Consequences of the British Industrial Revolution

The effects of the British Industrial Revolution (1760-1840) were multifaceted, varied and long lasting. Working life in rural and urban areas was changed forever by the introduction of new machines, the growth of factories, and the decline of traditional crafts. Advances in transportation and communications have made life in post-industrial society more exciting and dynamic, and people are more interconnected than ever before. Consumer goods became more accessible to more people, creating more jobs for a rapidly growing population. However, the price for this progress often included noisy, monotonous, and dangerous work, and cities became overcrowded, polluted, and crime-ridden.

Impact of the Industrial Revolution

Many new machines were invented that could do things much faster than before or perform completely new tasks. Steam power was cheaper, more reliable, and faster than traditional sources of energy. Large factories appeared, creating jobs and causing a boom, particularly in the production of cotton textiles. Major engineering projects such as iron bridges and viaducts became possible.Traditional industries such as hand weaving and stagecoaches fell into terminal decline. The cost of food and consumer goods declined due to mass production and reduced transportation costs. Industrialists and farmers had better tools.

The coal, iron, and steel industries boomed, providing fuel and raw materials for the machines that ran. The canal system expanded but then declined. Urbanization accelerated and labor began to concentrate around factories in the cities. Cheap railroad transportation became available to everyone. Demand for skilled labor declined, especially in the textile industry. Demand increased for unskilled labor to operate machinery and work on the railroads. Child and female labor increased. Worker safety declined and was not restored until the 1830s. Labor unions were established to protect workers' rights. The success of mechanization led to other countries having their own industrial revolutions.

Impact of the Industrial Revolution

Coal mining

Tin and coal mining has a long history in Britain, but with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, unprecedented activity began underground in search of fuel for the steam engines that came to dominate industry and transportation. In 1712 a steam pump was created to drain mines. This made it possible to deepen the mines and greatly increase coal production. Watt's steam engine, patented in 1769, made it possible to harness steam power for almost any purpose, and since steam engines ran on coal, mining experienced a boom as mechanization spread to all types of industrial production.

This phenomenon only intensified with the development of railroads from 1825 and the advent of steam-powered ships from the 1840s. Coal gas was used to light houses and streets from 1812 and as a source of heat for private homes and cooking stoves. Coke, that is, burned coal, was used as fuel in iron and steel making, so the demand for coal continued to grow as the Industrial Revolution progressed.

Coal mines and factories

There were four main coal mining areas; South Wales, South Scotland, Lancashire and Northumberland. To get coal to where it was needed, Britain greatly expanded the canal system, as transportation by canal was 50% cheaper than by road. In 1830, "England and Wales had 6,237 kilometers of inland waterways, compared with 2,251 kilometers in 1760" (Horn, 17). While in 1700 Britain produced between 2.5 and 3 million tons of coal annually, by 1900 that figure had risen to 224 million tons.


The steam engine changed industry, especially one of Britain's most important industries, textiles. Spinning and weaving were cottage industries centered in one or a few households. A number of machines were invented that revolutionized the cleaning, spinning and weaving of cotton. These included the flying shuttle (John Kay, 1733), the spinning machine (James Hargreaves, 1764), the water machine (Richard Arkwright, 1769), the spinning mule (Samuel Crompton, 1779), the loom (Edmund Cartwright, 1785), the cotton gin (Eli Whitney, 1794), Robert's loom, and the loom weaver (Richard Roberts, 1822-5). Mechanization enabled the establishment of textile mills in which machines, first water-powered and then steam-powered, did the work faster and cheaper than by hand. By the 1830s, 75% of cotton mills used the steam engine, and cotton textiles accounted for half of all British exports.

Some protested mechanization, especially skilled textile workers. Between 1811 and 1816, the Luddites, named after their mythical leader Ned Ludd, smashed factory looms. Protesters were treated harshly and could be sentenced to death for damaging the looms. Despite the upheaval in traditional ways of life, mechanization created far more jobs than were lost in the old industries. In 1830, one in 80 Britons worked in the country's more than 4,000 textile mills. The new jobs were very different from those of the past. Factory workers often performed repetitive tasks and worked by the hour. Previously, workers were usually paid for a specific project (piece rate) and worked at their own pace. In the new factory system, a worker performed only one task among many others. On the other hand, factory work guaranteed regular pay, which was especially valued by seasonal agricultural laborers.


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