Causes and effects of the Industrial Revolution

We explore the causes and effects of the Industrial Revolution at the economic, social, and political levels. In addition, we discuss its positive and negative outcomes.

Revolución industrial
During the Industrial Revolution, the mechanization of work took place and the number of factories soared.

What were the causes and effects of the Industrial Revolution?

The causes of the Industrial Revolution include important changes in the economy, society, and politics of the time, such as the agricultural revolution, the rise of the bourgeoisie, and the migration of rural populations to cities, which meant the availability of labor force for factory work.

As a result of these changes, work became mechanized and the number of factories soared. In addition, communication and transportation saw major improvements with the advent of the railroad and the steamboat. During this period, the political power of the bourgeoisie consolidated, at the same time that labor movement and trade unionism emerged.

The Industrial Revolution was a process of economic and social transformations that began in England in 1760 and ended around 1840. It involved a series of changes in manufacturing and technology that revolutionized work, trade, transportation, and finance. This process was marked by the invention of the steam engine, textile machinery, and gas street lighting. Furthermore, manual labor in workshops was replaced by large-scale mechanized work in factories.

  Causes Effects
          Economic
  • Agricultural revolution.
  • Enclosure of common lands.
  • Availability of raw materials (local and from colonies).
  • Technological innovations.
  • Mechanization of work in factories.
  • Growth of industrial cities.
  • Emergence of the entrepreneur figure and modern banks.
  • Improvements in communication and transportation.
  • Global expansion of capitalism.
          Social
  • Population growth.
  • Migration of rural populations to cities.
  • Rise in urban population.
  • Growing gap between urban and rural areas.
  • Division of society into two classes: the bourgeoisie and the working class.
  • Organization of labor and the rise of unions.
  • Environmental pollution.
            Political
  • Political rise of the bourgeoisie.
  • Implementation of economic liberalization policies.
  • Union between England and Scotland.
  • British naval dominance.
  • Political prominence of the bourgeoisie in England and other countries.
  • Establishment or consolidation of liberal and parliamentary regimes in Europe and the United States.
  • Introduction of measures favorable to the industrial bourgeoisie in Western Europe, the United States, and Japan (leading to the Second Industrial Revolution).

Causes of the Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution was the result of a series of historical causes that can be classified according to their economic, social, and political impacts.

1. ECONOMIC CAUSES

Agricultural revolution

One of the major economic causes of the Industrial Revolution was the agricultural revolution, which drastically changed manufacturing. Manual labor and animal traction, which had been prevalent since the Middle Ages, were replaced by the use of agricultural machines, whose technology evolved as the Industrial Revolution progressed.

Technological transformation combined with changes in the agricultural system, such as the introduction of the "Norfolk four-course system", which involved the rotation of crop varieties to avoid depleting soil nutrients. The agricultural revolution led to both increased productivity and food availability, causing population growth and the migration of rural populations to cities.

Enclosures

Along with the agricultural revolution came enclosures, that is, the policy of enclosing common lands and transforming them into the private property of large landowners. This process turned landless peasants into workers in the early urban factories.

Availability of raw materials

England had a wide availability of resources that proved essential for the development of technology during the Industrial Revolution, such as coal for steam engines and iron for all kinds of tools, machinery, and means of transportation (such as railroads and ships).

Also central was the availability of other resources that were obtained in colonial territories or were easily accessible thanks to British dominance in trade, like cotton from India and the Southern United States, which was used in the textile industry.

Technological innovations

The inventions of the Industrial Revolution were the result of years of experimentation and innovation. In the early 18th century, for example, a number of steam engines were designed, though none of them compared to James Watts' groundbreaking steam engine, patented in 1769 and based on an earlier design by Thomas Newcomen.

In terms of agriculture, the technological innovations that triggered the agricultural revolution included machines and tools such as the seed drill and the cast iron plow.

2. SOCIAL CAUSES

Population growth

The agricultural revolution led to a rise in population, as increased productivity in agriculture resulted in more and cheaper food. This intensified during the Industrial Revolution due to advances in medicine. The result was a decrease in mortality rates and an increase in birth rates.

Rural-urban migration

Population growth and the movement of people from rural areas to cities created a large availability of labor for factories in cities, giving rise to a new social class: the working class.

In addition, the rise in population fueled the demand for manufactured goods. The combination of these two factors made the new model of industrial production possible.

3. POLITICAL CAUSES

The political rise of the bourgeoisie

The major political cause of the Industrial Revolution was the growing influence of the bourgeoisie on government decisions. In England, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 had established a parliamentary monarchy that favored the political participation of the bourgeois sectors while limiting the power of the nobility.

Economic liberalization policies

The political rise of the bourgeoisie prompted the implementation of measures favoring trade and private business, including the defense of private property, free markets, the enclosures of lands for farming (which had previously been common lands), and the founding of the Bank of England.

Union of England and Scotland and British naval dominance

Other political causes included the union between England and Scotland, which ensured peace in Great Britain and expanded the borders of the internal market. In addition, British naval dominance ensured the expansion of trade.

Effects of the Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution had major effects both for England and for much of the world. These effects can be grouped into three categories: economic, social, and political.

1. ECONOMIC EFFECTS

Mechanization and industrial cities

Among the most important economic effects of the Industrial Revolution was the mechanization of work, which sped up production times, reduced costs, and enabled large-scale production in factories. This economic transformation spurred the growth of large industrial cities like Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, and Sheffield.

The Industrial Revolution entailed the replacement of artisans, who worked with traditional methods in workshops, with factory workers, who exchanged their labor for a wage.

Emergence of entrepreneurs and banks

Another effect was the emergence of business management, based on profit calculation and capital investment, and the credit system through the rise of modern banks.

Communication, transportation, and the spread of capitalism

The emergence of the entrepreneur figure and modern banks coupled with more effective and faster means of transporting raw materials and goods (such as railroads and steamships) resulted in the global expansion of capitalism.

Second Industrial Revolution

Capital accumulation and the technical and technological innovations of the Industrial Revolution laid the foundations for a second stage of industrialization.

This process is known as the Second Industrial Revolution, which took place between 1870 and 1914 mainly in the United States, Japan, Germany, and other Western European countries. This second phase drastically changed production, consumption and leisure patterns for most of the world.

2. SOCIAL EFFECTS

Gap between rural areas and cities

The Industrial Revolution opened up a clear gap between rural areas and cities, and caused a dramatic population growth in cities. Urban life benefited from gas street lighting as well as from advances in medicine and health, while at the same time experiencing overcrowding in working-class neighborhoods, where the spread of infectious diseases such as cholera was commonplace.

Social division into classes

The Industrial Revolution created a social division based on two social classes: the bourgeoisie (made up of factory owners, merchants, and other owners of the means of production or capital) and the working class (workers who exchanged their labor in factories or mines for a wage).

Although the Industrial Revolution led to a greater distribution of wealth, working conditions for industrial workers were extremely harsh, and life for them was highly unfavorable compared to the comforts of the bourgeoisie. Working hours were very long, and child labor in factories and mines was common.

Protests against machines

Industrial machinery sparked protest movements that set out to destroy machines, as was the case with the Luddites, a group of skilled textile workers who believed that the use of machines destroyed jobs and reduced wages.

Labor movement and trade unionism

The extremely difficult working conditions brought about by the Industrial Revolution motivated the organization of the labor movement and the rise of unions, as well as the emergence of political ideologies including socialism, anarchism, and communism. Labor organization prompted the introduction of labor regulations and improvements in working conditions.

Environmental pollution

The Industrial Revolution caused high levels of pollution in cities, both from fuels in factories and homes and the waste generation typical of urban life at the time.

3. POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS

Political rise of the bourgeoisie

The economic growth of the bourgeoisie in industry, trade, and finance consolidated their political power both in England and, later, in other countries that underwent bourgeois revolutions (like France) or built liberal economic and political orders (like the United States).

Consolidation of liberal and democratic regimes

The bourgeois sectors, inspired by the ideas of the Enlightenment and liberalism, promoted policies in favor of a free market economy and business against the privileges of the nobility and the clergy.

This led to the establishment of democratic or parliamentary regimes to defend private property and individual liberties.

Political advancement of industrialization

Throughout the 19th century, the industrial bourgeoisies played a leading role in the political and economic advancement of the Second Industrial Revolution. A characteristic example was the industrial protectionism introduced by the German government following the country's unification in 1871.

Positive and negative outcomes of the Industrial Revolution

The outcomes of the Industrial Revolution can be grouped into positive and negative, though such classification is subjective, that is, it depends on the standpoint from which the process is observed.

Positive outcomes

  • Invention of new and more efficient machines.
  • Rise in the output of manufactured goods.
  • Creation of a large number of jobs.
  • Emergence of labor organizations and unions which, in spite of being banned until 1824, pushed the British government and employers into recognizing labor rights.
  • Increased food production and lower food prices.
  • Reduction of transportation costs and travel times thanks to railroads and steamships.
  • Decrease in mortality rates and extension of life expectancy.

Negative outcomes

  • Decline in traditional crafts performed by artisans.
  • Repetitiveness and tediousness of factory work.
  • Unhealthy working conditions and work accidents in factories and mines.
  • Employment of child labor, which prevented a large number of children from receiving education (the law that made education compulsory was passed in England in 1870).
  • Low wages for women and children.
  • Decline in seasonal jobs in rural areas due to the introduction of agricultural machinery.
  • Disappearance of stagecoach companies.
  • Transformation of the landscape and abandonment of lands due to the construction of railways.
  • Environmental pollution.
  • Spread of infectious diseases in working-class neighborhoods.

Explore next:

References

  • Britannica, Encyclopaedia (2023). Industrial Revolution. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/
  • Cartwright, M. (2023). The Impact of the British Industrial Revolution. World History Encyclopedia. https://www.worldhistory.org/
  • Hobsbawm, E. (2001). Industria e imperio. Crítica.
  • Hunt, L., Martin, T. R., Rosenwein, B. H. & Smith, B. G. (2016). The Making of the West: Peoples and Cultures. 5a edición. Bedford/St. Martin’s.
  • Rule, J. (1990). Clase obrera e industrialización. Crítica.

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GAYUBAS, Augusto. "Causes and effects of the Industrial Revolution".
Encyclopedia of Humanities. 4 April, 2024, https://humanidades.com/en/causes-and-effects-of-the-industrial-revolution/.

About the author

Author: Augusto Gayubas

PhD in history (University of Buenos Aires)

Translated by: Marilina Gary

Degree in English Language Teaching (Juan XXIII Institute of Higher Education, Bahía Blanca, Argentina).

Updated on: 4 April, 2024
Posted on: 4 April, 2024

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