This story was created for the Google Expeditions project by Vida Systems, now available on Google Arts & Culture
Before Everything Changed
Before the Industrial Revolution, Great Britain was a significantly different place. Production was much slower and on smaller scales. Known as a “domestic system,” everything was made in small quantities by small-sized businesses.
Transportation was also very rudimentary, as there were less roads and canals. Ultimately, this all changed with the start of the agricultural revolution when increased productivity in agriculture let workers focus on other sectors of the economy. The Industrial Revolution followed suit soon after.
Production in the era before the Industrial Revolution was mainly by individuals at a slow pace and on a small scale. There was not much need for upscaling production since demand was still low. Demand massively increased when the population did as well.
Population in Great Britain did not change much even over the course of centuries. Because the agricultural revolution increased food supply, the population increased steadily from 6 million for decades in the 1700s to 16 million in 1850.
A key catalyst for the Industrial Revolution was the agricultural revolution that happened slightly before and alongside it. Selective breeding, crop rotation, and improvement in agricultural tools helped boost production output and fed many more mouths - this led to a population explosion.
The Textile Boom
The British government in the late 1600s limited importation of cotton and textiles to protect domestic producers from competition. The ban and the increasing population at the time drastically increased local textile production demands.
The weavers using traditional methods were not able to keep up with the increasing demand, and innovations in textile helped to fulfill the needs of the British people. With these inventions, British loom production rose from 2400 looms a year in 1803 to 250,000 in 1857!
The Flying Shuttle (1733)
The flying shuttle was important as it was the first advancement that lessened the weaver’s burden. Traditionally, the weaver was very involved in the textile loom, throwing a shuttle back and forth. The flying shuttle was more manageable with greater range of motion.
The Spinning Jenny (1764)
The spinning jenny continued the revolutionary trend and reduced the amount of time it took to make yarn. The machine contained 8 spindles, and an operator could mechanically spin a wheel to rotate all 8 spindles together to simultaneously create 8 spools.
The Power Loom (1785)
The power loom further revolutionized production by being one of the first mechanized looms. Utilizing pulleys and levers, it was powered externally by a line shaft. It was eventually fully automated by the middle of the 1800s.
The Power of Steam and Coal
The Industrial Revolution and the innovation of steam power were very strongly linked together. Powering machines with steam improved productivity in many industrial fields. Along with steam power, the demand for coal dramatically increased during the Industrial Revolution.
Before the Industrial Revolution, coal mining was done on a small scale from mines near the surface. As the demand for coal increased to provide the fuel for steam power, the coal mines had to be made deeper.
Piles of Coal
From the 1700s to the 1900s, coal production in Great Britain increased from 2.7 million tons to 250 million tons per year. And there was plenty of demand for that coal from both households and industry.
The Newcomen Steam Engine of 1705 was first used to pump groundwater out of deep coal mines. Without them, the mine would be flooded and the working conditions would be even more difficult and hazardous for the miners.
New Age of Iron
The creation of iron and steel underwent a great transformation during the Industrial Revolution. Metalworkers in this age shifted from laboriously using wood to efficiently using coal, which was more abundant and took less effort to mine. With improvements in furnace technology in ironmaking and with steel later on, the Industrial Revolution flooded Great Britain with better metal products at quantities it had never seen before.
Puddling was an important development in metalworking during the Industrial Revolution. While traditionally metal was molten in contact with fuel, puddling separated the fuel from the iron, improving its purity. High grade metal in molten “puddles” was then gathered with a specialized rod.
More Efficient Use of Coal
The hot blast technique is often seen as the most significant contributor to the ironmaking boom. Foreman James Neilson found that by preheating air before it went into a furnace, he was able to reduce coal consumption by 40% or even further at higher temperatures!
Another important advancement was in steelmaking, with Benjamin Huntsman’s crucible steel method. He used crucibles to melt iron in an extremely hot furnace (1,600o C). The molten iron was then treated to remove impurities, resulting in high quality steel.
How Everything Changed
The Industrial Revolution changed the lifestyle in Great Britain, and later the world, after the innovations spread. New jobs were created, new machines were installed, and production skyrocketed faster than ever.
Even transportation saw a beneficial overhaul. However, not everything was so excellent: the Industrial Revolution also brought about increased levels of pollution.
The Factory System
Prior to the revolution, workers crafted products in their own homes on a small scale in a system known as the “cottage industry.” With the rise of expensive and advanced machines as means of production, workers started working in a factory system.
Because of increased iron and steel production, railroads became more and more common. Since they made it easier to transport heavy objects, they were in high demand. The invention of the locomotive in the early 1800s also increased the use of railroads.
Unfortunately, the massively increased usage of coal as fuel brought pollution along with it. With great factories came great smoke plumes that polluted the air. Eventually, chemical and gas factories dumped toxic liquids into rivers and further polluted the environment.
A New Society
More than just changing work, the Industrial Revolution brought new changes to the social strata. With technological advancements came great growth, and wages for most workers increased steadily and reliably.
Unfortunately, the economic growth benefited certain classes of people disproportionately. How the Industrial Revolution impacted society positively or negatively has been a topic of debate for decades. However, it is certain that the economic advantages were not equal for everyone.
The Lower Class
Urbanization brought lower class workers from villages into cities. They enjoyed a general increase in wages, but their living conditions did not improve as they lived in cramped urban centers. Typically 8 to 10 unrelated workers shared a room and slept on straw.
The Middle Class
The middle class generally grew, as more efficient production meant that product costs were cheaper and people were able to afford more products with less money. Both their population and standard of living grew during the revolution.
The Upper Class
The upper class enjoyed the most benefits. They owned the means of production by their ownership of factories, and they were able to gain most of their profits through the labor of the working class. The rich got richer.