Skip links

How did the Industrial Revolution Change Society?

How did the Industrial Revolution Change Society? The industrial revolution brought about an increase in the material wealth of the Western world. It also brought about an end to the dominance of agriculture and initiated a significant change in society. There has been a drastic change in the everyday working environment and the West eventually became an urban civilization. Radical new schools of economic and philosophical thought began to take the place of the traditional ideas of Western civilization.

Another thing is that the production of goods increased greatly as a result of the industrial revolution and People had access to healthier diets, better housing, cheaper goods, and a significant increase in education. In society, labor unions began to emerge as a result of this which birthed the overall benefits of the industrial revolution. In this article, we see what the industrial revolution implies, its historical background, and how the subject matter has brought about changes in society, in other words, its social impact.

How did the industrial revolution change society?
How did the industrial revolution change society?

See also: Crony Capitalism (Cronyism)

What is the industrial revolution?

In modern history, the industrial revolution is the process of change from a dominant agricultural and handicraft economy to an industry and machine manufacturing-dominated economy. The term is therefore applied to the social and economic changes that mark the transition from a stable agricultural and commercial society to a modern industrial society that relies on complex machinery rather than simple tools.

These technological changes have brought about novel ways of working and living and fundamentally transformed society. In essence, dramatic changes that took place in the social and economic structure came about as inventions and technological innovations created the factory system of large-scale machine production as well as greater economic specialization. Also, the laboring population that was formerly employed predominantly in agriculture in which production had also increased due to technological improvements, increasingly gathered in the great urban factories.

The industrial revolution was a period of scientific as well as technological development in the 18th Century that brought about a transformation in largely rural, agrarian societies especially in Europe and North America into industrialized and urban societies. Goods that had been meticulously crafted by hand started being produced in large volumes by machines in factories, credit goes to the introduction of new machine techniques in textiles, iron making, pharmaceutical, and other industries.

Before the industrial revolution in America began, the cottage industry dominated the country. Here, people mainly worked in their homes, making use of their own hands or simple tools. This really caused the production of goods like clothes to be very slow. At this time, the spinning wheel and weaving looms were the most common machines used. It was the advent of the industrial revolution that brought about the transformation of these communities from rural to urban, industrialized societies.

History of the industrial revolution

Though a few innovations were developed as early as the 1700s, the industrial revolution began in earnest by the 1830s and 1840s in Britain and later spread across to the rest of the world including the United States. Modern historians usually refer to this as the First Industrial Revolution, to set it apart from the second period of industrialization that took place from the late 19th to early 20th centuries and experienced rapid advances in the steel, electric, and automobile industries.

In essence, the industrial revolution began in Great Britain and later spread to the United States and other parts of the world. In the 18th century, Europe experienced significant economic advancement in the agricultural process. It was during this period that major agricultural and technological development took place. New farming techniques, new animal species, new plant species, and new factories were introduced thereby bringing about a significant increase in food production.

The increase in food production granted people the opportunity to leave their rural settlements to migrate to the cities in search of job opportunities in the new factories. Food was also available to give support to people that were working in rural areas far away from their farms.

In Britain, the textile industry triggered the industrial revolution. As the European population increased, there was a corresponding increase in the demand for clothes. This called for the need for new machines that would produce textile materials in large quantities and at a lower cost.

Machines like the spinning jenny was invented, which made assorted spindles of threads at a single time, and the power loom operated through steam power to weave faster and more efficiently. These machines were used in factories, which brought about job opportunities thereby driving people to leave rural areas and move to cities. Through this, the rural-urban migration contributed significantly to the expansion and growth of cities and towns.

The fact that coal was available also contributed significantly to the success of the industrial revolution in Britain. During this period of time, there was an increase in the demand for coal as well. this was because coal was large in volume, easily accessible, and very efficient. For this reason, it was a quick replacement of wood which was the primary source of energy. The new head of power and the textile industry contributed significantly to Britain’s massive cloth production. The extra clothes and materials were then exported to other countries such as the United States and China.

As the demand, as well as the growth of the textile industry, increased, inventors like Samuel Slater were forced to leave Europe and relocate to the United States. Samuel Slater established his textile firm in 1789 which triggered the industrial revolution in the United States. His contributions and technology revolutionalized the American textile sector which earned him the title, “the Father of American Industries”.

Once industrialization reached the United States, it spread quickly. Just as the case was in Britain, the industrial revolution in the United States brought about the opening of factories which attracted many rural Americans to migrate to urban areas to work in new factories. The rural-urban migration witnessed the transformation of a number of large cities such as New York City and Boston. The industrial revolution also played a significant role in provoking the rise of unskilled labor as well as led to the availability of cheap and affordable commodities for Americans thereby improving their standards of living.

See also: Capitalism Examples and Theory

How did the industrial revolution change society?

The industrial revolution brought about so many changes in society such as the development of new industries, inventions, and innovation thereby making things much easier.

The main changes caused by the industrial revolution in society were technological, socioeconomic, and cultural. The technological effects of the industrial revolution included the use of basic materials, chiefly iron, and steel, and the use of energy sources which includes both fuels and motive power such as coal, combustion engine or machine, the steam engine, electricity, petroleum, etc. The technological changes also include the invention of new machines as emphasized, such as the spinning jenny and the power loom that gave room for increased production with a smaller expenditure of human energy.

In essence, there was a new organization of work which is referred to as the factory system, which entailed an increase in the division of labor and specialization. The transportation and communication systems developed such as the steam locomotive, steamship, airplane, telegraph, and radio. There was an increased application of science to industry. These technological changes brought about a tremendous increase in the use of natural resources and the mass production of manufactured goods.

Having said this, it is evident that the industrial revolution brought about a great deal of change in society. We further see the social impact of the industrial revolution in detail in order to understand how the subject matter changed society.

Social Impact of the Industrial Revolution

  1. Development of industries
  2. Increase in employment opportunities
  3. Rural-urban migration
  4. Increased innovation
  5. Agricultural improvements
  6. Wider distribution of wealth
  7. Cultural transformations
  8. Increased international trade
  9. Mass production of commodities
  10. Consumer demand
  11. The emergence of labor unions and reforms
  12. Changes for women
  13. The emergence of a new social class
  14. Improved transportation and health facilities

Development of industries

The primary impact of the industrial revolution on societal change is the development of industries that brought about the production of higher goods in large quantities. Many new inventions brought about improvements in the quality of life since it became easy to produce a large volume of commodities quickly. This brought improvement in the standards of living of people and generally improved the economy.

It was as a result of the advancements in the industrial revolution that society saw the first combustible engine, incandescent light bulb, and modern assembly line used in manufacturing. It brought about a change in how people worked, the technologies available to them, and how they lived.

The development of industries made life comfortable, however, the living condition for workers remained offensive, which eventually triggered the rise of labor unions that led to an improvement in working conditions and fair wages.

Increase in employment opportunities

The industrial revolution brought about an increase in employment opportunities in society. The wages that were paid at factories were higher than what individuals were making as farmers. As factories became widespread, there was a need for additional managers and employees to operate them thereby increasing the supply of jobs and overall wages.

It changed the face of nations thereby giving rise to urban centers requiring vast municipal services. A specialized and interdependent economic life was created. This made the urban worker become more dependent on the will of the employer than the rural worker had been. As employment opportunities were created, managerial hierarchies were also developed to oversee the division of labor.

Rural-urban migration

looking at the fact that most of the factories and large companies were located close to the cities, populations migrated to urban areas in search of jobs, often overwhelming the available supply of housing. This brought about significant improvements in city planning.

We can say that the industrial revolution brought about rapid urbanization. Changes in farming, soaring population growth, and ever-increasing demand for workers was a factor that influenced rural-urban migration. Almost overnight, small towns around coal or iron mines developed very quickly into cities.

In the late 1700s, many people were no longer able to earn their living in the countryside or rural areas. Because of this, people moved from farms and villages into bigger towns and cities to find work in factories, however, they were always dirty, crowded, and unhealthy.

Meanwhile, the overall amount of goods and services that were produced expanded drastically and there were growths in the proportion of capital invested per worker. New groups of workers, managers, and business people took financial risks and reaped great rewards. Other cities grew up around the factories that were built by entrepreneurs in once-quiet market towns.

The British market town of Manchester which had a population of 17,000 people in the 1750s exploded within a few years into a center of the textile industry. By 1780, its population increased to 40,000, and 70,000 by 1801.

Increased innovation and education

The industrial revolution brought about more increased innovation which in turn led to higher levels of motivation and education in society. This further resulted in several groundbreaking inventions that are still used today such as the sewing machine, x-ray, calculator, anesthesia, and lightbulb.

Agricultural improvements

Before the industrial revolution came about, the people in society were widely farmers and traders. Although many migrated from rural areas to urban areas in search of jobs due to industrialization, the nonindustrial spheres also experiences many new developments. Looking at the agricultural sector, there were massive improvements that made the provision of food for a larger nonagricultural population possible.

The improved technology that emerged in the agricultural sector brought about an upgrade from the then subsistence farming to commercial agriculture which has become more sustainable. Now, commercial farmers are able to rear both food crops and cash crops on a large scale as well as livestock. The industrial revolution facilitated the introduction of new species and breeds of both crops and livestock.

Wider distribution of wealth

Industrialization also brought about economic changes in society which resulted in a wider distribution of wealth. Although there was a decline in the land as a source of wealth in the face of rising industrial production, there was an increased international trade. Political changes reflected the shift in economic power as well as new state policies that correspond to the needs of industrialized society. In essence, these policies facilitated a wider distribution of wealth in society.

Cultural transformations

As a result of the industrial revolution, society experienced cultural transformations of a broad order. As workers acquired new and distinctive skills, their relation to their tasks shifted. They were no longer craftsmen working with hand tools, they upgraded to becoming machine operators, subject to factory discipline. The cultural change was accompanied by a psychological change that brought about confidence in the ability to make use of resources.

Increased international trade

Through industrialization, society experienced an increase in international trade. We saw that the textile industry in Britain led to its massive cloth production and the extra clothes and materials were exported to other countries like The United States and China. This, in essence, facilitated international trade.

Mass production of commodities

Machines brought about a massive increase in production meaning that products were cheaper to make as well as cheaper to buy. This made many owners of factories become rich. In turn, the cost of living in society was reduced.

Although machines made work easier in some ways, factory work brought about a number of problems for the laborers. Employees in factories did not earn much and the work was oftentimes dangerous as some machinery and working environments were unprotected. Many worked long hours a day, 14 to 16 hours, and 6 days per week. This means that men, women, and even small children worked in factories.

Consumer demand

The existing system at that time could not keep up with the demand for goods. More consumers had sufficient income to afford luxurious and exotic goods such as cotton cloth. This means that the middle class was rising.

Traders got to realize that if they could produce goods in larger quantities at a cheaper price it would be easier for them to find more consumers and make a higher profit. So, we would say that the cycle of consumer demand, investment, and innovations were the driving factors of the industrial revolution which further brought about consumer demand in society.

Increased consumer demand prompted entrepreneurs to invest in machines in order to accelerate production. In turn, faster production in one aspect of manufacturing prompts investment in the other aspect. For instance, faster methods of spinning cotton require faster methods of weaving cloth to profit from increased production used to invest in further innovations and inventions.

The emergence of labor unions and reforms

Industrialization brought about the emergence of labor unions. Workers sought to win improved working conditions and wages through the formation of these unions. These organizations in turn helped in the establishment of laws that are meant to protect workers.

Such laws for example limited the number of work hours for employees and guaranteed that they would be paid a specific amount. The process of industrialization continues around the world as well as struggles against many of its negative effects such as industrial pollution and urban crowding.

In detail, although at this time, labor unions or workers’ organizations were illegal, secret unions were in existence among frustrated British workers. They sought to initiate worker reforms such as increases in pay but do not have the political power to effect the change. At some point, their frustration brought about violence.

The first instances of industrial riots took place in England from 1811 to 1813. Groups of textile workers referred to as the Luddites resisted the machines that were labor-saving and costing them their jobs. They were involved in smashing textile industries with sledgehammers and burning factories. They usually wore masks in order to carry out their operations at night. These Luddite groups were widely supported by the working class.

The factory was the heart of the new industrial city however, the machine-age technology and the rapid pace of industrialization imposed a new way of life on workers. At some point, the union represented workers in a particular trade as they engaged in collective bargaining as well as negotiations between employees/workers and employers.

As earlier stated, they would ask for better working conditions, higher pay, and fewer working hours. Although the violence of the Luddites was futile, one of the greatest tools used by the labor unions was worker-organized strikes, refusing to work in cases where demands were not met.

Unions also lobbied in order for laws to improve the lives of workers including women and children. During the 1830s, the British Cartoons on Child Labor, 1912 as well as the United States governments started passing laws meant to protect workers.

The earliest laws focused on helping child labor though the process was very slow, laws would eventually help all workers. In essence, the industrial revolution brought about the emergence of labor unions when working conditions became so unfavorable which further brought about reforms for workers in society.

Changes for women

One important change that the industrial revolution brought about in society was a dramatic change for women as many of them joined the workforce for the first time. Here, women had to compete with men for job opportunities. Female factory workers or employees usually made only one-third as much as men. At this point, women began to lead reforms in order to change this.

As women became more involved in political activities, some started demanding suffrage (the right to vote). By 1918, women that were over 30 were granted the right to vote in Great Britain. Also in 1920, the United States granted women the right to vote in an election with the passing of the 19th Amendment 1920.

The emergence of a new social class

The industrial revolution brought about the emergence of a new social class, the middle class alongside the working class. Those in the middle class had ownership of the new factories, railroads, mines, and other industries. They had a more comfortable lifestyle than that of the industrial working class.

When farm families migrated to industrial cities, they become workers in factories and mines, and many of them felt lost and perplexed as they faced tough working conditions in environments that were uncomfortable. It was then that these factory and mine workers developed their own sense of community despite how terrible the working conditions were, coming up with labor unions. Let us see how the industrial revolution affected these social classes.

Effects on the industrial middle class

The set of people that benefited most from the industrial revolution was the entrepreneurs who put it in place. It brought about a new middle class in society or the bourgeoisie whose members came from different backgrounds. Some of them were merchants who invested their growing profits in factories while some were inventors or skilled artisans who developed new technologies. Some rose from a state of extreme poverty to acquiring great wealth, this pattern was greatly admired by the age.

By implication, the middle class lived in homes that were well-furnished and spacious on paved streets and with readily available water supply. They wore fancy clothes and ate good diets. This made the new middle class take pride in their hard work as well as their determination to move ahead.

The problem was that only a few had sympathy for the poor in society. Women in the middle class did not leave their homes to work, they rather focused their energy and attention on raising children. This was a different case with the wealthy who had maidservants to take care of their children, also the working class had their children involved in factories as part of the workforce.

Effects on the industrial working class

While the wealthy and the middle class lived in pleasant environments and neighborhoods, a large number of poor faced struggles to survive in foul-smelling and overcrowded urban areas. They packed into small rooms in temporary dwellings or multistory buildings that were divided into apartments where there was no adequate water supply, only community pumps.

Sewage and sanitation systems were absent so, garbage rotted on the streets. Because sewage was dumped into rivers, this brought about an overwhelming stench and contamination of drinking water. This further brought about the spread of diseases such as cholera.

Improved transportation and health facilities

The industrial revolution triggered innovations that brought about improved transportation systems. Prior to this, the agric-dominated economies mostly used animals such as horses and camels, rivers, and canals as their transport systems. Gradually, the invention of the railroad, as well as the steam-powered locomotive, unveiled a new world in transportation. Furthermore, more complex and improved transport systems emerged as trains were technologically improved, motor cars, airplanes, and the London Underground were invented.

Technology brought about improved health facilities as scientific discoveries boosted further improvements. Micro-organisms were discovered by Koch and germs separated such as tuberculosis in 1882 and cholera in 1883. Vaccines were then developed to prevent diseases. Over the years, many discoveries have been made about the increasing health hazards resulting from industrialization. This triggered more improved health technologies.

The Industrial Revolution changed society by improving the material wealth of the Western world as well as ending the dominance of agriculture.

See also: Mercantilism vs Capitalism Differences and Similarities