onsdag 21. januar 2009

The Industrial Revolution in Britain

The Industrial Revolution is the term used to describe the industrialization of societies. By industrialization we mean increased productivity in production, manufacturing, agriculture and transportation due to new or improved technology, and the cultural and social changes in the society. The invention and development of the steam engine was the vital technology in the Industrial Revolution. This industrialization process was triggered for the first time in history in Britain but gradually spread throughout Europe, North America, and eventually the rest of the world. Though some countries in the so called “third world” are still not fully industrialized. Historians agree that the Industrial Revolution is one of the most important events in the last couple of centuries. Exactly when did the Revolution begin, and why particularly in Britain? How did the industrialization really happen?

Historians disagree about when the Industrial Revolution began. The most likely theory is that the revolution was the result of the social and institutional changes after the English Civil War in the 17th century. The end of feudalism in Britain was especially vital. With better national boarder control, the spread of disease lessened, preventing the epidemics which at that time usually had extremely mortal consequences. The infant mortality rate decreased considerably. This lead to higher life expectancy and a larger population, and therefore a larger working force. There was also a revolution in agriculture between the 17th and the 19th centuries. This revolution made food production more effective and less labour-intensive. This meant that less people were needed in agriculture and made more people unemployed. These people eventually found their way into the cities and the newly developed factories. The common understanding is that the United Kingdom experienced the first industrial revolution between about 1750-1850.

The presence of a large domestic marked in Britain is also considered to be important for the development of the Industrial Revolution. It also explains why the Revolution occurred in Britain. In other European nations there were only local markets where trading amongst them involved tolls and tariffs on goods. Understandably these restrictions hindered economical and technological development.

Britain also benefited greatly from its overseas colonies from which they received natural and financial resources. They also had profits from the British slave trade between Africa and the Caribbean, although it has been pointed out that the slave trade only provided 5 % of the British national income. Britain also had a more liberal trade than other countries. This enabled them to produce and use newly developed technologies more effectively. Another reason for the blossoming industrialization in Britain was that they emerged as the only European country relatively unharmed by financial plunder and economical collapse after the Napoleonic Wars. Britain conducted most of their battles overseas, reducing the damages and territorial conquest that affected much of Europe.

Many historians believe that Britain’s resources and geographical attributes laid the perfect foundation for the industrialization. First of all the country had a dense population for its small size. Local supplies of coal, iron, lead, copper, tin, limestone and water power provided excellent opportunities for development of the industry. The damp and mild weather in the North West of England provided great conditions for the spinning of cotton. This ultimately resulted in the birth of the textile industry.

Three technological innovations were particularly important for the development of the Industrial Revolution. The first one was in the textile industry. Using R. Arkwright’s water frame and J. Hargreaves’ Spinning Jenny made the cotton spinning many times easier. James Watt’s steam engines were improved and put to use in power machines, and enabled the rapid development of the factories. The last key innovation came in the iron founding. Charcoal was replaced by the fuel coke in the stages of iron smelting, which made it much more efficient. Innovation in other departments also played a significant role. For instance the replacement of organic fuels based on wood with fossil fuel based on coal in the metallurgy was a major change. The new steam engines made coal mining much faster and efficient, which meant that more coal was available to be used in industry. The steam engines also allowed new and more effective means of transportation, the steam locomotives. The railroads helped Britain’s trade enormously.

Spinning Jenny (Source)

The innovation in the agriculture and the lure of a better pay at the new factories were all pushing factors for people moving from the countryside into the towns and cities. By 1851 half the population in Britain lived in London. This resulted in overcrowded homes where five or more people could easily live in one small room. The houses of the working class were very basic and cheap. One whole building often had to share one bathroom and a couple of outhouses. It was generally very dirty and unhealthy, and these conditions were perfect for diseases. More than thirty one thousand people died during an outbreak of cholera in 1832, and even more were killed by typhus, smallpox and dysentery. There was also a lot of pollution in the air due to all the factories and the use of coal-driven machinery.

The factory workers often met lousy and dangerous conditions at work. Most of the equipment did not have any safety regulations and a lot of machines were spinning and grinding openly. This resulted in many workers accidentally losing limbs in encounters with the machines. The working hours were long and child labour was not unusual. There was limited opportunity for education, and children were expected to work. Children were usually paid less than adult workers, although there was no difference in productivity. Operating the machines did not require much strength and the adult workers did not have more experience than the children because the factory was such a new phenomenon. There were also many street children. They were often homeless and some were even orphans. They roamed the streets stealing and picking pockets for money to buy food. Charles Dickens wrote a novel about these street children called Oliver Twist, and this book went on to become a timeless classic. Eventually laws against child labour came to life. At first children younger than nine years old were not allowed to work, children were not permitted to work at night. People younger than eighteen could not work longer than twelve hours. About ten years later children and women were no longer allowed to work in mines.

Child worker (Source)


The American Industrial Revolution

The slavery in the United States began in 1607, soon after the English colonists first settled in Virginia and lasted until the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution passed in 1865. From 1654 to 1865 slavery was legal in the United States and most slaves were black people held by whites. Some Native Americans and blacks also held slaves, and there were also a small number of white slaves as well. The majority of slaveholding was in the Southern States of the U.S. Nearly four million slaves were held in a population just over 12 million in 15 states in which slavery was legal. The majority of slave-owners were planters, or as historians refer to as those who held 20 or more slaves. On plantations the crop was mostly cotton, tobacco, sugar cane and rice. In the first half of the 19th century the wealth of the United States were greatly enhanced by the labor of Afro Americans.

The industrial revolution
The industrial revolution (1820 – 1870) was a big part of the economic development for the United States. The revolution itself refers to a change from hand and home production to machine and factory. Because of the war between America and Great Britain in 1812, America needed a better transportation system and more economic independence. Therefore, manufactory expanded. Three important developments where involved in the industrialization of America. First, the transportation was expanded. Second, electricity was effectively exploited. Third, improvements were made to industrial processes, such as improving the refining processes and accelerating production.

The first proposal to build a railroad in the United States came in 1813 from Oliver Evans. He had an idea of building a railway that would connect New York with Philadelphia using carriages drawn by steam engines. Many companies have claimed to have build the first railroad in the US, but in the mid 1830’s many companies were using steam-powered locomotives. Between 1840 and 1860 the total length of railroad tracks increased from 5,353 km to 49,250 km. The completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 made the efficiency and profit for companies rise like never before.

The DeWitt Clinton, one of the first locomotives in the US (Source)

In the fifty year gap between the Civil War and World War I, a massive immigration and quick industrialization formed the US as a strong and urban nation. The height of immigration was at the beginning of the 19th century and the immigrants were willing to work under any circumstances and under almost any wages. It was this period in the American history when big industrial empires were established and people like John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie made huge fortunes of oil and steel. In 1913 the assembly-line methods were introduced and Henry Ford revolutionized the car-making industry. His T-model who earlier had taken 12 hours and 28 minutes to build, now took 1 hour and 33 minutes. Now the mass-production had arrived and manufactories produced goods cheaply in large quantities.

Model T assembly line (Source)

American imperialism
The interest that America has in Hawaii goes back to when the first tradesmen traveled the Pacific during the post – revolution age. Hawaii was an important stopping off place for ships that were going to China or Japan. In the early 19th century the first American missionaries arrived at the island and the scenery, climate and valuable crops like sugar and fruits caught their attention. America did not make any moves to conquest Hawaii, but the American policy constantly sought to keep other influences away from the islands.

The Spanish-American war started with the Americans did not like the way the Spaniards treated the Cubans. An American battleship that was stationed in Havana was blown up and the Americans blamed the Spanish. On the April the 24th 1898 Spain declared war against the U.S and the following day the U.S did the same. The war lasted for approximately four months and the American won it easily. The Treaty of Paris was signed 10. December 1898 and Spain lost Cuba, Guam and Puerto Rico to the U.S. The Americans also gained control over the Philippines. After the victory over Spain the U.S wanted better access for its navy, both in the Pacific and the Atlantic. American officials negotiated the Hay – Pauncefote Treaty with Britain in 1901, and the two countries made an agreement that the United States would build and have control over the Panama Canal.

Troops on their way to Cuba (Source)


Art and literature in the English Victorian era

The Industrial Revolution had been essential in terms of prosperity, but on the other hand it had created greater class differences. Victorian writers based much of their literature on dealing with contrasts between the different classes in society, as well as the terrible conditions the poor was suffering from. Based on the theories of Charles Darwin and other scientists, writers also focused on analyzing loss of faith in traditional values in the late 1800’s. This reflected a pessimistic view that appeared in much Victorian literature towards the end of the 18th century, dealing with themes such as culture, religion and society. A lot of the English literature of that time expresses the experience of Imperialism. The Victorian era saw the novel become a leading form of literature.

While the previous century had been characterized by classical style buildings, the Victorian era (1837-1901) returned to traditional British styles in architecture. Some of the most popular were throwbacks such as Tudor (the Tudor period 1485-1603), medieval and mock-Gothic (termed the Gothic Revival). Houses built in these styles were often large and rather inconvenient to live in. The early Victorians were all about details and decoration, and designs could be meticulous to the point of overwhelming. Some examples of houses with Victorian architecture are Highclere Castle in Hampshire and Kelham Hall in Nottinghamshire. Later into the era, the style changed into more of a simple style, using traditional models such as the English farmhouse. The Industrial Revolution made it possible to use new important materials such as iron and glass. The Crystal Palace is perhaps the best example of these new materials being used, being built by Joseph Paxton for the Great Exhibition of 1851.


There were several artistic movements in the Victorian era, with Classicism, Romanticism and Impressionism being some of the most illustrious. Paintings of Classicistic style had great focus on capturing spontaneous expression of emotion over reason. The Romantic school saw their paintings portray dramatic events in particular, using strong and often lavish colors. Impressionist painters focused on the changing effects of light and color. Two famous painters of the Impressionist school are Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Some painters were left frustrated by what they looked upon as sheer limitations of Impressionism, and painters including the famous Vincent Van Gogh developed a style later entitled Post-Impressionism.

Claude Monet (Source)

Claude Monet - Water Lillies (1916) (Source)

Vincent van Gogh (Source

Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) is one of the most popular English novelists of the Victorian era, and widely considered to be one of the greatest English writers of all times. His literary style can be characterized as a mixture of fantasy and realism, and he could be exceptionally creative with characters, once giving a person the name “Noble Refrigerator” in one of his satires of British aristocratic snobbery. He wrote entertaining, compassionate and poetic, much to the enjoyment of crowds he read his novels to. Some of his most notable works are Oliver Twist (1838), David Copperfield (1850) and Great Expectations (1860-61 in serial form). Dickens was also an active social campaigner, expressing deep concern for social injustice. He was not an openly political writer, but he touched on social issues such as child labour, the financial and legal system.

Charles Dickens (Source)

William Morris
William Morris (1834-1896) is another important figure in the Victorian era of England. He worked mainly as a furniture and textile designer and writer, although he had great influence in other arenas such as architecture as well. A socialist, he had connections to Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (inspired by the famous Rafael of the Italian Renaissance, this group of English painters rejected the conventions of industrialized England, instead painting detailed and colorful pictures directly from nature). Together with his artist friends Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, they were key figures in “the Arts and Crafts Movement”, a movement wanting to reintroduce the use of high quality materials and detailed, hand-made excellence in all fields of art and decoration. As a writer, he wrote and published poetry, fiction, essays and translations of ancient and medieval texts. He is well known for his novels A Dream of John Ball (1888), about the English peasants’ revolt of 1381 and the rebel John Ball, and The Sundering Flood (1897), a fantasy novel. His works are still popular, inspiring many present-day artists.

Wallpaper design by William Morris (Source)

Aschehoug; Impressions; page 147-148

Art and literature in the American Victorian era

Art and literature
American art and literature was greatly influenced by Great Britain during the Victorian era (see “art and literature in the UK”). In addition, many fields of art in the American Victorian era were to a certain point influenced by circumstances during and in the aftermath of the Civil War (1861-65). Writers used the war as a backdrop for their literary writings about American characters. For artists, art and literature became an important way of expressing their opinions about the war.

Mark Twain
Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), best known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist. He is one of the most widely celebrated American writers of all time and is by some considered to be the father of American literature. His most notable novels are Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which has been praised as the Great American Novel, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In all, he published over 30 works of literature, encircling genres such as novel, satire, historical fiction, short stories and nonfiction. He often combined rich humor, sturdy descriptions and social criticism, and he brilliantly mastered colloquial speech. Aside from being an immensely popular author, he was also a social critic. In the latter stages of his life, he firmly stated himself an anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist.

Mark Twain (Source)

Kate Chopin
Kate Chopin (1850-1904) was an American author, considered by many as a forerunner of American feminist authors. Her literary career was short, but she managed to write two novels, more than 150 short stories and sketches, and a great amount of poetry, reviews and criticism. In her literary works, she often focused on understanding and analyzing issues of society, particularly putting much emphasis on women’s struggle in a male-dominated society. She is most famous for her short novel The Awakening (1899), in which she describes a young woman’s psychological and sexual awakening. The sensual descriptions, however, caused a lot of negative criticism.

Kate Chopin (Source

Aschehoug; Impressions; page 25