The Industrial and Agricultural Revolutions

What historians commonly call the Agricultural Revolution began in the early 1700s with an Englishman, Jethro Tull, inventing a machine that planted seeds in neat rows called the seed drill. Nevertheless, advances in agriculture had been slowly infiltrating agricultural Europe since Medieval times. Advances in farming were absolutely vital in order for Europe to maintain and feed a rapidly growing population.

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Crop yields per acre were increased by new knowledge about what techniques would allow plants to grow. Fertilizers, minerals, and soil content were all factors that started to be taken into account. Viscount Townshend, a nobleman and politician of the mid-1700s was instrumental in helping farmers to understand the importance of crop rotation to avoid the exhaustion of land and rudimentary pest-control. Composting techniques had been around for a long time, but new measures were taken.

New tools, and processes were developed to ensure that less people were needed to grow ever increasing amounts of food. New plows, rakes, and other implements began to be used. By the mid-1800s farm machinery, such as the McCormick reaper, vastly increased the productivity of every farm worker. The Enclosure Movement occurred throughout the 1700s in England where common land was divided among the local farmers and peasants. The land ended up becoming enclosed by fences (thus the name). With private ownership of the land it became far more productive.

Sketch of Gregor Mendel

Genetics was just coming to be understood, and higher yielding, disease resistant, and drought resistant crops were developed using hybridizing techniques first pioneered by Gregor Mendel. Farm animals were bred to produce more meat, more wool, and higher quality eggs. New crops were introduced such as the potato, which added variety to the European diet. For many years it was the main crop that fed the farmers and peasants of Ireland, until the great potato blight that caused famine across the country.

Advances in transportation and free markets made delivery of foodstuffs across the continent easier and more equitable, especially in times of local disasters. Thomas Malthus in the early 1800s hypothesized that most of the population would live in poverty and experience starvation because the food supply would not be able to keep up with population growth. He proved to be wrong, as agricultural production far exceeded his and many other economist's expectations. Most food shortages are caused by artificial impositions by governmental bodies.

One of the reasons for the explosion of agricultural production in the Agricultural Revolution (which in effect continues today) was that it was fueled (and fueled by) the Industrial Revolution. New inventions and demands made farming ever more productive.

The Industrial Revolution was the practical application of many of the advancing movements of the previous generations. The Renaissance created a thirst for knowledge. The Scientific Revolution resulted from the seeking of new knowledge beyond that understood by the ancients. The Industrial Revolution took many ideas of the Scientific Revolution and applied them directly to the daily life of individuals.

The Industrial Revolution began and was impelled forward by Great Britain. This was due to several circumstances. Britain's Enclosure Movement and advances in the agricultural revolution freed up large amounts of labor. Much capital was available for investment. A long period of political stability, combined with relatively unrestrictive governmental policies encouraged the development of industry. It also did not hurt that lots of coal and iron were available, as was access to colonial markets.

The changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution caused inevitable social upheaval as various elements of society struggled to get the political upper hand. In spite of the conflict, the vast production, the economies of scale, and the subsequent continued advancement in productivity created affluence which reached all segments of society. Every generation saw new innovations that made life more secure and comfortable. Gas lamps succeeded candles, electric lights succeeded lamps. Indoor plumbing, refrigerators, automobiles, radios, televisions, and more soon were found in every home. A person living in poverty in one generation would have been considered well-off in the generation before. A middle class European today would be foolish to trade in his or her lifestyle for that of a king or queen just two hundred years before. Even so, there were people who attempted to destroy the machines, these people were called Luddites, named for Ned Ludd who had tried to destroy factory machines, possibly knitting frames, after having been disciplined. The term, "Luddite" is still used to refer to people who break machines or oppose the advance of technology.

The Industrial Revolution began in earnest in the early 1700s with the rise of British textiles (clothing manufacture). In 1733 the flying shuttle was invented by John Kay which allowed two weavers on a loom to do the work previously done by one. One advancement followed another, the spinning jenny, the water frame, the mule, Edmund Cartright's power loom, and the cotton gin (Eli Whitney's American contribution). These allowed Britain to manufacture quality goods at very low prices that could be traded throughout the world.

Eli Whitney (1765-1825) was also responsible for putting on line the first factory to create machine tooled, interchangeable parts. This was important, because it meant that every time a machine broke down a new part did not have to be manufactured for it. The part could be taken from a store of prefabricated parts. Also, from standardized parts, new products could be more easily developed and ultimately, ironically, more specialized products could be manufactured. Interchangeable parts also made possible assembly-line production, intensifying the division of labor. Products made with precise parts could more easily be repaired.

The factory system allowed the concentration of machines and workers, which gave managers the ability to develop more efficient systems allowing even more productivity. The drive to make a profit from enterprise created incentives for factories to become even more efficient, which in turn continued to create wealth, which inevitably was distributed throughout society.

The factories were at first confined to areas near rivers where water power and mills were used to run the machinery. The development of the steam engine, powered by wood, coal, or oil, allowed factories to be built anywhere. The first steam engine was a steam pump, built by Thomas Savery. Thomas Newcomen then built a separate steam engine which was attached to a pump and used to expel water from mines. Finally, in 1769, James Watt developed an efficient steam engine which was put to work in factories and soon saw service turning the paddle wheels of ships and driving locomotives.

The first commercial steam ship put into service was in the United States, by Robert Fulton in 1807. By 1840 steam passenger ships began plying the oceans. Canals and railroads made transport of goods inexpensive and fostered more trade and more production.

The late 1800s saw new innovations in powering machines. Electricity could power small devices and provide light. The advent of oil was especially auspicious in the area of transport. Horse-power had been the motivating force until the late 1800s, with the consequent piles of manure stacked up on city lots. Oil was a relatively clean alternative when used in conjunction with the internal combustion engine. The development of cheap steel made the internal combustion engine light (compared to the steam engine); so it could be used to power personal vehicles like motorcycles and automobiles, as well as trucks and diesel engines (for the transport of goods), not to mention tractors which boosted productivity on farms even more.

Probably the most spectacular result of the internal combustion engine was that it allowed for the development of heavier than air flight. The airplane provided an revolutionary way to travel, transport mail, transport goods, and also fight wars.

In the area of communication the industrial revolution allowed for the transfer of information at high speeds, first with the telegraph, the telephone, then with Marconi's amazing invention, the radio, then came the television and eventually cell-phones and the internet. Fast communications continued to make factories more productive, making possible just-in-time manufacture and inventory control.

Though disruptive in its early years, the industrial revolution, coupled with free markets, helped bring prosperity to the developed world.

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The Renaissance

Age of Exploration

The Reformation

The Scientific Revolution

Thirty Years War

The Development of the English Constitution under the Stuart Kings

French Absolutism and Louis XIV

Peter I and the Modernization of Russia

Rise of Prussia and Austria

The Enlightenment

The French Revolution

The Age of Napoleon

Concert of Europe


Industrial Revolution

Liberalism, Socialism, and Marxism

The Unification of Italy and The Unification of Germany

The Age of Imperialism

Causes of the First World War

World War I: the Great War

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