Generating Innovation: The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution caused an expansion in agriculture, mining, manufacturing, transportation, and technology. It impacted all facets of society, including the socio-economic and cultural conditions of the time. The Industrial Revolution originated in the United Kingdom, and rapidly spread throughout Western Europe, the United States, Canada, and Japan. It marked a major turning point in global history by changing nearly every aspect of daily life. For instance, the average per capita income increased by a margin of tenfold, while the global population exploded to a ratio of over sixfold. Scholars have cited that the Industrial Revolution influenced sustained economic growth unparalleled in previous societies. It lasted for over one hundred years, ranging from 1750 to 1850, and was segmented into two distinct phases entitled the First and Second Industrial Revolutions. The First Industrial Revolution ended and then merged into the Second Industrial Revolution around 1850, when the previous technological advancements gained momentum.

The development of the steam-powered engine, all-metal machine tools, internal combustion engine, electrical power generation, cotton gin, and cotton spinners, all propelled industrialization towards a commerce system based on mass production. The textile industry benefited from the invention of Richard Arkwright's water frame, James Hargreaves's “Spinning Jenny,” and Samuel Crompton's “Spinning Mule.” All three cotton spinning machines spawned the construction of many cotton mills. In addition, the invention of James Watt's steam-powered engine was primarily used for pumping water out of mines before being applied to other types of machines. For the first time in human history, societies did not have to rely on other human or animal muscle, wind, or water to lift, pull, and push heavy objects. Coke application to all stages of iron smelting led to the replacement of charcoal, which also led to the producing of pig iron in a blast furnace. These three key innovations allowed the economy to boom, and clearly laid the groundwork for rapid expansion across multiple industries. Other technological advancements organized the model for human labor in factories, such as the Cottonopolis. The assembly line system also improved the overall efficiency of mass production. Robotics, hydraulics, and computers would become the forefront of replacing human powered factory production.

The Industrial Revolution had profound effects on the social structure of many nations. The middle class expanded as a handful of industrialists and businessmen advanced towards nobility and gentry. The working class reaped the benefits of increased employment opportunities in the newly established mills and factories; however, this didn’t come without its disadvantages. For instance, many of the factory workers had to endure long arduous hours without proper air ventilation, which exposed them to toxic chemicals. In addition, many of the factor operators forced children to work in filthy conditions, which caused many of them to contract debilitating illnesses. The factory system led to the rise of the modern city, whereby many factory workers migrated in search of employment. This facilitated the organization of trade unions, or groups of workers who vowed to protest in the midst of oppressive working conditions. The most effective of these protests included taking strike action against the factory itself. The factory operators only had one of several choices, which included giving into the trade unions or suffering the economic downturn of a non-operational factory. The implementation of federal labor laws, increased wages and benefits led to the fall of the trade unions in their former aggressive state.