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10-08-2015, 15:16


The Industrial Revolution began in England in the late eighteenth century and gradually spread to the European continent in the next several decades. Why England was the site of this momentous event has been the subject of debate among historians for many years. A number of factors certainly contributed to the transformation of British society from a predominantly agricultural to an industrial and commercial economy: improvements in agriculture, which enabled society to provide more food for less labor; abundant natural resources, including coal and iron, needed in the manufacturing process; and an increase in available capital, based on the growth of exports to foreign markets. England also benefited from its growing empire, which provided a source of cheap raw materials and opportunities for investment not available in the British Isles. Last but not least, technological inventions, such as the flying shuttle, the spinning jenny, and the power loom, led to significant increases in textile production, while the steam engine became a tireless source of power that depended solely on coal, a substance that at the time seemed to be available in unlimited quantities. By the mid-nineteenth century, Great Britain had become the world’s first and richest industrial nation, the “workshop, banker, and trader of the world.” By the turn of the nineteenth century, industrialization had begun to spread to the continent of Europe, where it took a different path than had been followed in Great Britain (see Map 1.1). Governments on the Continent were accustomed to playing a major role in economic affairs and continued to do so as the Industrial Revolution got under way, subsiding inventors, providing incentives to factory owners, and improving the transportation network. By 1850, a network of iron rails had spread across much of western and central Europe, while sea routes were improved by the deepening and widening of rivers and canals. Across the Atlantic Ocean, the United States experienced the first stages of its industrial revolution in the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1800, America was still a predominantly agrarian society, as six out of every seven workers were farmers. Sixty years later, only half of all workers were farmers, yet the total population had grown from 5 to 30 million people, larger than Great Britain itself. The initial application of machinery to production was accomplished by borrowing from Great Britain. Soon, however, Americans began to equal or surpass British technical inventions. The Harpers Ferry arsenal, for example, built muskets with interchangeable parts. Because all the individual parts of a musket were identical (for example, all triggers were the same), the final product could be put together quickly and easily; this innovation enabled Americans to avoid the more costly system in which skilled craftsmen fitted together individual parts made separately. The so-called American system reduced costs and revolutionized production by saving labor, an important consideration in a society that had few skilled artisans. Unlike Britain, the United States was a large country. The lack of a good system of internal transportation seemed to limit American economic development by making the transport of goods prohibitively expensive. This difficulty was gradually remedied, however. Thousands of miles of roads and canals were built linking east and west. The steamboat facilitated transportation on the Great Lakes, Atlantic coastal waters, and rivers. Most important of all in the development of an American transportation system was the railroad. Beginning with 100 miles in 1830, more than 27,000 miles of railroad track were laid in the next thirty years. This transportation revolution turned the United States into a single massive market for the manufactured goods of the Northeast, the early center of American industrialization, and by 1860, the United States was well on its way to being an industrial nation.