5.3D The Industrial Revolution Begins


AP Theme

Humans and the Environment

Learning Objective 5D

Explain how environmental factors contributed to industrialization from 1750 to 1900.

Historical Development 1

A variety of factors contributed to industrialization.

Historical Development 2

The factory system led to more specialization of labor.


The Industrial Revolution changed the course of human civilization. New industrial technologies allowed Western European powers to conquer new areas in Africa and Asia. The newly formed United States also used its industrial strength to expand west across North America. Industrialization also allowed humans to shape the earth’s environment like never before. Hundreds of years of industrial growth have led to the destruction of entire habitats, the extinction of animal species, and changing climates. 

What Was the Industrial Revolution?

Main idea

The Industrial Revolution resulted in the growth of a factory system.  Various environmental factors led to industrialization in Britain before it quickly expanded to Europe.

The Industrial Revolution was a series of technological innovations and new production methods that allowed manufactured goods to be mass-produced. Industrial technologies mechanized production (increasingly used machines) and led to the factory system (mass production).

Production before industrialization
Production after industrialization
  • Goods produced by hand
  • Production is small-scale and often done at home or in small workshops
  • Most people in society worked in agriculture
  • No mass-market consumer goods
  • Machines increasingly used to make goods
  • Production is on a larger scale and increasingly done in factories
  • Fewer people worked in agriculture
  • Development of mass-market consumer goods

The start of industrialization

The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain and quickly spread to portions of Europe and the United States. Various environmental factors allowed industrialization to start and grow in those areas.

Western Europe
056 - Coal Created with Sketch.
Easy access to coal, iron, and timber
  • Northern and Central Britain had large coal and iron deposits.
  • France, the Netherlands, and Western Germany had significant coal and steel deposits.
Proximity to waterways like rivers and canals for moving resources to factories and moving finished goods to markets
  • Good infrastructures like roads, waterways, and ports made moving raw materials and manufactured goods efficient.
  • Major river systems like the Rhine allowed goods to be moved throughout the continent.
  • Roadways and ports were well-developed from the Commercial Revolution and shipments from American and Asian ports.
Improved agricultural practices that allowed more food production with less labor
  • The British Agriculture Revolution increased food production faster than population growth using new crop rotation processes, specialized crops, and lighter-weight plows from the Netherlands.
  • Continental Europe benefited from many of the same agricultural innovations resulting in increased food production.
Urban areas with large populations
  • There were several large urban areas with populations over 100,000. By 1800, Manchester had a population of over 100,000, and London was over 1 million.
  • Paris, France, had over 500,000 residents by 1800, while Brussels, Belgium, had over 100,000 by 1830.
Legal protections for businesses and private property
  • Strong patent laws protected inventors’ intellectual property, allowing them to profit from their ideas and innovations.
  • British monarchs had less power than monarchs in other areas inside and outside Europe. Less government intervention allowed business interests to operate more freely.
  • The earlier growth of commerce in Germany and the Netherlands resulted in legal protections for business and property.
  • The post-revolution Napoleonic code guaranteed property rights in France.
Accumulation of capital (money) that investors invested in industrial production
  • The old aristocracy (land-owning class) was willing to invest their wealth into new industrial businesses.
  • Foreign traders invested in new industrial factories.
  • The old French and Dutch aristocratic classes also invested in new factories.
  • Factory production created new investment opportunities for merchants losing trade opportunities to the expansion of the British Empire.
A focus on increasing access to education, especially in the maths and sciences
  • Business people and merchants maintained close connections with scientists.
  • In 1660, King Charles II supported the founding of the Royal Society to promote and support the sciences.
  • Contacts across the British Empire gave British scientists access to information and science from around the world.
  • Western Europe’s proximity to Britain allowed scientific and industrial knowledge to diffuse quickly to the continent.
  • Other European monarchs supported the sciences. The Dutch opened the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Science in 1808.
Access to cheap foreign raw materials from colonies
  • Colonie like India and Egypt provided cheap raw materials like cotton for British textile factories.
  • The Dutch empire had colonies in both the eastern and western hemispheres.
  • The French established new colonies in Africa and Asia in the 19th century.
Access to foreign markets to sell excess production
  • Englands exported manufactured products like textiles to global markets in and outside its colonies.
  • Western European industrial goods were sold across Europe and throughout global markets.

The Factory System and Specialization of Labor

Main idea

The factory system involved the specialization of labor which allowed for the mass production of goods more cheaply.

The Industrial Revolution replaced cottage production with production in the factory system.

Cottage production
Factory production
  • Production takes place at home.
  • The producer owns the production.
  • Small tools and machines are used to produce.
  • One or a few family members produce a product.
  • A small amount of production.
  • Production takes place in large factories.
  • The factory owner owns the production.
  • Large tools and machines are used to produce.
  • Multiple factory workers are involved in producing a product.
  • Higher volumes of production.

Specialization of labor: The factory system increased labor specialization in producing goods. Specialization is when tasks are divided into smaller steps. Instead of one person completing the whole production process, different people complete various steps. This production method allows workers to get good at completing the tasks they specialize in, which increases productivity and lowers production costs.

Move the slider to reveal both images. Notice how textile production changed between cottage production and factory production. 

weaving cellar by Johannes Schiess Powerloom_weaving_in_1835

Specialized labor systems are all around you. For example, in a high school, the tasks of managing education are broken down into the following roles:   

  • Administrators manage the operation of the school.

  • Teachers guide students through their learning.

  • Counselors support students’ mental health and guide them through course selection and college admissions.

  • Clerks manage attendance, answer phones, register students, and welcome guests into the building.

  • Maintenance staff clean the building and fix things when they break.

  • The cafeteria staff makes sure that students eat.

If each employee within a school were responsible for completing each of these tasks, educating hundreds of millions of students worldwide would be impossible.