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Where did the demand for textiles during the industrial revolution come from?

Where did the demand for textiles during the industrial revolution come from?

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A lot of the technological developments in the early-ish industrial revolution in Britain were about increasing the rate and efficiency of textile manufacture. It's easy to find material about what these innovations were and who was responsible for them, but in order for it to have all been worthwhile there must have been an enormous (or at least increasing) unmet demand for textiles.

It seems to be hard (at least on a cursory first glance by a non-expert) to find anything about the demand side of the story - I would like more details about it. For example: Why was there such a huge unmet demand for textiles during that time? What were the main uses of the cotton and wool fabrics that were being produced? (E.g. was it mostly clothes or were there major industrial uses as well?) Were they mainly being consumed domestically or abroad, and if the latter, where? Did the demand for textiles greatly increase before or during the industrial revolution, or had the textile market always been limited by production capacity?

The Industrial Revolution resulted in massive gains for worker productivity. The textile industry in particular was a leading and early driver of the industrialisation process. In fact, the importance and impact of the British textile manufacture was such that the Industrial Revolution has been called "mainly the revolution of the cotton industry in Britain".1

With its superior productivity, industrialised textile production swept away traditional industries both domestic foreign through sheer price advantage. As a basic necessity of human life, clothing has always held potential for mass consumption. For most of history however, this potential was resolutely held back by price. That clothing were distributed in wills testifies to the fact that pre-industrial peasants were rarely able to afford new clothes.2 Industrialised mass production of clothing removed this barrier to consumption by dramatically lowering the prices.

In addition to existing demand however, the enormous growth in British textile production was enabled by her extensive export markets, principally in Asia. Specifically, India and China, the two most populous markets in the world. By the time of the Industrial Revolution, India had largely succumbed to British rule and was a prime destination for British exports.

Between 1793 and 1813, the value of British textile exports east of the Cape of Good Hope (mainly to India) jumped from £156 to £108,824 - a factor of almost 700:3

Initially, British textiles fared poorly in China. Traditional Chinese textile production was largely performed at the household level, by wives and daughters in their spare time. This mode of production efficiently utilised labour resources while suppressing costs. The resulting high productivity of household manufacturing was such that as late as the 1820s, decades after the Industrial Revolution had begun, China was still exporting substantial amounts of textile to Britain.

As the Industrial Revolution proceeded however, British industries slashed production costs and achieved price competitiveness in China. By 1860 the price of yarn had plunged to 1/16 of its price in 1779.4 Chinese households in cotton producing provinces continue to clothe themselves, however the market became thoroughly dominated by foreign clothing. The reversal of fortunes can be observed from the textile import/export figures at Canton, the chief port of Chinese trade at the time:

Even in 1800, the population was China had reached 260 million. The Indian population was lower, but estimates are still as high as 200 million. The two great markets had heretofore produced much of the manufactured goods of the world, including textiles, in order to feed their enormous domestic demand.

The Industrial Revolution changed all this by giving British textile production (and other industries) an competitive edge. In doing so, British industry supplanted native production, taking for itself their lucrative domestic market of literally hundreds of millions. At the same time, mass production had sparked an era of mass consumption at a level that had never been possible before due to much lower prices.

The same pattern, albeit on a smaller scale, was essentially repeated everywhere British mercantile power acquired free access - at least until the rise of competition. The combined results are that, for over a century, the rapid growth of the British textile industry was sufficiently absorbed by a seemingly insatiable market.

1. Blokker, Niels. International Regulation of World Trade in Textiles: Lessons for Practice, a Contribution to Theory. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1989.
2. Forgeng, Jeffrey L., and Jeffrey L. Singman. Daily Life in Medieval Europe. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999.
3. Dutt, Romesh Chunder. The Economic History of India Under Early British Rule: From the Rise of the British Power in 1757, to the Accession of Queen Victoria in 1837. Vol. 1. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1906.
4. Zhou, Xun. The Great Escape: Modelling the Industrial Revolution. ProQuest, 2008.

One thing that's overlooked is that there was also a huge population growth during the industrial revolution. The population of england grew from 7 million to 30 million in a century. So even without selling the clothes overseas there was a lot more people buying clothes than there was before the industrial revolution.


Coal Mines in the Industrial Revolution

Coal was needed in vast quantities for the Industrial Revolution. For centuries, people in Britain had made do with charcoal if they needed a cheap and easy way to acquire fuel. What ‘industry’ that existed before 1700 used coal, but it came from coal mines that were near to the surface and the coal was relatively easy to get to. The Industrial Revolution changed all of this.

Before the Industrial Revolution, two types of mines existed: drift mines and bell pits. Both were small-scale coal mines and the coal which came from these type of pits was used locally in homes and local industry.

However, as the country started to industrialise itself, more and more coal was needed to fuel steam engines and furnaces. The development of factories by Arkwright and the improvement of the steam engine by Watt further increased demand for coal. As a result, coal mines got deeper and deeper and coal mining became more and more dangerous.

Coal shafts could go hundreds of feet into the ground. Once a coal seam was found, the miners dug horizontally. However, underground the miners faced very real and great dangers.

Even with Watt’s improved steam engine, gas flooding was a real problem in mines. E xplosive gas (called firedamp would be found the deeper the miners got. One spark from a digging, miner’s pick axe or candle could be disastrous. P oisonous gases (called blackdamp and afterdamp) could also be found. Underground pit collapses were common too the sheer weight of the ground above a worked coal seam was colossal and mines were only held up by wooden beams called props.

Regardless of all these dangers, there was a huge increase in the production of coal in Britain. Very little coal was found in the south, but vast amounts were found in the Midlands, the North, the North-east and parts of Scotland. Because coal was so difficult and expensive to move, towns and other industries grew up around the coal mining areas so that the workers came to the coal regions. This in itself was to create problems as these towns grew without any obvious planning or thought given to the facilities the miners and their families would need.

The increase in coal production :

1700: 2.7 million tonnes

1750: 4.7 million tonnes

1800: 10 million tonnes

1850: 50 million tonnes

1900: 250 million tonnes

How did the miners try to overcome the dangers they faced?

To clear mines of gas – be it explosive or poisonous – a crude system of ventilation was used. To assist this, young children called trappers would sit underground opening and shutting trap doors which went across a mine. This allowed coal trucks through but it also created a draught and it could shift a cloud a gas. However, it was very ineffectual. It was also believed that a system of trap doors might help to stop the blast of an explosion, damaging more of the coal mine……….It was not until 1807 when the problem was eased when John Buddle invented an air pump to be used in mines. F looding was a risk that was out of the control of the miners as even Watts steam engines could not cope if a mine had a serious flood. Likewise, pit props could only take a certain amount of strain. T he risk of an explosion was reduced by Sir Humphrey Davy with the invention of a safety lamp, in 1815, which meant that a miner could have light underground but without having to use the exposed flame of a candle. The lamp became known as the “Miners Friend”. It gave off light but a wire gauze acted as a barrier between the heat given off and any gas it might have had contact with.

Regardless of these developments, mining remained very dangerous. A report on deaths in coal mines to Parliament gave a list of ways miners could be killed :

Falling down a mine shaft on the way down to the coal face falling out of the ‘bucket’ bringing you up after a shift being hit by a ‘fall’ of dug coal falling down a mine shaft as it was lifted up drowning in the mine being crushed to death killed by explosions suffocation by poisonous gas being run over by a tram carrying dug coal in the mine itself.

In one unnamed coal mine, 58 deaths out of a total of 349 deaths in one year, involved children thirteen years or younger. Life for all those who worked underground was very hard.

In 1842, Parliament published a report about the state of coal mining – the Mines Report – and its contents shocked the nation. The report informed the public that children under five years of age worked underground as trappers for 12 hours a day and for 2 pennies a day older girls carried baskets of dug coal which were far too heavy for them and caused deformities in these girls.

One girl – Ellison Jack, aged 11 – claimed to the Commission of Enquiry that she had to do twenty journeys a shift pushing a tub which weighed over 200 kilos and if she showed signs of slacking, she would be whipped. Children had to work in water that came up to their thighs while underground heavily pregnant women worked underground as they needed the money. One unnamed woman claimed that she gave birth on one day and was expected by the mine manager to be back at work that very same day !! Such was the need to work – there was no social security at this time – she did as the manager demanded. Such a shocking report lead to the Mines Act of 1842.

Massachusetts Economy:

Before the industrial revolution, Massachusetts’ economy was based primarily on agriculture, fishing and maritime shipping.

After the industrial revolution began in England in the late 18th century, American manufacturers were determined to improve American manufacturing.

American manufacturers feared that if England continued to monopolize manufacturing and trade, America would be dependent on English imports forever and its economy would suffer, according to book the The Life and Times of Francis Cabot Lowell by Chaim M.Rosenberg:

“America in 1794 was stuck in the age of craftmanship such as homespun, while British manufacturing was transformed by the industrial revolution. Great Britain kept its lead by refusing ‘to sell any of her new machines, and prohibiting the exportation of parts, plans, or skilled artisans.’ From these observations, Henry Wansey [a British clothier and antiquary who visited American in 1794] concluded that ‘the ability of the United States to manufacture cannot keep pace, by any means, with her increasing population at least for a century. It therefore follows, that she must increase in her demand for foreign manufactures, and the Americans generally acknowledge that no country can supply them as well as Great Britain. For the year 1792, Great Britain sold goods to the United States worth $15,285,428, while the United States sold goods to Great Britain for $9,363,416. With her growing population and an economy based on farming, Wansey foresaw America’s dependence on Great Britain for manufactured goods to continue for many years to come.”

When the Embargo Act of 1807 cut off imports from Britain, this forced Americans to increase the amount of goods they manufactured. By 1810, the U.S. had built about 50 cotton-yarn mills.

When the War of 1812 broke out, British ships blockaded the Massachusetts coast, completely cutting them off from the sea. This forced the state to not only find other ways to make money but also to supply their own needs, particularly cloth.

As a result, this sped up the process of industrialization in Massachusetts and textile manufacturing quickly went from being a cottage industry, where work was performed on a small scale at home, to a large scale factory system.

SEAMSTRESSES Industrial Revolution

As the demand for clothes grew among newly wealthy middle class women, jobs in the dress-making work industry increased. Young women coming to the cities sought work as seamstresses in homes and sweat shops. Some noted, however, that young women living on their own without a family were compelled to seek other ways to earn some money.

"Miss --- has been for several years in the dress-making business. The common hours of business are from 8 a.m. til 11 P.M in the winters in the summer from 6 or half-past 6 A.M. til 12 at night. During the fashionable season, that is from April til the latter end of July, it frequently happens that the ordinary hours are greatly exceeded if there is a drawing-room or grand fete, or mourning to be made, it often happens that the work goes on for 20 hours out of the 24, occasionally all night. The general result of the long hours and sedentary occupation is to impair seriously and very frequently to destroy the health of the young women. The digestion especially suffers, and also the lungs: pain to the side is very common, and the hands and feet die away from want of circulation and exercise, "never seeing the outside of the door from Sunday to Sunday." [One cause] is the short time which is allowed by ladies to have their dresses made.

Miss is sure that there are some thousands of young women employed in the business in London and in the country. If one vacancy were to occur now there would be 20 applicants for it. The wages generally are very low. Thinks that no men could endure the work enforced from the dress-makers."

[Source: Hellerstein, Hume & Offen, Victorian Women: A Documentary Accounts of Women's Lives in Nineteenth-Century England, France and the United States, Stanford University Press.]

Why do you think young girls wanted to become seamstresses?

What health problems occurred with this type of work?

What health problems have been cited with regard to similar types of small muscle and close eye work in the sewing and electronic industries today?

Imagine the types of clothing and the life of the Victorian era middle and upper class woman. Name some ways this was in sharp contrast to the life of working class women.


(Sung to the air "Jenny Jones")

You gentles of England, I pray give attention,
Unto those few lines, I'm going to relate,
Concerning the seamstress,I'm going to mention,
Who long time has been, in a sad wretched state,
Laboriously toiling, both night, noon, and morning,
For a wretched subsistence, now mark what I say.
She's quite unprotected, forlorn, and dejected
For sixpence, or eightpence, or tenpence a day.

Come forward you nobles, and grant them assistance,
Give them employ, and a fair price them pay,
And then you will find, the poor hard working seamstress,
From honour and virtue will not go astray.

To shew them compassion pray quickly be stirring,
In delay, there is danger, there's no time to spare.
The pride of the world is o'er whelmed with care,
Old England's considered, for honour and virtue,
And beauty the glory and pride of the world,
Nor be not hesitating, but boldly step forward,
Suppression and tyranny, far away hurl.

[Source: Roy Palmer, A Ballad History of England:
From 1588 to the Present Day,
B.T. Batsford Ltd, London, 1979]

To whom was the song directed?

What societal concerns about the "distressed seamstress" did the song reveal?

What appeals did it use to convey its message?

If you were writing a song which addressed the plight of the seamstress, what reasons for hiring and giving girls a decent wage might you include?

Lyn Reese is the author of all the information on this website
Click for Author Information

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Women in World History Curriculum

Global Leader

After 1840, Britain abandoned mercantilism and committed its economy to free trade with few barriers or tariffs. This was most evident in the repeal in 1846 of the Corn Laws, which imposed stiff tariffs on imported grain. The end of these laws opened the British market to unfettered competition, grain prices fell, and food became more plentiful.

From 1815 to 1870 Britain reaped the benefits of being the world’s first modern, industrialized nation. The British readily described their country as “the workshop of the world,” meaning that its finished goods were produced so efficiently and cheaply that they could often undersell comparable locally manufactured goods in almost any other market. If political conditions in a particular overseas market were stable enough, Britain could dominate its economy through free trade alone without resorting to formal rule or mercantilism. By 1820, 30% of Britain’s exports went to its Empire, rising slowly to 35% by 1910. Apart from coal and iron, most raw materials had to be imported so in the 1830s, the main imports were (in order): raw cotton (from the American South), sugar (from the West Indies), wool, silk, tea (from China), timber (from Canada), wine, flax, hides, and tallow. By 1900, Britain’s global share soared to 22.8% of total imports. By 1922, its global share soared to 14.9% of total exports and 28.8% of manufactured export

Industrial Revolution and Technology

Whether it was mechanical inventions or new ways of doing old things, innovations powered the Industrial Revolution.

Social Studies, World History

Steam Engine Queens Mill

The use of steam-powered machines in cotton production pushed Britain's economic development from 1750 to 1850. Built more than 100 years ago, this steam engine still powers the Queens Mill textile factory in Burnley, England, United Kingdom.

Photograph by Ashley Cooper

This lists the logos of programs or partners of NG Education which have provided or contributed the content on this page. Leveled by

It has been said that the Industrial Revolution was the most profound revolution in human history, because of its sweeping impact on people's daily lives. The term "industrial revolution" is a succinct catchphrase to describe a historical period, starting in 18 th -century Great Britain, in which the pace of change appeared to speed up. This acceleration in the processes of technological innovation brought about an array of new tools and machines. It also involved more subtle practical improvements in various fields affecting labor, production, and resource use. The word "technology" (which derives from the Greek word techne, meaning art or craft), encompasses both of these dimensions of innovation.

The technological revolution, and that sense of ever-quickening change, began much earlier than the 18 th century and has continued all the way to the present day. Perhaps what was most unique about the Industrial Revolution was its merger of technology with industry. Key inventions and innovations served to shape virtually every existing sector of human activity along industrial lines, while also creating many new industries. The following are some key examples of the forces driving change.


Western European farming methods had been improving gradually over the centuries. Several factors came together in 18 th -century Britain to bring about a substantial increase in agricultural productivity. These included new types of equipment, such as the seed drill developed by Jethro Tull around 1701. Progress was also made in crop rotation and land use, soil health, development of new crop varieties, and animal husbandry. The result was a sustained increase in yields, capable of feeding a rapidly growing population with improved nutrition. The combination of factors also brought about a shift toward large-scale commercial farming, a trend that continued into the 19 th century and later. Poorer peasants had a harder time making ends meet through traditional subsistence farming. The enclosure movement, which converted common-use pasture land into private property, contributed to this trend toward market-oriented agriculture. A great many rural workers and families were forced by circumstance to migrate to the cities to become industrial laborers.

Deforestation in England had led to a shortage of wood for lumber and fuel starting in the 16 th century. The country's transition to coal as a principal energy source was more or less complete by the end of the 17th century. The mining and distribution of coal set in motion some of the dynamics that led to Britain's industrialization. The coal-fired steam engine was in many respects the decisive technology of the Industrial Revolution.

Steam power was first applied 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. Wind was and is a readily available and renewable energy source, but its irregularity was considered to be a drawback. Water power was a more popular energy source for grinding grain and other types of millwork in most of preindustrial Europe. By the last quarter of the 18 th century, however, thanks to the work of the Scottish engineer James Watt and his business partner Matthew Boulton, steam engines achieved a high level of efficiency and versatility in their design. They swiftly became the standard power supply for British, and later, European industry. The steam engine turned the wheels of mechanized factory production. Its emergence freed manufacturers from the need to locate factories on or near sources of water power. Large enterprises began to concentrate in rapidly growing industrial cities.

In this time-honored craft, Britain's wood shortage necessitated a switch from wood charcoal to coke, a coal product, in the smelting process. The substitute fuel eventually proved highly beneficial for iron production. Experimentation led to some other advances in metallurgical methods during the 18 th century. For example, a certain type of furnace that separated the coal and kept it from contaminating the metal, and a process of "puddling" or stirring the molten iron, both made it possible to produce larger amounts of wrought iron. Wrought iron is more malleable than cast iron and therefore more suitable for fabricating machinery and other heavy- industrial applications.

The production of fabrics, especially cotton, was fundamental to Britain's economic development between 1750 and 1850. Those are the years that historians commonly use to bracket the Industrial Revolution. In this period, the organization of cotton production shifted from a small-scale cottage industry, in which rural families performed spinning and weaving tasks in their homes, to a large, mechanized, factory-based industry. The boom in productivity began with a few technical devices, including the spinning jenny, spinning mule, and power loom. First human, then water, and finally steam power were applied to operate power looms, carding machines, and other specialized equipment. Another well-known innovation was the cotton gin, invented in the United States in 1793. This device spurred an increase in cotton cultivation and export from U.S. slave states, a key British supplier.

This industry arose partly in response to the demand for improved bleaching solutions for cotton and other manufactured textiles. Other chemical research was motivated by the quest for artificial dyes, explosives, solvents, fertilizers, and medicines, including pharmaceuticals. In the second half of the 19 th century, Germany became the world's leader in industrial chemistry.


Concurrent with the increased output of agricultural produce and manufactured goods arose the need for more efficient means of delivering these products to market. The first efforts toward this end in Europe involved constructing improved overland roads. Canals were dug in both Europe and North America to create maritime corridors between existing waterways. Steam engines were recognized as useful in locomotion, resulting in the emergence of the steamboat in the early 19 th century. High-pressure steam engines also powered railroad locomotives, which operated in Britain after 1825. Railways spread rapidly across Europe and North America, extending to Asia in the latter half of the 19 th century. Railroads became one of the world's leading industries as they expanded the frontiers of industrial society.

The industrial revolution Supply and demand

JUST why the industrial revolution took place in Britain is a puzzle that arouses fierce emotions among social scientists. François Crouzet, a French historian, calls the search for an explanation “somehow akin to the quest for the Holy Grail”. Was it because capitalism was further along in Britain than in, say, France, the Netherlands or indeed China? Because Britain's constitutional monarchy after 1688 minimised the intervention of the state and entrenched property rights? Because the British were better at science, or culturally more attuned to technology? Or did dumb luck drop the first spinning jenny on Lancashire rather than Lyon?

This debate matters, for the industrial revolution is quite probably the most important economic development of the past 500 years. It produced not a once-only step-up in productivity but a century-and-a-half of industrial expansion and continuing innovation that transformed lives everywhere. What is more, it stemmed from the globalisation of the early-modern period (Tudors, and all that) and gave rise to more. With global crisis raging anew, readers could do worse than ponder that long-ago upheaval.

Robert Allen's analysis will delight many economists, for he deals in measurable factors such as wages and prices. An American professor of economic history at Oxford University and long a writer in this field, he suggests that most explanations for Britain's industrial revolution focus too much on supply—of inquiring scientists, landless workers, helpful laws. These conditions were conducive to a great leap forward but not sufficient. Nor were they exclusive to Britain. Property rights were arguably more secure in France much of the science behind the steam engine took place in Italy and Germany the Dutch were highly urbanised. The industrial revolution occurred in Britain in the 18th and early 19th centuries for one overwhelming reason, he argues: it was profitable there and then. It met a demand.

By the early 1700s Britain was a country of conspicuously high wages and cheap energy (coal). The great inventions of that century—the steam engine, mechanical spinning, smelting iron with coke—all served to economise on the expensive factor of production and use more of the cheaper one. Other countries were slow to follow suit not because they were stupid, sluggish or repressed, but because they did not have that particular combination of expensive labour and inexpensive energy.

Britain lost its competitive edge when, in making its machines more efficient, it reduced their consumption of energy: steam engines went from using 45 pounds (20.4kg) of coal to produce one horsepower-hour to just two. That made these machines cost-effective for countries with dearer energy. “The genius of British engineering undid Britain's comparative advantage,” Mr Allen writes.

But why did Britain have such high wages and cheap energy in the first place? Pick up most stones in Mr Allen's analysis and trade lurks somewhere underneath. The Black Death raised the price of labour and boosted trade, for English sheep grew longer fleeces as they grazed fields newly left fallow, and local cloth improved. As Britain traded more, extending its reach to the Americas and Asia, London, then other cities, expanded. Agriculture became more productive. Between 1500 and 1800 England shifted people out of farming faster than any other big European country. The coal that Britain was lucky enough to have was mined in growing quantities to fuel city dwellings. By 1800 Britain was producing “the vast preponderance” of the world's coal, and it was cheap.

Thanks to trade, wages stayed high although the population grew. Education improved (though the Dutch still had a higher literacy rate in 1800). So did diet, permitting people to work longer and harder. And trade gave them a reason to, bringing in exotic products that well-paid workers could aspire to. This “industrious revolution” made possible the industrial revolution—but what was the actual spark?

France and Germany were hardly inspiration-free zones, but only in Britain was there enough profit to be had from radically realigning the factors of production to make macro-inventions worth investing in. Less theoretically, the pre-existence of two industries also helped. Steam engines were originally designed to pump water out of the pits and railways to move coal around them. The watchmakers of southern Lancashire proved an unequalled source of high-quality, low-cost gears.

This is a beautifully written book, the language as clear as a brook and with the same tumbling energy. One occasionally yearns for more. Finance gets rather short shrift: Britain had a thriving capital market and presumably this added to its edge in industrialising. Policies limiting rivals' access to British colonies, and industrial exports from those colonies, might also be worth more attention.

But today, when governments from America to Japan are reinventing industrial policy with each off-the-cuff bail-out, this study offers some useful reminders. One is that innovation is most likely to occur where there is market demand for it. Another is that patents can delay innovation as well as stimulate it. A third is that the benefits of trade cannot be overestimated. Not that that needs repeating.

This article appeared in the Books & arts section of the print edition under the headline "Supply and demand"

Episode 17 – The Invention of the Printing Press versus the Industrial Revolution

Early Printing Press

Today, we introduce you to two of the most earth-shattering events in human history. On the one side, we have the invention of the Printing Press, an invention which would allow for the sharing of information to the masses. On the other hand, we have the Industrial Revolution which would change the fabric of human existence.

First up is the printing press that would come about from the brain of one Johannes Guttenberg in 1439. Until then, the ability to mass produce printed word and images was painfully slow. Woodblock printing was around from about the 8 th century, during the Tang dynasty in China with movable metal type actually appearing in Korea in the 13 th century. Of course, these methods were faster than copying books by hand, which is how most bibles at the time were created.

We all know that the advent of the printing press was to allow for the distribution of information to a more significant number of people, but the question begs, what situation precipitated the need for the printing press?

The first reason may surprise you it was the aftermath of the Black Death of 1346 through 1353. I would assume you are wondering what this pandemic has to do with the ascension of the printing press but hear me out. It is estimated that the plague in Europe during the mid-14 th century killed between 30-60% of the population, or between 75-100 million in Europe and another 100 million in Asia. With so many deaths, the remaining people inherited their properties causing a substantial increase in net worth of many of the 350 million left.

On top of all that, many of the monks who were able to copy books died in the plague. The reason for the unusually high mortality rate among the men of the cloth was the crowded conditions of the monasteries.

With an increase of economic worth comes a socio-cultural shift, and in particular, religion. There was a great schism in Western Christianity between 1378-1416 led by men such as John Wycliffe at Oxford University and Jan Hus at the Charles University in Prague. Questioning authority, especially the Catholic Church began to spread. The problem was, handwritten manuscripts and flyers were tedious and most of the scribes of the day were employed by the church.

Necessity is the mother of invention as they say and the obligation to create a faster means of sharing information was a significant need. There was a demand for books from the post-Black Death era, and Johannes Gutenberg saw his opening.

A goldsmith by trade, Gutenberg new how to shape metal which allowed him to create his type pieces in easy to use lead-based alloys. The Latin Alphabet was also easier to use than logographic systems like Chinese characters and Japanese Kanji. All you needed was 26 characters, not hundreds to create any word.

There was the development of another technology that helped make the printing press possible and that was the ability to mass produce paper instead of parchment. By the 14 th century, numerous paper making centers were popping up in Italy and Germany. The cost of making paper also dropped.

The last technological hump was the inks used. Paper was not a good fit with the standard water-based inks as they bled too much. What Gutenberg did was to create oil-based ink which worked well with the metal typesetting he invented.

The Printing Revolution as it is called exploded throughout Europe in just a few years. Staring in Gutenberg’s shop in Mainz, Germany in 1439, within 40 years there were 110 places in the continent. In the sixty years after the first page was run, close to 20 million copies were produced.

The effect on European life was enormous. Martin Luther’s tracts from his Ninety-Five Thesis of 1517 were reproduced over 300,000 times. The Protestant Reformation would never have gotten as far as it did without the printing press.

Theological questions could be shared with the masses, science could be passed on to be contemplated upon, newspapers began to pop up conveying recent news.

What many historians point out as one of the greatest outcomes of the invention of the printing press is the democratization of knowledge. No longer did you have to belong to the nobility to access education, no longer did you have to be wealthy, but more importantly, the Church and the State would no longer be able to control what you could read or learn about, although they most certainly tried.

With the increased access to knowledge, you begin to see the rise of local languages and the decline of Latin giving even more people the ability to learn. The economies of the countries who embraced the printing press were also significantly improved. You could now share manuals on how to build bridges, buildings, or how to do double-entry bookkeeping. The spreading of knowledge would not have another explosion like the invention of the printing press until the creating of the Internet in the 20 th century.

Of course, the Gutenberg press was only the start of the printing revolution. Newer, faster printers came online allowing for more print to come out of each shop at lower costs. In 1814, The Times of London produced 1,110 impression2 per hour. By 1920, with the Platen Press, they could triple the output.

The invention by Johannes Gutenberg changed the world and still has a major impact on us.

Now to the Put It into Perspective segment of the podcast. In 1439, Pope Pius III was born, The Battle of Grotnik was fought where Wladyslav III crushed the Hussites in Poland and the town of Plymouth, England was the first town incorporated by the British Parliament.

Next up, is another earth-shattering event that changed the world forever, the Industrial Revolution.

Power Loom

Prior to 1760, most manufacturing was done in homes or small shops using simple tools or in rare instances machines. Life was simple but challenging, and most people were poor. The average person lived in a small village or town, and their lives were focused on farming. A fundamental change in the everyday lives of everyone was about to change, and the transformation began in Great Britain.

There are many reasons why England was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. First, it was politically stable, and it was an island where wars were not being fought all the time like on the continent. It was also a colonial power which gave it access to raw materials that others could not gather. Britain also had enormous deposits of coal and iron ore which is crucial to industrialization.

The first industry to be transformed was in textiles. Previously, merchants would drop off raw materials to the small shops and homes and pick up the finished goods. This was an inefficient way to provide products and limited supply as well as being relatively expensive. With the invention of the spinning jenny by James Hargreaves in 1764 an individual could produce multiple spools of thread in the same time they could create one. The power loom was developed in the 1780’s whereby vast quantities of cloth could be made.

In 1712, Thomas Newcomen created the first practical steam engine. In the 1770’s James Watt significantly improved it which made steam available to power machinery, trains, and ships to transport goods around the world. To understand the ramifications, we look at the amount of raw cotton imported into Britain. In 1750, 2.5 million pounds of raw cotton entered the ports, 37 years later, it was 22 million pounds, and by 1850 it was 588 million pounds.

With all of this production came an increase in the average wage of a worker. An English worker in Lancashire made six times the amount of salary than the cottage industry worker in India did. With more money comes an increased buying power.

Other industries that saw explosions in efficiency and manufacturing capabilities included iron making and the creation of machine tools.

With these improvements also comes some adverse side effects. The conditions that the workers who labored in the newer, bigger shops and factories were at times, horrific and very dangerous. It led to some riots in England as the people who used to work in their cottages rebelled against the changes. Those who opposed the revolution were often times called Luddites. Here is a quote I found in my research. “The word “Luddite” refers to a person who is opposed to technological change. The term is derived from a group of early 19 th century English workers who attacked factories and destroyed machinery as a means of protest. They were supposedly led by a man named Ned Ludd, though he may have been an apocryphal figure.”

Transportation was transformed from horse-drawn wagons and boats transporting goods to steam locomotives and steam-powered ships moving greater piles of product faster and further than ever before. Not only that, but people could travel further and further away from their home bases. By 1850, Great Britain had over 6,000 miles of railroads. In Russia, a country vastly more massive than its counterpart had about 570 miles. This gap continued for decades.

There is so much more that happened due to the Industrial Revolution including improvements in chemicals, cement, gas lights, glass making, agriculture, mining, transportation, roads, and railways. But the real change was in the standard of living.

According to economist Robert E. Lucas Jr., “for the first time in history, the living standards of the masses of ordinary people have begun to undergo sustained growth… Nothing remotely like this economic behavior is mentioned by the classical economists, even as a theoretical possibility.” It didn’t happen overnight, but net wages did rise substantially over the years, and the life expectancy of children showed dramatic increases. In London for instance, the number of children who died before the age of five went from a staggering 74.5% in the years between 1730-1749 to 31.8% in the years between 1810-1829.

I could go on and on for days about all of the changes in society caused by the Industrial Revolution, but this is not the time and place for that. Maybe someone will do a podcast solely on the topic, which is something I certainly would listen to.

We’ve talked a lot about the changes in Great Britain due to the improved industrialization, but other countries followed suit quickly after that. Surprisingly, Belgium was the second country to benefit from the change. France was next followed by Germany which became a powerhouse in the chemical industry along with countries like Sweden, Japan, and of course the United States.

This information begs the question, ‘Why did the Industrial Revolution begin in Europe and not places like China, India and the Middle East which all were far more advanced in the year 1500 than their counterpart?’ Some historians believe that the advent of the printing press was one of the impetuses behind Europe’s dominance. It allowed manuals to be constructed to educate people about the new technologies. Others dismiss this as they cite historical data showing the other countries having printing presses as well. The one theory that seems to answer the question best is that Europe had so many different countries and languages that there was a competitive edge, trying to outdo your neighbor that gave the Europeans the will to innovate.

According to David Landes in his work “The Unbound Prometheus,” there were six reasons (1) The period of peace and stability which followed the unification of England and Scotland (2) no trade barriers between England and Scotland (3) the rule of law (enforcing property rights and respecting the sanctity of contracts) (4) a straightforward legal system that allowed the formation of joint-stock companies (corporations) (5) absence of tolls, which had largely disappeared from Britain by the 15th century, but were an extreme burden on goods elsewhere in the world, and (6) a free market (capitalism).

Another theory is that Great Britain had what is called, the Protestant Work Ethic which espoused hard work, discipline, and frugality. This is hotly debated but is a palatable theory based on the information we have.

First off, we have 15 points to give out based on the number of people involved in the event. While the printing press invention was started by one man and spread to a few thousand pretty quickly, the Industrial Revolution had hundreds of inventions involving millions of people. 15 points go to it with 5 going to the Guttenberg’s press.

Twenty points need to be doled out based on how the event affected the world at the time. One cannot diminish the immediate impact of the printing press on Europe while the Industrial Revolution took some time before it spread from Great Britain to the rest of the world. For these reasons, I’m giving the printing press 20 with 12 going to the revolution.

Next up is the 25 points for the long-term impact on the world. The invention of the printing press changed our world, mostly for the better. It made the spread of knowledge available to everyone. You no longer needed to be wealthy or connected to learn things, you just needed to know how to read. The Industrial Revolution though changed everything. People were lifted up from day to day existence worrying about how to feed you and your family to a world where you can travel almost anywhere and enjoy a far better lifestyle than our ancestors. For these reasons, I give the Industrial Revolution 25 points and the invention of the printing press 20.

Now for the big points, 40 for the immediate effect on the country or countries involved. While the press did have an almost immediate impact, the Industrial Revolution from its beginning in 1760 to its end between 1820 to 1840, drastically changed nearly everything. Industrial Revolution 40, printing press 35.

Our totals in today’s Historical Event battle is the Invention of the Printing Press 80, the Industrial Revolution 92. The winner will face off against World War I.

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Although Samuel F.B. More didn’t technically invent the electric telegraph, since many others had claimed to invent the first electric telegraph by 1838, Morse was the first to get federal funding for the invention. The telegraph was important because it allowed people to communicate quickly over long distances by transmitting electrical signals over a wire laid between stations. In 1843, Morse built a telegraph system from Washington D.C. to Baltimore, Maryland with financial support of Congress and he sent the first telegraphic message on May 24, 1844, which said “What hath God wrought?”

The Birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution

Paterson, New Jersey, holds a unique place in history. It was here, in America's first planned industrial city, that the Industrial Revolution got a foothold in the New World. Centered around the Great Falls of the Passaic River, Paterson pioneered methods for harnessing water power for industrial use. In Paterson, many of the manufactories that enabled the young United States to become an economic player on the world stage, were established and promoted. In the process, Paterson experienced all the economic highs and lows that can befall an industrial center.

This area was first inhabited by the Lenni Lenape, followed by Dutch settlers in the 17th century. Fourteen Dutch families established themselves here, later dividing up their 100-acre plots of land into smaller farm units. Almost 80 years later, in 1792, the area would be transformed due to the vision of one man.

Portrait of Alexander Hamilton

After the Revolutionary War ended, Alexander Hamilton began promoting his views on the economic needs of the new nation. He was concerned over the lack of industry in the United States during colonial times, it was prohibited by English law. Hamilton believed that a strong industrial system was the best way to help the United States gain financial independence and become a world presence.

After Hamilton was appointed the United States' first Secretary of the Treasury, he continued to advocate for the establishment of industry in America. Toward that end he co-founded the "Society for Establishing Usefull Manufactures" (S.U.M.), a manufacturing society that would be operated by private interests, but would have the support of government. The charter for S.U.M. called for the society to both manufacture goods and trade in them as well. This was the entity that, in 1792, purchased 700 acres of land above and below the Great Falls and established the city of Paterson, named for New Jersey Governor William Paterson Paterson was an ardent supporter of Hamilton's plans and he signed S.U.M.'s charter in November of 1791.

Image of Pierre L'Enfant in the U.S. Capitol

Paterson's early years were marred by financial and personnel difficulties. Over-speculation on the part of S.U.M.'s directors, and a temperamental civil engineer (Pierre Charles L'Enfant - designer of Washington, D.C.), hired to design the city, plagued the enterprise. Despite these problems, the first cotton mill was built shortly after the land was purchased water power was not yet available, so the "Bull Mill" was operated by ox-power. When the first raceway was built in early 1794, the power of the river was first used, and a second cotton mill opened later that year. The town boomed during the War of 1812, and then suffered a setback after the war ended, as foreign textiles became more easily obtained.

Later, more raceways provided more extensive access to water, allowing for more mills to be built. As the years progressed, manufacturing in Paterson became more diversified - in addition to cotton and wool textiles, Paterson began building railroad locomotives, making paper, and producing rope, hemp, and even firearms. This diversification proved to be key to Paterson's success, although all these industries were affected by changing levels of supply and demand that influenced all areas of life. Opportunities for workers were further affected by influxes of immigrants from Ireland, England, France, Russia, Poland, Germany, and other parts of the world.

The height of Paterson's industrial strength came in the 1890s. Although there had been silk mills in Paterson since the mid-1800s, silk production became more dominant. By the end of the 19th century, the silk industry had earned the city its nickname, "Silk City". In 1913, Paterson became a focal point of the labor movement when silk mill workers struck for six months, demanding improved working conditions and an eight-hour workday. Although it failed, the 1913 Silk Strike focused national attention on the plight of mill workers and eventually contributed to later improvements to working conditions nationwide.

As happened with most other Northeastern industrial cities, Paterson's fortunes continued on an uneven course through the twentieth century. The Great Depression hit the city hard, as did the manufacturing slump that came after World War II. The post-World War II years would see most of the mills and factories shuttering their doors, even as more workers arrived some were African-Americans from the South, others came from other parts of the world.

In 1945, S.U.M., the society that started it all, sold its charter and all of its remaining property to the City of Paterson. After 153 years, S.U.M. had not realized its original dream of becoming a manufacturer and trader of goods. It had succeeded, however, in establishing a center for others to come and seek their fortunes in the power provided by the Passaic River and the Great Falls. Ultimately, Paterson would fall victim to the economic uncertainties that have affected other industrial centers. By the 1960s, Paterson's fortunes had waned, with only a few cotton mills still operating. A grass-roots group, spearheaded by Mary Ellen Kramer, wife of then-Mayor Lawrence "Pat" Kramer, began working towards re-vitalizing the downtown and Great Falls sections of Paterson. Their efforts led to the Great Falls/S.U.M. areas to be placed on the Department of the Interior's National Register of Historic Places, the preservation of some of the historic buildings within the Historic District, and attracted attention from federal entities such as the Smithsonian Institution and the National Park Service. Through the 1970s, the area continued to gain more national recognition the Great Falls were declared a National Landmark in 1976, and in 1977, the power and raceway system were named a National Civil and Mechanical Engineering Landmark.

These milestones led to plans to create a national park with the Great Falls at its center. It would not only protect this natural wonder, but it would encompass the surrounding district with its stories of mills and factories, pioneering technology, and the changing faces of Paterson's workers and residents. On November 7, 2011, after decades of work, Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park was dedicated as the 397th unit in the National Park System. Paterson's story has not ended. While the Great Falls no longer provide power to the now-silent mills, they will once again serve the city of Paterson by telling the world of the contributions and innovations that began here.

Watch the video: Textile Manufacturing Before the Industrial Revolution (August 2022).