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Sunday, 11 January 2009





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Looking back :

The industrial revolution

In this micro-chip age, where the world is virtually at your fingertips, with high-speed transport systems and hi-tech inventions such as the Internet, we rarely pay attention to the innovative gadgetry that floods the market from day to day. The pace of change is such that many of the machines and equipment we use today could become outdated in a very short span of time.

But, things were not always like this, especially prior to the 1700s; life changed at a very slow pace, taking centuries to make any form of impact on the lifestyle of people living in that era. Then, farming was the main activity and most of the work on the fields and off the fields, was done by hand. Watermills, windmills, horses and oxen provided the extra power they needed to carry out their daily chores. Farmers often worked from sunrise to sunset with many only producing enough goods for their own use. Most people spent their entire lives in the village they were born, having very little contact with the world beyond their own little village.

Few people realised that their slow-paced life would soon undergo severe change; the winds of change came in the late 1700s with the Industrial Revolution!

What was the Industrial Revolution and why was the term ‘revolution’ used? Well, the dictionary defines the word as - great change and that’s exactly what took place. The Industrial Revolution replaced an old way of life with something very new and entirely different. It was in fact a time of invention and new developments.

The Industrial Revolution, a time of bold inventions where many of the inventors faced criticism and hardship to get their work recognised, began in England in the late eighteenth century. The wide-ranging changes brought about many benefits and comforts to the people of that era and many of the modern-day items can trace their

origins to the Industrial Revolution. As people were looking for new ways to produce things on a larger scale much attention was paid to develop machines that could do the work of many people. The machines and some of the goods they produced were made of durable (long-lasting) material such as steel and iron. But, how were these newly invented machines operated you may wonder, as fossil fuels were not discovered at that time. The new sources of energy the inventors used to power their steel or iron machines were water, steam and coal. Oil based fuels and electricity followed much later.

A few decades into the Industrial Revolution and one could see how the individual producers of not only crops, but also products such as iron and also textiles were replaced by modern farms and factories. Many factories could be seen towering over the small houses, especially in the north of England where several industrial towns developed.

The Industrial Revolution led to the birth of the ‘Iron Age’ because iron was a widely used material then. As this material was strong and durable its uses were vast. People had known for thousands of years how to make iron by heating the iron ore to get pure iron. But it was generally produced on a very small scale, so the iron smelters (furnace used to heat and melt ore in order to separate and remove the metal) had to go into operation full time to meet the growing demand for this raw material.

This meant that the furnaces had to be kept hot all the time. And how was this done? By using charcoal which was produced from timber. Huge amounts of timber were needed and this led to large extents of forests and woodlands being cleared to feed these iron-making furnaces.

The Weald, a wooded part of the county of Kent, England became a centre of the iron industry because of all its timber.

Perhaps, we could say today that the foundation for deforestation was laid way back then. In fact, we could consider author of Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe’s writings on this subject in 1726 as a warning signal.

In 1709, a new process was introduced by an English iron worker and inventor. This was a way of using

coke (burnable fuel that is left when coal is refined) rather than charcoal and wood to smelt iron. The new process promised to be cheaper as coke came from coal. And Britain had just begun to use its coal reserves.

Today we use fuels such as gas and oil to supply our growing energy needs. Like the trees that were being cut down to feed the furnaces, these precious natural resources too are irreplaceable. They will not last forever and we are already feeling the impact of the depletion of these natural resources.

One of the most important changes triggered by the Industrial Revolution was of course the manner in which power to carry out work, especially in factories was obtained. With coal playing a key role in this connection, more and more deep mines were dug. Hand in hand with progress came in tragedy, as many accidents and explosions took place in these mines.

The new industrial wealth of Britain and also the rest of the world came at a cost. So, it is obvious that many of the problems we face today as a result of development was also experienced even during the Industrial Revolution.

Even though many voices were raised calling for caution they were lost in the people’s excitement of seeing the world around them being transformed.

The winds of change that started in Britain with the Industrial Revolution and blew across the world continues to blow even today. But, having witnessed both the negative and positive effects of the changes that were made during that era, perhaps, we should usher in changes, made in the name of development, with some caution today.

Read and learn more about the Industrial Revolution which set the wheel of progress in motion way back in the 18th century.

Facts and pix: Internet and Witness to history.

* The Industrial Revolution was a time of invention and new developments.

* This took place in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Britain. Major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, production and transportation had a noted effect on the socio-economic and cultural conditions in the country. However, the period of time covered by the Industrial Revolution differs from one historian to another.

* These changes spread from Britain, throughout Europe to North America and eventually to the world.

* It is believed that technological invention was the heart of the Industrial Revolution. And what do you think was a major key enabling this technology? The invention and improvement of the steam engine of course! Many of the inventions developed during this time were machines that could do the work of many people.

* The three innovations which facilitated the economic take-off by which the Industrial Revolution, can be identified were textiles, steam power and iron founding.

Cotton was spun using the water frame (Richard Arkwright) the Spinning Jenny (James Hargreaves) and the Spinning mule which was a combination of the above two (Samuel Crompton).

This method was patented in 1769, but was cleared of patent rights by 1783. As a result many cotton mills sprung up in various places improving the textile industry with new technology being used.

* James Watt is credited with the invention of the steam engine. Watt improved upon a design which was initially developed by Thomas Savery and Thomas Newcomer.

The steam engine, invented by James Watt, which was initially used for pumping out mines, was improved and applied to power machines from the 1780s onwards. This enabled rapid development in semi-automated factories.

* In the iron indus try, instead of charcoal, coke was finally applied to all stages of iron smelting.

*Many old inventions helped to fuel the Industrial Revolution which led to the invention of more efficient machines, and also improved technology.

* The replacement of organic fuels based on wood with fossil fuels based on coal was a major change in the metal industries.

*The large-scale production of chemicals was an important development during the Industrial Revolution.

*Advances in agricultural techniques and practices resulted in an increase in food supply and raw material while changes in industrial organisations and new technology led to increased production, efficiency and profits.

* The development and subsequent application of steam power is considered to be the greatest technical achievement of the Industrial Revolution.

* Some of the inventors

John Kay - flying shuttle

James Hargreaves - Spinning Jenny

Richard Arkwright - water frame first factory

Samuel Crompton - spinning mule

Edward Cartwright - power loom.


The Industrial Revolution which was led by Britain was truly an age of invention and resulted in many changes which helped people to progress in life. But this march of progress had positive and negative effects on many spheres of life. And children were not exempt from them.

The positive impact of the Industrial Revolution was a dramatic increase in the life expectancy of children. With the vast strides of progress made, following new inventions and technology, children were provided with a better life.

However, on the down side, the opening up of new factories led to children being forced to work long hours in these factories. It has been recorded that children as young as five years worked under dirty and dangerous conditions for tiny wages. Many children suffered injuries as a result of the new machinery.

As children were often overworked and cruelly treated, the issue of child labour became more and more important.

A group of people known as social reformers took up the cause of child labour in the 1830s.





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