industrial growth the landowners were zealous farmers, and their improved methods of cultivation not only freed much labour, which then became available for employment in the town factories. But increased the food supplies available for the towns. Finally, 18th century (in contrast to 17th) was a time of peace and stability in Britain, undisturbed by the wars in which her armies and money were engaged across the sea.

Industrial Revolution Timeline Infographic

Timeline of industrial Revolution

All Industrial Revolution Inventions

Reference may be made to some of the most important inventions during the Industrial Revolution in England.

  1. In 1788 John Kay invented what was known as “The Flying Shuttle”. This invention enabled the weavers to turn out greater output. It made the weaving of broad cloth by one man possible.
  2. In 1765, James Hargreaves invented a machine known as “The Spinning Jenny.” The new machine had 8 spindles and consequently, one spinner was able to do the work of 8 spinners. The Spinning Jenny was simple wooden frame on which 8 spindles moved turning of a wheel. Further improvements were made on the same machine with the result that a child turning the wheel could produce 20 threads at a time,
  3. In 1769 Arkwright, a barber of Bolton, invented “water frame” This machine consisted of a series of rollers and was run by water power or house-power. The machine helped the manufacture of hard and firm yarn suitable for weaving. The rollers could not work in small places and, consequently, the water frame of Arkwright ushered in the factory system.
  4. In 1779, Samuel Crompton invented a machine known as “The Mule“. The new machine combined the advantage of the Spinning Jenny of Hargreaves and the Water Frame of Arkwright. The Mule made the production of fine muslin possible.
  5. In 1785 Edmund Cartwright invented what was known as “The Power Loom.” Although the Power Loom was clumsy in shape, it helped the work of weaving to be done with great speed.
  6. In 1793, Whitney, an American, invented a machine (cotton gin) by which seeds could be separated from the cotton fibres. Formerly, this was done with the help of hand and that was evidently a very low process.
  7. In 1785, cylinder-printing was invented. A roller with a design engraved upon it ran over the paper. In 1800, a speedy method of bleaching with the help of chemicals was found. The result was that it was not necessary to expose cloth to the sun for weeks. Likewise, the help of industrial chemistry was taken for dyeing purposes.
  8. In 1749, Benjamin Franklin invented lightening rod.
  9. In 1868 typewriter was invented by Christopher Soles.
  10. In 1853 the elevator safety break was invented by Elisha Otis.
  11. In 1866, dynamite was invented by Alfred Nobel.
  12. The invention of the steam engine was an important step in the direction of industrialization. As early as 1698, Thomas Savery had invented a pumping engine. In 1712 Thomas Newcomen made improvement on this engine. However, his engine was used only for pumping water out of the coal mines. After him came James Watt. His steam engine was both practical and economical and replaced the water power. Textile industries and iron industries gained by his invention.
  13. Formerly, wood charcoal was used for purposes of smelting iron. The charcoal furnaces were worked with the help of handbellows. Moreover, a large quantity of charcoal was required for smelting even a small quantity of iron. Abraham Derby made an important discovery and that discovery was that coke could be used instead of charcoal for smelting purposes.
  14. Henry Cort invented new methods of rolling and puddling iron. In 1790, blasting was done with steam power. By the Siemens Martin’s method or Open Hearth method, impurities in pig iron were burnt out. This helped the production of steel.
  15. In 1815, Humphrey Davy invented the Safety Lamp which enabled the miners to do their work with safety. Huntsman made improvements in casting hard steel.
  16. Many changes were made in the field of transport. Roads were in a hopeless condition. John Macadam, an Engineer of Scotland, came to the conclusion that good roads could be built with the help of small stones. Thus a large number of roads were constructed all over the country and these roads added to the prosperity of England.
  17. As heavy goods could not be carried to distant places by means of roads, it was decided to use water for transport purposes. The Duke of Bridgewater employed Brindley to design the Bridgewater cannal from Worsley to Manchester. After that, Mersey and Calder cannals were dug.
  18. In 1804, Richard Trevithick built the first steam locomotive. George Stephenson introduced the first passenger line between Stockton and Darlington in 1825 and with that the railway age began. The name of his engine was “Puffing Billy.” By the middle of the 19th century, a large number of railways were built up throughout the country. Steam boats also facilitated the work of transport.
  19. By the middle of the 19th century the electric telegraph was also invented. Charles Wheatstone contributed a lot in this connection. In 1866 was laid down the cable in the Atlantic Ocean. The invention and use of the telephone also helped in the same direction.
  20. In 1870 Louis Pasteur invented vaccine.

Effects of the Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution and Its consequences are as follows:

According to Ramsay Muir, the Industrial Revolution was a mighty but silent upheaval. No wonder it brought about momentous changes in English society. It has been rightly pointed out that the results of the Industrial Revolution were the increase of national wealth, growth of population, redistribution of population, the advent of the capitalist class, the rise of the factory system, the employment of women and children in factories, and the need for parliamentary reforms.

One of the important results of the Industrial Revolution was that it increased the national wealth of England. England became the workshop of the world in place of a granary. Since goods were available at a cheaper rate, England captured world markets. A large number of cotton mills, wool factories, cutlery factories and other iron and steel factories were set up. All these factories manufactured goods which were sold in every nook and corner of the world. British coal was supplied in every part of the world. Likewise, British ships went to every corner of the globe.

As industries began to develop, there was a growing need for money. This resulted in the flourishing of private investors and financial institutions. Financiers and banks thus became as important as industrialists and factories. For the first time in European history was born a class of people known as ‘capitalists’ who with their wealth controlled organisations.

The growth of industries and the use of the huge machines necessitated the establishment of factories. Consequently, factory towns came into existence. Manchester, Lancashire, Sheffield, etc., were some of them. The old towns declined.

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Bad Aspects of the Industrial Revolution

Socially, it altered the relationship between the workers and the employers. Earlier, a close and warm rapport existed between them; but with industrialization, it became cold and impersonal. Besides, the workers were forced to work under harsh conditions and live in the crowded and filthy slums of the big cities. Work was monotonous and women and children were exploited. Most workers were very poor and lived in extremely unsanitary conditions. They had no right to vote and could do nothing to improve their conditions.

The middle and the upper-middle classes made a lot of money and they prospered tremendously because of the Industrial Revolution. Their living conditions improved. These people, who invested a lot of money in industries, claimed the right to manage their affairs in their own way. The French economists coined a phrase to describe this attitude-‘laissez faire’, which means ‘Leave things alone’. The people who invested in industry wished to have complete freedom to manage their factories, with absolutely no interference from the State. Adam Smith was the upholder of this principle. He argued that any government interference was harmful to trade.

The economic motives outran the social conscience, and the new urban proletarial worked and lived in evil conditions under employers who had often risen themselves from poverty, and had the ruthlessness which was a consequence of the severity of their struggle. England was divided as never before the industrial north from the agricultural south, the industrial working class from (sometimes) pitiless employers, and both from the long-established gentry, particularly of the south, Victorian novels are eloquent testimony to the social conditions: the title of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel North and South, and the subtitle of Disraeli’s Sybil, or The Two Nations are evidence in themselves. Josiah Bounderby in Dickens’s Hard Times is a portrait of the unprincipled kind of industrial employer; Sir Leicester Dedlock and Rouncewell the ironmaster in Bleak House exemplify the old order’s failure to understand the new.

For the poor who worked in factories, life was bitter and hard. They had less of life’s uncertainties, perhaps, than the lone worker who weathered hard times better, but it was a bitter life they led. Discipline in factories – especially with children – was harsh, frequently cruel. Living conditions were desolate and drab. And for most people there was nothing to hope for. They were faced with the wearisome and endless repetition of a simple process, haunted by the fear of unemployment and starvation. Disease, poverty, fear, malnutrition, this was the common lot of the Englishmen and all the restless energies of the improvers’ could not save them from it.

Enforcement of child labour during industrial revolution in the Victorian England is another curse. Little children are bound to work in factories and mines with very little wages or nothing. Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Charles Dickens voiced against in their writings The Cry of the Children and A Christmas Carol.  We have Dickens’ Oliver with Mr. Gamfield, the chimney sweep in Oliver Twist and David with Warren’s Blacking Factory in David Copperfield. Charles Kingsley’s Water Babies and William Blake’s Chimney Sweepers Poem depict the plight of chimney sweeper boy.


With the Industrial Revolution, the traditional way of life disappeared and there was a change in the attitudes of the people. What Mathew Arnold said in a different context could be used here to sum up the effect that industrialisation had on Victorian society:

‘it materialises the upper class, vulgarises the middle class and brutalises the lower class’.


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