Industrialization of England


The first of the developments that revolutionized the textile industry was the invention of the flying shuttle by John Kay in 1733. This was a mechanism on a loom that projected the shuttle carrying the wool back and forth across the warp. Weaving was so much faster on looms with flying shuttles that a yarn shortage soon developed.

The spinning wheel in use at that time turned only a single spindle, which twisted the fiber into yarn. Inventors started designing machines to replace the spinning wheel. About 1764 James Hargreaves introduced the spinning jenny, a machine that turned a number of spindles at the same time.

Yarn spun with a jenny was fine but weak. Richard Arkwright's spinning frame (often called the water frame because it was commonly operated by water power) was patented in 1769. It stretched cotton fibers so that they spun into a yarn that was stronger than that produced by a jenny, but coarser. In 1779 Samuel Crompton perfected a machine that was able to spin many fine, strong yarns at the same time. It was called the spinning mule because it was a hybrid combining features of the spinning jenny and the spinning frame.

Edmund Cartwright's power loom (1785) was too clumsy to be widely used, but it was improved by other inventors until in the 1820's power-driven looms were adopted throughout the textile industry. In 1793 Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin , which separated fiber from seeds 50 times faster than could be done by hand. This machine made a vast supply of United States cotton available to the English mills.

Beginnings of the Factory System

The factory system that replaced the cottage system in the cotton industry was extended later to the manufacture of woolens, lace, and knitted hosiery. Metalworking also changed from a cottage industry to a factory industry. Hastily built factory towns sprang up. Most workers were housed in ugly communities that, after the introduction of steam power, lay under a constant pall of coal smoke and soot.

The textile factories employed mostly women and children, who could easily handle the machines and would work for very low pay. There were no laws controlling wages, hours, or working conditions. The working day might be 16 hours long. Orphans and children of the poor were often apprenticed to the textile manufacturers, and were sometimes chained to their machines. The factories were drafty and insanitary. When workers became ill or were injured by a machine, they received no pay. Their earnings barely kept them alive.

The Steam Engine

Steam power was first used in industry when the steam pump was introduced in the late 17th century to remove water from mines. In 1776 an improved steam engine designed by James Watt was installed in John Wilkinson's iron-smelting works to pump air to the furnace. Thus far, the steam engine was only a pump. When Watt had worked out a system by which it could turn wheels, Wilkinson bought a second engine to roll iron. In 1784 a steam engine was used in a deep coal mine to lift coal to the surface. In 1785 Arkwright installed a steam engine in one of his cotton mills. The use of steam power in the iron and textile industries and in mining soon became general.

Iron and Coal

In early iron furnaces charcoal was used as fuel. By the 17th century, timber was becoming scarce in England. In the early 18th century it was found that coke (a product of coal) burned with enough heat to smelt iron. The pig iron produced in a coke furnace, however, had a high carbon content that made it weak and brittle.

The new textile machinery and the steam engine required a tougher metal. In 1783 Peter Onions and Henry Cort introduced a process called puddling. Puddling removed most of the carbon and produced wrought iron , a metal that is tough and malleable (soft enough to be shaped). A system for rolling the iron into shape was developed, and methods of making machine parts to precise measurements were worked out. The use of iron increased rapidly, and called for more coal to furnish coke for fuel.

Working conditions in coal mines were even worse than in factories. Because of the low height of the mine galleries, women and teenagers were often employed to pull the coal carts. The working day was 12 to 16 hours. Coal mining was unhealthful work, but it became less dangerous with the invention of the miner's safety lamp by Sir Humphry Davy in 1815.

Transportation and Communication

In the mid-17th century, the only highways in England were those built by the Romans 14 centuries before. In 1663 Parliament passed the first of a series of turnpike laws. They provided for the development of tollways by local authorities and private companies, who would then build and improve roads financed by the tolls. The growth of good roads, however, lagged behind the growth in industry until Parliament passed the General Turnpike Act in 1773, which greatly hastened road-building. In the early 1800's, John McAdam developed a crushed-stone process of surfacing (macadamizing) that helped create a better highway system.

Coal and iron were too heavy to be transported by road. In 1759 Parliament passed the first of many acts providing for the building of canals, and by 1830 there were some 4,000 miles (6,400 km) of canals and improved rivers in the country. Meanwhile, the steamboat was being perfected by Robert Fulton in the United States. Regular transatlantic navigation by steam-powered vessels began in 1838.

The canal system provided cheap, efficient transportation for heavy freight, but was much too slow for such perishable goods as food. What was needed was a means of adapting the steam engine to land transportation. The problem was solved by George Stephenson. He built his first steam locomotive in 1814, and helped establish the first two English railways in 1825 and 1830. Trains replaced canal boats in transport of many products. Iron and coal production increased to meet the needs of railways.

Good roads made it possible to introduce penny postage, the first cheap mail service, in 1840. A decade later the railways began carrying the mail. The telegraph came into use in Great Britain in 1837 when Charles Wheatstone and William F. Cooke made the first practical installation. In 1851 a cable was laid beneath the English Channel to France.

Political and Social Changes

During the first part of the Industrial Revolution, the government policy was laissez faire (noninterference in business and industry). Britain's Parliament was dominated by aristocrats and capitalists, who benefited from cheap labor. Protests about the plight of working people were so great by the end of the 18th century, however, that Parliament was forced to act. The first two Factory Acts (1802 and 1819) were designed to regulate the employment of children. Since no enforcement procedure was set up, however, the laws were not observed.

From 1811 to 1816 a group of workers called Luddites staged a series of riots protesting unemployment caused by the introduction of machines. The demands for political and social reform, coming from many quarters, became so insistent that Parliament at last took action. In 1832 a Reform Bill was passed that gave increased parliamentary representation to the new industrial cities. This marked the beginning of a reform era in which the principle of government regulation for the welfare of the people was accepted by most British leaders.

In 1834 a new Poor Law made employed men ineligible for public aid. Employers who had depended on their workers getting relief payments in addition to their earnings were forced to pay a living wage. Reforms in working conditions were accomplished by passage of Factory Acts in 1833, 1844, and 1847, and of a Mines Act in 1842. The parliamentary leader of the reform cause was Lord Ashley (who later became earl of Shaftesbury). In 1846 the Corn Law imposing heavy duties on the import of grain was repealed, and bread prices, which had been exorbitant, gradually were lowered.

During this period trade unionism began to grow. It was outlawed by acts passed in 1799–1800, but became legal in 1824. An outgrowth of unionism was the establishment of cooperatives, beginning in 1844. Another working-class movement, Chartism, tried to bring about further political reforms during 1838–48. Socialism, as advocated by Karl Marx and others, gained a large following among workers.