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Factories in the industrial revolution

The factories in the industrial revolution changed how and in what quantity goods were produced. They propelled the large-scale production of goods, division of labor, and specialization as well as the provision of employment to a large number of people in ways that were nonexistent before then.

The changes occasioned by industrialization and the consequent establishment of factories ushered the world into a new era. Historians place the beginning of the industrial revolution in Britain in the mid-18th century. Before then, the processes of production were mainly small-scale; families produced most of the things they required and purchased those they could not produce from skilled workers such as weavers, blacksmiths, bakers, merchants, etc.

When the industrial revolution is mentioned, one of the things that come to mind are the factories which emerged due to the industrial revolution. The industrial revolution brought about immense changes not only to economics and business but to how people lived and worked as well. It also changed the patterns of human settlement, the provision, and the acquisition of labor as well as family life. The changes brought by the first and second industrial revolutions saw the emergence of some factories which we shall look into here.

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Factories in the industrial revolution

  1. Textile factories
  2. Steel and iron factories
  3. Chemicals and automobiles

Textile factories

  1. Cromford mill and Haarlem mill
  2. Slater mill
  3. Salts mill
  4. Boston manufacturing company
  5. Atkins and Pearce

Before the establishment of factories, the production of clothing was small-scale. Generally, families made their own clothing themselves or bought them from skilled weavers. When cotton mills first appeared in Britain in the 1740s, they were generally animal-powered and the weaving of cotton was done by hand. By 1733, John Kay created the flying shuttle which was an improvement on the use of traditional hand-looming in making fabrics. The flying shuttle aided the creation of the first textile mill as it could automatically weave thread from side to side on a loom. This allowed for faster weaving in the production of textiles hence it was one of the factors that contributed to the establishment of more textile factories.

Additionally, the invention of the Spinning Jenny in 1764 enhanced the industrialization process of the textile industry. The introduction of the water wheel in 1769 further enhanced the efficiency of the Spinning Jenny and saw the establishment of more textile factories. The textile industry was the first to employ modern methods of production in its processes. It was a dominant industry in the industrial revolution based on the capital invested, the number of people employed in the sector, and the value of output. We shall look at some textile factories that arose at that time below:

Cromford mill and Haarlem mill

The Cromford mill was established in Derbyshire, England in 1771 by Richard Arkwright. He had the idea of creating the spinning machine that could enhance the textile manufacturing process and thus invented the water frame which was patented in 1769. This water frame was an improvement on the flying shuttle. The Cromford mill was the first water-powered textile mill and became a prototype for future textile mills. Arkwright’s invention used a water wheel to power the spinning machine, this allowed for the production of a large number of textiles as it was able to spin 96 threads at a time.

The machine he invented could spin both cotton and wool. This made the processing of textiles faster than it had ever been. As the mechanization of the textile industry ensured, cotton spinning became faster and more efficient. Raw cotton could be spun, bleached, dyed, and woven into finished cloth. With this invention, more textile mills began to spring up in towns and villages that had a ready supply of cotton and wool with most of the mills using Arkwright’s water frame.

As coal became more readily available along with steam-powered locomotive engines, Arkwright established a mill known as Haarlem mill in Wirksworth, England. This mill was the first factory in the industrial revolution to use steam power to power its textile production machine. With this new advancement, textile mills could be built even in locations without rivers or streams nearby. It further encouraged the setting up of textile mills in urban areas rather than villages as was the norm before then.

Slater mill

While water-powered textile mills became quite common in England, they were nonexistent in America until 1790. Providence merchant, Moses Brown wanted to build a water-powered mill to spin cotton into thread. This made him rent a workspace in Pawtucket Falls. This community had a source of waterpower, ships could bring in raw cotton and take out finished textiles, and there was a community of tool and machine markers living in the area, thus Moses considered it a perfect location for a water-powered textile mill. The challenge for the establishment of the mill was the lack of knowledge on how Arkwright’s water-powered machines work.

In December 1789, Moses hired Samuel Slater, an immigrant from England who had spent 7 years working in textile mills before his migration. Slater understood how the water-powered machines worked and he worked together with local mechanics to make machines that were similar to Arkwright’s. The machines were up and running, leading to thread production using water-powered machines. These water-powered machines were the first of their kind in America. By 1793, the experimental workshop (the firm of Almy, Brown, and Slater) was replaced by the Slater mill which was a cotton-spinning factory established by the joint efforts of Moses Brown, Samuel Slater, and William Almy.

The Slater mill was a factory in the industrial revolution that was located in Rhode Island and employed a lot of workers to keep up with its increasing thread and yarn production. They further went into the production of shirting and sheeting, bed ticking, ginghams, chambrays, stripes, and checks, in order to reduce their yarn inventory as an embargo on export, was in place. The mill triggered the boom of the textile manufacturing industry in the US. Hence, was a major part of the industrial revolution that led to the establishment of more water-powered factories in America.

Salts mill

Sir Titus Salt was a philanthropist and industrialist who was disappointed by the working conditions he observed in the mills that were in existence. Poor working conditions were common in most factories that were in existence during the industrial revolution. These conditions include:

  • Working long shifts that often exceeded sixteen (16) hours daily
  • Frequent accidents due to dangerous machinery
  • Low wages
  • Labor exploitation
  • Diseases among workers
  • Inadequate and cramped housing

Additionally, children were also employed in these mills as they could be paid even lesser wages than adults. Due to his observation that the poor working conditions affected the workers negatively and hence, reduced their productivity, he sought to have a mill that provided better working conditions to workers. He established the Salts mill for the manufacturing of alpaca wool which was built in 1853. At the time of its completion, Salts mill was the largest industrial building in the world based on its total floor area. It was also one of few mills in existence at that time that took workers’ welfare into consideration in its planning and structure.

The new mill in Saltaire, Bradford had better working conditions with several features such as higher chimneys with filters that reduced air pollution. He further made available a workers’ village with well-spaced houses, meeting rooms, parks, a school, a library, and a hospital.

Boston manufacturing company

The Boston manufacturing company was established in 1813 on the Charles River in Waltham, Massachusetts by the combined efforts of Nathan Appleton, Patrick Tracy Johnson, Francis Cabot Lowell, and 8 others referred to as the Boston Associates. It was the first factory to use the corporate model of manufacturing in America with about 300 employees. At the time of its establishment, the emigration of mechanics and the export of textile machinery were prohibited by the British government. Hence all the textile inventions that were made in Britain were unavailable to textile manufacturers in other parts of the world. In order to get over this obstacle, Francis visited English factories and committed the plans of the power loom to memory.

Boston manufacturing luckily found a mechanic, Paul Moody to superintend their machine shop. He proved valuable in making several improvements and inventions that aided textile factories in America during the industrial revolution. Thus, Boston manufacturing became the first integrated mill that used power for its carding, spinning, and weaving. It further contributed to the rise of other textile factories due to their personnel who had learned under Paul before going on to work for other factories.

Atkins and Pearce

Atkins and Pearce is a Kentucky-based textile manufacturing company that was started in 1817 by John and Henry Pearce. They devised an adaptation to the cotton gin to manufacture cotton machinery. When trade with the south halted in 1861, the company switched from manufacturing machines to fiber handling as they began braiding candlewick. They produced parachute cords and other cotton goods to support World War II.

Atkins and Pearce is one factory that was established during the industrial revolution. It has grown and evolved as time passed making it not only relevant but an important part of the textile industry. Between 1950 and till date, the company has been involved in fiber enhancement which has led to their producing fiberglass, Kevlar, Nomex, Dyneema, Spectra, Teflon, and Gore. Fibers produced by Atkins and Pearce are used in the military, automotive, aerospace, medical, electrical, and other fields.

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Steel and iron factories

  1. Coalbrookdale company
  2. Carnegie steel company
  3. United States Steel Corporation

Coal and iron ore were important minerals whose discovery led to the establishment of a number of factories in the industrial revolution. These were useful in the production of steel, ironworks, powering machines, and various other applications. Let us look at some factories that were in the production of steel and iron products during the industrial revolution.

Factories in the industrial revolution

Coalbrookdale company

Coalbrookdale company is a factory that emerged during the industrial revolution and is well known for its iron works. Iron ore was first smelted in Coalbrookdale by Abraham Darby in 1709 using easily mined coking coal. This coal contained few impurities compared to other coal, hence, the iron produced from it was of superior quality and was a significant discovery in the industrial revolution and consequent industrialization of Britain.

Abraham recognized the potential of Coalbrookdale due to its proximity to iron mines and the River Severn. Its closeness to the river meant exporting goods will be easy while its closeness to the iron mines meant raw material (iron ore) could be accessed with ease. There was also a good supply of coal to keep the furnaces burning. He was an iron founder that made cast-iron pots and other cast-iron goods using his patented foundry method. This enabled him to produce pots that were cheaper compared to other pot producers of his time. They also became early suppliers of steam engine cylinders in that period.

The Coalbrookdale furnace was the first to operate in Europe successfully for several years. Although Abraham Darby died in 1717, his developments were improved on by his son and grandson, Abraham Darby the Younger and Abraham Darby the III respectively. Some of the well-known products that resulted from this factory which was established during the industrial revolution include bar iron in charcoal finery forges, cast-iron rails for railways, and the world’s first cast-iron bridge.

Carnegie steel company

The Carnegie steel company was formed as a conglomerate of all the steel companies owned by Andrew Carnegie as well as his bridge companies and coke works. His first steel company, Edgar Thomson Steel Works which was located in Pennysylvania was an instantly profitable venture which enabled him to purchase other steel mills. As the united states entered a period of economic expansion after the civil war, the demand for mass-produced steel increased. This was due to the expansion of railroads and the need for a more resilient material to construct skyscrapers due to the increasing urban population.

Although demand for steel was high, there was also a need for it to be cheap since it was a commodity product. The high demand led to the emergence of quite a number of factories in the steel sector during the industrial revolution. However, the price of steel was still considerably high despite the increasing number of steel factories in existence. In order to make a high quantity supply of steel at a comparatively cheaper price, Carnegie steel constantly incorporated the latest technological innovations in their manufacturing process.

Additionally, the steel mills were located close to large anthracite coal deposits and had easy access to a transportation network (railroads and shipping) and natural gas supply. They further owned most of the coal mines, had on-site blast furnaces for coke production, and owned a considerable number of natural gas wells. This enabled the company to become the dominant supplier of steel in the United States during its existence.

The production of steel required iron ore, coal, and lime. The coal and iron ore had to be refined before steel-making. Hence, the company’s owning blast furnaces was important in hastening their production of steel. Carnegie Steel led new advancements which include structural beams for construction and improved material handling such as hoists and overhead cranes. These advancements are still commonly in use today.

United States Steel Corporation

The United States Steel Corporation commonly referred to as US Steel is an American integrated steel producer. This company came into existence during the industrial revolution. In 1901, Charles Schwab suggested that major steel companies in the US consolidate since the steel market was unpredictable and most of the companies were scarcely profitable or stable. The financier, J.P Morgan arranged for the buyout of Carnegie Steel and other major steel companies.

After the consolidation, US Steel accounted for about 60% and 30% of America’s and the world’s steel production respectively. Although this industrial revolution factory was revered for its massive size, it could not innovate as quickly as other steel manufacturers due to concerns over potential lawsuits and its massive debts. As of 1943, it had more than 340,000 employees. The factory’s its production peaked in 1953 at more than 35 million tons.

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Chemical and automobile factories

  1. Dupont
  2. Ford motor company


An important factory that began during the industrial revolution is the chemical giant, Dupont. It was founded by Éleuthère Irénée du Pont in 1802 as a gunpowder mill at Eleutherian Mills, on the Brandywine Creek, near Wilmington, Delaware. He started the company when he noticed that the gunpowder mills that were in existence in North America at that time were lagging behind Europe. The mill grew to become the largest supplier of gunpowder to the United States military in the mid-19th century. The company further went into the production of smokeless powder and dynamite.

Other expansion efforts occurred which led to the establishment of two of the first industrial laboratories in the united states where they began work on lacquers, cellulose chemistry, and other non-explosive products. Other products that were developed and produced by Dupont over the years include Neoprene, Nylon, Teflon, Phenothiazine, Mylar, Dacron, Orlon, Lycra, Tyvek, Nomex, Qiana, Corfam, and Corian amongst many others.

Ford motor company

Ford motor company is one of the automobile factories that originated during the industrial revolution. It was established in 1901 by Henry Ford and was launched in 1903. Although the first gasoline-powered car had already been created in 1885 by Karl Benz, there was a need for more efficient production methods so as to produce affordable automobiles for the middle class.

In 1908 through the partnership of Ford and Sorensen, the first assembly line was created which arranged machines, tools, and workforce into an efficient line to build the Model T automobile. It resulted in the production of over 15 million Model T cars. This was a big feat in the automobile industry during the industrial revolution and gave birth to the modern manufacturing process.

This large-scale manufacturing of cars and management of the workforce using elaborately engineered manufacturing sequences typified by moving assembly lines came to be known all over the world as Fordism and has been adopted by several automobile companies.

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Why were factories built in the industrial revolution?

Factories were built during the industrial revolution to provide a new way of organizing labor which became necessary through the inventions and development of machines that occurred within that period. These inventions and machines made the production of goods such as textiles faster and cheaper than could be made by hand.

Factories in the industrial revolution replaced the domestic system of production which was predominant at that time. The domestic system involved the production of items by families and skilled workers. Before the factory system became rampant, many products such as shoes, farm implements, muskets, etc. were made by skilled craftsmen who usually custom-made these items.

With the emergence of factories, division of labor became adopted; each step in the production process was handled by a particular individual or group of people. Hence, most factory workers were unskilled or low-skilled laborers who moved materials and finished goods or operated machinery. As such, these workers were often exploited by their employers, paid very low wages, worked long hours, and under unfavorable conditions without proper safety guards.

The factories that emerged in the industrial revolution were first in the textile industry but as time passed and more inventions were made, other factories also emerged in various sectors such as steel, coal, the automobile, and chemical production. Mills and large furnaces replaced blacksmiths and local forges. Cotton mills replaced weavers. Eventually, machines replaced skilled workers in the production of most goods as can be seen currently in our world.

The factories that began either in Britain or the united states serve as the bedrock for the modern companies in existence today and Some of these companies are still in existence today, lasting through the centuries through consistent innovations, perseverance, growth, and diversification.

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