Sunday, July 27, 2014

Introduction to the Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution has been thoroughly dealt with in this unit. The point to note is that the event was momentous not merely because it brought an economic transformation of incredible magnitude, but also because it set the standard of industrialization for future generations all over the world. The unit first of all discusses about the fundamental causes of the revolution, attempting to point our why England was first to experience it. Then the unit takes up the immediate causes of the revolution, emphasizing on the fact that the excessive demand of the English cotton goods led to a series of technological inventions and factory system lasting for more than hundred years. On the basis of the technological inventions the revolution has been divided into three stages.

The period from 1770 to 1914 saw unprecedented changes in the sphere of industry. The changes were so large in number. So varied in character, so wide in extent and so profound in their impact as to be known in history as the Industrial Revolution. It began in England and gradually spread to Europe and later to the world. It effected fundamental change in the method technique and organization of industry.

The term ‘revolution’ may appear as a misnomer in this case. There was no sudden or violent change, no popular uprising nor any visible outcry. It is true that change did not come suddenly or through any violent means. The changes came through a slow and evolutionary process. For that reason the term ‘evolution’ may appear as more appropriate in this situation. But we must remember that the term ‘revolution’ means fundamental change in the system and the happenings in the sphere of industry in the said period definitely effected fundamental change in the economic system to deserve the nomenclature ‘revolution’. It is not necessary that an economic revolution has to be violent or sudden as political revolution like that in France in 1789, in China in 1911 and in Russia in 1917. The French writer, Blanqui was the first to use the term ‘industrial revolution’ as early as 1837 in the context of the great economic changes in England: later Jevons, Marx and Engels used it, and Arnold Toynbes used it in 1884.

Fundamental Causes of Industrial Revolution - 

Our curiosity obviously turns to the query – why did the Industrial Revolution occur first in England? The search for its answer will very much help us to understand the causes of this revolution. Definitely England possessed some basic advantages, that gave it an edge over other countries of Europe in industrial sphere, like geographical advantages, availability of capital and labour, a long tradition of commercial prosperity, political stability under the Whig rule in the 18th century, possession of colonies and so on. These were the fundamental causes of the Industrial Revolution. But the core cause lies somewhere else.

The core cause of the Industrial Revolution and its occurrence in England has to be sought in the urgent need to change the traditional method of production in the cotton textile industry. There had been a growing demand for English textiles in Europe and outside. But supply lagged far behind the demand due to the prevalence of traditional rural based method of production. It was a slow process known as the putting-out system. The merchant or ‘clothier’ who lived in towns and possessed capital used to come to the village, purchased raw cotton, gave it to a peasant family for curding (cleaning the raw cotton) and spinning (making yarns out of cotton). Then he took the pile of spun yarns to another peasant family for weaving (making textile with the yarns). The prepared cotton textile was then taken by the clothier to the port, where it was sold to another merchant to be carried home or to European markets.

But the main problem of this rural-based cottage industry was the awfully slow rate of production, which was unable to meet the growing demand for the English textile. This slowness was mainly caused by the method followed in spinning. When six or seven men were engaged in spinning and the quantity of yarn they produced in one day was enough for just one man to weave cloth out of that the next day. In other words, spinning and weaving varied in the production of 6:1. Therefore, the most urgent need was to find out a way to speed up spinning. Necessity is the mother of invention and perhaps nowhere it could be truer than in the case of cotton spinning. A series of mechanical inventions took place in the cotton textile industry that paced up spinning and weaving and this trail of inventions that began in the cotton industry spread to other industries.

Before we get into these momentous inventions and dedicated inventions to unfold the story of technological innovations leading to the factory system that changed the face of England, we must look into the fundamental causes of the Industrial Revolution.

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