History 104: Western Civilization since 1648
Lecture: Industrialization

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Alexander Graham Bell at the New York end of the first long-distance line (to Chicago) in 1892

Western expansion

Industrialization spread from England to the rest of Europe, setting off a new wave of production. Although other countries at first had trouble competing with British production, in the long-run they had an advantage because they didn't have to deal with an "R and D" period: a time when new technologies were subject to trial and error. Instead, they were able to adopt the technologies in their usable form, and build on the initial inventions.

By the 1850s, other nations became competitive by specializing in certain areas. Germany, for example, became expert in chemistry, inventing and marketing synthetic dyes, chloroform, and rayon. The internal combustion engine, which runs today's automobiles, was a German invention. The United States, a very large country, excelled in telecommunications, inventing and marketing devices like the telegraph, telephone, and radio.

Transportation Revolution

The 19th century saw the transformation from walking, horses and coaches to railroads, steamships, and cars.

The initial stages of this change, however, were based on water. In particular, canal technology permitted nations with water resources to use them efficiently for transport of goods.

Canal locks permitted barges to be moved up or down hills by filling sections with water. Barges could carry tons of bulk goods for far less money per mile than wagons on roads, particularly in nations with lots of water.
Steam boilers could provide pressure for pistons to power cranks that turned railroad wheels.
Stephenson's Rocket locomotive won a contest in 1829 for an engine that could pull 20 tons at a minimum speed of 10 miles per hour. At first, trains were used for cargo transport. Only later were they used for passenger excursions (after the boilers stopped exploding precipitously).
A fun ride in an 1887 automotive tricycle.


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