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?
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
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.
Easy access to coal, iron, and timber
Proximity to waterways like rivers and canals for moving resources to factories and moving finished goods to markets
Improved agricultural practices that allowed more food production with less labor
Urban areas with large populations
Legal protections for businesses and private property
Accumulation of capital (money) that investors invested in industrial production
A focus on increasing access to education, especially in the maths and sciences
Access to cheap foreign raw materials from colonies
Access to foreign markets to sell excess production
The Factory System and Specialization of Labor
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.
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.
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.