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Industrial Revolution Summary, Essay Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1341

Essay

How did the Industrial Revolution change and redefine the world? First, by being more than one revolution. It was a series of revolutions, beginning in the 18th century in England, and spreading throughout the world. It continues today, although its first phase, in which mass industrialization and then mass unemployment were invented, is generally agreed to have ended in the 19th century. The industrial revolutions were and remain about harnessing power in new ways, and putting that power first to use manufacturing old things in new ways, and then new things in new ways. In the beginning, those old and new things, produced in greater and greater abundance and lower and lower costs, were transported further and faster in new ways at lower costs, right along with the growing population that made, bought, and used them. New ways of raising capital to finance these improvements had to be devised. New markets were created in the process from the start, and new wealth followed. All these changes were dependent on and resulted in a new kind of politics based on an expanded franchise fueled by earnings and rage.

As mentioned, it all began in England, and there initially were at least seven productive forces at work: coal, iron, steel, steam power, water power, canals, and railroads (but not electricity or internal combustion, which may be thought of as initiating the second phase of industrialization). From the start, industrialization was uneven. The south of England, for example, lost ground to the north (and to this day historians debate exactly why). 

The textile industry is one of the first places these seven forces first came into play commercially, taking advantage of the role of simple spinning and later weaving, through various technical improvements, such as in carding. Textile mills were initially powered by water, and so were built adjacent to streams. Englishman Samuel Slater (1768–1835), realizing a huge new market, memorized much of the technology of England’s textile mills and then relocated to the newly formed U.S. giving it the means to catch up with England (where Slater became known as Traitor Slater). He built the first paternalistic company towns in America and died a millionaire. With the invention of the Bessemer and open-hearth steelmaking processes that cheapened the price of steel while improving its quality, the first phase of the Industrial Revolution, some historians agree, came to an end. By then it had spread to continental Europe, first to Belgium (with a coal-based industrial heritage dating to the Middle Ages); and France and Germany, both of which, due to their inherent political and social conservatism, were initially slower to develop than England and the U.S. Germany especially, however, did catch up, particularly in the area of chemicals, starting with its aniline dye industry.

Cities were essential in the industrial revolutions, because industry depended on capital, and capital is generated in cities and intercity trade and nowhere else. Not even landed estates can match city capital. This may be one reason southern England lagged behind northern England, as it is theorized that extensive landholdings which supported blood sports and their attendant conservative culture, retarded industrial development that not even the existence of London could overcome. Eventually, as in the case of Birmingham and Manchester, basically two different kinds of cities developed: creative ones and company towns. Birmingham, where some argue the Industrial Revolution began, was a creative city, a “bundle of oddments” in the words of the late urbanologist Jane Jacobs in her book The Economy of Cities. In reviewing the rise and fall of “efficient” Manchester, she described how, towards the end of the 19th century, Manchester deteriorated because it was too orderly, lacking the organizational flexibility to be competitive. In short, it became a complex of machines that could each only produce one thing. In contrast, Birmingham was outwardly disorganized and “inefficient” with many diverse businesses. Because of its more complex, chaotic patterns of manufacturing, Birmingham was better able to adjust to changing circumstances than Manchester, and continues to thrive and to have a higher quality of life to this day. This pattern carried over to the rest of the world.  In the U.S., Pittsburgh, Detroit, Rochester, and Slater’s former mill towns of the northeast are examples of places that invested too heavily in one form of work to keep pace with changing markets.

The role of dynamic cities explains why places like Russia and the rest of Asia were slow to industrialize (with the notable and telling exception of Japan), and why some other areas, such as parts of Africa, remain non-industrialized today. Instead, these areas were either colonized or bypassed to become, in many cases, the dystopic and dependent states they are today.

Cities incubated the Industrial Revolution by providing the capital and often the cheap labor. But, as in the case of textiles, the manufacturing and labor went to where the power source was. In the beginning that was water, but later electricity supplanted that. This gave rise to the phenomenon of what is today called outsourcing. We associate that word with the moving of jobs overseas, but in the beginning, the movement was internal. For example, after the American Civil War, the northeast’s textile manufacturing began moving (or at least expanding) into the American south, where even cheaper labor was to be had. Although initially this did not cause problems, eventually New England, once the most industrialized area in the U.S., began to decay. These kinds of changes were also partly responsible for the phenomenon of mass unemployment, which was a part of industrialization from the start, as mills and factories could and did suddenly go out of business as a result of competition or bad luck, or a general or regional depression or market panic. Although these episodes could be brutal and involved a good deal of social and economic dislocation, by contrast nothing could equal the force of a natural economic disaster like the potato famine in Ireland, a country that, lacking robust intercity trade and its attendant capital-creation, remained relatively non-industrialized throughout the 19th centuries, so much so that it even lacked the harbor, docking, and road infrastructure to enable it to distribute what little famine aid was available for it from England.

In both England and the U.S., industrialization brought political changes, as a new class of people began to get very rich. Others got poor. Again, in the U.S., industrialization probably made the Civil War inevitable. The South was agricultural and detested the North’s insistence on high tariffs. Tariffs effectively picked the South’s pocket, because it used its cotton and tobacco exports to buy manufactured goods in England and Europe. Those good were then taxed upon being brought to the U.S., and the economics of antebellum agriculture were so thin that bringing back cash alone would have bankrupted the planters. But throughout the 19th century, northern American manufacturers couldn’t compete with England and the Continent, either in quality or price, even factoring in transportation costs. Most immigrants to the U.S. came to northern manufacturing states, giving them the political representation in Congress to force high tariffs on the South. After the War, the divide moved from North-South to East-Midwest, as prairie farmers faced ruin due to a gold-based monetary policy that favored creditors. Many of those creditors were in England and Europe, making American manufacturers, who benefited from high tariffs, in debt to foreigners who lent them capital on the assurance that the gold standard would be adhered to. So in spite of the Revolutionary and Civil wars, 19th century American farmers danced to the tune of overlord powers. (Late 19th century gold strikes in the Yukon and South Africa eventually alleviated this problem.) The lesson: uneven industrialization heightened natural divisions between regions, especially in larger countries with varied geography.

The industrialization that began in the 18th century is now over 200 years old. We are now in what historians and social scientists define as the Age of Information. But whatever age we are really in, it remains the same basic industrial revolution: inventing new sources of power.

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