2294 industrial revolution

continuing to this day. In the first approach there
is much agreement about the place (England)
and time (the late 1700s). The year 1750 can
be taken as a reasonable nominal date for the
beginning of the IR (Nolan & Lenski 2004),
although it might be considered early by some
historians. The second approach is more encom
passing, as it views the economic and social
transformations of the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries as all part of the unfolding of the IR.
A broad approach to the causes of the IR is
to say that it is the result of the accumulation of
technological information in agrarian societies
of western Europe in the centuries that pre
ceded the revolution (Nolan & Lenski 2004).
Among these were innovations in shipbuilding
and navigation that made possible transoceanic
travel and the discovery of the New World.
This event would contribute to increase trade
activity, especially in the North Atlantic area,
and infuse the European economy with large
quantities of gold and silver. The resulting
inflation favored the ascent of commercial
classes relative to the landed aristocracy, and
motivated the latter to try improving produc
tivity of their land, spurring great progress in
agricultural production. Another specific tech
nological innovation was the mid fifteenth
century invention of the printing press, which
favored the spread of literacy and information
in general and perhaps the rise of the rationalism
associated with the Enlightenment. The print
ing press also facilitated the success of the Pro
testant Reformation, which was premised on
direct access to sacred texts by believers. Much
has been made of Max Webers argument in The
Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism that
the Protestant ethic of frugality and hard work
facilitated the IR, but a major role of religion in
the IR is unlikely in view of the fact that the
earliest industrialized areas on the continent
tended to be Catholic rather than Protestant
(Delacroix & Nielsen 2001).


Short term consequences of the IR are taken
to be those that were already in evidence by,
say, 1850.
Successive technological innovations in the
late 1700s, especially in the textile industry,
led to the design of increasingly complex
machines that became too heavy to be operated
by muscle power alone. The factory system arose
because of the need to organize work activities
near machines connected to a central source of
power, such as a water mill or later a steam
engine. Factory based production had the addi
tional advantages of permitting a more elaborate
division of labor and closer supervision of the
workers. Eventually there would be a corre
sponding decline in home based manufacturing
production (the putting out or cottage indus
try system), although this consequence was not
Labor demand associated with the rise of
factories exacerbated the influx of rural popula
tion to towns and cities. In the mid 1700s only
15 percent of the population of England lived
in towns of 10,000 or more; this proportion
increased to a quarter by 1800 and one half by
1840 (Weightman 2003: 77). Immediate conse
quences of rapid urbanization were crowding,
pollution, disease, poverty, crime, and other
social ills. Contributing to social disorganization
was the uprooting of industrial workers and
their families from kin based and traditional
support networks in the countryside. Local
town officials were overwhelmed and unable to
cope with social problems on such an unprece
dented scale (Nolan & Lenski 2004).
Although the issue of the short term impact
of the IR on living standards is still controver
sial (Evans 2001), it is known that the first
half of the nineteenth century was character
ized by much economic instability and that
many families were barely able to survive on
low factory salaries, even with all members of
the household employed (including children as
young as 6) and despite long hours of work in
often deplorable conditions. The obvious hard
ship of workers lives made entirely reasonable
Karl Marxs belief, shared by many contempor
aries, that the development of capitalism would
entail the progressive impoverishment of the
proletariat, a prediction that turned out to be
false in the long run.


The entire way of life characteristic of modern
industrial societies has its roots in the IR, and