Chapter 20 the industrial revolution and its impact on european society

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I. The Industrial Revolution in Great Britain

A. Origins

1. Supply of Capital

2. Early Industrial Entrepreneurs

3. Mineral Resources

4. Role of Government

5. Markets

B. Technological Changes and New Forms of Industrial Organization

1. The Cotton Industry

2. The Steam Engine

3. The Iron Industry

4. A Revolution in Transportation

5. The Industrial Factory

C. Britain’s Great Exhibition of 1851

II. The Spread of Industrialization

A. Limitations to Industrialization

1. Borrowing Techniques and Practices

2. Role of Government

3. Joint-Stock Investment Banks

B. Centers of Continental Industrialization

C. The Industrial Revolution in the United States

1. The Need for Transportation

2. The Labor Force

D. Limiting the Spread of Industrialization to the Nonindustrialized World

1. The Example of India

III. The Social Impact of the Industrial Revolution

A. Population Growth

1. The Great Hunger

2. Emigration

B. The Growth of Cities

1. Urban Living Conditions in the Early Industrial Revolution

2. Urban Reformers

C. New Social Classes: The Industrial Middle Class

1. The New Industrial Entrepreneurs

2. Significance of Industrial Entrepreneurs

D. New Social Classes: Workers in the Industrial Age

1. Working Conditions for the Industrial Working Class

E. Standards of Living

F. Efforts at Change: The Workers

1. The Trade Union Movement

2. Luddites

3. Chartism

G. Efforts at Change: Reformers and Government

1. Government Action

IV. Conclusion


The Industrial Revolution was one the transforming events in world history. Britain was in the forefront because of several advantageous circumstances. An agricultural revolution had increased the quantity of foodstuffs thus lowering the costs and a population increase supplied a surplus of labor for the new industrial technologies. Britain was a wealthy nation with capital for investment, and unlike in some continental countries, profit was a legitimate goal. Coal and iron were abundant, and a transportation revolution created a system of canals, roads, bridges, and later, steam-powered railroads. Parliament had established a stable government where property, one of Locke’s natural rights, was protected. Finally, Britain was the world’s major colonial power with access to overseas markets. The cotton industry led the way because of new technologies such as the spinning jenny and power loom. Most significant was the steam engine, perfected by James Watt (d.1819). London’s Great Exhibition of 1851 showcased to the world Britain’s industrial might.

Continental industrialization was delayed because of a lack of transport, the existence of internal tolls, less sympathetic governments, and the upheavals of the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars. Continental nations made use of British technology and artisans until they established schools to train their own engineers and mechanics. Unlike Britain’s laissez-faire approach, continental industrialization was subsidized by governments the construction of railroads, establishing technical schools, and excluding cheaper British goods through tariffs. By 1860, the United States was also well along the road of industrialization.

In the non-western world industrial development was much slower, in part because it lacked the social-economic-political structures of the West, but also because Britain and other colonial powers prevented the growth of local industries in order to maintain a market for their manufactured goods: colonies were to produce raw materials and purchase industrial products.

The birthrate declined but the population increased because of a reduction in epidemics and wars and an increase in the food supply. Overpopulation, particularly in rural areas, led to disaster, such as in the potato famine in Ireland that led to the death of a million persons between 1845 and 1851. Cities grew dramatically: London grew from one million in 1800 to 2.35 million in 1850. Urbanization was slower on the continent, and until the twentieth century most workers were still engaged in agriculture. Urban living conditions were often horrendous and most cities lacked any semblance of sanitary facilities.

The new middle-class consisted of manufacturers and bankers. Even members of the traditional aristocracy became industrial entrepreneurs. Another new class was the working class. The work environment, especially in the factories, was dreadful: long hours, unsafe conditions, and child labor was the norm. Laws were passed, in Britain known as the Factory Acts, in the attempt to improve factory conditions, initially for women and children. Whether there were improvements in general living standards is difficult to determine. Statistics suggest that there was an increase in real wages, but miserable living and working conditions balanced off the gains. Labor unions were formed to improve wages and conditions but with limited success. Workers sometimes protested by destroying the factories and machines, as did the Luddites in England. England’s Chartist movement petitioned Parliament, demanding reforms, but the politicians rejected their demands. In summary, the Industrial Revolution radically transformed western civilization and then the rest of the world–politically, economically, socially–for good and for ill.


1. The Emergence of the Modern Industrial System
2. What was Revolutionary about the Industrial Revolution?
3. Why Great Britain Was the First Nation to Industrialize
4. The Plight of Factory Workers in the Early Decades of the Industrial Revolution and the Condition of Workers Today
5. The Emergence of the “Working Class” and the “Middle Class” in the Context of the Industrial Revolution
6. How Continental Industrialization Differed from Industrialization in Great Britain
7. The Controversy about the Impact of the Industrial Revolution on Standards of Living of the Majority of the Population, or the Masses
8. “Factory Time” and Attendant Changes on Life, Work, and Leisure in Western Society
9. Responses to the Negative Impacts of the Industrial Revolution: What Were They, Who Were They, What Motivated Them, and Were They Successful?
10. Luddism, the Early Nineteenth Century and Today
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