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Effects of the Industrial Revolution

Updated on August 2, 2017
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Varsha is an enthusiast writer who loves to share informational content. She loves to write about World History.

The Industrial Revolution which originated in Britain and later spread to other countries brought about a massive change in the condition of human life. Though the Industrial Revolution was predominantly an economic revolution, it brought about very significant social, political, cultural and intellectual changes. In the words of Ramsay Muir, the Industrial Revolution was a "mighty and silent change."


Economic Effects

  1. The Factory System: The first great change brought about by the industrial revolution was the breakup of the home industry and its replacement by the factory system. The old method of small scale production in the homes by families with simple tools could not compete with the machine made goods. Hence, cottage industries disappeared and large factories sprang up using machines owned by the employers and making large scale production. The application of machinery and large scale production stimulated the growth of division of labour in the factories.
  2. Expansion of Industry and Rise in National Wealth: It gave a stimulus to new industries which began to manufacture goods on a large scale. A large number of textile mills, cotton factories, steel and iron mills sprang up. The enormous increase in the production led to a great rise in the national wealth. It was the Industrial Revolution which made England a rich country and enabled her to stand the strain of the Napoleonic Wars.
  3. Establishment of Industrial Capitalism: The enormous surplus wealth resulting from the growth of industries was concentrated in the hands of the industrial capitalists who owned these factories. With the progress of the Industrial revolution, the industrial capitalists grew richer and richer. They shaped the course of further industrialization by investing the profits in the new enterprises rather than sharing them with the working classes.
  4. Economic Imperialism: With the enormous increase in the profits of the industrialists, there arose a problem of profitable investment of this wealth. The development of multiplied productivity necessitated an even larger market for the disposal of manufactured goods. Such need became more urgent in the latter half of the nineteenth century when the domestic markets had begun to reach a saturation point. The government under pressure from the capitalists resorted to imperialist expansion and to increase influence in the underdeveloped countries of the world. This economic imperialism was responsible for international rivalries and wars.
  5. International Economic Dependence: One of the most important effects of the Industrial Revolution was that it enormously accelerated the movement towards international economic dependence which had begun with the Commercial Revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. For instance, Great Britain depended on overseas lands for raw materials like cotton and wool to feed spindles. As the population of the western world, especially that of England, became more and more engaged in industries, it became increasingly dependent on other countries for food supply paying for it with coal, manufactured goods, shipping, etc. The European countries exported manufactured goods in exchange for food and other agricultural products. The whole world became a market place. Dislocation in any part of the world often has important repercussions in countries thousands of miles away.
  6. Mechanisation of Warfare: One of the important results of the revolution was the development of new and efficient mechanized weapons of warfare. These weapons have rendered war immensely destructive and dangerous to the civilized progress of humanity.
  7. Increase in Population: There was a remarkable increase in the population of Europe and the shifting of population from villages to cities. The urban population in England rose from 30% to 70% and in the U.S.A., from 4% to 40%. This large growth of urban population brought in its train new problems in the economic and social spheres-health, education and family life.
  8. General Masses Grew Poor: The capitalist class grew richer but the general masses grew poorer. Due to the severe competition with machine made goods, a large number of people who used to earn their living by spinning, weaving and from other small crafts, were reduced to merely factory workers. The small farmers devoid of supplementary income from home industry were compelled to sell their lands and become mere factory workers. This led to the impoverishment of general masses.

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Political Effects

  1. Strengthening of the Middle Class: The enterprising bourgeoisie who owned and operated the factories, foundries and mines profited enormously by the revolution. It was conscious of its power and wanted to use it for political ends. In England, The parliamentary reforms of 1832 which redistributed seats in Parliament to grant representation to unrepresented towns in new industrial districts, gave the right to vote to a large group of moderately well to do. The middle class which now became powerful, successfully put down the agitation of the Chartists which was an effort of the lower class to secure representation in the Parliament. In France, the position of the bourgeoisie was strengthened by the revolution of 1830. The government established after the revolution was under the effective control of the middle class.
  2. Relation of Military Position with Industrialisation: The military power of a state now depended on the extent of industrial progress made by it. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, England, Germany and France emerged as strong military powers as compared to Russia because the latter had relatively made less progress in the field of industry. It was the most powerful factor which contributed to the dominance of England, Germany and France over Europe in the beginning of the twentieth century.

Intellectual and Cultural Effects

  1. Rise of New Ideas: Another vital effect of the Industrial Revolution was the development of political and economic thought. Great social and economic changes made by the Industrial Revolution helped in the development of the science of economics or political economy. It brought in a new philosophy of individualism. Revolutionary inventions and production on gigantic scale compelled industrialists to claim the right to be left alone to develop to their full. The doctrine of Laissez faire( Free Trade) received a great impetus from the works of Adam Smith, Ricardo Mill, Mathus and Herbert Spencer.
  2. Growth of Socialism: The extension of the eighteenth-century doctrine of Laissez faire by the government in the first half of the nineteenth century and the operation of the principle of free competition in the economic sphere, adversely affected the working classes. It led to inhuman economic exploitation by the capitalists. The misery of the exploited class made fine and sensitive souls to raise the voice of protest against the system and to propose many schemes of reform. Utopian Socialism was thus revived. Then came Karl Marx. Under the influence of his teachings, the new proletariat class became more politically conscious. Marxian Socialism which was the most disruptive of all the nineteenth-century political ideas was the direct outcome of the Industrial Revolution.
  3. Rise of Engineering Research: The Industrial Revolution stimulate scientific investigation and research. As technological skill became more and more complex, experts were required to manage and improve them which gave rise to the profession of engineering. Gradually, large scale industrial research laboratories began to be established.
  4. Changes in the lives of the People: The Industrial Revolution brought about changes in the lives of people as well. This was visible in broken families, unsanitary conditions, miserable working conditions in the cities and changes in the habits and thoughts of people. The uncontrolled growth of cities was not accompanied by the provision of adequate housing, sanitation and supply of clean water for the growing urban population. The poor migrant labourers were forced to live in overcrowded slums in the towns near the factories. The rich inhabitants shifted to the new homes in the suburbs where the air was cleaner and water safe to drink. Also in the factories, employees worked in inhumane conditions and often fell prey to deadly diseases. The smoke and poisonous gases emitted by the factories ruined their health. Moreover, women and children were exploited in factories and were paid very less.

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