Industrial Revolution

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Industrial Revolution

Industrial Revolution, term usually applied to the social and economic changes that mark the transition from a stable agricultural and commercial society to a modern industrial society relying on complex machinery rather than tools. It is used historically to refer primarily to the period in British history from the middle of the 18th cent. to the middle of the 19th cent.

Nature of the Industrial Revolution

There has been much objection to the term because the word revolution suggests sudden, violent, unparalleled change, whereas the transformation was, to a great extent, gradual. Some historians argue that the 13th and 16th cent. were also periods of revolutionary economic change. However, in view of the magnitude of change between 1750 and 1850, the term seems useful.

Dramatic changes in the social and economic structure took place as inventions and technological innovations created the factory system of large-scale machine production and greater economic specialization, and as the laboring population, formerly employed predominantly in agriculture (in which production had also increased as a result of technological improvements), increasingly gathered in great urban factory centers. The same process occurred at later times and in changed tempo in other countries.

The Industrial Revolution in Great Britain

The ground was prepared by the voyages of discovery from Western Europe in the 15th and 16th cent., which led to a vast influx of precious metals from the New World, raising prices, stimulating industry, and fostering a money economy. Expansion of trade and the money economy stimulated the development of new institutions of finance and credit (see commercial revolution). In the 17th cent. the Dutch were in the forefront financially, but with the establishment (1694) of the Bank of England, their supremacy was effectively challenged. Capitalism appeared on a large scale, and a new type of commercial entrepreneur developed from the old class of merchant adventurers. Many machines were already known, and there were sizable factories using them, but these were the exceptions rather than the rule. Wood was the only fuel, water and wind the power of these early factories.

As the 18th cent. began, an expanding and wealthier population demanded more and better goods. In the productive process, coal came to replace wood. Early-model steam engines were introduced to drain water and raise coal from the mines. The crucial development of the Industrial Revolution was the use of steam for power, and the greatly improved engine (1769) of James Watt marked the high point in this development. Cotton textiles was the key industry early in the Industrial Revolution. John Kay's fly shuttle (1733), James Hargreaves's spinning jenny (patented 1770), Richard Arkwright's water frame (1769), Samuel Crompton's mule (1779), which combined the features of the jenny and the frame, and Edmund Cartwright's power loom (patented 1783) facilitated a tremendous increase in output. The presence of large quantities of coal and iron in close proximity in Britain was a decisive factor in its rapid industrial growth.

The use of coke in iron production had far-reaching effects. The coal mines from the early 1700s had become paramount in importance, and the Black Country developed in England at the same time that Lancashire and Yorkshire were being transformed into the greatest textile centers of the world. Factories and industrial towns sprang up. Canals and roads were built, and the advent of the railroad and the steamship widened the market for manufactured goods. The Bessemer process made a gigantic contribution, for it was largely responsible for the extension of the use of steam and steel that were the two chief features of industry in the middle of the 19th cent. Chemical innovations and, most important of all, perhaps, machines for making machines played an important part in the vast changes.

The Industrial Revolution did not in fact end in Britain in the mid-1800s. New periods came in with electricity and the gasoline engine. By 1850, however, the transformation wrought by the revolution was accomplished, in that industry had become a dominant factor in the nation's life.

The Worldwide Revolution

France had in the 17th and most of the 18th cent. kept pace with Britain, but it later lagged behind in industrial development, and the British victory in their long-standing commercial rivalry kept markets away from France. The revolution did not make the rapid progress that it did in Britain, but after 1830 it developed steadily. The railroad and improved transportation preceded the introduction of the revolution into Germany, which is conventionally said to have accompanied the formation of the Zollverein; industrial Germany was created after 1850.

The United States made some contributions to the early revolution, notably the cotton gin (1793) of Eli Whitney. But the transformation of the United States into an industrial nation took place largely after the Civil War and on the British model. The textile mills of New England had long been in existence, but the boom period of industrial organization was from 1860 to 1890. The Industrial Revolution was introduced by Europeans into Asia, and the last years of the 19th and the early years of the 20th cent. saw the development of industries in India, China, and Japan. However, Japan is the only country of E Asia that may be said to have had a real Industrial Revolution. The Russian Revolution had as a basic aim the introduction of industrialism.

Its Effects

The Industrial Revolution has changed the face of nations, giving rise to urban centers requiring vast municipal services. It created a specialized and interdependent economic life and made the urban worker more completely dependent on the will of the employer than the rural worker had been. Relations between capital and labor were aggravated, and Marxism was one product of this unrest. Doctrines of laissez-faire, developed in the writings of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, sought to maximize the use of new productive facilities. But the revolution also brought a need for a new type of state intervention to protect the laborer and to provide necessary services. Laissez faire gradually gave way in the United States, Britain, and elsewhere to welfare capitalism. The economic theories of John Maynard Keynes reflected this change. The Industrial Revolution also provided the economic base for the rise of the professions, population expansion, and improvement in living standards and remains a primary goal of less developed nations.


See F. C. Dietz, The Industrial Revolution (1927, repr. 1973); T. S. Ashton, The Industrial Revolution (1948); W. O. Henderson, The Industrialization of Europe, 1780–1914 (1969); J. W. Osborne, The Silent Revolution: The Industrial Revolution in England as a Source of Cultural Change (1970); R. M. Hartwell, The Industrial Revolution and Economic Growth (1971); P. N. Stearns, The Impact of the Industrial Revolution (1972); B. Bracegirdle et al., The Archaeology of the Industrial Revolution (1973); R. C. Allen, The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective (2009); W. Rosen, The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention (2010); C. R. Morris, The Dawn of Innovation: The First American Industrial Revolution (2012).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

Industrial Revolution

the massive interrelated economic, technological and social changes, usually dated c. 1760-1850, in which the UK became a manufacturing economy based on a new machine technology and the FACTORY SYSTEM. As a result of these changes the UK also became the first INDUSTRIAL SOCIETY (see INDUSTRIALIZATION).

The decisive features of this industrial revolution were:

  1. increased CAPITALIST control over the LABOUR PROCESS and a greatly increased DIVISION OF LABOUR and consequent improvements in overall efficiency and productivity in factories and workshops;
  2. the invention of new machinery and the application first of improvements in water power and later steam power, in mining, manufacturing (especially textiles and iron and steel) and transport (roads, canals, railways and sea).

Once underway, the Industrial Revolution also brought rapid population growth (see DEMOGRAPHIC TRANSITION) and URBANIZATION with attendant social problems, such as urban squalor, ill-health and absence of effective urban administration.

Whether or not in its early stages the Industrial Revolution led to an absolute reduction in the STANDARD OF LIVING is a matter of some dispute (see Ashton, 1954).

What is clear is that many categories of workers (e.g. handloom weavers) displaced by new machinery, and those subject to high levels of unemployment during periods of severe recession, suffered greatly, even if, as some commentators suggest, the overall effect of the new industrial society was generally to expand consumption and social welfare. Certainly the increased discipline – the tyranny of the new control over the labour process and of the clock (see E. P. THOMPSON, 1967) – was a new dimension unwelcome to and resisted by many workers.

The causes of the Industrial Revolution in the UK are complex and much disputed by economic historians. It is agreed, however, that once the revolution was underway it was the capacity of the new industries to provide new products, such as cheap cotton goods and household wares, both at home and overseas, which sustained the impetus to further economic growth and social change. See also ROSTOW, ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT.

The onset of the Industrial Revolution in the UK was quickly followed by similar transformations in other European societies and in the US. Subsequently a number of these societies were able to outstrip Britain and to lead the way in a new period of economic and technological development (including electric power, the new chemicals industry, and radio and telecommunications) sometimes referred to as the second industrial revolution.

A further question of importance concerns the link between industrialization and CAPITALISM. Whilst it is clear that the first industrialization was the outcome of the prior appearance of capitalist social relations, it is equally apparent that industrialization was also initiated in SOCIALIST SOCIETIES (see also STATE CAPITALISM AND STATE MONOPOLY CAPITALISM).

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Industrial Revolution


the system of economic and sociopolitical changes that reflected the shift from the manufacture system, based on manual labor, to large-scale machine industry. The industrial revolution began with the invention and application of machinery for production and culminated in the production of machines by machines, that is, in the development of machine production based on the extensive use of machine technology. As a result, the capitalist mode of production emerged victorious in its struggle against the feudal mode of production. The industrial revolution gave powerful impetus to the capitalist socialization of production; in the factory system, the cooperative nature of the labor process is dictated by the nature of the means of labor. Many fragmented production processes are merged into a single social productive process. At the same time, the establishment of large-scale machine industry becomes the most important prerequisite for the domination of labor by capital and for the intensification of antagonistic contradictions in the capitalist mode of production. Describing the shift to the factory system, Marx noted that machines per se shorten labor time whereas their use under capitalism lengthens the workday; they facilitate labor, whereas their capitalist use intensifies labor; they represent man’s victory over the forces of nature, whereas their capitalist use enslaves man to the forces of nature; they increase the wealth of the producer, whereas their capitalist use makes the producer a pauper (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23, pp. 451–52).

The historical preconditions for the development of large-scale machine industry were creatd by the manufacture form of capitalist production. The primitive accumulation of capital assured the further development of capitalist relations (1) through the creation of an army of people deprived of their means of livelihood whose only commodity is their labor power and (2) through the accumulation of large financial resources used by the rising class of capitalists to acquire means of production and labor power. The increase of capitalist production inevitably led to the rapid expansion of both domestic and foreign markets. However, the bourgeoisie’s efforts to accelerate capital accumulation were impeded by the limitations of manufactures, which were based on artisan techniques.

The industrial revolution was a general historical phenomenon that characterized a particular stage in the development of capitalism in the industry of a number of countries. However, the gradual development of the prerequisites for the shift from manufactures to large-scale machine industry varied from country to country.

The industrial revolution began in Great Britain in the 1760’s, after the English Civil War of the 17th century had cleared the way for the development of capitalist relations. Manufacture production had reached its peak in England, and the Dutch manufactures had fallen far behind the English ones. According to Marx, the narrow technological basis of manufacture production came into conflict, at a certain stage in its development, with the requirements of production that manufacture itself had created (ibid., p. 381). This conflict was most acute in the cotton industry, since the demand for cotton was increasing very rapidly.

The shift from artisan or manufacture production to machine production began with a change in the means of labor. In the 1770’s and 1780’s a mechanical spindle called the jenny, invented by the worker J. Hargreaves, came into use, and by 1787 more than 20,000 such machines were in operation in England. Subsequently the spinning mule, invented by S. Crompton in the 1770’s, was introduced. Once the mule spindles had been widely adopted, all cotton thread and yarn was produced in factories.

The mechanization of one industry necessitated an increase in labor productivity in other industries as well. The improvement of production techniques in cotton spinning created a disproportion between spinning and weaving. A mechanical loom was patented in 1785, and the first weaving mill, equipped with about 200 looms, was built in Great Britain in 1801. The incorporation of new weaving techniques in turn speeded up the mechanization of cloth printing, dyeing, and other industries. The spread of machine technology led to the decline of cottage industry and to the impoverishment of numerous small producers. In the 1780’s the metallurgy industry shifted to puddling, the process by which wrought iron is produced from pig iron using mineral fuels.

The development of production machinery equipped with a multitude of simultaneously operating parts and units created a need for a new and better engine. J. Watts’ double-acting steam engine, patented in 1784, was extensively used in the textile industry from the late 1790’s. By 1810 there were some 5,000 steam engines in Great Britain. The rapid growth of industrial output and expanding markets required improvements in transportation. Steamships and steam locomotives came into use in the first quarter of the 19th century.

The rapid spread of machine technology came into conflict with the artisan techniques by which machines were produced. One of the most acute and long-lasting disproportions that arose in the course of the industrial revolution was the discrepancy between the rapidly growing demand for new means of labor and the limitations of the manufacture production of machines. This discrepancy was resolved through the large-scale use of machines to build machines. Metalworking machine tools—mainly lathes with mechanically driven slides, mechanical hammers, and hydraulic presses—were increasingly used in industry from the early 19th century. The growing output of machinery and of new means of transportation increased the demand for metal. Pig iron production increased about sixfold between 1788 and 1820. The mechanization of various industries and the differentiation in mechanical implements of labor created the conditions for the shift from the simple cooperation of machines to machine systems—the basic and most essential characteristic of large-scale machine industry. Between 1810 and 1830 large-scale machine industry completely replaced manufacture and artisan production in Great Britain, which became an important industrial power, “the workshop of the world.” The rapid growth of productive forces was accompanied by an equally rapid intensification of the contradictions in the capitalist mode of production. The first economic crisis of overproduction occurred in Great Britain in 1825.

The USA, France, Germany, and other nations followed Great Britain on the road toward rapid development of large-scale industry. In the USA the general economic conditions for the rapid development of capitalist production were created after the War of Independence (1775–83). The intensive technical modernization of the cotton industry, as well as several other industrial branches, was promoted by the total absence of small workshops and by the use of the British industries’ technical experience. By the 1850’s and 1860’s steam engines were widely used and machine building was developing rapidly in the Northeastern USA.

In Italy the industrial revolution began in the 1840’s. Factory production developed mainly in northern Italy, and this only intensified the economic backwardness of the south. Large-scale machine industry completely supplanted cottage industry and manufacture production in the last third of the 19th century-

The French Revolution played a decisive role in speeding up the development of capitalist relations in France by destroying the feudal order. In the 1780’s the first steps were taken to mechanize cotton spinning, but many decades passed before manufacture production gave way to machine systems in other leading industries.

The shift from manufacture to large-scale machine industry came much later in Germany, where the dominance of feudal and semi-feudal relations hindered the development of capitalist industry. Engels noted that as far as large-scale industry was concerned, France, and Germany in particular, trailed behind Great Britain and “only came to know large-scale industry after 1848” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 18, p. 243). The development of large-scale machine industry in these countries accelerated sharply after the Revolutions of 1848–49. In Germany, the final stage of the industrial revolution, which came in the late 1850’s and 1860’s, was marked by a rapid growth of heavy industry.

In Japan the conditions for the development of capitalist factory production were created by the Meiji Revolution of 1867–68. In the course of the industrial revolution, which began in the last decades of the 19th century, Japanese entrepreneurs made extensive use of the technical experience of Western Europe and the USA, importing much of their machinery from abroad. The state was especially active in creating and financing large industrial enterprises, which directly or indirectly participated in the technological rearmament of the Japanese Army.

The shift from manufacture to large-scale machine industry introduced radical changes not only into the technical basis of production but also into the sphere of social relations. In his description of the industrial revolution, Lenin stressed that it meant an abrupt and profound transformation of all social relations. The success of large-scale machine industry in the leading branches of production created the material prerequisites for the further rapid development of productive forces. In addition to making industry the main branch of social production, the industrial revolution also brought about its complete separation from agriculture and the rapid growth of large industrial centers.

The development of capitalist machine industry inevitably led to the breakdown of the closed world of the patriarchal system and increased population mobility. The capitalist use of machine technology, however, increased the exploitation of hired workers and transformed large enterprises into prison factories and the worker into an appendage of the machine. The growth of capitalist factory production intensified the contradictions between intellectual and physical labor, as well as between town and country. The further mechanization of production led to the expulsion of part of the labor force from the capitalist factory, creating mass unemployment. The deepening contradiction between the social nature of production and the private capitalist form of appropriation caused worldwide economic overproduction crises.

The victory of the capitalist factory system marked the final split between the various groups participating in production and increased class differentiation. The industrial revolution culminated in the formation of the two main classes of capitalist society—the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. It was precisely the industrial revolution, wrote Engels, that “engendered the authentic bourgeoisie and the authentic industrial proletariat, placing them in the forefront of social development” (ibid., vol. 22, p. 535). As machine industry grew, the number of factory workers increased. Moreover, the factory transformed them into permanent wage workers, thereby shaping the proletariat into an independent class with a special historical mission. As large-scale industry gained the dominant position within social production, the proportion of the working class in the total population also increased. In the mid-1840’s workers constituted three-fourths of the population of Great Britain.

As soon as it appeared, the proletariat began its struggle against the bourgeoisie. Reduced to despair by the monstrous exploitation in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the English workers sometimes protested by destroying machines, which they considered the cause of their misery (for example, the Luddites). As large-scale machine industry and the class-consciousness of workers developed, the proletariat engaged in more advanced and organized forms of struggle against the system of capitalist exploitation.

The working class combined methods of economic struggle, such as strikes, with increasingly active political campaigns. A mass political revolutionary movement of the proletariat, known as Chartism, developed in Great Britain in the 1830’s and 1840’s. During this period the first large-scale insurrections of the working class broke out in France (Lyon rebellions of 1831 and 1834) and Germany (uprising of Silesian weavers in 1844). The struggle culminated in the Paris workers’ uprising of June 1848. In the course of the class struggle, the proletariat gradually became the prime mover of all revolutionary transformations.


Marx, K. Kapital, vol. 1. In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23.
Engels, F. Polozhenie rabochego klassav Anglii. Ibid., vol. 2.
Lenin, V. I. K kharakteristike ekonomicheskogo romantizma: Sismondi i nashi otechestvennye sismondisiy. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 2.
Lenin, V. I. Razvilie kapitalizma v Rossii. Ibid., vol. 3.
Lavrovskii, V. M. Promyshlennyi perevorol v Anglii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1925.
Mantoux, P. Promyshlennaia revoliutsiia XVIII stoletiia v Anglii (Opyt issledovaniia). Moscow, 1937. (With bibliography.)
Liashchenko, P. I. Istoriia narodnogo khoziaistva SSSR, 4th ed., vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1956.
Erofeev, N. A. Promyshlennaia revoliutsiia v Anglii. Moscow, 1963. (With bibliography.)
Potemkin, F. V. Promyshlennaia revoliutsiia vo Franlsii, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1971. (With bibliography.)


Russia. In Russia the industrial revolution began in the first half of the 19th century. The transition from manufactures to factories first occurred in the cotton industry, later spreading to other industries. The replacement of manual labor by machines sharply raised labor productivity and entailed a great leap forward in the development of productive forces. However, the development of the industrial revolution required a large number of free hired workers, an extensive market for industrial products, and the flow of large amounts of capital into production. The creation of these conditions was inhibited by the existence of serfdom. Therefore the shift from manufactures to factories in the pre-Reform period further intensified the crisis of the feudal system and hastened the downfall of serfdom.

When the leading branches of industry are producing the bulk of their output at enterprises equipped with a system of machines operated by steam power, the technical reconstruction of industry has been completed. In pre-Reform Russia, only the cotton industry (spinning and textile printing), the sugar beet refining industry, and the paper industry produced most of their output in factories. In other leading industries the shift from manual labor to machines was basically completed in the late 1870’s and early 1880’s.

In 1879 the textile industry produced from 54.8 percent (broadcloth and wool) to 96.3 percent (cotton thread and yarn) of its products with the help of machines. That year the metal-working industry produced 86.3 percent of its total output with the help of machines, and the sugar beet refining industry, 85.1 percent. In 1882, the puddling furnaces that had replaced bloomeries in the metallurgy industry produced about 90 percent of the entire metal output; 63 percent of the power used in ferrous metallurgy came from steam engines. However, manual labor still predominated in the furniture, leather, and other industries. The technical modernization of transportation was also completed in the post-Reform period. More than 20,000 km of railroad tracks were laid in the 1860’s and 1870’s, forming the basis of a railroad network. An important characteristic of the industrial revolution in Russia was the slow development of a number of branches of the machine-building industry, chiefly the production of machine tools.

Permanent wageworkers had already existed in Russia during the time of serfdom. However, they were not yet proletarians, since the majority of them were not free. Only the abolition of serfdom transformed the permanent wageworkers of the pre-Reform period into real proletarians. The proletariat developed rapidly after the Peasant Reform of 1861. It included industrial workers from the period of serfdom, landless peasants or peasants with insufficient land, and peasants who had been ruined in the course of social differentiation.

The formation of the proletariat as a class was essentially concluded by the early 1880’s. At this time permanent wage-workers constituted the majority of industrial workers. Between 1886 and 1893, 71.8 percent of the industrial workers in the nine industrial regions of European Russia were permanent wage-workers. In areas with a highly developed industry the proportion was even greater—89.2 percent in the St. Petersburg industrial region, 80.2 percent in the Moscow region, and 80.5 percent in the Vladimir region. A large stratum of second generation proletarians already existed in the early 1880’s.

The shift from manufactures to factories was the decisive stage in the formation of the bourgeoisie as a class. In the course of the industrial revolution, the industrial big bourgeoisie evolved and became the dominant stratum, pushing into the background the representatives of commercial capital, who had previously occupied the dominant position. In 1879, in the various branches of manufacturing, only 4.4 percent of enterprises employed more than 100 workers, but these enterprises accounted for 54.8 percent of the total output. The autocracy contributed to the formation of the industrial bourgeoisie through protective tariffs, state contracts, guaranteed profits, and other measures.

During the industrial revolution in Russia large-scale industrial production emerged and became dominant and the classes of a capitalist society came into existence, that is, the capitalist mode of production became firmly established and its inherent contradictions appeared. With the formation of the classes of a capitalist society, the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie became the basic, determining factor in all of Russia’s class and sociopolitical contradictions.


Lenin, V. I. Razvitie kapitalizma v Rossii. In Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 3, chs. 5–8.
Strumilin, S. G. Promyshlennyi perevorot. Moscow, 1944.
Iatsunskii, V. K. “Promyshlennyi perevorot v Rossii (K problème vzaimodeistviia proizvoditel’nykh sil i proizvodstvennykh otnoshenii).” Voprosy istorii, no. 12, 1952.
Iatsunskii, V. K. “Krupnaia promyshlennost’ v Rossii v 1790–1860 gg.” In Ocherki ekonomicheskoi istorii Rossii pervoi poloviny XIX v. Moscow, 1959.
Pazhitnov, K. A. “K voprosu o promyshlennom perevorote v Rossii.” Voprosy istorii, no. 5, 1952.
Koval’chenko, I. D. “Zavershenie promyshlennogo perevorota: Formirovanie proletariata i burzhuazii.” In Ocherki istorii SSSR, 1861–1904. Pages 86–90. Moscow, 1960.
Rashin, A. G. Formirovanie rabochego klassa v Rossii: lstoriko-ekonomicheskie ocherki. Moscow, 1958.
Ivanov, L. M. “Preemstvennost’ fabrichno-zavodskogo truda v formirovanii proletariata v Rossii.” In Rabochii klass i rabochee dvizheniev Rossii, 1861–1917. Moscow, 1966.
Ryndziunskii, P. G. “Voprosy istorii russkoi promyshlennosti v XIX v.” Istoriia SSSR, no. 5, 1972.
Virginskii, V. S., and V. V. Zakharov. “Podgotovka perekhoda k mashinnomu proizvodstvu v doreformennoi Rossii.” Ibid., no. 2, 1973.
Ocherki istorii tekhnikiv Rossii (1861–1917). Moscow, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

industrial revolution

[in′dəs·trē·əl ‚rēv·ə′lü·shən]
(industrial engineering)
A widespread change in industrial or production methods, toward production by machine and away from manual labor.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Industrial Revolution

the. the transformation in the 18th and 19th centuries of first Britain and then other W European countries and the US into industrial nations
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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