Industrial Revolutions

The first industrial revolution

Historians have collected under the name of “industrial revolution” the set of economic and social changes that took place in England during the time between the last decades of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century. There is talk of the industrial revolution because it happens a profound change in production structures and economic. The work is partly performed by machines, but what a character is definitely the most revolutionary new way of conceiving the work itself. The symbolic date that is fixed for the beginning of change is 1760, a date that identifies a period parallel to that of the Enlightenment debates in France, but while in France the source of wealth was still the land (Physiocrats), England with fences (1500), was born a new bourgeois class, which will increase more and more. The Industrial Revolution began in England just because there was already from a long time a reform of agriculture, and because they were in very easy economic conditions. There were also political conditions as favorable as that parliamentarism, the expression of a ruling class favors private. England was also a vast and rich colonial empire that allowed her to have raw materials in large quantities and have large amounts of capital, elements absolutely necessary for industrialization. Together with raw materials, colonial empires provided accordingly a real opportunity to trade . The fleet of Britain was in fact the strongest and most experienced in the Mediterranean and was able to sustain this sudden request for exports. The colonization of areas of North America had a permit to import tobacco and cotton, the latter used in the textile industry. The prosperity of English was also culturally expressed, in that state ruled constitutional monarchy were extraordinarily present freedom and tolerance.


A decisive role then had the “agricultural revolution” and the primacy of England in international trade that led to a whole series of consequences can be easily understood:

  • Introduction of machines in production
  • Growth in the size of production units no longer based on the family unit, but on groups of wage-workers
  • Enlargement of the national and international market
  • Displacement of many workers from agriculture to industry
  • Massive transfer of rural populations in cities (London becomes one of Europe's largest)
  • Emergence of new social classes as the industrial bourgeoisie and the proletariat
  • They spread many waterways to connect the centers of production and make it easier for communication
  • Increased use of coal.
  • Birth of the capitalist mode of production.

The changes in agriculture formed a surplus of resources that favoured the industrial take-off, either because they were made available for capital investment, and because him to keep down the level of wages workers, facilitating the establishment of industrial profit. In addition, the rapid dissolution of Community agriculture village, coupled with population growth, progressively freed labor from the land, ensuring the nascent British industry with cheap labor.

International trade played an important role for several reasons: for the formation of investment capital, because the guaranteed supply of raw materials, such as raw cotton, because he opened wide to international markets English manufactures. With regard to natural resources, Britain was well endowed with coal and iron, two factors intended to be strategic.

The process of revolution was amplified by the application of scientific discoveries in the production system. Machine tools were built for the textile sector, which allowed the mechanization of spinning. The technique was perfected for the use of steam as a motive power. The new technology, which used coal, the substance of which the English soil is very rich, was decisive for the development of the steel industry. Subsequently the steam was used to construct the first means of locomotion. With the development of railways they were able to transport goods and people. Soon the train would become the fastest means available to man. The construction of railways, followed the new paving on road surfaces and improvement of river channels. The flow of water was evidently important for the transport of materials particularly heavy. Over 700 manufacturing facilities of English agriculture had changes so profound as to generate a true agricultural revolution. The possession of the land passed from the hands of small farmers to big landowners. Agriculture had become entrepreneurial, the small farmer became laborer employed by a tenant farmer. New cultivation techniques improved the agricultural product: the agricultural rotation; methodology that consists in cultivating a soil for cyclically not impoverish the fertility, the chemical discoveries, which allowed greater yields and also the introduction of machines lightening the threshing work of labourers. UK was one of the first countries to improve agricultural production. The increase in production was driven by the introduction of new crops (turnip, potato, alfalfa, clover) and a new system of crop rotation, already adopted in the Netherlands, which allowed to leave the ground at rest only every 6-7 years. However, the most significant innovation was the alternation between cultivated fields and temporary pastures (this prevents the risk to impoverish the soil, especially evident in field in which it is always sown the same type of food) with the goal to restore the fertility and only get more fodder crop which in turn incremented cattle breeding and thus the production of fertiliser for the fields. Another factor that favored the development of English agriculture was the enclosure of the commons (enclosures), which in this way prevented anyone from graze the cattle that ate all the crops. Those who were allowed to take possession of the commons invested part of its capital for the improvement of land, to select the best seeds, to perform work for irrigation and drainage in the fields and to buy new agrarian bourgeoisie tools. They began to invest some of the proceeds of lands in the textile industry.

The rise of labor, wealth and more food led to a massive increase in population and changes in society. Population growth expanded the consumer market and made available a large amount of manpower. Many families left the countryside for the cities, to go where small businesses were replaced with factories. As we said before it had especially much importance the innovations in the field of transportation.

The town experienced a great improvement in this area, with the construction of a network of new roads and above all, navigable canals. The first great English Channel, connecting the coal mines in Worsley to Manchester and Liverpool, reduced to one-sixth the cost of coal transportation. Well before the railway, roads and canals were therefore made possible the industrial take-off, connecting mines, factories and even distant markets. The superiority of the new system, that concentrated workers and machines in the same production unit, quickly led to a crisis in the home: this gave a further boost to the economy of crumbling family farm, increased by the transfer of labor from the countryside to factories.

The factor of technological innovation can be concretely illustrated by describing the “mechanism” of industrial revolution. Let's take into account the three key sectors: textiles, steel, mining, whose iteration has developed the entire process.

We start from the textile sector, in which the most important industry, before the industrial revolution, was that of wool favored by wide availability of the raw material source. The revolutionary changes put in the foreground the processing of cotton. The cotton had characteristics that were most in favor of a process of industrialization: it responded to a primary need, to dress, at much lower cost than those of wool, and therefore enjoyed a much larger potential demand, while the wool had to be spun by hand to obtain a product of good quality, the more resistant cotton, lent itself much better to the mechanization of spinning. In 1773, John Kay, a watchmaker of Lancashire, had introduced into the weaving of wool the “flying shuttle”, a spool that was inserted through the warp by hammers operated by the weaver, which allowed to quadruple production, but this innovation had spread very slowly in the wool industry. This served as stimulation to a series of technical innovations: the intermittent Hargreaves spinning jenny (jenny spinner or Jeannette), which enabled one person to work simultaneously on more the one product, the spinning wheel hydraulic Arkwright, driven by the force of the water and the spinning of Crompton. The mechanization of spinning brought with it a significant increase in productivity per hour worked, and despite the increase in capital investment, a strong decrease of production costs and prices. Hence a further stimulus to demand, domestic and foreign, and a development of exports: in 1816 the head of knitted cotton constituted forty percent of British exports and had finally supplanted the Indian cotton goods on international markets.

A downstream of the production process, the texture, became inadequate to deal with the enormous increase of production of the yarn. It was the mechanical chassis of Cartwright to solve this bottleneck, although in a rather long time. It struggled to impose themselves and because it needed adjustments and refinements to be truly competitive with the weavers; in addition, there was the resistance of the independent craftsmen weavers, who waged a bitter struggle against the new machine and the factory system. Only in the 30-40 weavers surrendered to the frame. A similar trend, in which a technological problem created imbalance in the production, occurred in the steel industry and, in particular, in the iron-carbon sector, which was the center of the British industrial revolution.

Although it was not low on iron mines, England, for most of the eighteenth century was forced to import iron bar of Sweden. The merger took place in blast furnaces fueled by charcoal, but the rapid depletion of timber reserves, the high cost of transport and the lack of purity of the produced iron, made the domestic steel industry appear uneconomical. Since 1709 Abraham Darby, in his foundry in Coalbrookdale, had identified a process for use as fusion fuel coke, coal subjected to a special cooking that it was reducing its impurities.

But only in 1784 Henry Cort devised a technique which was used to produce good quality cast iron in blast furnace coke. The British steel industry was thus placed in a position to meet the growing demand for ferrous products , managing to double the production of ingots cast iron. It was create an economic driving force between the coal and iron; the network was adequate to withstand this development. However, it presented a new bottleneck: to meet the increasing demand for coal, the depth of the wells was increased, to the point to have problems with the continuity of water supply. They had to find a way to drain the water from the wells. The solution was found by James Watt, who in 1775 patented a machine that allowed to operate pumps capable of draining wells in depth. The steam engine, did much more than allow the exploitation of coal on a gigantic scale: it allowed the rapid ascent of production of pig iron.

It gave the industry a driving force much more powerful, firm and flexible than human or hydraulics: the whole process of mechanization he received a huge boost. Even the steam engine, due to the high costs and the defects of the initial operation, took time to become established, but when it did, the cycle of the pioneering industrial revolution was complete. The industrial revolution can be divided into three phases: the first running from 1760-90, characterized by mechanization of spinning and the introduction of new methods in the steel industry. The second phase from 1790 to 1820-30, in which we witness the explosion of mechanical weaving mill and the steam engine, and a third phase, until 1850, dominated by the railway, which was certainly the most extraordinary scope of railroad steam engine. Since 1814 when the miner George Stephenson built the first locomotive by mounting one on a cart mine. With the railway, the British economy found not only a drastically reduction of time and cost of transportation, but a new powerful stimulus to domestic demand, able to quickly replace the textile industry as a leading sector of the economy. As we said before, there were a number of factors that led to the change in the economy, production, transport etc etc.


Changes also occurred in society in which new social classes were born. The proletariat, ie the wage worker, was one of these, which was opposed to the bourgeois owner of the means of production.

In the nineteenth century the bourgeoisie emerged as the ruling class, both economically and politically, thanks to the diffusion of liberal governments. In opposition to the masses of workers and peasants, the bourgeoisie quickly realized to be the decisive force of the transformations that were taking place in society. Aside the arose of the working class, which in the early years of the industrial society represented only a small minority but that gradually became more and more numerous, it was possible to identify the so called middle class, not very relevant in the early nineteenth century but which gradually took on more and more importance. Composed of officials, clerks, merchants, small business owners and professionals, the middle class did not identify itself neither with the Bourgeoisie nor with the working class, of which indeed refused the lifestyle and values. Within the middle class the very strong individualistic spirit, typical of the bourgeoisie, was absent; they showed instead a sense of class solidarity, the spirit characterizing the labor movement.

Social consequences

The social consequences of the Industrial Revolution were initially negative. The cities had greatly enlarged themself without taking into account the needs of the growing population. Growing number of people were sleeping dingy dormitory, with no running water or sewer, where people (children, women and men) were there only in the evening just to sleep. In fact, the shifts in the factory were the same for all and were on average of fifteen hours a day. The worker entered the factory in the morning and came out destroyed in the evening and often lunch and dinner took place at the factory (the worker didn't have time to go home during the day).

The change of the transition determined by the rise of the factory assumed a more profound change in the structure of society. Artisans and dispossessed peasants, who had lost the opportunity to continue independently their activities, built the mass in which they were recruited workers in the new factories. The formation of a class of industrial capitalists corresponded therefore to the development of a new class of wage-laborers who had no other instrument that their arms and their children (the proletariat).

The replacement of muscle strength with steam, it made possible a wide use of women and children, which offered the advantage of being paid much less than adults.

Increasing consumer goods and food products, the advent of capitalism in agriculture and industry, made it possible for an intense demographic increase. The large concentrations of urban population became more frequent and took on dimensions never known.

The masses of workers found new employment opportunities, but the conditions in which they were forced to live is one of the saddest chapters in human history.

The normal working hours was between 12 and 16 hours per day, and the wages were just enough to ensure the life of the worker and the regeneration of its work strength. The pace pace of a worker was imposed automatically by the machine. The education of the workers in this kind of life was a problem not easy to solve. Partly it was solved with the hiring of child labor, the more easily disciplinable. The Government prohibited the exploitation of wage earners in 1799, with the Combinations Acts, the association of workers. theban did not prevent, however, that the guilds (trade unions) to increase clandestinely. The workers' protest took violent forms in 1811, when the Luddites ( movement which took its name from the mythical leader Ned Ludd) developed in Nottinghamshire then spread to other industrial regions. The most visible manifestation of the Luddites was important and then look for the expression of a pre-industrial mindset that defended the archaic organization production and labor. The intentions of its promoters were connected to what will e called later “social legislation” : minimum wage, child labor and protection of women, freedom of association , social commitment against unemployment.

The inability of the Luddites to overcome the primitive form of the struggle against the machines, to put clearly certain claims and to connect with political action, quickly led to his decline.

In 1812, after some entrepreneurs had already begun to organize privately the resistance against the Luddites, a law was passed which provided for the death penalty against the destroyers of machines.

Then began a new phase of the struggle for the recognition of political rights to workers. Alongside them are placed, in fact, the radical movement that arose in England shortly after the French Revolution.

At this stage the use by government of repression provoked a more uncompromising tension that reached its peak, with the revolt of Pentridge and the Peterloo massacre, in the years between 1817 and 1820.

The radical battle obtained a first partial result in 1824, when a law recognized the workers the right to associate for economic and welfare discussions, while maintaining the ban on the strike and association organised for political purposes.


The second industrial revolution

The second industrial revolution occurs from the mid-800 until the 70s, but after a period of depression causes significant new transformations in economic and social development. Compared to the previous one, this revolution is much more spread in terms of geography (spread throughout most of Europe, the United States of America and touched new markets all over the world). In addition, the second key feature of this revolution is that it affected different industries, not just the textile industry as happened in the first. In fact, in addition to the textile industry, it was also involved in the steel and mechanical industry, and means of transportation too. We should not forget either that the investments were far greater than those that had been made for the industrial revolution.

Starting from 1830 Europe had a forty-year period of remarkable economic development. For this reason it was called the “locomotive” of the industrial revolution. The “captain” the European continent was Britain that took the leading role within the European context.

This strong growth was caused by two main factors: the consolidation of British hegemony and the rapid growth in the economy of other European countries. In every European country there was a different economic and industrial reality: for example, in France there was a strong development of the wool and cotton which led to the use of expensive machinery. This factor led to the failure of small family-owned businesses, while it strengthened the large mechanised and industrialised ones.

Germany instead had a great development thanks to the agreement of the customs unification that was signed in 1834 (t lasted until the proclamation of the Reich in 1871), and in this state there was a greater amount of investment and a huge increase in industrial production and even here the family businesses failed while the large industries were strengthened. Austria, Italy and even Russia had a path of industrial slower development, not only in economic but also in the social and political structure.

Italy was particularly behind the rest of Europe because of the economic situation that was still kind of pre-capitalist. The predominant activity was agriculture, where you can still see the first progress of technical development, especially in the Po Valley, Lombardy, Veneto, Piedmont and Emilia Romagna. In southern Italy the estates were not touched by the progress, as the owners do not come aristocratic and bourgeois showed the traditional inertia, while the peasants lived in conditions of great poverty. The industrial economy however was still tied to a handicraft. The factories use steam or water power but lack of modern machinery. A major obstacle to industrial expansion is made in Italy by the Customs Division: exchanges are jammed so that the exchange of the Italian states with those in Europe exceeds that between them. The most advantageous situation we can find was in the states of Lombardy-Venetia and the Kingdom of Sardinia, this advantage was made possible by the dynamism of social classes. At the beginning of 1848 in our country it can be counted only 200 kilometers of railways (in England, for example, at the same date, 4000)


During the twenty years 1850-1870 in Europe in fact the scope of major development was that of transport: there was in fact the construction of several kilometers of railways, the multiplication of railway lines and also at sea level there was an improvement in technology with the creation of steel hulls. The railroads played a vital role in the world for two main reasons: the achievement of new markets for the sale of various products and the growth in demand for iron and coal (raw materials necessary for the construction of cars and tracks). So there was also a strong demand driving force that led to the development of the mechanical sector.

The important thing though is that this economic boom was not given much by the exchange of consumer goods, that despite this did not have a leading role because of the wages of salaried employees who remained low, but rather due to the demand for capital goods (eg : infrastructure and equipment). Another profound transformation of the century who showed up with this revolution it was the international division of labor, the growth of the productive capacity of the industrialized countries with the corresponding decrease in their food autonomy. The industrial center of the world was dependent on a number of respects from other countries.

If Europe was selling artifacts and technologies to countries not yet developed, it bought from these agricultural products which was not able to provide on their own. This kind of division of labor had two specific effects: the organization of the system of labor within factories and forms of financing of productive activity. The latter effect then brought to the creation of a vast economic system, that is an investment of huge amounts of capital but employers and individuals were not able to provide, in essence the first phase of the industrial revolution was self-financed. But things changed in the second half of the nineteenth self-financing because it was no longer possible; born then new financial institutions and legal structures that would ensure the development at the economic level. Created new types of banks, which were the most significant innovations in the economic and financial system, and new kinds of corporate forms (organization of a company in which the partners are liable only up to the amount of the share capital was divided into units called shares) such as joint-stock company. They had one overwhelming development in Europe since it was equipped with an independent legal personality by individuals as the owners (it was the capital to have rights and legal capacity).

Another fact of considerable importance that characterised the decades of the industrial revolution in 800 was the movement of the masses from the countryside to the cities. This movement had strong consequences on the cities that were also subjected to population growth. the cities saw the development of peripheral areas around them, the concentration of economic and financial institutions and a strong division between public and private space that favored the development of private property; all this led to a new urban model. Workers who moved from the countryside to the cities did not see significant benefits because they were forced to live in crowded housing in the suburbs (near the place of work). It was born the proletariat, a with it a new architectural type (square, economic, similar, built in series houses, along networks of roads that formed a geometric structure). All of this development, however, created a critical condition since the demand for consumer goods was significantly lower compared to those produced by the new industrial system. The consequence of this problem was the search for new markets and this favored the interest in Africa and Asia. These two continents, which were considered politically and economically static, underwent a period of major wars caused by the European powers that were intended to expand markets in those areas. This wave of wars and colonial expansion put an end to the isolation of the Afro-Asian empires; the others received a strong shock, especially the international division of labor and world trade. In these colonies the European countries applied a different monopoly from that used between them that implied a liberal policy, as they were closed to the economic competition of all to the benefit of the mother country.

An important consequence of this revolution was the close relationship between industrial production and science. The attitude of people towards the industry is divided into two distinct currents: the first current, the anti-capitalist who followed the thought of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the industry identified as a danger that people only bent toward profit, while the second inclined towards an ideology of progress (which would bring only good and new consequences). This belief in progress found its highest expression in the new philosophical movement called positivism (term coined by Auguste Comte (1798-1857) who gave birth to a real school. It is a knowledge that only appeal to laws and scientific methodologies refusing demonstrations and explanations unproven or religious nature of the world). This idea of ​​Positivism gave a strong hope in progress: new discoveries influenced not only the economic condition but also the daily life and the mentality of all the people. The hope for a turnaround thanks to the progress, however, soon began to be lacking because of the social injustices that continued to rise and that then led to social inequality, an important consequence: of the affirmation of social inequality. It was the birth of the first union and political organization that helped the workers. This phenomenon led then, in addition to the quantitative growth of the working class, to the development of a social conscience and a new political culture. All this was given unconsciously by the industrial revolution. Several workers began to realize that they had to defend their rights and their own interests and all that led to the need of an association or organization that promoted solidarity among the workers who wanted the same rights and had the same values. Active members present in organizations were different from each other: there were workers, and sometimes even bourgeois aristocrats with philanthropic interests. Later these organizations began to have the most significant and incisive goals such as wage increases, the reduction of working hours and the right to associate and to strike. It was in these early associations that the workers could come into contact with socialist ideas developed by the intellectuals of the time (it has been said modern socialism originated among the early decades of the 700 and 800, at the base with the criticism of the bourgeois class and the belief that the company with the strength of economic development can generate the situation of equality). The relationship between labor movements and socialist thought did not produce an immediate effect as true: we can conclude this from the publication of the Manifesto of the Communist Party that did not affect at all on the workers' revolts that were unleashed in 1848 (MANIFESTO OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY: written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848 just before the revolutionary uprisings in Paris. It was the “milestone” in the history of socialism, advocating the principles of equality and social emancipation in the face of the belief that only a class struggle can solve the conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and create a society that has the basic collective ownership of the means of production). The goal of Marx and Engels was right to give life to new organisation to the socialist policies that would translate the principles expressed in the Manifesto in the life and daily struggle. After twenty years of extraordinary development, Europe, however, met a deep crisis, which went from 1873 to 1896, mainly due to speculation, but also to other factors that can be summarized in substance with the completion of a development of driving sectors, such as transport or production of grain; in industrial sector there was new competition in the American market. However, the crisis was mainly caused by overproduction, which resulted in an immediate fall in prices and the so-called “Great Depression”.

Only towards the end of the '90s the crisis that began in 1873 could be closed down and there was then a new round of expansion that lasted practically until the outbreak of the First World War.

One of the first consequences was a gigantic process of industrial concentration, which established closer ties with the banking system.

They could be described as follows:

  • Concentration by melting (similar enterprises for production);
  • Trust (associations between complementary businesses);
  • Cartel agreements (between companies that provide the same product);

The worldwide growth of the economy of this period had 3 main causes:

  • Demographic growth, which had the effect of widening the market and, consequently, the demand for consumer goods;
  • The exploitation of new gold deposits discovered in the regions of South Africa, which increased the availability of gold and then of money;
  • The transport revolution which expanded contacts between markets and opened new avenues for trade (the railways were extended to several kilometers and also sea connections were already developed thanks to the introduction of metal hulls and steam navigation), improved dramatically with the application of the turbine engine that shortened travel times.

Important, however, was also the transformation of technology, the discovery of oil and electricity, without forget the development of the chemical industry (resulting in the discovery of steel and aluminum).

The basis of this economic recovery was obviously colonialism, which had opened new markets in Asia, Africa and Latin America to the imperialist powers (Britain was even overtaken by the United States, Germany and France in different sectors of industrial production).


Another important change in the economic (as well as the division of labor in the world) was the organization of work within the factories that became increasingly mechanized involving the great mass of workers who lived in industrialized countries.

The factory became a complex system (before it was just one productive unit) thanks to the systematic use of the machines and the standardisation of production. The functions could no longer be carried out by individual men, but everything had to be directed by impersonal organizations formed by technicians carefully selected who had specific skills, they were chosen on the basis of a strict division of competence in the workplace. It was claimed that scientific management is the scientific organization of labor, introduced by the engineer American Fredrick Taylor (for this reason it was called Taylorism). This new solution aimed at getting a low cost of labor with a high level of wages, and focused on this goal through increased productivity by dividing complex tasks and controlling the pace of work. For a cheap labor there were joined controllers' work which recorded the production rates of individual workers. This process would gain a better organization of work with a better income. Parallel to this, however, there were negative effects such as the disappearance of the workers trades and the emergence of an unskilled working class and therefore easily interchangeable.

All this, however, also needed a standardization of goods produced, ie to simplify the variety of products to be put on the market to take advantage of the greater speed of production as much as possible. This process became known as Fordism by Henry Ford (1863-1947), an American pioneer of the automobile industry. Fordism had several underlying principles for creating an efficient organization in the work, such that it was the work to move the worker and not the worker to move the work, by means of the application of simple gestures instead of complex ones , which had calculated the exact time of work and that there was a mass production and mass. It was for this purpose it was invented the most important within industrial production and still applied, the assembly that keeps the worker stopped in front of his workstation, and allows the production of objects to run faster.


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