Industrial revolution

What was the Industrial Revolution? The Industrial Revolution was the time, between about 1760 and 1840, when machines began to replace people, and steam power began to be used widely. (Victorian times were mostly after the Industrial Revolution.)

Stephenson's Rocket was an important part of the Industrial Revolution.

Many people think that the Industrial Revolution and Victorian times happened together. But they did not. The world we see today is the result of two or perhaps three different things that happened. The first was the Industrial Revolution, the second was the coming of the railway, and the third was mass production.

The Industrial Revolution started in the 18th century, about a century before Victorian times. It was a time when people first began to make complex machines that were run by power. Machines run by water power were not new in themselves. Watermills had been in use for thousands of years.

What happened that was different was that these machines could do the jobs that people up to that time had done by hand in their little village houses. So the importance of this change was that it took people from the countryside into the towns and cities. So what kinds of machines are we talking about? Well, in the 18th century, textiles (making cloth) was still the most important industry. It was made in pieces on hand looms in houses and then sold on to merchants. The change happened when machines were made to spin the wool into yarn, then to weave the wool and so produce large pieces of cloth, faster and cheaper than could be done by hand.

These early machines were still powered by water, but not for long. For at the same time, steam power was being developed. At first it was used to pump water out of mines. The early steam engines were not efficient, but they were improved, and soon became powerful enough to drive machines. Some years later, they were powerful enough to drive many machines. When this happened, it made sense to put all of these machines together and put a steam engine with them. This was when the factory was invented.

The change this brought was immense. The factory needed people to work it, so they had to live reasonably close by. At first people would live in villages and walk many miles to the factory, but then new houses were built for the workers close to the factories, and at this time people started to leave the villages. The villages started to shrink in population, while the towns and cities grew.

To move coal to steam engines was slow and expensive. This was a big stumbling block to progress. But then the canals were invented, making it possible to move coal from mines to factories much more cheaply. We would think that moving coal on a canal was slow and laborious, but compared to moving it by horse and cart it was a revolution.

By the start of the 19th century (and we are still not in Victorian times) the railways were also being developed. The key to it was making an engine efficient enough so that it could be made portable (and so not need huge amounts of coal). This is what happened with famous locomotives such as Puffing Billy, Locomotion no. 1 and the Rocket. You will see all of that in the video. When the Rocket was built it was nearly the start of Victorian times. But you see that the Industrial Revolution of coming up with the idea of factories and using steam power to drive them, had all happened before. What happened in Victorian times was that all of these things suddenly came together so that factories could be bigger, the trains could move goods about faster, and so everything got cheaper. This meant more people could afford the goods made by the factories, and the first industrial countries, like the UK and then the US, became wealthier.

Video: How and why the Industrial Revolution began.
Video: the first factories.
Video: Industrial Revolution and transport.

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