History 104: Western Civilization since 1648
Lecture: Industrialization

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The class system

Each of the classes was affected by industrialization. The aristocracy could become involved, but many considered industry to be akin to trade, and thus beneath their interest. The landed classes could not control industrialization, and they had little capital to invest unless they'd made some through investments in trade. As aristocratic power declined, industry could provide an opportunity for younger sons who could not inherit the family lands. Forward-thinking nobles put their sons in industry, or married them into industrail families, and made a lot of money.middlec-lass couple

The middle class was the place for industrialists. In England, many had been religious dissenters, excluded from the money-making opportunities of religious conformers. Inventors, factory owners, managers, former craftspeople could find opportunity in industry. There was no need for great wealth or education, and the economic concepts of liberalism provided a rule-free environment where people could succeed based only on the usefulness of their ideas. Industrialization provided the middle class with great wealth, and they tried to turn this wealth into respectability.

The working class was newly created, because for the first time they did not work for themselves. These were the wage-laborers, frequently unskilled, including women and children. Instead of engaging in cottage industry as a supplement to industrial labor, or running shops in a town, these workers were employed in the factories that sprung up all over Europe.

Working conditionsIndustrial city

The working conditions were appalling. Workers were poorly paid and their jobs were insecure (a result of the excess population, which meant they could be easily replaced). Uprooted from traditional town and village life, workers were disconnected from family control and kinship ties. There were no safety standards. Factories were crowded and poorly lighted. There was no heat in winter, since the coal used for heat would make smoke that would tinge the product. In textile mills, windows were kept closed in summer to preserve the humidity that kept the threads from breaking. The machines were unbearably loud, and many children went deaf. Limbs were lost in machines, and the injured workers fired and replaced by others. Children were beaten to make them work. Farming folk accustomed to rising and sleeping by the sun, and doing less work in winter, were working according to shifts by the clock. The work of tending machines was monotonous, the final product of ones labor often never seen.

Friedrich Engels, who would later work with Karl Marx on the Communist Manifesto, studied the conditions in the facotries.

bookWorkbook document: Engel's The Condition of the Working Class in England (1844)

In this cartoon, children are being beaten by the factory foreman for letting go of a spindle. He says, "Why did you let go the spindle, you young woman?". She replies "My fingers were so cold I could not hold it..." Such cartoons represented the types of conditions leading to reforms, such as those instituted by the Sadler Commitee, which heard the testimony of industrial workers.
Factory jobs were insecure. During the American Civil War, the Union blockaded the coast of the U.S. This meant that the South could not ship its raw cotton to England. Workers in areas like Lancashire, which was dependent on American cotton, starved to death.

Despite the obvious misery of industrial workers, some commenters insisted that hard work remained the key to success.

bookWorkbook document: Samuel Smiles' Self-Help (1882)

6. Spread and Effects ->