Industrial Revolution, term which gained currency
Industrial Revolution, term which gained currency

Industrial Revolution, term which gained currency

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  • Published: March 31, 2019
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during the mid-19thcentury and became widely used by the 1880s. It has traditionally been used
to describe dramatic transformations occurring in manufacturing industry
between approximately 1750 and 1850 that set the pattern for
industrialization. The first Industrial Revolution occurred in Great
Britain, and profoundly altered its economy and society. The most immediate
changes were in production: what was produced, as well as where and how.

Labour was transferred from provision of primary products to the production
of goods and services. Far more manufactured goods were produced than ever
before, and technical efficiency rose dramatically. In part, the growth in
productivity was achieved by systematic application of scientific and
practical knowledge to the manufacturing process. Efficiency was also
enhanced when large agglomerations of enterprises were located within
limited areas. Thus, the Industrial Revolution involved urbanization,
through migration from rural to urban communities.

Perhaps the most important changes occurred in the organization of work. In
general, production took place within the firm or the public enterprise
instead of the family or manor. Tasks became increasingly routine and
specialized. Industrial production became heavily dependent upon the
intensive use of equipment produced for the express purpose of increasing
efficiency. A reliance on tools and machinery allowed individual workers to
produce more goods, and commitment to a particular task or device
reinforced the trend towards specialization.

The industrial landscape of mid-19th-century Britain was vastly different
to that of the mid-18th century; evidently some sudden change in the
British economy did occur in the intervening period. The move from agrarian
and primarily rural-based occupations to urban, and subsequent industrial
and service, employment rapidly increased. This transformation was
accompanied by social and political unrest in the form of rioting, machine-
breaking, and political campaign


s aimed at reforming hours of labour and
other working conditions, as well as Poor Law legislation. Agriculture was
sufficiently developed, having undergone its own Agricultural Revolution,
to allow the economy to support a growing urban labour force. The growth in
population in turn enlarged the domestic demand for goods and services.

Marketing techniques were devised which primarily targeted the wealthy
middle and upper strata of society. Trade became increasingly associated
with a developing laissez-faire ideology that was gradually absorbed by
British institutions. These unprecedented changes were focused in
particular sectors and regions of Britain. Furthermore, the organization of
manufacturing techniques cannot be separated from changes within Britain’s
developing commercial infrastructure, marketing, finance, emerging
consumerism, established handicraft skills, and the expansion of
international trade. All these factors and more played a large and
interconnected role in the Industrial Revolution.

Foundations for the Revolution: Capital, Credit, and Empire
The Industrial Revolution was fuelled by the prior accumulation of capital.

The release of capital and labour from the land was faster in Britain than
in any other country in Europe. This, together with efficient British
agriculture and a growing industrial workforce enabled rapid population
growth and urbanization to be sustained. Contemporary observers in Britain
and the European continent certainly looked on in awe at the changes
sweeping the country.

The formation of capital continued to increase during the Industrial
Revolution, as did the manufacture of goods for export. The expansion of
foreign markets for British goods was greatly assisted by the establishment
of a fiscal-military state, the British Empire and its domestic
institutional base, in which overseas markets were carved out during wars
often motivated by trade and defended by British military might. The
Carnatic Wars in India, for example, were fough

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between the British East
India Company and its French rival (with their Indian allies) for
commercial supremacy in India; the War of Jenkins’ Ear in 1739 was
triggered by British traders’ incursions into the Spanish Empire. The
doctrine of mercantilism, which inspired the 17th- and 18th-century
Navigation Acts, specifically advocated the use of the State’s armed might
to defend and promote the nation’s economic interests.

To finance such wars, the government raised funds through loans
underwritten by the State’s ability to collect revenue through taxation.

The majority of war revenue was, however, raised on the London capital
market. The government thus formed a close alliance with the Bank of
England and leading London financiers. The interest payments on the British
national debt by the end of the 18th century amounted to 40-50 per cent of
all the revenue raised through tax. The South Sea Bubble was an ill-fated
attempt to make merchants shoulder this debt in return for trading
privileges; but the incident showed how Britain’s military expenditure had
helped create a thriving capital market ready to invest in trading and
speculative schemes. Much of the tax income came from the collections made
by the Excise Department on home-produced goods. The Customs Department was
far less efficient at taxing imports and only managed to provide for a
fraction of the costs involved in meeting Britain’s huge naval needs.

Consequently, it was indirect taxation that propelled Britain to global
mercantile leadership during the 18th century-primarily through its role in
underpinning wars.

As well as both creating and guarding new markets for British goods,
military investment created a demand for military products, and led to
innovative engineering developments. For example, the demands of the War of
the Austrian Succession led to pioneering improvements in coke-smelting
techniques, while the Seven Years’ War (with its needs for large numbers of
uniforms) corresponded with the introduction of the fly shuttle for looms.

However, the major impact of war was the growth in export demand for
British goods. The resulting monopoly on carrying and re-export trades
ensured communication with distant and European markets, while encouraging
shipping and shipbuilding. Wars also soaked up many of the unskilled and
potentially unemployed sections of the workforce.

Military ventures, however, did crowd out possibilities for the government
to invest in the country’s own infrastructure. Indeed, it was British
businessmen and investors who financed the construction of regional
networks of turnpike roads, canals, and ports. Nor did the government
invest in education, science, or technology (apart from that involving the
maritime and military sectors). These external political policies
encouraged private enterprise. Naval power protected the British Isles from
invasion, and provided the security for capitalists to invest in the long-
term future of the economy.

British currency for much of the 18th century was in a poor state. Fixed
unit prices and parities encouraged the export of gold and silver bullion
and the melting down of coins. Consequently, a network of financial
intermediaries developed to provide paper substitutes (in the form of
banknotes, bills of exchange, book credit, and cheques) for coins. Private
commercial enterprise thus underpinned the developments needed to supply
the nation’s money, and consequently produced a financial system which
managed to bring the country through eight wars and an Industrial

British manufacturing in the Industrial Revolution benefited considerably
from new technology. Thomas Newcomen had patented a steam-pumping engine in
1707; in 1769 James Watt dramatically improved the design, and in 1801
Richard Trevithick

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