The industrial revolution was a time that brought both prosperity for some and alteration to others through invention, merchandising and social class. Before the industrial revolution, about ninety percent of the
population worked on farms collecting raw materials and selling their goods. As the need for faster production arose, people such as James Watt spawned new ideas for inventions. These inventions turned into reality and began causing problems for the working class in a struggle of poverty.
Life before the Industrial Revolution
Before the industrial revolution, people generally worked on farms in rural areas. Most of the people lived on the countryside in small towns and villages while “only ten percent of the people lived in
urban cities” (Connolly 8).Those who did not, worked as craft workers and blacksmiths making things such as: cloth, hardware, jewelry, leather goods, silverware, and weapons. The farmers would sell their agriculture for these goods and vice versa. The rural people of this time “made most of their own clothing, furniture, and tools from raw materials produced on the farms or in forests” (Pounds, N.J.G 48). Farmers farmed using an ox and plow, much different from how they farmed during the revolution. Merchants called entrepreneurs exchanged raw materials for the finished product.
Because of the fact that most people farmed as a means of life, malnutrition was a common problem. As a result, diseases were easily spread, and epidemics were regular. Little money was often saved in a family, as there was far to many risks taken in attempts to invest in various businesses. Farmers and the poor had almost no influence, or political power what so ever. Elections were rarely held and as a result, decisions were often made by other political, or authoritative figures, and powers. However, as the industrial revolution developed, the poor (as a majority) began to have a voice as well.
Growth of the Industrial Revolution
The main reason for the industrial revolution’s beginning was because of the large amounts of coal and iron (two important resources at the time) being found all over Britain and England. Britain became a stronghold for many colonies, which brought markets for both raw materials and manufactured products. Industries began to boom and because of the constant need for more iron as a part of production, furnaces that smelted iron had to be kept extremely hot at all times; coal provided a long lasting and intense heat. Iron and coal became more common as a raw material used for various uses like foundations, tools, and machines. Coal and Iron also brought new ideas for inventions. They were used in the creation of machines such as the steam engine, cotton gin, weaving machines, water wheels, steamboat, and the steam horse, which was used as “an agricultural machine launched in Lincolnshire, England, in the mid-1800’s. The machine was an early form of the tractor” (Pounds, N.J.G. 36). The cost to manufacture increased and so people sought out new ways to produce product faster as a means to produce more profit.
After the use of such power sources as water wheels, and forms of transportation as, horse buggies, people demanded a faster and more convenient ways to travel. However, water wheels were not a sufficient means of portable power, and did not supply enough power to move larger objects. “Industries needed a cheap way to improve on means of transportation, for both marketing and travel purposes” (EH.net Online Encyclopedia). The result was the steam engine, which was a cheap, efficient, invention. A man named Thomas Savery created the first steam engine in 1698. In the 1720’s a man named Thomas Newcomen created and improved the engine, although his development caused the engine to have serious problems, mainly being wasteful of heat, using far too much fuel in doing so. However, it was James Watt in 1768 that began to build a superior engine. Watt knew were many problems occurred in previous engines. He realized that the main problem occurred in the cylinders because much of the heat created by burning coal or oil was lost in the condensing process. Watt discovered the idea to separate the cylinder (which burned the fuel source), and condenser (which condensed the energy into steam). His idea was called the “double-action principle” (Teachers First). By doing this, instead of wasting the heat in the cylinder during the condensing process, the condensation process took place away from the heat source allowing the cylinder to be turned off or unused when unneeded. Watt’s idea was a huge success and became the most advanced engine later used by the majority of companies and travelers.
Life During the Industrial Revolution
The working class had close relationships with their employers under the domestic system during the industrial revolution. The domestic system was a manufacturing system in which workers made products in their own homes with materials supplied by entrepreneurs. Such relationships were hard to come by in large factories because most employers hired mass numbers of people. Industrialists and the domestic system both had about twelve to fourteen hours of work per day six days a week. Differences were that industrialists worked in factories with machines that played a huge role during the revolution and forced the workers to work more efficiently without breaks.
Industrialists kept wages low on purpose and as a result many people went on strike or rioted. Riots consisted of both unemployed and the employed and both the employer and employees were affected during the events. Workers involved in these events had to deal with police, loss of income, and were seen as criminals by the middle and upper class. “The strikes often led to violent and bloody clashes between police or military and workers” (Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia). The unemployed wanted revenge on their employers who they believed deprived them of their jobs. The employed protested their low wages and their horrible working conditions. Because of these riots, laws were passed that the destruction of some machines could result in death but these were ignored and riots still continued. “In 1842, a General Strike involving cotton workers and colliers and organised through the Chartist movement stopped production across Great Britain” (Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia).
Both women and children worked during the industrial revolution but were unskilled laborers and made only a small portion of what the average working man made. Children of the working class who worked were usually less than ten years of age and ended up being crippled or deformed from the unsafe machines such as the steam engine, weaving machines, and the steam horse. These children worked in coalmines, mills, factories and brick works, and chimney sweeps.
Most, if not all of the working class, were desperately poor and could not read or write. Harsh overcrowding occurred and resulted in unsanitary conditions, which led to disease. Before the 1800’s workers weren’t permitted to vote and could do very minimal legally to improve their position. During the 1800’s, working and living conditions improved drastically. Parliament began to care for the middle and working class and repealed the law forbidding unions and passed laws to improve working conditions. A “reform act was passed in 1832” also known as the “parliamentary reform act”, allowed the middle class man to vote, and in “1867” another was passed known as the “Representation of the People Act” to allow the city workers and owners of small farms the privilege to vote (Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia).
The beginning of the revolution brought prosperity to the middle and upper class citizens. New inventions like the cotton gin, steam engine; steam horse, and the weaving machines were created by those of the working class such as James Watt and Eli Whitney and were sold to those who had money. The middle class consisted of professional and business people who gained political and educational benefits as the class itself grew in size. The development between classes began as the middle and upper class started to have a better lifestyle. They had a better chance of surviving than the working class because they had more sanitary housing, and better diets. During the industrial revolution “one invention led to another, so that there were lots of important changes in a short period of time. These inventions didn’t make things a little different, they made them a lot different” (Teachers First).