The European Industrial Revolution was a time of drastic change. In England it became a transformation from hand tools and hand made items to machined and mass-produced goods. The growth of factories replaced the cottage industries and spawned the development of cities. Growing cities and factories led to changes in transportation, labor, and working conditions. These changes generally helped workers lives, even though initially there were more negatives than positives.
Before the Industrial Revolution England’s economy was based on its cottage industry. Workers would buy raw materials from merchants, take it back to their cottages, hence the name, and produce the goods at their homes. This industry was efficient but the workers productivity was low. Subsequently, goods were high in price and exclusive to only wealthy people. The Industrial Revolution meant factories could mass-produce items at much lower costs than the cottage industries, making goods more affordable to consumers.
With the invention of the steam engine, a shift from rural waterwheels to steam engines as an industrial power source facilitated the emergence of factories and industrial cities. Factories started the process of urbanization by causing people to leave rural sectors and move to the cities looking for a better life. The increase in population in the cities caused overcrowding, pollution, and thus became a breeding ground for communicable diseases. Cities had a snowballing effect developing new business. New and improved transportation systems evolved.
The developments in transportation played an important role in industrialization. Growing cities necessitated investments to be made in improving infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and canals. This paved the way for industrialization which needed an efficient system to transport mass amounts of goods from factories to markets. As the sale of goods increased, factories’ production needed to increase causing problems for the factory worker.
Factories changed the meaning of labor. Even if the hours worked were roughly the same in the factory or in the cottage, factory wage earners lost control over the pace and methods of their work. Constant supervision was also a novel experience, at least for the head of the household. The head of the household, usually the father of the family, was the supervisor in the family run cottage. In the factories he lost his supervision power and was just a worker. Consequently men avoided factory work in the early nineteenth century.
Most cottage working families chose to stay in their homes. As factory production grew, home workers saw their earnings shrink. The next generation cottage workers would find their choice tipped much more heavily toward factories.
Life was drastically changed during the Industrial Revolution. Factory workers were living in germ infested, crowded and very unhealthful conditions, much like their place of work. Children and women labored in harsh conditions, working long hours with little pay. Much of the British working class was worse off. Real wages stagnated while workers sacrificed freedom, health and family. Government involvement was needed to change these conditions. Laws such as the Factory Act (1833) were passed to improve working conditions. The Industrial Revolution changed Europe forever and it’s social and economic changes helped guide other countries through their growth and industrialization processes.
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