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The Industrial revolution (1760-1840)

1. Background

Towards the end of the medieval era, feudalism was on decline as a model of economic system. It was because of the ideas of Renaissance and the increased growth in trade and the rise of the n ew towns and cities which stimulated the production of the manufactured goods.

The traditional methods also proved to be futile in fulfilling the demands of the people. Consequently, in the latter half of the 18th century, on this background there began a series of changes that revolutionised the production techniques and organisation. The term ‘Industrial Revolution’ was used to describe these developments in the production models, which were rapid and had far-reaching effects on the society.

The Industrial revolution primarily began from the textile sector in the 1760s but soon spread, during the 19th century, to other sectors of the British economy like the Iron & steel sector and other consumer goods. The 19th century also saw its spreads to other parts of Europe, e.g. France, Prussia, the USA &Japan, which marked the second phase of the industrial revolution. It, however, took almost a century to bring a complete change in the methods of mass production.

Many people also were of the view that though the Industrial revolution had profound consequences for the social, political and economic global order; it was more of a revolutionary idea (gradual change) than are evolutionary one.

Industrial revolution

2. Factors Responsible for the Industrial Revolution

2.1 Technological Advances

The machines began to take over some of the work of men and animals in the production of goods and commodities, and due to this reason the Industrial Revolution came to be known as the beginning of a ‘machine age’.

The new machines such as the steam engine came to be increasingly used in the factory system in place of manual power and simple tools. This made it possible to produce goods on a huge scale.

Further, the invention of power loom made it possible for England to produce a more delicate and cheaper thread than that could be produced with older techniques. The cotton Gin also could now separate the seeds from cotton over three hundred times faster than that by hand.

With the increasing benefits of the machines, their demand also grew and the blast furnaces became busier. The invention of the blast furnace and later the methods of turning the low-grade iron into steel meant that now the English industries could produce steel at a much cheaper cost. Further, the presence of large amount of iron and steel in the country itself contributed to the rise of industries in England.

2.2 Political Factors

Politically, Britain’s colonial expansionist policies provided an assured market for the goods produced in the England. This aided the rise of the British capitalist class, apart from providing an assured supply of raw materials. The British political policies also emphasised the rule of law, the right to property and a Laissez-faire approach, ensuring a safe political environment for the rise of Industries. Such favourable political factors were missing in South Asia and China with their largely monarchical set-up and little emphasis on the rule of law or right to property.

2.3. Economic Affairs

Europe and primarily Britain dealt with a high cost of labour which was often ten times higher than its South Asian counterpart. This increased production cost and forced them to look for methods to increase the labour productivity, including mechanisation. However, such push factors were not visible in South Asia or China where an abundant cheap supply of labour and raw materials was present. On the other side, with its ample supply of cheap good quality coal near the surface, Britain also had an assured supply of energy sources critical for the industrial revolution.

2.4 Social and Cultural Factors

The enlightenment thinking often focused upon the rationality and reason to pursue material growth as an end in itself. However, South Asia saw the rise of several culture or religions which emphasised the otherworldly beliefs. For instance, with its emphasis on Confucianism, the Chinese society emphasised textual knowledge and competence over the material growth.

These ideas acted as a bedrock for the technologically growth in Britain in some or the other ways.

2.5 England as the First Site of Industrial Revolution

Due to the existence of several specific geographical and political factors, the 18th century England was most favourably placed for an industrial revolution.

Through overseas trade, including the trade in slaves, the Kingdom of Britain had accumulated vast profits, which could provide the necessary capital to finance such ventures. In the trade rivalries of European countries also, England had emerged as a winner. It had acquired colonies all over the world that ensured a regular supply of raw materials.

Further, after the disappearance of the serfdom system, people were no longer tied to the land and master. They were free to do any job they could find. In the enclosure movement during the 18th century, the big land-owners consolidated their land-holdings while small peasants were ousted. This created a situation of unemployment on a vast scale; however, there was no shortage of labour to work in the factories.

As a result of the revolution of the 17th century, a stable system of government had been established. The government was no longer under the domination of the feudal classes. The capitalist class acquired more political power and the danger of government interference was significantly reduced.

England also had plenty of natural resources, such as iron and coal, essential for the industries. This saved England from many difficulties which the other regions faced. By the 18th century, England had developed a large shipping industry and had no transportation problem.

During those times, no other country enjoyed all these advantages at the time. While some regions suffered from a lack of capital or natural resources, others had an unfavourable political system. Many of the European countries had agrarian economies and lived under traditional political systems. Some regions like Italy and Germany were not even united and suffered from many economic restrictions.

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3. Impact of the Industrial Revolution

3.1 Unplanned Urbanisation

An immediate consequence of the rise of the new industrial sector in Britain was that it gave a significant push to the new urban centres. However, this form of urbanisation was predominantly unplanned and marked by the proliferation of slums, lack of safe water supply, sanitation, and air pollution. All this negatively affected the standard of living in these urban industrial centres, even though the production of consumer commodities increased significantly.

3.2 Growth of Railways

The growth of industrialisation in Britain also witnessed a rapid expansion of the Railway network as a chief instrument to transport the goods and raw materials cheaply over long distances. By 1860, Britain had a 6000-mile long Railway network. Moreover, the spread of the industrial revolution resulted in the rapid rise in the Railway network across major industrial economies as well.

3.3 Colonialism

The colonial rivalry and search for colonies intensified during the 1850s and 1900 between the major European powers such as Britain, France, Italy, Germany and even among the emerging Asian countries like Japan in search of an assured market for their industrial economies.

3.4 Agriculture Revolution

During the industrial revolution, several changes were brought in the agriculture sector. The cropping pattern, methods of sowing and harvesting were altogether changed. Consequently, the food production increased and the cash crops now provided essential raw materials for industries.

New farm machine was also invented. It included the steel plough and harrow for breaking the ground, the mechanical drill for seeding and the horse-drawn cultivator to replace the traditional hoe. There were machines for reaping and threshing too.

3.5 Transport Revolution

The need to transport raw materials and manufactured products led to the improvement of roads and digging of canals in England and other countries.  Mc Adam devised the method of making pakka or ‘macadamized’ roads. The canals were also come out to be a big help in providing cheaper transportation, especially after steamboats came into use.

3.6 Growth of Workers Union

Politically, a major push was seen towards the rise of the militant trade unionism. The working class rose in protest against the low wages, long work hours and the absence of pensions. The working class also demanded political voting rights in Britain from 1830s onwards with the beginning of the Chartist movement.

3.7 Ethics of Consumerism

The industrial revolution gave a boost to the ethics of consumerism and upheld it as a valuable social ideal that was respected in the western societies.

4. Impact of the Industrial Revolution in India

Before the beginning of the industrial revolution, India used to shine in the world chart for its cotton textile industry. Its cloth used to get exported to different parts of the world, including today’s Europe, America and the Middle East etc. India is documented to have dominated the world’s cotton textile markets during the 1750s, as the production was of high quality and low price. It is not a matter of surprise that at the end of the 17th century, Indian calicoes were popular in Britain too. However, things changed after the industrial revolution.

The discovery of steam power and its industrial use from the year 1815 onwards created a threat to the Indian textile industry. The spinning mule and power loom became more efficient and effective because of the steam power. It reduced the cost of British cotton by 85% and made it internationally competitive. Consequently, by the year 1820, Britain became the leading producer of cloth in the world.

Image: Women working on machines

However, the industrial revolution was not without severe consequences for the society. Farmers were now forced to grow cash crops in place of food crops. Eventually, this resulted in awfully deadly famines in the subcontinent.

In the industrial sector, to increase the production, the factory owners used to hire unskilled labour, particularly women and children, to run the machine. At the tender age of 6 years, many children were already working 14 hours a day in factories.

As a result of the industrial revolution, the urban cities also started getting overcrowded day by day.

However, there were some positive effects of the industrial revolution as well in the society. The introduction of the assembly line, usage of electricity and the development of railroads etc., contributed to a faster and more economical production of goods. The fund for schools and the enactment of child labour laws also came into place eventually.

The industrial revolution also enhanced both economic production and the new lifestyle of the common people. It introduced modernity to a traditional society. Over the period, the impact of the industrial revolution has not faded and only become more pronounced as we move ahead.

To sum up, in the words of Karl Marx,

The treasures captured outside Europe by undisguised looting, enslavement, and murders floated back to the mother country and were turned into capital.”

5. Summary

The industrial revolution began in the late 1760s marks an astonishing change in the patterns of production as well as the socio-economic and political structure of our society. It replaced the age of hand to the age of machines whereby handlooms and steam engines aided the mass production of goods and services.

However, though at one stance it helped the people with the introduction of railways and revolutions in the patterns of transportation and agriculture, on the other hand, it led to unplanned urbanisation and paved way for the forces of colonisation and imperialism to occur as the goods produced needs a large scale market to sell them at profitable prices.

  • According to UPSC Syllabus
  • Includes Previous Year Questions
  • PYQ Analysis
  • Plenty of Maps, Images for Illustration
  • Also useful for State PSC Examinations
  • A must-have book for all UPSC Aspirants

6. Multiple Choice Question

1] The industrial revolution shifts the production process to:
a) Machine made mass production
b) Hand made goods
c) Both a and b
d) None of the above

Show Answer

Ans: a) Machine made mass production

2] The British government adopted which model of growth:
a) Lassiez faire policy
b) State controlled
c) Mixed economic model
d) None of the above

Show Answer

Ans: a) Lassiez faire policy

3] The policies adopted by the British political parties during the age of industrial revolution includes:
a) Rule of law
b) Right to property
c) Both a and b
d) None of the above

Show Answer

Ans: c) Both a and b

4] What impacts does the industrial revolution posed on the agriculture sector:
a) Boosted production of cash crops
b) Achieving self-reliance in food
c) Degraded production quality
d) Old methodologies of production were restored.

Show Answer

Ans: a) Boosted production of cash crops

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