Industrial Revolution1

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Prior to the 18th century, in the United States and Western Europe, the majority of the population lived on farms. However, during the 1700’s many remarkable new innovations came into being which caused an upheaval of sorts. “New forms of power, such as steam, replaced animal strength and human muscle. The factory system of making goods came into use. All of these advances affected patterns of living as well as working. Because society was so transformed, this time of great change is known as the Industrial Revolution.” (Perry, Scholl, Davis…491) The Industrial Revolution brought upon many changes in society. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the United States had established an agrarian society and soon, the Industrial Revolution would lead to rapid urbanization.

There were many revolutions that took place within the Industrial Revolution. “A revolution in agriculture had paved the way for the Industrial Revolution.” (491) Farmers were in dire need to increase production, which in turn would increase trade. “The Agricultural Revolution began in 1701, when Jethro Tull invented a mechanical drill for planting.” (492) A Transportation Revolution broke out when traders and commuters needed better methods of transportation. The Transportation Revolution led to the building of canals and railroads. The poor conditions of roads led to the building of canals. It was far less costly to transport heavy goods by waterway than by land. (491) Railroads, at the time, were the fastest method of transportation on land. A trip that might take days would only be a few hours by train. Railroads would also aid in trafficking raw materials, machinery, and finished products from north to south in far less time. A demand for better methods of transportation would lead to more innovative designs in the field of transportation.

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One of the greatest problems that existed in the South was “how to produce enough cotton to meet the demands of England’s newly invented spinning and weaving machines?” (Compton’s Encyclopedia, Eli Whitney) There were two types of cottons grown on plantations: “A black-seed, long-staple cotton was easily cleaned, but it grew only near the coast, while a green-seed, short-staple variety grew in inland areas but resisted cleaning since its fiber stuck to the seed.” (Compton’s) “Before cotton can be used, the fibers must be separated from the seeds.” (Compton’s) It takes about one day to get a pound of cotton if the fibers are being separated by hand. (Compton’s) Whitney discovered a way to resolve the issue regarding the green-seed by inventing a machine to clean the green-seed cotton. Whitney based his renderings never having seen raw cotton. He just assumed that comb-like teeth were imperative. Whitney had designed a crude model within days. “Based on simple principles, the cotton gin was finished in 1793. By 1800 cotton production had increased from about 3,000 bales a year to 73,000. His cotton-cleaning invention brought prosperity to the South.” (Compton’s)

The steam engine was perhaps one of the greatest inventions during the 1700’s. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the steam engine was improved to increase its work potential. In 1698, the purpose of the steam engine was to pump water. The demand for the steam engine had been minimal until the establishment of factories. “In the days before 1760 most industries were carried out in the home or in small workshops where the muscles of men, and women, provided the power.” (Storer, 50) The key motivation behind the invention of the steam engine, was the need for power. Edmund Cartwright developed a loom that would be powered by a steam engine. (50-51) In time, “The spinning wheel started to become obsolete, a steam-powered factory had been established.” (51) Despite the fact that steam-powered factories started out as a financial disaster, “Powered machines grouped in factories replaced home industries.” (51) In 1769, James Watt was recognized as developing the first practical steam engine that burned coal. (Perry…493)

“While repairing a model of a Newcomen-type engine for Glasgow University, Watt realized that a large quantity of heat was being wasted by successfully heating the cylinder to fill it with steam and cooling it to condense the steam. Watt solved this problem.” In his own words, Watt describes the realization that he comes to regarding steam and how to apply it. “As steam was an elastic body it would rush into a vacuum, and if a communication was made between cylinder and an exhausted vessel, it would rush into it, and might be there condensed without cooling the cylinder.” (Storer, p.52) Watt’s first model of a steam engine didn’t work as well as he had hoped, but it was a start. “Like all steam engines, it had a cylinder and sliding piston, but, in addition, it was connected to two other important components, which were a condenser and an air pump.” (p.52)

It would take Watt close to ten years and the help of about 600 highly skilled craftsmen to build a practical steam engine. (p.53) The steam engine would soon power factories, boats, and trains. The effects of the steam engine were looked at with a positive perspective. Steam engines were much more cost effective and superior to the traditional forms of power. The costs of powering a factory would decrease allowing industries to use their funds in different ways. The use of the steam engine on boats and locomotives was beneficial to the transportation and trade industries. The trade of raw materials and finished products increased between England and the South.

“The factory system produced goods efficiently, but workers led hard lives. Wages were generally low and employment was never secure.” Therefore, it was imperative that one member of the household always held employment. The traditional philosophy of the time was that “Man is the bread-winner and woman is the home-builder.” (Gladden, 192) Despite the common belief, “Many men…are quite willing to let the women of their house-holds go out and earn wages to support the family, and are willing themselves to live on what their wives and daughters bring in.” (192) It was more beneficial for factory owners to employ women and children than it was to employ men. Women did a better job when it came to certain tasks, where “muscle” wasn’t necessary. They were typically better then men in the clothing industry. Factory owners elected to hire women for certain jobs because it was cheaper to employ them and more profitable in the long run. One question that was put into much consideration was what is suitable employment for women? The conclusion was that it is a woman’s right to choose.

“An old Indian chieftain was shown the ways and wonders of New York,” and when asked, “What is the most surprising thing you have seen?” his only response was, “Little children working.” (Markham, 213) According to the Talmud, “Children must not be taken from the schools even to rebuild the Temple.” Child labor is perhaps the most demoralizing thing that has occurred throughout time. It was customary for families to stick together and they stuck together by working together. Families spent most of their time with one another. They lived together and they worked together. Some felt that the industrial life was better when the entire family worked together.

In defense of child labor, Thomas Livermore, a mill worker, briefly describes his life before working in the mills and why he brought his family to the mills. Livermore owned two hundred acres of land, where he and his five children grew corn, wheat and oats and raised hogs and sheep. He barely made enough money to support his family. He decided to sell everything he owned, pay off his debts, and moved his family to a cotton mill. He and his five children combined made enough money to pay for all provisions and have one hundred thirty dollars left over to purchase clothes and put into the bank. (Livermore, 224)

The truth of the matter is, life was horrible for children. They were over-worked and underpaid. Edwin Markham asks, “Why these machines at all, if they don’t help to lift care from the soul & burden from the back?” (214) The conditions in which these children worked were below standards. “For a day or a night at a stretch, these little children do some one monotonous thing- abusing their eyes in watching the rushing threads; dwarfing their muscles…befouling their lungs…bestowing ceaseless, anxious attention for hours, where science says that ‘A twenty-minute strain is long enough for a growing mind.’” (215) The majority of child laborers, mostly girls, worked in textile mills located in the South. (215) However, factory owners were driven by profit. “It pays…to grind little children into dividends.” (219)

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Industrial Revolution1. (2018, Jun 28). Retrieved from