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Industrial Revolution

From craftsmanship to industry

With the Industrial Revolution, historians identify the process that, in the mid-eighteenth century, starting from England, brought radical changes in the way of producing goods and organizing work. This process involved, in fact, the industry sector, ie the set of activities aimed at obtaining products from raw materials available in nature.

Since ancient times, the manufacture of all kinds of products was entrusted to individual craftsmen. In the Middle Ages, manufactures had spread, which with the use of more manpower allowed greater productions, although the work was technically identical to the past. Only in the modern age had man used machines to replace manual labor, and to operate them he had learned to make use of natural forces such as water or wind (mills).

The novelty that characterized the industrial revolution in the eighteenth century was the introduction of an alternative driving force, specially created by man to facilitate production processes. It was the steam engine, powered by water vapor obtained by coal-fired boilers. The production of steam was still very expensive, due to the necessary fuels, and therefore more machines ended up being concentrated around the same energy source. Thus was born the modern factory, which in addition to production techniques revolutionized the organization of work.

The revolution starts from England

England in the eighteenth century was by far the richest and most developed European state. It made huge profits from trade, aided by new raw materials from colonies scattered around the world and a fleet that dominated the sea. The British also managed slave trading, which was very profitable at the time. The agricultural sector also brought substantial wealth, mainly because the global demographic increase recorded in the eighteenth century resulted in a greater consumption of food products.
For all these reasons, England was the first country where the industrial revolution took place.

The new industry first of all needed huge capital to invest, to pay for machinery, raw materials and workers. Another determining factor was energy: the use of the steam engine to replace the mills required coal in large quantities, and England had it. The political and military power of the British then played a decisive role, by means of which they were able to impose the purchase of their goods on the weaker countries they controlled, such as India and Ireland. Finally, the favorable mentality of England with respect to economic development, the study and design of technological innovations was also important. Economic freedom allowed every citizen to undertake their professional activity without encountering obstacles.

The development of the industry

With the significant increase in the population, in the eighteenth century, the demand for clothing, a fundamental good, together with food, for human life also increased. In textile factories, however, the work was slow, carried out manually by spinners and weavers, and the production was less than required. The first textile machines were therefore introduced, thanks to the inventions of simple but brilliant craftsmen. John Kay invented the flying fuze in 1733; in 1764 the carpenter James Hargreaves built a machine that significantly speeded up spinning. Entirely mechanical spinning wheels and looms were later built, moved by the force of water and then by steam.

The steam engine, already used in the mines, spread considerably, thanks also to the improvements made by the Scottish engineer James Watt in 1769. It was also used as a driving force for new means of transport: in 1803 Robert Fulton operated a boat pushed by a large paddle wheel; in 1814 George Stephenson built the first locomotive.

With the industrial revolution, the steel industry, that is the production and processing of metals, also developed rapidly. The decisive factor was the invention of coking coal, a refined coal that burned better and longer, which in the first place allowed the construction of blast furnaces for melting metals.

With productivity practically doubled, England in the eighteenth century became the largest exporter of metals such as cast iron, iron and steel, as well as tools and components for the construction of bridges and railways.

The social consequences of the industrial revolution

In the old factories and even earlier in the artisan shops, each worker followed the creation of a product from start to finish. With the spread of factories, the organization of work was imposed, i.e. the division of production processes into several distinct phases. Each phase was carried out by a worker using the special machine. He was specialized in that one phase of production and carried it out until he obtained a semi-finished product that was passed on to another employee. The role of machines in production assumed increasing importance, so much so that it was the workers who had to adapt to them and not vice versa.

During the Industrial Revolution, factory work spread considerably, almost equaling the agricultural sector. New cities developed around the industrial and mining areas, while large working-class neighborhoods, generally extremely poor, arose on the outskirts of the inhabited centers. In the meantime, large agricultural properties were imposed in the countryside at the expense of small farmers. Many peasants, unable to stand up to the competition from wealthy entrepreneurs, had to abandon their fields to work in factories. Thus the new social classes were established, formed by entrepreneurs (owners of factories or large agricultural enterprises) and workers. The latter worked no less than fourteen hours a day, in poor sanitation and with a high risk of accidents, and received just enough salary to feed themselves. The work of women and children was also exploited, treated even worse than normal workers.

In the meantime, craftsmanship lost importance: it began to take on the role it still holds today, dealing with productions of particular and non-standard taste and quality.

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