This week we’ve begun to contemplate the upheaval in world history that has come to be known as the industrial revolution, the transformation from an agrarian, handicraft economy to an industrial economy that first unfolded in the late 18th century in Britain. I argued that it was about much more than a question of new technologies. The industrial revolution also required capital, entrepreneurs, markets, a system of trade, an available workforce, and a “culture of capitalism.”
But the new technologies are pretty cool. Take developments in the textile industry. The flying shuttle of 1733 – accelerated weaving process. Increased demand for thread. In 1765 – the spinning jenny – a device which spun thread from wool or cotton answered the call. These were simple machines, run by a single person. With further modifications, one spinner in 1812 could produce as much as two hundred spinners working in 1760, that is, before the spinning jenny. The water frame – a spinning machine first driven by horses or water power, later by steam engines – made spinning even more efficient and led to the growth of the first factories. These developments spurred further advances, such as the power loom which would eventually replace the master weaver. Or, in this country, the cotton gin, which made Southern plantations more profitable.
There are some cool videos and animations of the machines of the early industrial age. See this video of water powered mills and spinning machines at HowStuffWorks. Or check out this clip on early coal mining in Great Britain from the BBC. Or take a look at this animation of the steam engine (also at HowStuffWorks).
There are lots of online resources to take you well beyond the industrial-revolution-as-technology view. See the debate over child labor (at Spartacus). For an excellent view of the standard of living debate, check out this nice overview from the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. Or take a look at the impact of the industrial revolutions on cities at The Nineteenth-Century City. Or check out the excellent resources at the BBC Open University program, “What the Industrial Revolution Did For Us.”