Industrial Revolution

November 24, 2012 10:01 am

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Industrial Revolution
It changed the world so much that people called it a revolution. The Industrial Revolution forever transformed the way people live and work in most parts of the world.
The Industrial Revolution began when power-driven machines started doing work that people had always done by hand. It started more than 250 years ago, in about 1750. The Industrial Revolution is still going on today in some parts of the world.
Before the Industrial Revolution, most people lived by farming. There was little industry. Any manufacturing was done in homes or in small workshops close to home. People used craft skills, such as weaving or woodworking, to produce goods for their families or to sell in towns.
The Industrial Revolution took production out of homes and workshops and into big factories, where machines did much of the work. People moved from the countryside into industrial cities, where they could work in the factories. New roads, canals, railroads, and steamships were built to carry factory-made goods and the raw materials to make them.
The Industrial Revolution began in Britain. The British government was eager to increase the country’s income from trade, and it encouraged industry. Business people also hoped to make more money. They saw opportunities to profit from new inventions and new ways of making goods.
British businesses began to experiment with power-driven machines. They learned that machines could make some kinds of goods more quickly, cheaply, and reliably than could craft workers. Workers were still needed to operate the machines, but not to produce goods directly.
Waterpower provided the energy to run the first industrial machines. People built giant waterwheels that turned in currents of water. The wheels powered simple devices, such saws and millstones for grinding wheat and corn.
Advances in metalworking allowed the invention of powerful new machines, such as steam engines. By 1850, most British industry relied on coal-burning steam engines for power. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, oil-powered engines replaced steam engines.
The first big factories in Britain grew up around the textile industry. For centuries, spinning yarn and weaving cloth was done mostly by hand. It was slow, patient work.
British business owners realized they could profit more by increasing production. They developed new machines that could weave cloth, and they built large, new factories to hold them. Before long, Britain was supplying cloth to countries throughout the world.
Huge factories were built near sources of iron, coal, and water. Three regions of Britain—northern England, central England, and central Scotland—became industrial zones. Workers moved to big new industrial cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle on Tyne, and Glasgow.
The cities were grim places to live. Streets were dark and narrow, with rows of homes crowded side by side. Families had little space, comfort, or privacy. Homes were poorly built, without backyards, heating, or clean water. Smoke from the factories polluted city air. Factory waste and rotting trash littered the streets. Diseases such as cholera and typhoid killed thousands of people.
The factories were busy, noisy, and very dangerous. Most factory workers toiled six days a week, for 12 to 15 hours every day. The pay was low. Terrible accidents were common. Many injuries occurred when workers got their hands, feet, or hair trapped in fast-moving machines.
Factory owners often recruited women and children as young as five years old to tend the machines. They could be hired for very low wages.
Some workers joined trade unions. These worker-run organizations called for better wages and working conditions. They held protest marches, went on strike, and helped workers who became injured or ill. Employers distrusted the unions and tried to crush them.
By about 1800, the new inventions and work techniques in Britain spread to Europe and North America. They were especially important in the United States. It had well-educated workers and millions of customers for factory-made goods. American companies soon built the world’s largest railroad system to transport goods and raw materials.
A second phase of the Industrial Revolution began about 1850. Inventors discovered new processes, such as better ways to make steel. In 1903, Henry Ford, an American carmaker, set up the world’s first moving assembly line. Each worker performed just one task all day long, rather than building an entire automobile.
During the 1900s, the Industrial Revolution spread to Russia, Southeast Asia, and China. Businesses there used experience gained in Europe and America to build large, productive factories.
Today, there are still places in Africa, Central Asia, and South America, where the Industrial Revolution is just beginning. But in most countries, the Industrial Revolution has dramatically changed people’s lives. People who once lived in the countryside have moved to cities to find work.
As in Britain long ago, the Industrial Revolution still brings hardship to many people. It has ended traditional ways of making a living and hurt rural communities. The new roads, mines, factories, and industrial farming methods have damaged the environment.
Yet, in spite of the disadvantages, few people today want to return to the past. They believe industrialization leads to wider choices and growing wealth.
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