During the second half of the 18th century, England underwent an economic and social change that in scope, consequence, and general importance was so great that it came to be known as the industrial revolution. The term “Revolution” indicates a sudden and violent change. As the changes in the technique of production and the structural alterations in the economy of the country took place over a period between 1760 and 1850, the use of the word “revolution” is objected to by many writers. But, if instead of “sudden and violent transformation”, we regard the change as “fundamental” in terms of the rate of economic growth, which was phenomenal, the use of the word “revolution” is quite apt. Mrs. L. C. Knowles has rightly said that “the term industrial revolution is used not because the process of change was quick, but because when accomplished the change was fundamental.” The industrial conditions were radically altered, though by no means suddenly altered.
Nature and Character of Industrial Changes:
The industrial revolution brought about far-reaching changes in the technique of industrial production and in the economic organization of society leading to structural alterations.
Changes in Technique:
Changes in the technique of production took place in various industries to produce more efficiently and cheaply as well as to produce what before could not be produced at all. The industrial and commercial revolution hinged on coal and iron and the power to transport them. A series of inventions, such as the spinning jenny, power loom, mule, water frame, etc., inventors like kay, Hargreaves, Arkwright, Crompton, and Cartwright revolutionized the cotton textile industry, and Watt, Bolton, Murdock, and Trevethick supplied the steam engine and steam locomotion. The use of steam power in running machines and moving railways and ships proved of immense value. Production increased manifold and led to the capturing of foreign markets. Alongside steam, iron, coal, and machine production came the chemical factories. All of these gave rise to Factory System.
Mrs. Knowles divided the main changes in the technique of production into six branches, all of which were interrelated and interdependent.
(1) Development of Engineering- Engineering skills developed considerably at this time. Engineers were required to make and repair machinery for the textiles, for lifting coal out of pits, and to make tools and locomotives.
(2) Revolution in Iron-Making- The engineers could carry on their work of making machines and tools only if the iron was cast in large quantities and of good quality. A revolutionary change in the process and scale of iron-making took place to complete the Industrial Revolution.
(3) Application of Steam Power in Textiles- The third change came when mechanical devices moved by steam power were applied to the textiles.
(4) Emergence of Chemical Industries- The development of the textile industry necessitated the rise and development of the chemical industry. The bleaching, dyeing, finishing, and printing processes had all to be transformed to keep pace with the output of textiles, and this meant a revolution in the chemical industry.
(5) Development of Coal-Mining- The engineering, iron founding, textiles, and chemical industries depended upon coal, as a source of power and for conversion into coke needed for use in blast furnaces for smelting and refining iron ore.
(6) Development in the means of Transport and Communication- The mass-scale production of machinery, iron, and coal, and the development of textiles, chemicals, and others could not have been possible without a corresponding development in the means of transport and communication. The movement of food and raw materials was also required to feed the population of the towns and to feed the factories. Therefore, the phenomenal development of modern means of transport, such as railways and steamships, constituted an extremely important phase of the industrial revolution.
Changes in Economic Organization:
Changes in the technique of production revolutionized the organization of the entire society. In industries where techniques had been revolutionized, the old organization was no longer suitable and the size of the units increased as a result of the increased importance of capital. The most important structural change was the increase in the size of every unit of production.
The increase in the size of the business needed an increased supply of capital. There was thus a rapid growth of banking and of the form of the business organization known as a joint stock company. With the development of joint stock companies and banking corporations, old individual employers and group partners became an imperial corporation. The typical employer became the shareholder who subscribed capital, put in a manager, and wanted high dividends, but was personally responsible for the business beyond the value of the shares he held. Competition increased and produced new problems. Trusts, holding companies, banking amalgamations, shipping rings, and conferences were formed, giving rise to large-scale operations on monopolistic lines. This, in turn, encouraged the organization of the labor force. The trade union movement grew in strength.
The Industrial Revolution culminated in the factory system, bringing in its wake the far-reaching changes described above. The most important features of the factory system were as follows:
The great inventions changed hand-work to machine production, making it possible to produce on a mass scale to meet the ever-expanding markets.
With mechanization, the machine became the master and the worker its servant, a mere tender. All his craftsmanship was of no avail now.
The use of machines led makers to standardize them so that identical products could be produced even by unskilled workers. The process of standardization and perfection has continued in our times and is fast progressing. The new methods of production have multiplied man’s productive power manifold.
The use of machinery further encouraged the division of labor or specialization. Each worker is a specialist in his part of the product and contributes to the reduction in the cost of production.
With the emergence of a joint stock company, organized capital assumed much greater power than could be enjoyed by a private merchant. The individual trader was thus increasingly impelled to bind himself in association with others. This process of enlargement has continued till we have today’s large-scale operation as the sine qua non of industrial efficiency.
Why Industrial Revolution Started First in England?
The Industrial Revolution began in England rather than elsewhere because of the presence of many favorable circumstances in that country.
(1) The first favorable circumstance was the freedom of England from military invasion. In spite of many wars on the Continent in some of which England took part, no war was fought on English soil. The internal peace in England which was denied to other countries in Europe created a climate for industrial development and capital investment.
(2) The second reason was the availability of cheap labor released by the enclosures of open fields as a result of the Agrarian Revolution.
(3) In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries England gave shelter to many of the best-skilled persons and artisans fleeting from Europe. Their skill was utilized in almost all the industries in Britain. The interest displayed by the English people in a scientific experiment and their enthusiasm for the new doctrine of efficiency also contributed to industrial development.
(4) There was an abundance of cheap loanable capital in England obtained from the rich trade of other countries and mobilized by the Bank of India. People were saving capital with a high rate of capital formation. The country was politically and socially stable and people could look forward to invest their savings for earning more in the future.
(5) The rule of law guaranteed personal freedom to the migration of labor from rural areas to towns and cities where large factories were being set up.
(6) The country, being a single territorial unit, there were no inland tariff barriers, with the result that the goods could move freely to ready markets with buyers willing and able to pay for them.
(7) Comparatively early breakdown of guild system rendered easier the transition from domestic to factory system.
(8) There was an extensive foreign market involving an ever-increasing demand for British goods and English shipping was so efficient that English manufacturers could be sent to their destination with the utmost facility.
(9) The geographical position of Great Britain gave her an unrivaled opportunity for selling goods in any market. The possession of the vast empire by Britain gave her an added advantage in this direction. Other natural advantages which England had were an enviable coastline, well-developed inland waterways and roads, and an equable climate conducive to hard work. Her natural resources in water-power, coal, and iron were abundantly plentiful.
To sum up, no other country, in economic and political terms, offered such favorable circumstances as did England. It was only in England that all the factors of production were to be had cheap. There was cheap capital, cheap labor, cheap technical skill, cheap power, cheap raw materials, and a ready market for the products. To cap it all, England produced a galaxy of inventors during this period.
Economic and Social Effects of Industrial Revolution:
The Industrial Revolution produced economic and social effects of such a magnitude that they radically altered the entire way of living in the country. Those consequences are summarized in the following paragraphs.
(1) Creation of Wealth- The first immediate result of the industrial revolution was that it created wealth on a scale unheard of before. But most of it concentrated in the hands of new iron magnates and cotton lords. There was a shift of wealth from the landowning classes to the manufacturers.
(2) Rise of New Industries for Mass Production- With the rise of new industries Great Britain became organized for mass production. This led to a rapid decline in the cost of production, which stimulated demand for goods, which in turn encouraged mass production, thus setting in a virtuous circle.
(3) Rise of Capitalism- Probably, the most important consequence of the industrial revolution was the displacement of the “natural economy” by capitalist production. It was the owner of the capital to whom everything now belonged. He bought his labor and raw materials in the market, and the joint product of the two factors belonged to him. In him was vested the control within the business unit by virtue only of his ownership of capital. As a result of this capitalism, goods began to be produced for sale at a profit rather than for direct consumption. Money has become all-important, for everything is done and measured in terms of money. Ownership of the means of production is concentrated in a few hands. The actual producers of foods are hired workers who do not own the materials and equipment necessary for production nor do they own the product of their labor.
(4) Industrial revolution also produced a radical transformation of commerce. England produced for foreign markets and she became organized not only for mass production but also for world exchange and commerce. She began to import raw materials and export finished goods. This also resulted in the specialization.
(5) With the developing foreign trade the old economic philosophy of mercantilism under which trade was regulated given up. Trade and commerce were made free and Laissez-faire became the prevailing policy of the government.
(6) Industrial revolution brought about a rise in the standard of living of the people. Factory goods were cheaper and in many cases, yesterday’s luxuries became goods within the reach of ordinary people.
(7) The rise of the modern industrial system led to regular booms and slumps and the trade cycle became an important feature of industrial life. There were periods of prosperity with a high level of employment and high prices with huge profits followed by depressions with opposite effects. On the whole, however, the trend has been upward and progress has been maintained.
The social consequences of the industrial revolution were rather unhappy and adverse. The immediate effect of the factory system was the creation of slums. The workers came from rural areas to towns, but no housing arrangements were made for them. As a result, the living conditions of workers were extremely bad and their health suffered immensely. Similarly, working conditions in the factories were also very bad, although with the passage of time they did improve.
Another important effect consisted in the creation of two classes of people, and a new relationship between capital and labor, or between employer and the employed. The worker was now dependent upon his employer and there was an emergence of class consciousness which led to frequent industrial conflicts.
The industrial revolution put an unprecedented burden on women and children, as their labor could be had much cheaper than that of men. Men were thrown out of jobs and in their place boys and girls and women were employed. This reversed the very course of nature. The breadwinner was left idle in the home, and the wife and her little ones were driven by want to the factory.