Industrial Revolution

transition to new manufacturing processes in Europe and the United States, in the 18th-19th centuries

The Industrial Revolution was the transition to new manufacturing processes in the period from about 1756 to about 1890. This transition included going from hand production methods to machines, new chemical manufacturing and iron production processes, improved efficiency of water power, the increasing use of steam power and the development of machine tools.

CONTENT : A - F, G - L, M - R, S - Z, See also, External links


Quotes are arranged alphabetically by author

A - F

  • These foundations decisively changed incentives for people and impelled the engines of prosperity, paving the way for the Industrial Revolution. First and foremost, the Industrial Revolution depended on major technological advances exploiting the knowledge base that had accumulated in Europe during the past centuries. It was a radical break from the past, made possible by scientific inquiry and the talents of a number of unique individuals. The full force of this revolution came from the market that created profitable opportunities for technologies to be developed and applied. It was the inclusive nature of markets that allowed people to allocate their talents to the right lines of business. It also relied on education and skills, for it was the relatively high levels of education, at least by the standards of the time, that enabled the emergence of entrepreneurs with the vision to employ new technologies for their businesses and to find workers with the skills to use them. It is not a coincidence that the Industrial Revolution started in England a few decades following the Glorious Revolution. The great inventors such as James Watt (perfecter of the steam engine), Richard Trevithick (the builder of the first steam locomotive), Richard Arkwright (the inventor of the spinning frame), and Isambard Kingdom Brunel (the creator of several revolutionary steamships) were able to take up the economic opportunities generated by their ideas, were confident that their property rights would be respected, and had access to markets where their innovations could be profitably sold and used.
    • Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Poverty, and Prosperity (2012)
  • This was clear during the Industrial Revolution in England, which laid the foundations of the prosperity we see in the rich countries of the world today. It centered on a series of pathbreaking technological changes in steam power, transportation, and textile production. Even though mechanization led to enormous increases in total incomes and ultimately became the foundation of modern industrial society, it was bitterly opposed by many. Not because of ignorance or shortsightedness; quite the opposite. Rather, such opposition to economic growth has its own, unfortunately coherent, logic. Economic growth and technological change are accompanied by what the great economist Joseph Schumpeter called creative destruction. They replace the old with the new. New sectors attract resources away from old ones. New firms take business away from established ones. New technologies make existing skills and machines obsolete. The process of economic growth and the inclusive institutions upon which it is based create losers as well as winners in the political arena and in the economic marketplace. Fear of creative destruction is often at the root of the opposition to inclusive economic and political institutions.
    • Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty (2012)
  • Early British economists held that the application of the principle of division of labor was the basis of manufacture.... Charles Babbage, believed ... in [an] "Economy of Machinery and Manufacture." It appears, however, that another principle is the basic one in the rise of industry. It is the transference of skill. The transference of skill from the inventor or designer to the power-driven mechanism brought about the industrial revolution from handicraft to manufacture. It will be necessary to refer to this principle frequently throughout this report, in showing the meaning and position of management in industry.
No better single illustration of the application of this principle can be found than in the invention of the lathe slide rest by Henry Maudslay in 1794. This has been ranked as second only to the steam engine in its influence on machinery building, and thus on industrial development. The simple, easily controlled mechanical movements of the slide rest were substituted for the skilful human control of hand tools. So complete has been this transference of skill that today hand tooling is a vanished art in American machine shops.
  • The development of the Watt governor for steam engines, which adapted the power output of the engine automatically to the load by means of feedback, consolidated the first Industrial Revolution.
  • In the first stages of the industrial revolution, animals were used as machines. As also were children. Later, in the so-called post-industrial societies, they are treated as raw material. Animals required for food are processed like manufactured commodities. … This reduction of the animal … is part of the same process as that by which men have been reduced to isolated productive and consuming units. Indeed, during this period an approach to animals often prefigured an approach to man. The mechanical view of the animal’s work capacity was later applied to that of workers. F. W. Taylor who developed the “Taylorism” of timemotion studies and “scientific” management of industry proposed that work must be “so stupid” and so phlegmatic that he (the worker) “more nearly resembles in his mental makeup the ox than any other type.”
    • John Berger, About Looking (1980), chapter "Why Look at Animals?", Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015, pp. 10-11.
  • The industrial revolution was well underway before the steam-engine came into use for driving machinery. Only two prime-movers—the water wheel and the windmill—were widely available, and with very few exceptions these yielded no more than 10 h.p. and often less.
    • T. K. Derry & Trevor I. Williams, A Short History of Technology: From the Earliest Times to A.D. 1900 (1960) Ch.11, The Steam Engine
  • In the main, Bacon prophesied the direction of subsequent progress. But he "anticipated" the advance. He did not see that the new science was for a long time to be worked in the interest of old ends of human exploitation. He thought that it would rapidly give man new ends. Instead, it put at the disposal of a class the means to secure their old ends of aggrandizement at the expense of another class. The industrial revolution followed, as he foresaw, upon a revolution in scientific method. But it is taking the revolution many centuries to produce a new mind.
  • The development of science has produced an industrial revolution which has brought different peoples in such close contact with one another through colonization and commerce that no matter how some nations may still look down upon others, no country can harbor the illusion that its career is decided wholly within itself.
  • Almost everybody is sure... that it is proceeding with unprecedented speed; and... that its effects will be more radical than anything that has gone before. Wrong, and wrong again. Both in its speed and its impact, the information revolution uncannily resembles its two predecessors... The first industrial revolution, triggered by James Watt's improved steam engine in the mid-1770s... did not produce many social and economic changes until the invention of the railroad in 1829... Similarly, the invention of the computer in the mid-1940s... it was not until 40 years later, with the spread of the Internet in the 1990s, that the information revolution began to bring about big economic and social changes... the same emergence of the “super-rich” of their day, characterized both the first and the second industrial revolutions... These parallels are close and striking enough to make it almost certain that, as in the earlier industrial revolutions, the main effects of the information revolution on the next society still lie ahead.
  • This explosion of human population, especially in the post-Industrial Revolution years of the past two centuries, coupled with the unequal distribution and consumption of wealth on the planet, is the underlying cause of the Sixth Extinction.
    • Niles Eldredge, "The Sixth Extinction", 2001.
  • We may well call it black diamonds. Every basket is power and civilization. For coal is a portable climate. It carries the heat of the tropics to Labrador and the polar circle; and it is the means of transporting itself withersoever it is wanted. Watt and Stephenson whispered in the ear of mankind their secret, that a half-ounce of coal will draw two tons a mile, and coal carries coal, by rail and by boat, to make Canada as warm as Calcutta, and with its comfort brings its industrial power.

G - L

Whereas once economic production concerned itself with food, shelter, and clothing, and a few limited tools of production, the modern technology of the ongoing industrial revolution introduced many new consumer products... and a vast new array of producers goods needed for the sophisticated techniques of production. ...[E]ven many of the old standbys that had usually been homemade—children's clothes, pies, and laundry soap—began to be commercially produced. Not only was the commercial production more efficient, the disintegrated industrial family was no longer the effective production unit of home commodities it had once been. ~ Martin Gerhard Giesbrecht
  • Whereas once economic production concerned itself with food, shelter, and clothing, and a few limited tools of production, the modern technology of the ongoing industrial revolution introduced many new consumer products... and a vast new array of producers goods needed for the sophisticated techniques of production. ...[E]ven many of the old standbys that had usually been homemade—children's clothes, pies, and laundry soap—began to be commercially produced. Not only was the commercial production more efficient, the disintegrated industrial family was no longer the effective production unit of home commodities it had once been ...
    • Martin Gerhard Giesbrecht, The Evolution of Economic Society: An Introduction to Economics (1972) Ch. 7, The Arrival of Modern Economies and Economics, p. 194.
  • Capitalism rose on the back of organized violence, mass impoverishment, and the systematic destruction of self-sufficient subsistence economies. It did not put an end to serfdom; rather, it put an end to the progressive revolution that had ended serfdom. Indeed, by securing virtually total control over the means of production, and rendering peasants and workers dependent on them for survival, capitalists took the principles of serfdom to new extremes. People did not welcome this new system with open arms; on the contrary, they rebelled against it. The period 1500 to the 1800s, right into the Industrial Revolution, was among the bloodiest, most tumultuous times in world history.
    • Jason Hickel, Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World (2021), p. 48
  • To those who think that all this sounds like science fiction, we point out that yesterday's science fiction is today's fact. The Industrial Revolution has radically altered man's environment and way of life, and it is only to be expected that as technology is increasingly applied to the human body and mind, man himself will be altered as radically as his environment and way of life have been.
  • The Modernist reaction to the Enlightenment came in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, whose brutalizing effects revealed that modern life had not become... mathematically perfect...
  • Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolution, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it—we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding.
  • For an entire century after 1815, by contrast, there was a remarkable absence of lengthy coalition wars. A strategic equilibrium existed, supported by all of the leading Powers in the Concert of Europe, so that no single nation was either able or willing to make a bid for dominance. The prime concerns of government in these post-1815 decades were with domestic instability and (in the case of Russia and the United States) with further expansion across their continental landmasses. This relatively stable international scene allowed the British Empire to rise to its zenith as a global power, in naval and colonial and commercial terms, and also interacted favorably with its virtual monopoly of steam-driven industrial production. By the second half of the nineteenth century, however, industrialization was spreading to certain other regions, and was beginning to tilt the international power balances away from the older leading nations and toward those countries with both the resources and organization to exploit the newer means of production and technology. Already, the few major conflicts of this era—the Crimean War to some degree but more especially the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War—were bringing defeat upon those societies which failed to modernize their military systems, and which lacked the broad-based industrial infrastructure to support the vast armies and much more expensive and complicated weaponry now transforming the nature of war.
  • Jeffersonians of the 1790s sought to preserve the United States as a predominantly agrarian republic of small, independent producer-citizens, and to forestall the emergence of a class of permanent wage workers who would be too preoccupied with the struggle for subsistence and too dependent on their employers to concern themselves with the public good. Jeffersonians thus viewed Alexander Hamilton's program to promote domestic manufactures as a path not to American progress and prosperity, but to the kind of mass economic dependency, class hierarchy, and political subordination that plagued the manufacturing societies of Europe." Indeed, the perpetual agrarianism of the United States, and the personal independence and citizenly virtue that flowed from and sustained it, defined the uniqueness of the American republic.

M - R

The Industrial Revolution was a watershed in the history of mankind. Three forces – technology, economic organization, and science, in this sequence – each from separate and undistinguished parentage, linked up, inconspicuously at first, to form, hardly a hundred years ago, into a social maelstrom that is still engulfing new and new millions of people, in an irresistible rush. ~ Karl Polanyi
  • All of the technical innovations that formed the basis of the Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth centuries were made by men who can best be described as craftsmen, artisans, or engineers. Few of them were university educated, and all of them achieved their results without the benefit of scientific theory. Nonetheless, given the technical nature of the inventions, a persistent legend arose that the originators must have been counseled by the great figures of the Scientific Revolution.
    • James Edward McClellan III, Harold Dorn, Science and Technology in World History: An Introduction (2006).
  • Ever since the Industrial Revolution, Western society has benefited from science, logic, and reductionism over intuition and holism. Psychologically and politically we would much rather assume that the cause of a problem is “out there,” rather than “in here.” It’s almost irresistible to blame something or someone else, to shift responsibility away from ourselves, and to look for the control knob, the product, the pill, the technical fix that will make a problem go away.
    Serious problems have been solved by focusing on external agents — preventing smallpox, increasing food production, moving large weights and many people rapidly over long distances. Because they are embedded in larger systems, however, some of our “solutions” have created further problems. And some problems, those most rooted in the internal structure of complex systems, the real messes, have refused to go away.
    Hunger, poverty, environmental degradation, economic instability, unemployment, chronic disease, drug addiction, and war, for example, persist in spite of the analytical ability and technical brilliance that have been directed toward eradicating them. No one deliberately creates those problems, no one wants them to persist, but they persist nonetheless.
    That is because they are intrinsically systems problems-undesirable behaviors characteristic of the system structures that produce them. They will yield only as we reclaim our intuition, stop casting blame, see the system as the source of its own problems, and find the courage and wisdom to restructure it.
  • The opening of a foreign trade, by making them acquainted with new objects, or tempting them by the easier acquisition of things which they had not previously thought attainable, sometimes works a sort of industrial revolution in a country whose resources were previously undeveloped for want of energy and ambition in the people; inducing those who were satisfied with scanty comforts and little work to work harder for the gratification of their new tastes, and even to save, and accumulate capital, for the still more complete satisfaction of those tastes at a future time.
  • When industrial capitalism first started to emerge in the early nineteenth century, its machinations were relatively visible. Take, for instance, the enclosures. Pasturelands that had been used in common for centuries to provide villages with their very sustenance were systematically fenced off—enclosed—in order to graze sheep, whose wool was needed for the burgeoning textile industry. Communal life was briskly thrust aside in favor of privatization, forcing people into harsh factories and crowded cities. Advanced capitalism, as it pushes past the fetters of even nation-states in its insatiable quest for growth, encloses life in a much more expansive yet generally invisible way: fences are replaced by consumer culture. We are raised in an almost totally commodified world where nothing comes for free, even futile attempts to remove oneself from the market economy. This commodification seeps into not only what we eat, wear, or do for fun but also into our language, relationships, and even our very biology and minds. We have lost not only our communities and public spaces but control over our own lives; we have lost the ability to define ourselves outside capitalism’s grip, and thus genuine meaning itself begins to dissolve.
  • There is no machine or mechanism [as compared with the steam engine] in which the little the theorists have done is more useless. It arose, was improved and perfected by working mechanics—and by them only.
    • Robert Stuart Meikleham, A Descriptive History of the Steam Engine (1824).
  • La revolution industrielle est commencee en France.
    • Louis Guillaume Otto (1799) cited in: Mikulas Teich, ‎Roy Porter (1996) The Industrial Revolution in National Context, p. 45.
    • Earliest recorded use of the term Industrial Revolution in a letter by Louis Guillaume Otto, in which he announces that revolution began in France.
  • It seems to me that the notion of machine that was current in the course of the Industrial Revolution – and which we might have inherited – is a notion, essentially, of a machine without goal, it had no goal ‘of’, it had a goal ‘for’. And this gradually developed into the notion of machines with goals ‘of’, like thermostats, which I might begin to object to because they might compete with me. Now we’ve got the notion of a machine with an underspecified goal, the system that evolves. This is a new notion, nothing like the notion of machines that was current in the Industrial Revolution, absolutely nothing like it. It is, if you like, a much more biological notion, maybe I’m wrong to call such a thing a machine; I gave that label to it because I like to realise things as artifacts, but you might not call the system a machine, you might call it something else.
    • Gordon Pask (1972) in: Mary Catherine Bateson Our Own Metaphor: A Personal Account of a Conference on the Effects of Conscious Purpose on Human Adaptation. New York : Alfred A Knopf. Quotes in: Usman Haque (2007) "The Architectural Relevance of Gordon Pask" in: Architectural Design. Vol 77, Issue 4, p. 54.
  • The Industrial Revolution was a watershed in the history of mankind. Three forces – technology, economic organization, and science, in this sequence – each from separate and undistinguished parentage, linked up, inconspicuously at first, to form, hardly a hundred years ago, into a social maelstrom that is still engulfing new and new millions of people, in an irresistible rush.

S - Z

  • What is the end of all the magnificent means provided by the productive activity of American society? Have not the means swallowed the ends, and does not the unrestricted production of means indicate the absence of ends? Even many born Americans are today inclined to answer the last question affirmatively. But there is more involved in the production of means. It is not the tools and gadgets that are the telos, the inner aim of production; it is the production itself. The means are more than means; they are felt as creations, as symbols of the infinite possibilities implied in man’s productivity. Being-itself is essentially productive.
  • In the middle of the last century there was comparatively little movement of workmen from place to place; but Adam Smith's fierce attack on the law of settlement shows that migration was on the increase. The world was, in fact, on the eve of an industrial revolution ; and it is interesting to remember that the two men who did most to bring it about, Adam Smith and James Watt, met, as I have mentioned, in Glasgow, when one was dreaming of the book, and the other of the invention, which were to introduce a new industrial age.
  • Our attention will focus on the institutional context of technological innovation rather than the technology itself. We shall view technology as a social product and shall not be over much interested in the priority claims of individual inventors, for the actual course of work that leads to the conception and use of technology always involves a group that has worked for a considerable period of time on the basic idea before success is achieved.
    • Anthony F. C. Wallace, The Social Context of Innovation: Bureaucrats, Families, and Heroes in the Early Industrial Revolution as Foreseen in Bacon's New Atlantis (1982, 2003).
  • The significant thing about the Darbys and coke-iron is not that the first Abraham Darby "invented" a new process but that five generations of the Darby connection were able to perfect it and develop most of its applications.
    • Anthony F. C. Wallace, The Social Context of Innovation: Bureaucrats, Families, and Heroes in the Early Industrial Revolution as Foreseen in Bacon's New Atlantis (1982, 2003).

“Immigration and the American Industrial Revolution From 1880 to 1920” (2009 Dec 1)


Charles Hirschman and Elizabeth Mogford, “Immigration and the American Industrial Revolution From 1880 to 1920”, Soc Sci Res. 2009 Dec 1; 38(4): 897–920.

  • One of the most important theoretical claims about the positive impact of immigration on industrialization centers on the creation of economies of scales—both in the production of and the demand for industrial goods (Abramovitz and David. 2000: 12; Carter and Sutch 1999: 331–332; Romer 1996). The creation of economies of scale was possible only with the growth of cities and urban industries. Before the age of industrialization, per-capita productivity was rarely increased by having large numbers of workers concentrated in one location (Ward 1971: 90). Artisan labor in most industries, such as grain milling, iron working, and leather goods, did not rely on a complex division of labor. Overall, there were few advantages of locating a factory in large cities. The important considerations for site location were access to sources of raw materials, nearby flowing water, and transportation. There is some evidence that some “non-mechanized” factories in the mid 19th century were more productive than artisan shops, but these factories were distinctive in employing women and children (e.g. textiles), and economies of scale were only significant for factories with about 20 or fewer employees (Engerman and Sokoloff 2000: 375).
    With electricity to power machinery, it became possible to redesign the organization of factories to create an integrated flow of work (assembly lines) to take advantage of a larger number of workers in one location. Larger factories were located in cities where labor was more plentiful. And cities were disproportionately the home of immigrants. Even in 1850, when only 15% of the American population lived in cities, more than one-third of the population of most large American cities was foreign born.
  • Within the span of a few decades from the late 19th to the early 20th century, the United States was transformed from a predominately rural agrarian society to an industrial economy centered in large metropolitan cities. Prior to the American industrial revolution, most Americans were reared in largely isolated agricultural households and small towns that were linked to the external world by horse drawn wagons (Olmstead and Rhode 2000: 711). Except for towns that were connected to railroads or water borne shipping, isolation and the costs of overland transportation meant that many rural communities were largely self sufficient in food, clothing, and many other essentials of everyday life. This changed dramatically in the early decades of the 20th century, as the supply and lowered costs of manufactured goods created a consumer revolution for both urban and rural households. Many of these goods, which did not even exist a few decades earlier, were manufactured, marketed, and transported through a rapidly expanding national network of rail lines and highways. By 1920, one half of northern farms had automobiles and telephones (Olmstead and Rhode 2000: 712–713).
  • In 1880, when the agricultural frontier had largely disappeared, almost one-half of the American workers were still farmers and only one in seven workers (less than 15%) worked in manufacturing of any sort. The industrial sector, as late as 1870, consisted primarily of small firms and workshops that relied on artisan technology to produce tools, furniture, building materials, and other goods for local markets (Abramovitz and David 2000: 45). Many small industries, such as grain mills and sawmills, were often located in rural areas close to flowing rivers in order to power machinery. Following the technological revolutions of the early industrial age, workshops and small foundries were supplemented by large factories engaged in mass production. The development of commercial electricity at the end of the 19th century allowed industries to take advantage of the labor supply in large cities. The scale of change is illustrated by the rise in the share of manufacturing horsepower generated by electrical motors from 23% in 1909 to 77% in 1929 (Goldin and Katz 1998: 712).
    Enormous gains in industrial productivity, accompanied by institutional change and much lower transportation costs, created national markets with goods and people moving in every direction. Perhaps the most consequential change of the American industrial revolution was the increasing urbanization of society and the shift of labor from farms to factories and offices (Guest 2005). In 1880, workers in agriculture outnumbered industrial workers three to one, but by 1920, the numbers were approximately equal. Employment in the manufacturing sector expanded four-fold from 2.5 to 10 million workers from 1880 to 1920.
    The decades surrounding 1900 were not only the age of industrialization in the United States, but were also the age of urbanization and immigration. The 1880s were the first decade in American history, with the exception of the Civil War decade, when the urban population increased more than the rural population (in absolute numbers). From 1880 to 1920, population growth was concentrated in cities—the urban fraction expanded from a little more than one quarter of the national population to more than one half (Carter et al. 2006: 1–105).

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