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Social Change in the Industrial Revolution Research Paper

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Updated: May 24th, 2021

The Industrial Revolution, which started in Great Britain, was one of the greatest changes that had tremendous implications for the human race. It refers to a historical era in which the invention of new machines transfigured production processes from the 18th to 19th centuries. Remarkable transformations in the making of goods and transportation systems during the industrial revolution formed the framework for modern life. Before the Industrial Revolution, products were made from local workshops in people’s homes using simple machinery and hand tools (Mantoux 12).

The family played a great role in the manufacturing process and selling of the products. The way of life was relatively difficult, and people opted to produce home goods and products. However, the discovery of newfangled technologies (such as the new forms of fuels, which replaced steam engines) transformed manufacturing processes throughout Britain. The Industrial Revolution was also characterized by the movement of people from rural to urban areas in search of a better life. Powered machines improved manufacturing processes, a situation that led to the sprouting of more factories and mass production of goods (Mantoux 14). This state of affairs resulted in many benefits to society alongside a number of social problems, suffering, and societal dissonance. The paper provides insight into the way the industrial revolution changed the lives of people with a particular focus on transformers such as Adam Smith, James Watt, and Wedgwood.

The agrarian society that existed before the start of the industrial revolution used windmills and water wheels to power big machineries. However, these ancient machines were quickly replaced by emerging technologies in the early 1700s. For instance, the invention and use of the first steam engine to pump water during this era was a significant move for agrarian society. A new steam engine that was developed by James Watt in 1782 was used in factories to power machines (Cunningham 22). Many new discoveries and technological innovations not only improve the economic state of Britain but also the lives of its people. For instance, the invention of alternative agricultural tools, including the wheat drill, among other farm implements, improved farming activities since they were more efficient and required relatively less human labor.

Another important aspect of the Industrial Revolution was the construction of the railway, which enabled people to move from their indigenous small towns to more urbanized areas. As they continued to flock to cities, the demand for various limited facilities such as housing, sanitation, and recreational zones increased. This situation brought about misery amongst many people since they were barely equipped to support the new urban life. Living in the city, which was characterized by small unsanitary places, was different from the customary rural life. Owing to the increased migration from rural areas to the cities, factory owners realized that there was a growing need to build residential houses quickly to accommodate people. Back-to-back houses, which shared a wall with either a factory or another building, became common in the cities.

These forms of construction were usually congested and lacked drainage systems. Since people had no special knowledge of germs, the spread of diseases such as cholera, typhus, and typhoid became prevalent amongst the city dwellers. For instance, due to contamination of water by sewage runoff, a cholera breakout hit Britain between 1830 and 1867, leading to the death of many people. In London alone, over 7000 souls succumbed to the disease between1831 and 1832. Due to poor diet coupled with crowdedness and dampness in the residential areas, tuberculosis became increasingly common amongst the working class, who were considered poor. Air pollution resulting from industrial gases and effluents brought about increased lung problems amongst the city dwellers.

In the cities, working conditions were far much worse than living conditions. People stopped being their own bosses in the rural areas to become employees in factory facilities that were sprouting rapidly during the Industrial Revolution. Some roles of workers were overtaken by the invention and deployment of machines to most activities that previously required human power. As a result, the working-class population was forced to earn a living by operating, cleaning, or fueling such industrial machines, which was an exhausting business.

Lack of policing, together with alarming poverty and distress amongst city dwellers, resulted in an amplified crime rate, which further led to overcrowded cells and prisons. This situation saw an increased number of judges at the beginning of the 19th century to attend to complaints and issue warrants for an arrest to the perpetrators of crime. This situation brought about another issue that affected the middle class. This category of people feared crime due to the increase in industrial slums in the vicinities of the cities. Anxiety cropped up amongst the middle class, who began protest movements against the city slums. This situation resulted in increased prosecution rates, which were unaffordable for most people in the working class bracket.

Adam Smith, who was deemed the father of capitalism, played a significant role in transforming the economy of Britain (Skousen 23). The Scottish philosopher believed that individuals were often inclined to self-interest, especially in matters that pertained to the economy. In a number of cases, he challenged the British government to establish free markets and trade, principles which became the trademarks of contemporary capitalism. In the wake of the Industrial Revolution, many laborers worked for a few coins a day in mines and factories.

Most factory owners took advantage of the poor class individuals who only needed enough pennies to keep them from starvation. To denounce this motive, Smith brought about an understanding that the wealth of a nation comprised farm outputs, manufactured products, and labor. Thus, for a nation to grow its economic production, it had to ensure the division of labor (Skousen 24). It is upon this principle that workers started to specialize in various jobs. The philosopher believed that in a free market, the government had no interference with business; hence, all classes of people, including the underprivileged, would gain from such a system.

However, child labor became a threatening problem during this time. Indeed, about 80% of the working population during the Industrial Revolution consisted of children. Employers found them easy to hire and could be replaced easily from orphanages if accidents occurred at factories. Due to their poor background, some wealthy factory owners provided food and shelter for the children in exchange for labor. In addition, children were also cheaper as compared to hiring adults. However, this situation exposed children to accidents in the factories (Toffler 122). Since there were no laws to protect children, they continued to work in these factories for the rest of their lives, one generation after the other.

At the back of the social and economic changes that resulted from increased agricultural innovation, proto-industrial movement, and the growth of international trade, various goods, especially luxury products, were only accessible to the privileged individuals in the society (Gráda 224; Smelser 54). However, the continued movement to urban areas enabled more people to gain access to luxury goods, which later spread to the middle class. The increasing demand was coupled with the merchant’s desire to make the most of the market.

This situation led to the production of local products that were meant to compete with imports from other countries. The manufacturing of ceramic goods improved during this period owing to better technological innovation. In particular, Josiah Wedgwood drove the demand for porcelain products, including courseware and decorative goods, in England during the eighteenth century (Gráda 224). His interest and interventions in the luxury products’ market enabled other people to see the importance of the industry. With increased agricultural innovations, which led to amplified rural-urban migration, most people preferred working for wages in factories (Gráda 224). The demand for luxury products that differentiated some people from the rest of the society increased. Feeding habits also changed, especially amongst the middle class. For instance, the introduction of Chinese tea brought about the development of tea sets, teahouses, and teatime breaks both at home and in workplaces.

Works Cited

Cunningham, Hugh. Leisure in the Industrial Revolution: C. 1780-c. 1880. Routledge, 2016.

Gráda, Cormac. “Did Science Cause the Industrial Revolution?” Journal of Economic Literature, vol. 54, no. 1, 2016, pp. 224-239.

Mantoux, Paul. The industrial revolution in the eighteenth century: An outline of the beginnings of the modern factory system in England. Routledge, 2013.

Skousen, Mark. The making of modern economics: the lives and ideas of the great thinkers. Routledge, 2016.

Smelser, Neil. Social change in the industrial revolution: An application of theory to the British cotton industry. Routledge, 2013.

Toffler, Alvin. “Revolutionary wealth.” New Perspectives Quarterly, vol. 30, no. 4, 2013, pp. 122-130.

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