History 104: Western Civilization since 1648

Lecture: Industrialization

Hanley, an industrial town

Hanley, an industrial town

This is a piece of a work by Haydn known as the "Clock Symphony" (1794). Though there is definitely detachment here from the working classes, there is also the feeling of industrial mechanization.

Lecture contents:

European Economy
Concepts of Industrialization
The Technology
Coal and Steam
The People
Spread and Effects
Philosophical Reaction


Machines were, it may be said, the weapon employed by the capitalists to quell the revolt of specialized labor.

-- Karl Marx (1847)


European Economy

You may remember the classic text introducing free trade:

bookAdam Smith -- The Wealth of Nations (1776)

As the economy expanded under the principles of free trade, so would industry. The industrialists would use the same principles to prevent government interference, permitting vast profits without oversight of their activities. Just as Smith is the founding document of modern trade, it is also the founding document of modern industry.


Concepts of industrialization

Most historians refer to this era as "The Industrial Revolution" and mark its dates around 1750-1850.

But to do so ignores something I call "industrial continuum". Throughout history, humans have used tools to control their environment. Usually these tools required human or animal power. mill wheelBut even during ancient times, Europeans were using water to power large waterwheels and mills to grind grain for flour. During the Middle Ages, Europeans harnessed water power for industry, creating machine mills that pounded cloth, minted coins, operated bellows for smelting iron, sawed logs, and pumped water. These technologies were the ones used in the 18th century.

Seen from a perspective of industrial continuum, the changes in the 18th and 19th century were not revolutionary. Rather they were steps in the evolution of industrial production.

So what was new? First, the source of power will move from water to steam. Second, the social impact will be greater than in any previous industrial advance.


The Technology Broadloom and spinning wheel

In a sense, the boom began with a single invention related to the production of England's primary export: woollen cloth. Since the 16th century, cloth had been spun using the spinning wheel, then woven using a broadloom. A spinning wheel could be worked by one person, but a broadloom took three: one to work the pedals to move the heddles up and down for weaving, and tall people at either end to pass the shuttle back and forth.

In an effort to speed up the weaving process, in the 1730s John Kay invented the "flying shuttle" loom:

Kay's flying shuttle

The weaver could sit at the machine, working the pedals with his/her feet, and use the handle to activate springs that popped the shuttle back and forth. This eliminated the tall helpers, and speeded up the rate of production by about 300%.

That caused a problem, a technological "bottleneck", because the amount of yard from spinning wheels could not keep up with the demand from Kay looms. This led to further inventions:

Great Wheel Spinning

Spinning by Hand

The spinning jenny, invented by a guy named Hargreaves, made it possible for one person to spin multiple spindles using a hand wheel.


spinning machine

The spinning machine hooked the devices vertically, and could spin fine threads.

Hand Loom weaving (one person narrow)

Power Loom

Ultimately, both spinning machines and the new looms developed further and could be connected to water power. The power looms and power spinning machines automated cloth production. They made possible factories, where unskilled women and children could tie up threads and keep machines going. Skilled spinners and weavers were no longer necessary, and the new machine-made cloth was less expensive and undercut the price of hand-made fabric.

The new technologies, applied to linen and cotton production, led to mass production.


Coal and steam

Iron production

Britain mapEngland had the advantages in developing alternatives to water power. First, they had a problem. Water mills had to be located in the hills to get the fall of water necessary to run efficient water wheels. This meant they froze in winter, and were far from ports and markets.

They had another problem, this one in the iron industry. Iron smelting is a touchy business, requiring a pure fuel. For centuries, this fuel had been wood, burned down to make clean-burning charcoal. But by the 18th century, most of the usable forests had gone or were owned in private hands. The British navy took most of the trees tall enough for ship masts, and entrepreneurs had to look elsewhere.

England is an island built on coal. But coal has impurities, such as sulfur, that would make iron unusable. In 1709, Abraham Darby perfected the creation of a purified version of coal, called coke, that burned cleanly and could be used to smelt iron. As a result, iron production increased on a vast scale. Iron could then be used to make many things, such as boilers and pumps.

Steam enginesNewcomen's engine

The steam engine utilized all of England's resources: coal, iron, and water. Boilers were built of iron, and coal was used to heat the water in the boiler to make steam. Inventors like Thomas Newcomen and James Watt perfected the techniques of building steam engines, basing their designs on formulas for steam distillation derived from whiskey distilleries in Scotland.

Steam power was revolutionary. Unlike water power, it could be used anywhere, and did not rely on the weather. Hooked up to spinning machines and power looms, it could create huge factories with huge output. Hooked up to water pumps (its first use), it could be used to pump water out of coal mines to make lower reaches of coal more accessible. Hooked to a wheeled carriage, it could make a locomotive that moved goods along iron tracks.

Even today, steam power is basic. A nuclear power plant uses the splitting of the atom to create heat to boil water in a boiler, to create steam, to turn a turbine (which looks like a water wheel).


The People

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)

cartoon 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.
food line 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)


Spread and effects

Alexander Graham Bell
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.
locomotive Steam boilers could provide pressure for pistons to power cranks that turned railroad wheels.
rocket train 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).
1887 car
A fun ride in an 1887 automotive tricycle.

Philosophical Reaction

In addition to efforts to reform labor practices, the transformation of society created by industrialization led to philosophical reactions as well.


Socialism was one reaction, as we will see later in the course. French scholar Charles Fourier, in his 1808 book The Social Destiny of Man, noted that "truth and commerce are as incompatible as Jesus and Satan." He advocated a socialist structure based on a cooperative system of production that would permit self-fulfillment among workers. His work was highly influential on later philosophers, though Karl Marx would call him "utopian".

Lanark bike
New Lanark, Robert Owens' mill town

Robert Owen, Welsh manager of a larger spinning factory in Manchester, England, married into an industrial family and became owner of several mills. Some employed children as young as five. Believing in good treatment for workers and education to develop good human beings, he established schools and reformed child labor, eliminating harsh punishments. In his effort to establish a "new moral order", he ran his factories in a cooperative and responsible manner, and supported labor reform.

Henri de Saint-Simon called for a secular application of Christian morality to working conditions. He was one of the first to identify "industrialization" as it was happening, and insist that science be applied to social problems. This scientific approach was later developed further by Marx.


Auguste Comte developed positivism.

Web document: Comte's The Positive Philosophy

In positivism, humanity is seen as moving through three stages:
1. Theological: where humans attribute all phenomena to gods or the supernatural
2. Metaphysical: where they attribute things to abstract ideas
3. Positive: where they attribute things to scientific fact
He believed that humanity was entering the last stage. Ed Stephan of Western Washington University has helpfully given examples:

Question Theological Metaphysical Positive
Why does a rock fall? God (or a spirit) wills it it's the nature of heavy objects to fall law of gravity
Why is there disease? punishment for sin life is nasty, brutish and short (Hobbes) viruses, bacteria
Why are there wars? gods toy with mortals; evil warmongers it's human nature: territorial, desire for power ?
How is the cause of things discovered? revelation reason scientific method

You'll note that some questions cannot be solved by positivism, and yet even today we live in Comte's world. Notice how you have to get your facts together to get anything done. Let's say you want a skateboard park in Cardiff, California. Do you go to the city council and say, "I want a skateboard park because God wills it?" Do you say, "I want a skateboard park because people like to ride skateboards"? No. You gather data. You find out how many people want a skateboard park, project where it might be and how much it would cost. You then present your facts to the council. That's positivism.


Creative Commons License
The text by Lisa M. Lane is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Creative Commons License
The voice audio by Lisa M. Lane is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.
Other materials used in this class may be subject to copyright protection, and are intended for educational and scholarly fair use under the Copyright Act of 1976 and the TEACH Act of 2002.