The Industrial Revolution was a time of great age throughout the world. It represented major change from 1760 to the period 1820-1840. The movement originated in Great Britain and affected everything from industrial manufacturing processes to the daily life of the average citizen. I will discuss the Industrial Revolution and the effects it had on the world as a whole.
The primary industry of the time was the textiles industry. It had the most employees, output value, and invested capital. It was the first to take on new modern production methods. The transition to machine power drastically increased productivity and efficiency. This extended to iron production and chemical production.
It started in Great Britain and soon expanded into Western Europe and to the United States. The actual effects of the revolution on different sections of society differed. They manifested themselves at different times. The ‘trickle down’ effect whereby the benefits of the revolution helped the lower classes didn’t happen until towards the 1830s and 1840s. Initially, machines like the Watt Steam Engine and the Spinning Jenny only benefited the rich industrialists.
The effects on the general population, when they did come, were major. Prior to the revolution, most cotton spinning was done with a wheel in the home. These advances allowed families to increase their productivity and output. It gave them more disposable income and enabled them to facilitate the growth of a larger consumer goods market. The lower classes were able to spend. For the first time in history, the masses had a sustained growth in living standards.
Social historians noted the change in where people lived. Industrialists wanted more workers and the new technology largely confined itself to large factories in the cities. Thousands of people who lived in the countryside migrated to the cities permanently. It led to the growth of cities across the world, including London, Manchester, and Boston. The permanent shift from rural living to city living has endured to the present day.
Trade between nations increased as they often had massive surpluses of consumer goods they couldn’t sell in the domestic market. The rate of trade increased and made nations like Great Britain and the United States richer than ever before. Naturally, this translated to military power and the ability to sustain worldwide trade networks and colonies.
On the other hand, the Industrial Revolution and migration led to the mass exploitation of workers and slums. To counter this, workers formed trade unions. They fought back against employers to win rights for themselves and their families. The formation of trade unions and the collective unity of workers across industries are still existent today. It was the first time workers could make demands of their employers. It enfranchised them and gave them rights to upset the status quo and force employers to view their workers as human beings like them.
Overall, the Industrial Revolution was one of the single biggest events in human history. It launched the modern age and drove industrial technology forward at a faster rate than ever before. Even contemporary economics experts failed to predict the extent of the revolution and its effects on world history. It shows why the Industrial Revolution played such a vital role in the building of the United States of today.
While a number of the most important reform movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries grew out of efforts to combat the negative effects of industrialization, the main focus of their efforts was not the impact of the Industrial Revolution on the natural environment. Although some reformers, such as Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, were deeply worried about the consequences of economic development on the natural environment, the most influential, most effective reformers were primarily concerned with the impact of the rise of big business on small businesses, industrial workers, and consumers, and with corruption in government that reformers believed resulted from the economic power of large corporations.
Farmers were upset at what they regarded as arbitrary and excessive railroad rates and abuses such as rebates to big business like Standard Oil. These farmers were among the first and most outspoken advocates of reform in the late 19th century. Pressure from the Farmers’ Alliances convinced Congress to pass and President Cleveland to sign the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, a piece of legislation designed to regulate railroad rates and prohibit corrupt practices such as rebates. By 1890, these Farmers’ Alliances had entered politics in a number of Southern and Midwestern states and succeeded in pressuring Congress to pass the Sherman Antitrust Act, outlawing all “combinations in restraint of trade.” By 1892, a national People’s Party had been organized, nominating a third-party presidential candidate and electing several members of Congress. The Populist movement, a reform movement attempting to combat the negative effects of industrialization and the rise of big business, was now in full swing.
Beginning at the state level and with strong support in many urban areas, a new progressive movement reached the national level during the first years of the 20th century. Supported by President Theodore Roosevelt, progressive reformers, like the Populists, sought to strengthen railroad regulation and both enforce and further strengthen the antitrust laws. In 1902, President Roosevelt not only forced mine owners to submit to arbitration to settle a nationwide coal strike, he also asked his attorney general to file an antitrust suit against the Northern Securities Company, a large railroad holding company. After the Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision to break up the Northern Securities Company in 1904, Roosevelt went on to strengthen the Interstate Commerce Commission’s ability to regulate railroad rates by pushing the Hepburn Act through Congress in 1906. A few years later, another progressive reformer, Woodrow Wilson, succeeded to the presidency, and he managed to further strengthen the antitrust laws by pushing the Clayton Antitrust Act through Congress in 1914.
While railroad regulation and antitrust actions attracted the most attention of reformers during the period 1880–1920, some efforts were made by reformers to mitigate the effects of industrialization and commercial expansion on the natural environment. President Roosevelt used his executive authority to put thousands of acres of public lands aside for national parks, saving them from commercial exploitation. In 1908, he convened a conservation conference at the White House in an effort to further mitigate the damage that mining and manufacturing were doing to the natural environment, especially in the West. President Roosevelt also pushed for the establishment of the forest service and appointed a conservation-minded ally, Gifford Pinchot, to head that agency. Finally, even after retiring from office, Roosevelt supported Pinchot in his efforts to prevent President Taft’s secretary of the interior, Richard Ballinger, from opening additional public lands to commercial exploitation.
Thus, both the populist and progressive movements sought to combat the negative effects of industrialization and economic expansion by focusing primarily on railroad regulation and the strengthening and enforcement of antitrust legislation. Nevertheless, some progressive reformers like Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot did pay significant attention to preventing further damage to the natural environment and helped to found the modern conservation movement.