The Industrial Revolution (1750–1850) was perhaps the most significant transformation in human history. It had a truly wide-ranging effect on people's daily lives. The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain and then spread to other European countries and the United States. A huge variety of new tools and machines were first introduced during this period. Below are some key examples of the important changes that occurred.
European farming methods had been improving slowly over the centuries. However, several factors came together in 18th-century Britain to bring about a major increase in agricultural productivity. These included new types of equipment, such as the seed drill. Progress was also made in land use, soil health, and animal farming. New varieties of crops were developed as well. The result was a huge increase in yields, capable of feeding a quickly growing population.
This same combination of factors also brought about a shift toward large-scale commercial farming. Land that once had been available to all became private property. Poorer peasants had a harder time making ends meet through traditional farming. Many were forced to migrate to the cities to become industrial laborers.
By the 16th century, deforestation in England had led to a shortage of wood for fuel. Coal then became a major alternative energy source. The country's transition to coal was complete by the end of the 17th century. The coal-fired steam engine soon became the key technology of the Industrial Revolution.
Steam power was first used to pump water out of coal mines. For centuries, windmills had been employed in the Netherlands for the roughly similar operation of draining low-lying flood plains. However, wind was not a reliable energy source. Throughout preindustrial Europe, water power was a more popular choice for grinding grain and other types of millwork. By the last quarter of the 18th century, however, steam engines had been perfected.
The steam engine swiftly became the standard power supply for British, and later, European industry. It powered machines used for factory production. Its emergence freed manufacturers from the need to locate their factories near sources of water power. Large enterprises began to concentrate in quickly growing industrial cities.
Many valuable metals can be found in metal-bearing rock known as ore. Metallurgy is the process of extracting, or removing, that metal through heating and melting, or smelting. Metal that has been heated to the melting point is called molten. Metallurgy also involves the shaping of extracted metal.
Metallurgy had existed for thousands of years before the Industrial Revolution. However, it too saw big changes during this period. Britain's wood shortage forced a switch from wood charcoal to coke, a coal product, in the smelting process. The substitute fuel eventually proved to be highly useful for iron production.
Experimentation led to some other advances during the 1700s. For example, a new process of "puddling" or stirring molten iron made it possible to produce larger amounts of wrought iron. Wrought iron is more malleable, or moldable than cast iron. That makes it more suitable for making machinery and other industrial uses.
The production of textiles was key to Britain's economic growth between 1750 and 1850. Cotton was the most important of these fabrics. Cotton production had long been a small-scale cottage industry in which rural families wove and spun cloth in their homes. During the years of the Industrial Revolution, it transformed into a large factory-based industry.
The boom in productivity began with the invention of a few technical devices. Among them were the spinning jenny, the spinning mule, and the power loom. The introduction of steam power also transformed the production of textiles. Steam power was used to operate power looms and other equipment. Another well-known invention was the cotton gin, invented in the United States in 1793. This device easily and quickly separates the cotton fiber from seeds. It led to an increase in cotton cultivation in U.S. slave states.
The chemical industry developed very quickly during the years of the Industrial Revolution. It arose partly in response to the demand for improved bleaches to whiten cotton and other textiles. Other chemical research was motivated by the need for dyes, dissolving agents, fertilizers, medicines, and explosives.
Huge increases in the production of goods and produce led to a need for better transportation systems. Producers needed faster ways to get their goods to market. As a result, improved roads were constructed in Europe. Canals were dug in Europe and North America to connect existing waterways.
The first steamboats emerged in the early 19th century. Steam engines also powered railroad locomotives, which were running in Britain after 1825. Railways quickly spread across Europe and North America. Railroads became one of the world's leading industries as they expanded the frontiers of industrial society.