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Updated on September 2, 2012

Ever since the Neolithic age when man learned to till the soil and cultivate the land, agriculture became the mainstay of the people. Though this was a great achievement, man had to grapple with the outbreak of famine, pestilence and war for centuries. The population’s dependence on land often resulted in situations where the demand far exceeded the output. Agricultural productivity for centuries remained stagnant and at a particular point of time when food became scarce people had to migrate. However the introduction of new foods such as corn and potatoes helped in providing food of great nutritional value. But it was the invention of the mold board plow which dramatically increased productivity and decreased the amount of labour needed for cultivation. This was the situation all through the centuries right up to the middle ages.

However during the mid 18th century great changes began to take place. Britain which began trading with other countries had developed commerce to such an extent that they had sufficient profits which helped in improving its agricultural technologies and improving farm production. The sociological change that took place contributed a lot to Britain’s prosperity. One notable change was that as Britain had a strict system of primo geniture, the younger sons of nobility turned towards other productive work, thereby increasing the status of that work. This shift in focus from dependence on agriculture to other areas of activity brought about great changes. On the one side, education which became widespread encouraged many to seek greener pastures. Some became intrepid adventurers who travelled to distant lands, amassed fortune and ended up building an empire. Others used their talent to innovate and usher in a new era called the industrial revolution.


Britain which was rich in deposits like coal and iron made good use of it. Transformation of a raw material into a finished product demanded innovations at every stage, and it was this which triggered the industrial revolution. For example, the invention of John Kay’s flying shuttle in 1733 improved the productivity of weavers during 1750’s and 1760’s.During the ensuing years a number of inventions revolutionized the cotton industry. They were the invention of spinning jenny in 1764 by James Hargreaves, the water frame by Richard Arkwright in 1769 and the invention of power loom by Edmund Cartwright in 1785.


Similar inventions also helped the iron industry. For example, Abraham Darby in 1709 developed the process of smelting iron with coke instead of charcoal. Similarly Henry Cort developed ‘puddling and rolling’ to make wrought iron in 1784 which was followed by James Nielson’s hot air blast process in 1820.All this helped in boosting the production of iron within a short span of time. Output of iron which was just 25000 tons in 1720 rose to 1,347,000 tons in 1839.This increase in output naturally necessitated the need for power and transportation. It was therefore the technical advances in the application of steam power which changed the total picture. One of the pioneers of using steam power was Thomas Savery who invented the steam engine in 1698.Thomas Newcomen brought some innovative changes and developed the atmospheric steam engine in 1705.Despite these improvements steam was not efficiently being used, and it was this which motivated James watt to bring about drastic improvements in the steam engine by using separate cool condensers and the application of rotary mechanism. All this helped in providing adequate steam power and improving industrial productivity.


Transportation however continued to languish both due to poor infrastructure and dependence on animal power. It was improvement in the construction and maintenance of roads which made transportation easy. People like Metcalfe, Macadam and Telford brought about improvements in the construction of roads. Side by side the Turnpike Act helped in the proper maintenance of it. This act which was passed by the British parliament had provisions for setting up Turnpike trusts which took upon the responsibility of developing and maintaining given stretches of roads for which they were allowed to charge a toll. The other great innovation was the use of steam power as a prime mover in transportation. The invention of the locomotive by George and Robert Stephenson was the first great step in enhancing speed, capacity and efficiency in transportation. The cumulative impact of all these inventions triggered the first industrial revolution.


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  • MountPenglai profile image


    6 years ago

    This a nice quick summary on the early industrial inventions that secured the birth of the modern world, good job!


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