The Industrial Revolution
Site Map

powered by

Last updated:
17 February 2003
4:14AM EST

The Industrial Revolution  

Innovations of the Industrial Revolution

Agricultural Revolution

The Agricultural Revolution is the name given to the drastic changes in the farming process that occurred in the 1600's onwards. The spread-out, shared farms, common under the "open-field system" of cultivation, turned into more compact, but larger, farms. The many problems associated with open fields; the overgrazing of animals, difficulty in reaching consensus for change, and single herds that had led to a spread of animal diseases and uncontrollable breeding breeding; had all become generally solved (Gernhard). Farmers had discovered a crop rotation system that allowed them to forgo leaving up to half the land unused or fallow between each planting. Animal husbandry was becoming widely used. This was just the beginning of the change, and many important players were able to create other innovations for the farm that would change the ways farms would work:

The Seed Drill - Source
  • Jethro Tull (1674 - 1741)

    Jethro Tull was a key player in introducing and popularizing root vegetables. His major contributions to the Agricultural Revolution, however, were his two inventions: the seed drill and horse hoe (Gernhard). The seed drill was an innovation that allowed seeds to be easily planted deep into the earth instead of on top where the majority were washed away or otherwise lost. The machine was pulled by horses and consisted of rotating drills or runners that would plant seeds at a set depth (Seed Drill). His other invention, the horse hoe, was another revolutionary device which allowed for much more efficient planting by allowing a horse to pull a plow quickly.

  • Lord Townshend

    Townshend was another key player in popularizing root vegetables, even more so than Tull. Called "Turnip" Townshend by others, he was famous for his cultivation of turnips and clover on his estate in Norfolk. He introduced the four-course rotation of crops which helped keep the ground good for farming almost all year. This cycle consisted of wheat, turnips, oats or barley, and clover (The Agricultural Revolution).

  • Robert Bakewell (1725 - 1795)

    Bakewell was the first and most prominent stock breeder of farm animals. By breeding only animals with certain qualities, Bakewell was able to breed much more livestock. Bakewell kept elaborate genealogical records of his valuable animals and maintained his stock carefully; he was renowned for his success with sheep. By the end of the eighteenth century, his principles of stock breeding were practiced widely (The Agricultural Revolution).

During the Agricultural Revolution, the agricultural output of England increased about three and a half times (The Agricultural Revolution). With more productive farms and a smaller work load, more people were able to leave the farms and go to the city. It is this large available workforce that allowed for the greater production needed to spark the Industrial Revolution.

Key Innovations and Inventors of the Industrial Revolution

Technology, arguably the greatest aspect of the Industrial Revolution, can be simplified into a few different innovations and inventors, most inspired by one product. The first product to undergo the "revolution" from the cottage industry to the mechanized age was cotton. Britain, at the time, had a large wool trade. In 1760, the amount of wool exported was almost thirty times that of cotton. Demand for cotton grew with a change in the upper class fashion, and Britain started to allow more cotton production. Soon, not enough cotton could not be made to satisfy the demand (Haberman 48). This demand was the inspiration for the following four inventions:

  • John Kay's "flying shuttle"

    John Kay, a mechanic from Lancashire, patented the flying shuttle. Using cords attached to a picking peg, a single weaver, using one hand, could operate the shuttle on the loom (Simkin). With this invention it took four spinners to keep up with one cotton loom, and ten people to prepare yarn for one weaver. So while spinners were often busy, weavers often waited for yarn (Gernhard). As such, the flying shuttle effectively doubled a weaver's production of cloth (Haberman 48).

    Weaving machine before and after implementing Kay's "flying shuttle" - Source
  • James Hargreaves' "spinning jenny"

    In 1764, James Hargreaves invented the "spinning jenny," a device which allowed one person to spin many threads at once, further increasing the amount of finished cotton that a worker could produce. By turning a single wheel, one could now spin eight threads at once, a number that was later increased to eighty. The thread, unfortunately, was usually coarse and lacked strength. Despite this shortcoming, over 20 000 of the machines were in use in Britain by 1778 (Simkin).

  • Richard Arkwright's "water frame"

    Also in 1764, Richard Arkwright created the "water frame" to produce yarn faster (Haberman 48). The "Spinning-Frame," its earlier name, was too large to be operated by hand. After experimenting with other sources of power, he decided to employ the power of a water wheel, and his machine became known as the water frame (Industrial Revolution: The Industrial Revolution in Great Britain). Rollers produced yarn of the correct thickness, while a set of spindles twisted fibers together. The machine was able to produce a thread far stronger than any other available at the time (Simkin).

  • Samuel Crompton's "Crompton's mule"

    In 1779, Samuel Crompton combined both the spinning jenny and the water frame to create a machine known as "Crompton's mule," which produced large amounts of fine, strong yarn (Simkin).

With the arrival of these inventions, yarn had effectively become industrialized. By 1812, the cost of making cotton yarn had dropped by nine-tenths and the number of workers needed to turn wool into yarn had been reduced by four-fifths (Gernhard). The addition of these inventions to the work force moved the stress from the production to the supply of raw cotton. Within just a 35 year period, more than 100,000 power looms with 9,330,000 spindles were put into service in England and Scotland (Technology Throughout History). Britain took advantage of the Americas' available new cotton, using it to help absorb the demand. By 1830, the importation of raw cotton had increased to eight times its past rate and half of Britain's exports were refined cotton. At this point, the demand was high enough to provide inspiration for what is probably the most well known invention of the Revolution: the steam engine.

  • James Watt's "steam engine"

    In 1769, James Watt patented the steam engine and in effect created a new source of power. Early-model steam engines were introduced to drain water and raise coal from the mines, but the crucial development was the use of steam for power (Industrial Revolution: The Industrial Revolution in Great Britain). The first steam engine was actually produced by Thomas Newcomen, but Watt later improved and patented it. The original idea was to put a vertical piston and cylinder at the end of a pump handle and then to put steam in the cylinder and condense it with a spray of cold water. The vacuum created allowed atmospheric pressure to push the piston down, but Watt made it a reciprocating engine, creating the true steam engine (Gernhard).

  • Robert Fulton's "steamboat"

    In 1807, Robert Fulton used steam power to create the first steamboat, an invention that would change the way and the speed in which materials could be moved between the colonies of Britain (Haberman 48). In the beginning, the ship was more expensive to build and operate than sailing vessels, but the steamship had some advantages. It could take off under its own power and it was more steadfast in storms (Gernhard).

  • Stephenson's "steam powered train"

    Stephenson's Blucher - Source

    Finally, in 1814, Stephenson used the steam engine to create a steam powered train, which would eventually allow increased communication and trade between places before deemed too far. Soon, the steam-powered train had become an icon of success throughout the world (Haberman 48). Britain encouraged the building of railroads in other European countries, often with British capital, equipment, and technicians. Railroads became a standard item of British export (Gernhard).

From a suitable product comes a mass of inventions that will lead other areas of trade and production towards industrialization. These first innovations have greatly effected the basic elements of the era: agriculture, power, transportation, textiles, and communication.

The Textile Industry

The advancement of the textile industry was a key development in Britain's industrialization. It was consequently this industry that first employed the factory system. The raw materials used were essentially the same ones used under the domestic system, mainly featuring wool and cotton, but machines were now used to take the raw product and create fabric. With the use of machines and an "assembly-line" approach, it was possible to make enormous amounts of fabric in less time and for less money (Porter). Yet while advancements in this industry brought huge profits, and were therefore very good for the economy, there were many problems with how factories were run. Young children were employed, and were given very small salaries. They were also forced to work extremely long hours in dangerous conditions, and were beaten in order to keep them working (Kaufman). It was not until the late 1820s that critics began to attack the way in which factories were run. Finally, in 1832, Michael Thomas Sadler headed a parliamentary committee on child labour known as the "Sadler Commission" (Modern Europe). But even when legislation designed to protect the worker was put in place, it was rarely implemented. Powerless workers eventually formed unions as a way of fighting the profit-hungry factory owners.

  • Inventions in the Textile Industry

    1733 - Flying shuttle invented by John Kay - an improvement to looms that enabled weavers to weave faster.
    1742 - Cotton mills were first opened in England.
    1764 - Spinning jenny invented by James Hargreaves - the first machine to improve upon the spinning wheel.
    1764 - Water frame invented by Richard Arkwright - the first powered textile machine.
    1769 - Arkwright patented the water frame.
    1770 - Hargreaves patented the Spinning Jenny.
    1773 - The first all-cotton textiles were produced in factories.
    1779 - Crompton invented the spinning mule that allowed for greater control over the weaving process.
    1785 - Cartwright patented the power loom. It was improved upon by William Horrocks, known for his invention of the variable speed batton in 1813.
    1787 - Cotton goods production had increased 10 fold since 1770.
    1789 - Samuel Slater brought textile machinery design to the US.
    1790 - Arkwright built the first steam powered textile factory in Nottingham, England.
    1792 - Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin - a machine that automated the separation of cottonseed from the short-staple cotton fibre.
    1804 - Joseph Marie Jacquard invented the Jacquard Loom that weaved complex designs. Jacquard invented a way of automatically controlling the warp and weft threads on a silk loom by recording patterns of holes in a string of cards.
    1813 - William Horrocks invented the variable speed batton (for an improved power loom).
    1856 - William Perkin invented the first synthetic dye (Bellis).

The Factory System

The Domestic System
The Factory System
  • Virtually all work was done by hand, in much the same way that it had always been done since the time of the Romans.
  • Workers would receive the raw materials, take them home and build whatever was required, and then return the finished product.
  • Usually work was done in the labourer's own home, although in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries some labourers worked all together in large "factories" or workrooms (Porter).
  • The factory system developed in the late eighteenth century, chiefly due to the advances being made in the textile industry.
  • With inventions such as the flying shuttle, the spinning jenny, and many others, the making of cloth became much faster, and could be done on a much wider scale (Kaufman). As a result, hand weavers were driven out of business by big new factories, which they were later forced to work in.
  • These factories were first run by water, then by steam, and their output greatly improved the nation's economy.
  • Instead of one worker completing an item, such as a length of material, a variety of machines made the fabric. Also, instead of one worker following the same piece of material from raw wool to dyed cloth, each worker concentrated on only one task. This "assembly-line" approach was very efficient, however the tasks became extremely monotonous and repetitive (Kaufman).
  • Working conditions were also very poor. Factory labourers—mainly young children— had to put in extremely long hours, were very poorly paid, and worked in dangerous and violent surroundings. During the first part of the Industrial Revolution there were no laws to protect workers, and even when a few were passed they were rarely followed.

Continue by reading about the lasting Impact of the Industrial Revolution >>>