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Research Paper on the Industrial Revolution

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The Industrial Revolution is easily one of the single most significant events in human history and a popular choice for research paper and essay writing. As a mechanism of social change, the Revolution spurred massive economic growth, urbanization, changed gender roles, broke apart traditional family structures, and paved the way for the development of the modern nation-state and global economy. This sample research paper by Ultius describes the history of the Industrial Revolution and its effects on the economy.

The Industrial Revolution: A brief history

The Industrial Revolution has been viewed as one of the most influential events to occur to the economic world in the history of modern society (in terms of economic development). The invention of many new items that all helped people performed certain tasks more efficiently lead the world to be able to produce many more goods in a much shorter time frame. The impact of the Industrial Revolution on the world as a whole was that it catapulted the world economy into an almost frenzy like state, in which people had access to a much wider variety of goods and services offered to them by businesses. The impact that this event had on the worker’s life was not necessarily a good or bad thing, however. 

With the advent of new, more efficient technology, workers were able to more easily accomplish certain tasks that would have taken them a much longer time to complete before the start of the Industrial Revolution, however there were some serious negative side effects of such a quick influx of technology. With such new practices and ideas put into the workplace, many workers were expected to be as efficient as the new ways of producing a product or service, and as a result, their health and safety were often overlooked. The Industrial Revolution has had lasting effects on the entire population in almost every facet of our lives, as both consumers and workers, and will always be remembered as one of the driving forces behind the way in which the modern economies of the world have been achieved by developed nations. 

Origins of the movement

Before the Industrial Revolution, the products that were produced by people were all handmade and had to be constructed individually. (Learn more about proto-industrialization.) This meant that the production of a product took a much greater amount of time for construction and that the individuals that made said products had to be specifically trained to master that skill. This all would change in the 1800s as with the start of the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain. 

There are largely considered to be three major changes that helped to bring about the Industrial Revolution. They are:

  1. The invention of machines to do the work of hand tools
  2. The use of steam, and later of other kinds of power, in place of the muscles of human beings and of animals
  3. The adoption of the factory system (Hackett). 

How the Industrial Revolution introduced modern life

These three fundamental changes in the way in which people did business all played important roles in the way in which the Industrial Revolution occurred and shaped people’s lives for centuries to come. 

With the invention of many machines that could do the work of hand tools at a quicker pace, individuals no longer had to specially trained to be a part of the production of a particular product. All that the worker had to be capable of doing was operating the equipment that was necessary for the production of the product. 

Incorporating steam power into production made it possible to achieve physical tasks that would normally have taken multiple people or a team of animals to complete. Again, this allowed for an individual that was not highly trained to be in control of working on a task with the aid of a powered machine that could accomplish something that the worker was physically unable to do by them. 

Finally, the factory system allowed for the streamlining of manufacturing the products of a business (which China would dominate later in the 20th century). Workers were able to focus on completing a single task of the production stage, which allowed for a team of workers to cheaply and efficiently turn out a high volume of that product in a relatively short time frame. 

These changes drastically altered the way in which production occurred because they allowed for many unskilled workers to be able to contribute to the production of certain products and the speed of production for said products increased astronomically. 

Why did it start in England?

The Industrial Revolution first took hold in England for several important reasons. First, the merchant class of England was extremely effective in developing commerce. This trade increase raised the demand for goods in the area that helped spur the advent of many new ways to produce the needed goods. 

Additionally, England homed many individuals that pushed for scientific progress in the industrial sector to help aid the progression of business. These individuals were part of an increasing interest in both scientific investigation and invention. By pursuing their ideas, these scientists and inventors were able to lay the foundation and create machines that eased the use of business. 

Finally, England followed the idea of the laissez-faire doctrine, which allowed the business world to grow freely and uninterrupted by the government for the most part. These factors all set the early stages for the Industrial Revolution to take place and gain momentum in England first (Hackett). 

Additional Reading: Why Britian was the first nation to industrialize.

The role of technology in the workplace

With the increase in the use of modern technology in the workplace came changes for the general laborer of the time period.

A Timeline of Technological Advances in the Industrial Revolution Source: IR
Technological advances during the Revolution reshaped the workforce. Key events from the period between 1760 and 1850 are summarized below.
Year Event
1765 James Hargreaves invents the spinning jenny for spinning thread.
1787 Edmund Cartwright invents the power-loom for weaving cloth.
1815 Sir Humphrey Davy and George Stephenson both invent safety lamps for miners.
1837 The first message is sent via telegraph.
1839 James Nasmyth invents the steam hammer which is used for shaping iron.

When before a person would have to specialize in a specific job and know the details of working that particular job, they now were used in a factory setting where they had to focus on a single, usually menial task to accomplish. This meant two very important things. 

First, a worker could be easily hired, as they did not have to have a specific set of skills that were necessary for a job to be performed. This meant that the potential group of individuals that could be hired for a certain job jumped up astronomically as the workers needed for factories were considered to be “unskilled.” This made it much easier for a person to find work, therefore. 

However, this was not the only significant outcome to the workforce. With the number of potential workers being so high suddenly, those that owned and operated these new factories began to see the laborer as being insignificant. They were seen as easily replaced because of their lack of apparent skill set and were treated rather poorly. 

How maximizing profits changed the quality of life

Poor working conditions

Factory owners had one major motivator on their minds with regards to their operations. They wanted to maximize profits. One easy way for a company to do this was to hire cheap labor. Many factories did this by targeting women and children as they could be paid less than men with no repercussions. The workers that were hired to these positions, especially women, were subject to some very harsh work conditions. They were subject to terrible work environments including buildings called sweatshops, which were poorly lit and ventilated for maximum productivity. They were forced to work in dangerous conditions where a person could easily be maimed or even killed if they mishandled the equipment they used for their work. 

It was not unheard of for the workers to be expected to work as much as 16 hours a day under threats of being fired or even physically abused if they did not complete their work with great haste. Even after all their effort in the workplace, it was not unheard of (or uncommon) for a person to be paid as little as a single dollar for their day’s efforts (Social Studies Help Center).

A higher standard of living

For all the negativity that surrounded the workplace, the standard of living did see some significant increase from the Industrial Revolution. As noted by Laura L. Frader, “living standards for workers rose enough so than many women could purchase clothing and the household articles that flooded the market by the turn of the century,” (Frader, 321). This is seen in evidence presented by economist N.F.R Crafts. The research shows that British income (compared to the 1970 U.S. dollar) rose from, “$430 in 1800, to $500 in 1830, and then jumped to $800 in 1860,” (Nardinelli). It should not come as a surprise that this time period is during the initial phases of the Industrial Revolution in England. 

This increase in the amount of income that an average family saw does not, however, offset the mistreatment that the workers saw during this period. This is especially true with regard to the workers of the female gender that were subject to just as much physical labor as men but saw a significantly smaller amount of pay for the work that they undertook. 

Karl Marx, Bakunin, and Pope Leo XIII

During this time period there were also three different doctrines that were written about the treatment of the working class and that of the way the government should deal with the way that they were being treated. The works are:

  • The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
  • Bakunin’s Anarchism documents
  • the Rerum Novarum (Latin for On the New Things) by Pope Leo XIII

These three documents all had quite different messages about the way in which the world should go about the changes that were being seen as a result of the Industrial Revolution. Their messages appealed to different groups and were the subject for much debate between society as a whole as to which path was to be followed.

Marx's revolution

Marx’s work makes the suggestion that the struggle between the working and managing classes is inevitable and that it has been seen through the course of history time and time again. As long as one class has all the power (much like the factory owners did during the early periods of the Industrial Revolution), the other will be constantly oppressed and kept from obtaining any sort of power of his or her own. Marx felt that it was necessary for this working class, therefore, to rise up and lead a revolution to take back control of the power. Then, and only then, will a system be able to be in place where there exist no different classes or struggles and everyone can be on level footing (Marx). Lots of nations considered this kind of thinking long after Marx died.

Bakunin's opposition to government

This is entirely different from the doctrine that is preached by Bakunin. According to these views, “So long as there's government, there will be no peace. There will only be more or less prolonged respites, armistices concluded by the perpetually belligerent states; but as soon as a state feels sufficiently strong to destroy this equilibrium to its advantage, it will never fail to do so,” (Bakunin). The suggestion is to completely remove the government so that individuals are able to live freely. They do not need this great bureaucratic entity over their heads to silently control and monitor their actions. Elimination of it will allow for people to be naturally more social, equal, and free.

Pope Leo XIII's perspective on the industrial revolution

Finally, Pope Leo XIII put out his encyclical around the time of the Industrial Revolution that was entitled “On the New Things.” This document addressed the changing time that the world was seeing from an economic point of view especially with the relation between laborers and the government. This document basically stated that the working class had a right to form unions for their own protection. It also rejected the idea of communism as well as unrestricted capitalism.

Finally, it supported fully the idea of people having the right to own private property. It is famous for stating, “it is neither just nor human so to grind men down with excessive labor as to stupefy their minds and wear out their bodies,” or “As regards the State, the interests of all, whether high or low, are equal,” (Pope Leo XIII). This document really pushed the idea of the government being an entity that should serve and protect its people and not let them be oppressed by the capitalism machine.

The working class grew astronomically over this time period, however there was an issue for the worker that was originally skilled in a field of business that had been replaced mostly by machines that were more efficient at their tasks. Many skilled workers were driven out of business because they could not compete with the output and lower price of products made in factories. This lead them to having to work in factories themselves where they were paid the same as an unskilled worker who took no pride in creating the product and possessed no real skill in the manufacturing of it (Hackett). 

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Women in the industrial workplace

Though women in the workplace were mistreated and put into poor positions through much of this time period, there existed some places where they were treated with dignity and given the respect that they deserved. One such example of this was in the salons of Paris. These centers of enlightenment often brought up “The Woman Question.” They were given authority in this place and it was seen as a feminine space because it challenged the traditional gender role view that women must be subordinate to men in the world. These people would argue for intellectual equality for all regardless of sex and advocated for the values of society over that of the values of the state as a whole (Goodman).

A link to the modern economy

There is no doubt that the Industrial Revolution was one of the most influential time periods of human history. It was almost solely responsible for propelling society into the modern economies that we still have in place today. The technological advances of this time are what allowed for the mass production of goods and services for society, which allowed for trade to be conducted on a much larger scale.

Additionally, the average family saw in increase in the amount of income that they received because an unskilled worker could find work in one of the many new factories that were opened to produce the goods needed for the business world. Unfortunately the workers of the time were usually taken advantage of because of their apparent lack of skill and the abundance of workers available for the same jobs. 

This created a work environment especially negative for women who would be treated unfairly in the workplace and would receive less pay for the work that they did. Prompted by the oppression that many in the working class felt, literary works were put out to inspire the workers to take back their freedoms. Karl Marx advocated for a revolution of the working class over the management that held them back. Bakunin advocated for the overthrow of the government to get society to a natural state of harmony, and the Pope pushed for a united workers front where the government protected its citizens from being oppressed in the workplace. Over the course of the Industrial Revolution the worker saw vast changes, which ultimately lead to the economic times we have now that are improved from the days of the past. 

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Works Cited

Bakunin, . "Anarchist Communist Federation." Anarchist Communist Federation. n. page. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. <http://www.spunk.org/texts/writers/bakunin/sp001862.html>. 

Frader, Laura. Doing Capitalism's Work. Print. 

Goodman, Dena. Women and the Enlightenment. Print. 

Hackett, Lewis. "World History." World History. (1992): n. page. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. <http://history-world.org/Industrial Intro.htm>. 

Marx, Karl. (1847): n. page. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. <https://marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/>. 

Nardinelli Clark , "Industrial Revolution and the Standard of Living." The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. 2008. Library of Economics and Liberty. 28 November 2012.

Pope Leo XIII, . "Encyclical ." Encyclical . (1891): n. page. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. <http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/leo_xiii/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_15051891_rerum-novarum_en.html>. 

"What was the effect of the industrial revolution on factory workers?." Social Studies Help Center. n.d. n. page. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. <http://www.socialstudieshelp.com/USRA__Workers_Lives.htm>



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