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9-08-2015, 18:21

Industry and the Industrial Revolution

Industrial production involves a large concentrated workforce dependent on an owner for raw materials and tools, mass-producing one item or a small range of items. Stories of the development of industry, often described as the Industrial Revolution, usually see its beginnings in textile manufacturing in eighteenth-century Britain. This overlooks a number of earlier examples of production that have all the qualities of industry. As we saw in chapter 7 , New World plantations mass-produced one thing, such as sugar, using huge slave labor forces that had no ownership of the means of production; this was also true of New World mines, where thousands and perhaps ultimately millions of people mined and processed silver and gold. In eastern Europe, noble landholders controlled hundreds or even thousands of serfs, using them to produce grain for sale in the global market. Members of the traditional ruling class, the aristocracy, controlled most of these large-scale enterprises, using the profi ts to purchase consumer goods for an increasingly luxurious lifestyle. European governments also ran industrial ventures long before the eighteenth century. The city of Venice operated the Arsenal producing ships and weapons, which employed more than fi ve thousand workers and built more than one hundred of the ships used by Venice and its allies in their defeat of the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. Administrators and technical experts oversaw every stage of production, which was so effi cient that, if pressed, the workforce could build a war galley in a few weeks, or outfi t one for combat in a few hours. The armies of the Ottoman Empire and later those of western European states were also industrial in their size and provisioning structures when compared with medieval feudal levies; with contracts from Louis XIV’s fi nance minister Colbert, French armaments manufacturers came to employ hundreds of workers. In terms of workforce and output, agricultural, mining, and military operations were on a much larger scale than production organized by capitalist entrepreneurs until late in the nineteenth century. By the late seventeenth century, however, the proliferation of small putting-out enterprises and manufactories with just a few dozen workers had created what economic historians have generally viewed as essential for industrial take-off: a broadbased market for cheap manufactured goods. Families and individuals worked more hours, especially during the slow periods of the agricultural cycle, which provided both goods for the market and cash for them to purchase products made by others. The consumption of goods in Europe itself was a crucial stimulant to new forms of production. The most important of these products was cloth. The majority of cloth produced and worn in Europe was made of wool, and the most profi table type of cloth for several centuries had been luxury broadcloth woven on a large loom that required several weavers to operate. In the late sixteenth century, entrepreneurs realized there was a market for lighter, cheaper woolen cloth, or cloth made of a mixture of wool and cotton, wool and linen, or cotton and linen (called fustian), that could be dyed easily. This lighter cloth, called the “new draperies” in England, was not as sturdy as the heavier, higher-quality cloth that urban guilds had long produced, but it could be easily and quickly made by rural families who lacked the long guild training. Its lower quality might actually be a benefi t, for it meant that people would have to buy clothing more often; this both stimulated demand and allowed people to keep up with changes in style, which became increasingly important in fashion-conscious cities such as London or Paris. New machinery also speeded up the production of several products that became important fashion items in the early seventeenth century. Stocking frames with needles fi xed permanently on a stand made knitting stockings and gloves much faster; knitted stockings quickly replaced woven ones, especially as they draped the leg in a much more fl attering way. Silk-throwing machines, which unwound cocoons and twisted silk thread, made silk slightly cheaper, so that middle-class urban people might be able to afford at least one pair of silk stockings, along with their everyday woolen ones. In an era before artifi cial fi bers or much use of cotton, silk stockings and undergarments offered a bit of true luxury next to the skin. For fashion that could be seen by all, ribbon looms produced twelve or more ribbons at one time, making them affordable decorations for hats or collars. Lace cuffs and collars also grew in popularity (and in size); lace-making became an important cottage industry in the Netherlands, Belgium, and parts of France in the late sixteenth century, which spurred the invention of special lace-making looms that used punched-card templates to guide the pattern. In the later seventeenth century, cotton cloth from India entered the European market, imported by the Dutch and English East India Companies. Consumers snapped them up, because they were lightweight, felt pleasant against the skin, and could take vivid colors when dyed as thread and then woven into checks or stripes, printed in decorative patterns, or painted in splendid multi-hued designs. Commentators described a “calico craze,” and complained that women of all classes were wearing them, so that differences between social classes were not as evident. Mercantalist governments responded by putting tariffs on Indian imports or completely prohibiting them in the hopes of persuading people to buy locally produced cloth. Despite increasing attempts by the British government to ban them, however, 80 percent of the Asian products imported by the English East India Company in 1740 were fi nished Indian textiles. European manufacturers also tried to imitate Indian cloth, which was initially possible only with imported Indian thread, as Europeans were not successful at producing cotton thread that was strong enough to withstand the weaving process without breaking. At fi rst European cloth was distinctly inferior to that from India, but the desire to replicate Indian cottons led tinkerers and entrepreneurs in England to invent machines that would produce stronger and thinner cotton thread, so that English cottons would be able to compete in the world market, and methods of dyeing that would allow printing in the indigo blue favored throughout the Atlantic world. Transforming raw materials into fi nished cloth is a multi-stage process, and any stage could be a bottleneck. Initially the problem was spinning. One hand-loom weaver could use yarn or thread produced by up to twenty carders and spinners in wool and linen, and up to ten in cotton, so entrepreneurs and mercantalist government offi cials suggested and implemented many schemes to encourage more spinning. Most of these were directed towards women and children, whom offi cials regarded as a vast labor pool waiting to be tapped; although, as we have seen, in some rural areas both men and women spun, in most places spinning was seen as the quintessential woman’s task. Offi cials attached spinning rooms to orphanages, awarded prizes to women who spun the most, made loans easier for those who agreed to spin, and set up spinning schools for poor children. Poor law authorities in England opened spinneries for poor women, providing women too poor to own their own wheels with the needed equipment. Women who were in hospital or jail were expected to spin to defray part of the cost of their upkeep, and prostitutes in some cities were expected to produce a certain number of bobbins of yarn per day, spinning when the brothel was closed to customers. Wages for spinning were low, but more and more women spun, either as a byemployment during slow seasons or as a full-time job; in England so many women were spinning by the seventeenth century that “spinster” became the standard term for an unmarried woman. Most women spun in their own homes or the room they rented to live in, but, especially in Germany and France, they sometimes gathered together in evening spinning bees with their wheels or distaffs and spindles. Young men gravitated to these gatherings of largely unmarried women, so that the spinning was accompanied by songs, jokes, and drinking. Religious and civic authorities often worried about what went on at spinning bees and tried to prohibit them. Mercantalist reformers countered that such gatherings actually promoted good marriages by allowing young men to compare the skill and industriousness of various marriage partners, and also promoted higher production levels because the young spinners competed with one another. Authorities were more at ease when spinning bees were gradually replaced in urban areas by manufactories where women spun under the direction of a male overseer. In Britain, this change in work organization was hastened by the development of new machines. The earliest spinning machines often broke the threads or produced thread of uneven thickness, but in the 1760s and 1770s several machines – James Hargreaves’s spinning jenny, Richard Arkwright’s spinning frame, and Samuel Crompton’s spinning mule – allowed the production of stronger and thinner thread, and also allowed one worker to produce multiple threads at the same time. These machines were developed for cotton, but could be adapted for wool, which remained the cloth produced in the greatest quantities in Europe throughout the eighteenth century. By the 1790s in Britain spinning mules had several hundred spindles, which ended home spinning. Inventors immediately turned their attention to mechanical looms, though these would not become practical until the nineteenth century, and most weaving continued to be done by hand-loom weavers for many decades after the introduction of spinning machines. The fi nishing stages of cloth production also began to be mechanized. Artifi cial chemicals replaced ashes, urine, and fuller’s earth in the fulling process, and replaced the sun in bleaching. Patterns were increasingly printed by running the cloth through an inked cylinder rather than by stamping each section in a block press. While wool production increased steadily throughout the eighteenth century, cotton production grew at an even faster pace; between 1770 and 1800, imports of raw cotton into Britain grew twelvefold. This growth was directly related to Britain’s overseas empire, which provided both the supply of raw cotton and much of the demand for fi nished cloth. Lighter, brighter cottons were popular in Europe, but they were even more desirable in tropical climates or in places with hot summers, the very places in which cotton grew best. The spinning jenny could be operated by hand and was suited to cottage industry, but the spinning frame and mule needed an external power source. Initially this was provided by falling water, and spinning mills grew up along streams and rivers in the British countryside and then in other parts of Europe and North America. Cities located in areas with favorable river-systems became centers of cotton production and trade, and their populations soared; the population of Manchester in northwestern England, for example, one of the main centers of British cotton production, grew from 17,000 in 1760 to 180,000 in 1830. Water-powered machinery was geographically limited and could be interrupted by drought or freezing weather, however, so that there was a strong impetus to search for other sources of power. This was provided by the steam engine, which was initially developed to pump water out of mines. The earliest steam engines, such as that developed by the English tool-seller Thomas Newcomen (1663–1729) in 1712, worked by creating a vacuum inside pistons and using the suction to lift water; by the 1730s Newcomen engines were pumping out coal, copper, and iron mines in several European countries. In the 1760s, James Watt (1736– 1819), a Scottish engineer and tool-maker, dramatically improved the Newcomen engine by adding a separate condensing chamber, which increased the effi ciency, that is, the amount of power per unit of coal burned. Watt’s engines were put to still more uses, powering cotton- spinning machines, steam hammers, blowers, and, in 1783 in France, a steamboat. The English potter Josiah Wedgwood (1730–95) adapted coal-powered steam engines to the production of pottery, mass-producing porcelain at prices that brought it within the range of many consumers. Watt worked with other tool-makers to improve the precision of machine tools such as drills, lathes, and planers that shaped metal, so that the parts of his engines fi tted together without leakage, making them even more effi cient. He also developed various devices to increase and regulate the speed of pistons, and to change the back and forth motion of pistons into circular motion, which worked better for some machines. By the early 1800s, many machines and machine parts, such as frames and pipes, that had earlier been made out of wood, were made of the much more durable iron. Steam engines require cheap fuel, which was available in the form of coal in certain parts of Europe, most plentifully in England. (One of the richest coalfi elds was near Newcastle in northern England, the origin of the phrase “like taking coals to Newcastle” to describe needless effort.) Coal was smoky and smelly when it burned, but shortages of wood by the middle of the seventeenth century meant that large cities such as London had little choice but to use coal for heating. Steam-driven pumps allowed ever deeper mining for coal, which was also facilitated by laying tracks or rails for carts that brought the coal from underground. These carts were fi rst pushed or pulled by human and animal power, and then by coal-powered steam engines. In the early nineteenth century, this technology spread out from the coalfi elds with the construction of railroads, where steam locomotives ran along tracks. Coal increased the amount of power available exponentially when compared with traditional sources – humans, animals, wind, and water. Many economic historians see this surge in available power as the key reason the European economy came to dominate that of the rest of the world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Along with the steam engine and coal mining, iron production was an essential part of industrial development. Coal-powered steam blowers and other equipment allowed new iron-making processes that could transform lower-grade ore into higher-quality iron and steel. Steel is a very hard alloy of iron and carbon that, using traditional methods, could only be made from very high-quality ore; in Europe, most of such ore was in Sweden, which also had huge forests that produced the charcoal required to heat ore to the temperature needed to produce steel. Many of the best weapons before the eighteenth century were thus made with Swedish steel. English ironworkers, including a father and son both named Abraham Darby, experimented with using coke, a byproduct of burning coal, to produce steel. Initially coke-smelted steel was diffi cult to work, but by the middle of the eighteenth century the process had been perfected and coke smelting spread throughout Britain. It was cheaper to transport iron than coal, so that the iron industry grew up in coalmining regions, including Staffordshire, Yorkshire, South Wales, and western Scotland. These had to be huge operations in order to be profi table; those of the industrialist John Wilkinson (1728–1808 – now memorialized in the “Wilkinson sword” razor blade), for example, employed thousands of people. Industrial zones developed around certain cities, rather than being more dispersed in the countryside. These cities grew at an amazing rate, but they lacked enough housing, clean water, or sanitation services, so that diseases such as typhus and tuberculosis spread easily. Their intensive use of coal made them even more fi lthy, and many visitors were appalled; the English poet William Blake, for example, wrote in 1805 of “dark Satanic mills” that had replaced “England’s green and pleasant land.” Work was structured by the need to use machines effi ciently, so tasks became more routinized and the work day more structured. Machines could be tended by people with lower skill levels, including children, so that wages were low, child labor was common, and the status of adult workers declined. Wages offered to unskilled workers by the Satanic mills were often higher than those in the “green and pleasant land,” however, and the opportunities to escape parental and family control were greater, so the new industrial cities never lacked workers. Along with coal and iron, concentrated industrial production also required transportation and money. Britain was fortunate in having mines and coalfi elds near rivers and harbors, which engineers widened and deepened. In the late eighteenth century engineers also began building canals to link coalfi elds with rivers and connect ports and other cities. Money was provided primarily by individual investors who had made great profi ts in trade and commerce. Banks handled money – and became much more numerous in the eighteenth century – but they rarely invested directly in machinery or factories. Private investors included people from humble beginnings who occasionally became fabulously wealthy, such as Richard Arkwright (1732–92), who was the youngest of thirteen children and initially worked as a barber. He moved into the wholesale hair business, which was booming because of the demand for wigs, and developed a hair dye that he patented and sold to wig makers. He used the money from this to work on spinning machines, gaining patents for the horse-powered and then water-powered spinning frame, and opening mills that used them. His patents were later challenged when other inventors argued that he had not changed existing technology very much, but he was knighted, and died one of the richest men in England. Rags-to-riches stories like that of Arkwright captured people’s imaginations, but much of the money in early British industrial development came from the traditional elites, that is, from titled aristocrats and landed gentry. Coal and iron mines were often on land that they owned, and they profi ted from the development of mining and metallurgy. Some of them had already made substantial profi ts in commercial farming operations, and they reinvested money from mining and agriculture in industrial ventures. Aristocrats controlled the House of Lords and gentry dominated the House of Commons, so that economic policy favored their interests, which meant protection for domestic production and commerce against foreign competition. One aspect of Arkwright’s story was very typical, however – the role of patents in creating wealth. The city of Venice was the fi rst place in Europe to allow new devices to be registered as legal protection for their inventors, and in 1623 James I issued the Statute of Monopolies for “projects of new invention,” which served as the basis for British patent law until the late twentieth century. (Before this time, royal monopolies called “letters patent” – meaning “open letter” as opposed to a sealed private letter – had been granted for the sale of all types of goods, but Parliament forced James to revoke these and limit patents to new inventions, and only for a fi xed number of years.) Other countries in Europe did not start issuing patents until the 1790s, the same time as the newly independent United States also issued its fi rst patent laws. As Arkwright’s case indicates, patents could be contested, and in some cases they were evaded, but they did encourage innovation. The technological, organizational, and legal innovations that allowed for industrialization developed fi rst in Britain, a situation that has provoked great debate practically since the fi rst factory opened. Was the British lead the result of cultural differences, such as a more fl uid social structure than elsewhere in Europe, greater individualism, and a greater willingness to take risks and try new products and processes? Or was it the result of political differences, including the power of Parliament and the size of the British Empire? Or was it largely accidental, the result of navigable rivers and abundant natural resources located in easy-to-reach places, combined with revolution and war in France after 1789, which gave British manufacturers room to establish themselves? Explanations have pointed to all these factors, what one historian has characterized as the “pluck vs. luck” debate. (For a discussion of the global dimensions of this debate, see chapter 13 .) Most scholars now highlight the complexity of the process, and the interweaving of both technological and broader changes. In terms of technology, deeper mining was only possible with steam pumps, which could only reach the temperatures they needed to run by burning coal; that coal came out of those deeper mines, and also provided coke to make the high-quality iron needed for pumps, and so on. In terms of broader changes, industry required a concentrated market for products, which could only be provided by cities; this also concentrated workers for that industry, pulling them out of villages with more settled hierarchies and relationships and making them both easier to exploit and freer to purchase consumer goods if they could afford them.

 

 

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