Since its creation, Great Britain has always been an important participant in the world affairs. Its power and might cannot even be compared with other countries during particular periods in history. “Why was industrialization inevitable in Britain?” is the primary research question of the current research. Industrialization is regarded as one of the most significant events in the history of all humankind. Many historians and scientists have been trying to understand the reasons for its commencement in Great Britain and not in any other country in the world. Nowadays, there are a lot of controversies concerning this question. Nevertheless, several facts from the history of Britain cannot be neglected while speaking about the industrialization. The industrialization was inevitable in Britain because:
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- Britain has already been one of the leading countries in the world. Its economy and global power enhanced the progress of the whole society. Besides, Britain underwent social and political changes that became prerequisites for the inevitable development of society;
- Technological advances made it possible to alter the manufacturing and production of goods.
Only the combination of all these reasons promoted the development of industry in Great Britain. In the following paper, the background and significance of the industrialization will be discussed. Then, arguments concerning the inevitability of industrialization will be evaluated as well.
Background and Importance
Industrialization is a significant period of the history. It commenced at the end of 18th century in Britain and became spread worldwide during the following century. During that period, European countries, as well as thirteen British colonies in America, experienced significant revolutions. Thus, the American colonies aimed to gain independence and a complete separation from the English King. On the continent, France faced the execution of the King Louis XVI and the establishment of the Republic. Britain stepped on the way of another kind of revolution in those times — industrial. Some scholars consider the term “Industrial Revolution” to be rather misleading. Revolutions usually take place for a short period of time. Industrial Revolution is not finished even nowadays. “Evolution” is a proper term for what happened at the end of the 18th century. At the same time, the impact of all changes is purely “revolutionary” (McNeese, 2000).
The importance of the industrialization cannot be overestimated. However, it has both positive and negative impacts on the modern life. Industrialization provided the immense number of people with job opportunities. The invention and development of machinery made it possible to transport natural resources from various places in short terms. Industrialization led to the urbanization that resulted in the development of society. An advanced transporting system was the first steps toward the globalization. Finally, the standard of living increased drastically due to the development of the economy. Thus, industrialization was the initial phase towards the modern life. Everything we have today comes from that period.
At the same time, industrialization has adverse effects. The most significant long-term negative impact of industrialization refers to the pollution of the environment. Most current ecological problems have been commenced in previous centuries. Industrialization also had several short-term negative effects such as exploitation of child and women labor, dangerous conditions of work, poor sanitary norms that resulted in the massive worsening of health conditions.
Reasons for the British Industrial Revolution
The reasons for the commencement of the Industrial Revolution in Britain have been discussed many times though there is still no exact agreement. Nevertheless, most scholars agree that it could have happened in any other country under particular circumstances. Hobsbawm (2010) describes the Industrial Revolution in Britain as an apparent fortuitous event. As Hobsbawm writes (2010), “there was plenty of industrial and commercial advanced, fostered by the intelligent and economically far from naïve ministers and civil servants of every enlightened monarchy in Europe, from Portugal to Russia, all of whom were at least as much concerned with ‘economic growth’ as present day administrators” (p. 29).
Even more, some scientists prove that Britain was far from the superior country in terms of technological and scientific progress, for instance. Adam Smith was a prominent economist, but there were others significant personalities in the sphere in France such as Turgot or Lavoisier. There were many technological innovations in France and Germany. Also, both Germany and France had particular programs for training specialists in technology.
English education was nothing in comparison to some European countries. Primary education was not established, and the quality of higher education was not exceptional too. Despite all these facts, the industrialization began in Britain. The combination of particular factors predetermined the commencement of the Industrial Revolution in Britain and not in any other country. It started in the second half of the eighteens century.
Economy and Power of Britain
The first group of factors concerns the status, might, and the stage of historical development of Britain in those times. Thus, the country had already forgotten the revolution and execution of the King Charles I. France, for example only began its way towards the abolition of the monarchy. Consequently, it could not begin to foster the economic development of the country. Britain was in the right condition for the industrialization. These right conditions included cheap-energy and high-wage economy, advanced trade and agriculture, and governmental policies.
According to Allen (2011), it is obvious that wages in Britain in the 18th century were much lower than nowadays. Nevertheless, the author evaluates the standard of living in those times and compares British wages to salaries of workers in other European countries. There is a distinct gap between the levels of income and living conditions in Britain and other countries. The following graph exemplifies the rise of wages in major European and Asian cities in the period between 1375 and 1775 (Subsistent ratio for labourers income/cost of subsistence basket, n.d.).
The high level of wages proves the fact that Britain has already been a country with a developed system of economy. It is also interesting to note that the rapid increase in wages occurred after the Black Death at the end of the 14th century. Almost half of the population died. Consequently, there was a need for working force and it led to the rapid increasing of wages in all cities. When the population began to grow again, the level of salaries decreased in all cities except London due to the overabundance of the workforce. This phenomenon had several reasons. First, Britain had cheap energy, developed trade, and economy. Cheap energy referred to the abundance of coal in Britain. The cost of coal in Newcastle, for instance, was the most inexpensive in comparison to other cities including London (Allen, 2011).
This fact has a direct connection to the level of wages. The cheap source of energy makes it possible to raise the price of labor. One should understand the link between the level of income and industrialization. High income presupposes the increasing demands for goods and services. The country faces a challenge when demand increases and supply is the same. Consequently, the government should find the way to satisfy growing needs of the society. It is impossible without the implementation of new ways of development and production of goods. Thus, the high level of income is one of the prerequisites that predetermine the future progress.
A developed system of the international trade is another reason that explains the inevitability of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Thus, Britain was one of the major countries on the global level. Its expansion gave rise to the development of new sectors of industry. The development of the international trade had been positively influenced by Britain’s system of ports. It had an advanced system of marine transportations, and its fleet was superior in comparison to other countries. As a result, Britain established trade relations with foreign countries. As Allen (2011) writes, the English boom of international trade began in the sixteen century.
East Anglia initiated the production of light woolen cloths that were exported to the Mediterranean. After the Seven Years’ War, Britain increased its control and power on the global scale. The results of the war gave new prospects for the enhancement of the international trade. Under the imperial policy, initiated by Oliver Cromwell during the Commonwealth, Britain began its expansion in colonies. The access to new territories gave Britain privileges for the improvement of the economic status of the country. During the age of mercantilism, the imperialism became essential for the expansion of the international trade throughout the world.
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One may find it rather confusing to understand the connection between foreign trade and industrialization. An advanced system of international trade increased the prosperity of the country. More and more people became interested in making the profit. They decided to settle in Britain and earn their livings. It led to urbanization. Urbanization, in its turn, is connected with the need to satisfy increasing demands, and this aspect has been already discussed.
Another significant aspect that influenced the commencement of the Industrial Revolution was agriculture. In Britain, agriculture was the central constituent of the economy system. It was a highly developed sphere that was improving continuously. The rise of farming is referred to as the Second Agricultural Revolution or the British Agricultural Revolution. Several agricultural improvements resulted in the rapid increasing of productivity.
First, farmers in Britain practiced the selective breeding of livestock. Thus, the productivity of the agriculture sector increased drastically as well as the selective breeding made it possible to receive a substantial profit. Second, enclosure became of extreme significance for the improvement of agriculture as well. Enclosure presupposed giving common lands to private owners, and it improved the level of food output. Finally, the Agriculture Revolution was caused by the introduction of new farming systems and methods of cultivation. For example, farmers directed all their efforts to cultivate the crop that was highly yielded (Birx, 2009).
The role of government is significant for the promotion of industrialization in the country. Thus, it may introduce various laws that facilitate or impede the progress and processes that lead to industrialization. The case with British governmental policies and the Industrial Revolution is rather controversial. The state’s activity had both positive and adverse effects on the industrialization of Britain.
Thus, the British government was more interested in the regulation and improvement of trade rather than industry. The primary interest of the state in the sphere of industry referred to the development of military equipment. For instance, Britain supported the manufacturing of specialized warships and gunpowder mills. Nevertheless, the state aimed at enhancing the level of protection of all spheres including factories producing linen and cotton.
The development of technology became the second significant factor that predetermined the industrialization in Britain. Besides agriculture, Britain aimed at the improvement of cotton industry that comprised a substantial part of the economy as well. The cotton industry functioned with the help of “putting-out system”. This system presupposed the distribution of work among employees. Workers were given particular tasks to be finished at home. When the work was completed, workers returned the complete work for the particular payment. This system was rather slow and became ineffective when the population grew and demands increased.
In 1730, reeling mills were first introduced in Britain. They made the process of producing silk threads from silkworm cocoons quick and easy. In the same year, the machine known as the flying shuttle was invented too. It speeded up handloom weaving of cotton drastically (Dunn & Mitchell, 2014). The invention of few machines resulted in the need for further improvements. Workers did not manage to conduct other parts of the working process with the same speed. As a result, it was necessary to find ways to enhance the effectiveness of all processes. Spinning machines were invented later to achieve the set goal.
As it has been already mentioned, coal was cheap in Britain and it comprised a significant part of the economy. Nevertheless, Britain relied on coal deposits that were located near to the surface. There were no machines to dig deeper. However, the need became urgent as far as the amount of coal near the surface was not enough to meet all demands. There were mechanical pumps, but they could not be used for deep seepage. Technological advancements in this sphere were crucial for the further development as well. At the beginning of the 18th century, the ideas of “atmospheric engines” became popular. It presupposed the usage of steam power to create efficient systems of pumping water from mines and fulfilling them with fresh air.
Finally, the invention of steam engines revolutionized the whole industry too. The building of railway system made it possible to transport goods from various places. This invention resulted in the remarkable growth of production.
The Industrial Revolution is one of the most prominent events in the world history. It was the beginning of the modern life. Technological progress, the development of society and economy — all started during the Industrial Revolution. Industrialization commenced in Britain. Historians have been trying to find the primary reasons for this. Britain was the leading country that had advanced agriculture, international trade, and economy. Technological inventions and growth of population made the industrialization inevitable in Britain. Consequently, Britain became the first country who entered the new age of the development and improvement of the world.
Allen, R. (2011). Why the Industrialization was British: Commerce, Induced Invention, and the Scientific Revolution. Economic History Review, 64(2), 357-384. Web.
Birx, J. (2009). Encyclopedia of Time. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. Web.
Dunn, R., & Mitchell, L. (2014). Panorama: World History from 1300. New York, NY: McGraw Hill Education. Web.
Hobsbawm, E. (2010). Age of Revolution: 1789-1848. London, UK: Hachette UK. Web.
McNeese, T. (2000). The Industrial Revolution. Dayton, OH: Lorenz Educational Press. Web.
Subsistent ratio for labourers income/cost of subsistence basket [Image]. (n.d.). Web.