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Effects of the Industrial Revolution

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The Industrial Revolution brought many significant changes to daily life. During this period, which started in the late 1700s and ended approximately in the late 1800s (although the official ending is debated), you saw a transition from hand production methods to the commercial use of machines (especially in the textile industry, which was the dominant industry of the period); a change from the use of wood (which was scarce and inefficient) to coal (which was abundant); the production of iron and new chemical manufacturing; the increased efficiency of water power (which was slowly replaced by the use of steam power); the steam-powered locomotive and railroads; and unprecedented sustained economic and population growth to name a few. The combination of these changes had an influence on virtually every aspect of daily life.

Although the effects of the technological innovations, large-scale manufacture of machine tools, increased productivity, the steam-powered factory boom, and expanded transportation options can be viewed as positive advancements and a major turning point in history, the social effects of the Industrial Revolution must be pointed out and discussed as well. The shift from an agrarian society to an industrial one, forced some families to flock to the cities in search of work opportunities. The living conditions varied from fabulous for factory owners and those in the middle class to crude shabbiness for the working class. The influx of people into cities not intended or equipped for these numbers of people led to dismal conditions for many. Though the increased population did initially put a strain on the food supply, improvements to transportation eventually helped to lower food costs.

Construction did not and could not keep up with the population growth. Urban population density was very high and with this often brought cramped quarters in shacks and shanties with dirt floors often without furniture, light or drainage and usually without toilet facilities. Most of the toilet facilities that did exist were shared and had open sewers. The persistent dampness of these open sewers, human waste, industrial pollution, and an inadequate sewage system produced toxic water and the spread of disease became epidemic. Air quality suffered due to the smoke from the heavy use of coal in homes, factories, and on railroads. At first, working conditions in the new industries (especially in the mills and factories) lacked any kind of government regulations regarding work hours, child labor, and safety standards.

Legislation collectively called the Combination Laws were passed in Great Britain that made it illegal for workers to unionize, or come together as a group to request better working conditions, pay, benefits, etc., though they were later repealed. Many children were submitted to unsafe working conditions and routinely earned lower wages than their elder coworkers. Eventually, the Factory Acts, the first general laws against child labor, were enacted in Britain which would stipulate the minimum age of employee one could hire and how many and what type of hours children could work. During this period also came the emergence of capitalism, then socialism as a critical response to capitalism, and romanticism developed as an artistic opposition to the new industrialization.

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