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Social Impact of the First Industrial Revolution

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The First Industrial Revolution occurred first in England in the turn of the 19th century or in the late 18th century. The stage for the revolution could be said to have been prepared by James Watt who was the first person to invent a steam engine. During this time there were several changes that were taking place especially in the agricultural and in the transportation sector. These changes brought about some changes in the political, social and economic institutions.

The industrial revolution especially in later years witnessed a very significant change in Great Britain’s economy in that the labor was transformed from being manual to mechanized one. The First Industrial Revolution paved way for the Second Industrial Revolution which took place from 1850s. Besides, several changes in the production sector, the same was also happening in the social life. What were the social impacts of the First Industrial Revolution? This is what this essay will mainly focus on.

It will start by giving the historical background of the revolution, its progress and then discuss in depth how it impacted on social life. As it has been noted above, the origin of the first industrial revolution could be traced back to the later part of the 18th century. This revolution brought about several changes and that is why it was regarded as revolutionary. It greatly revolutionized the production sectors of USA, Europe and England. This revolution was not simply limited to machines but to the production capacity and the living standards.

It touched all aspects of these societies and it is the one that formed the current foundation of these societies “Industrial revolution was no mere sequence of changes in industrial techniques and production, but a social revolution with social causes as well as profound social effects” The first industrial revolution saw the end of nomadic life and the switch to animal husbandry and agricultural farming. It reorganized the economical and social set up of the west. The traditional ideas of that time were replaced by philosophical and economic thoughts.

During this period, Dutch farmers who were the most productive at that time were very innovative and kept experimenting on new methods of production like using manure to boost soil fertility and trying new types of vegetables and other plants. Industrial revolution could be said to have first occurred in the textile industries. Canals, railways and roads and this resulted to the expansion of trade to areas that were inaccessible. Again iron production led to the invention of war materials and better working tools but on the other hand it altered and replaced the warm relationship that workers enjoyed with their bosses.

Industrial revolution lead to individualistic life or on other words capitalism. The use of machines was of essence but on the other hand it rendered many people jobless. The First Industrial Revolution cannot be mentioned without mentioning the role that was played by the textile industries. In the beginning, inventions were limited to these industries where spinning machines and water powered frame were invented. These inventions made spinning easier. Wealthy people would buy these machines in large quantities thereby forming their own factories.

These factories revolutionized the society by replacing the cottage system or a system where workers would look for raw materials and take them to their home. This led to en masse production of goods, rise of the wealthy class, growth of urban areas and creation of more job opportunities. The First Industrial Revolution affected all aspects of life and impacted on society’s superstructures differently but for the purpose of this research, it is the social impacts that are of interest. Another social impact that could be attributed to the first industrial revolution was the rearrangement of the social structure.

Before this revolution took place, people led communal lives practicing either agriculture or craftsmanship. They lived as families and every work was manual based but with the advent of mechanized labor, life became a bit easier as the work that required many hands to be done required only a few people to do it. Though mechanization made work easier, it had some negative implications and one of them was that many people were rendered jobless. Those people who relied on the work of their hands in earning their livelihood were left with no other alternative except to be replaced by machines.

Although there were some people who were rendered jobless, mechanization increased job opportunities as the new systems of production required human resources to be run. Though work that could be done by many people required just one machine to be done, those that were employed to run these machines were expected to work just like them. They were forced to work for longer period and this greatly undermined the stability of their families. Before the advent of the First Industrial Revolution, people mainly relied on agriculture but after this revolution people were forced to seek for job opportunities in these factories and companies.

This rural to urban migration led to the depopulation of rural areas while at the same time leading to the growth of urban areas. As more and more people migrated to these urban areas, they grown towns and finally into cities. People were forced to change their way of life from rural dwellers to urban ones, “migration from rural to urban areas as a consequence of the industrial revolution on the other hand reduced the overpopulation on the countryside and had a great impact on the growth of cities. Constant migration from rural to urban areas caused the enlargement of cities in the 18th century. ”

As a result of the first industrial revolution and the rural urban migration the city and rural images underwent some kind of a transformation. Local areas where mines were located became urban areas when factories were established. These factories had chimneys that emitted dangerous gases and moving vehicles also released pollutant gases thereby polluting air that was originally pure. Again due to their poor disposal methods of their residue, ground water was always contaminated. It is common sense that when one consumes dirty water chances are that one will fall sick thus these poor living conditions affected the well being of the people.

The first industrial revolution led to the emergence of classes in the society. The shift from communal to capitalistic society brought about the idea of classes. There emerged a middle class which comprised of businessmen and industrialists while on the other hand there was a lower class which comprised of workers. There were no government restrictions in the running of these companies and therefore the rich were free to exploit workers as much as they could. They cared less for the health of the workers or their safety. In fact, the working conditions in those factories were pathetic.

The first industrial revolution also led to the disintegration of the basic social units, families. Poverty in rural areas drove people to towns in search of jobs. Women and children were also employed in factories. Though the population continued to grow significantly, the survival of young children was minimal. Young children were expected to work for long hours and were exploited even when their work output equaled that of an adult. Bad hygiene, long working hours combined with poor living conditions back at home contributed to the death of so many workers.

There were a number of reasons that made employers to employ children and women in factories. First of this was that they would demand less as poverty was the main propeller for them to seek for jobs so, the employers would give them peanuts. Another reason was that children’s small hands were much needed than those of the adults to handle machine parts as they did not require a lot of energy to operate. Another reason why child labor was on demand was based on the belief that children were flexible and malleable thus they would be shaped the way their employers liked.

Again these children were employed in mines because of their body size. They would be sent down to deep and unsafe pits to get coal assuming on assumption that they cannot fall because of their weight. Since men, women and children were working for very long hours, there was no time for the families to sit down together and talk. The few hours they had would be spent on sleeping and relaxing. Children were vulnerable to diseases because they were subjected to unfavorable working and living conditions and most of them had stunted growth.

These families lived in slums where there were no proper sanitary conditions; no wonder the high mortality rates. “During the early industrial revolution, 50 percent of infant died before the age of two” Unlike in the period before the first industrial revolution when people led communal life and educated their children, the same would not happen after the First Industrial Revolution as the living standards had already gone up and thus every member of the family whether a child or an adult was forced to look for a job for the family to survive. As a result of the first industrial revolution, there were various forms of social disruptions.

During this time, workers were mistreated by their employers, experienced workers would unjustly be replaced with unskilled ones and their wages kept on being reduced and were made to work for longer than they were supposed. Due to the way they were mistreated, there emerged a very violent movement which was in opposition to the industrial revolution. Threats were sent to Nottingham manufacturers from what was know as “General Ned Ludd and the Army of Red dressers. During this protest, people destroyed factories within one week. This is what came to be referred to as Luddism.

Therefore, it is as a result of the way workers were treated that led to the rise of both social and political movements such as Luddism and Peterloo respectively. Due to the increase in social protests, the poor living standards that workers experienced started to be addressed by the government. Various reforms were made such as the Health and Morals of Apprentices’ Acts. According to this act, long working hours were outlawed. Workers were supposed to work for 12 hours a day and no night shift was allowed. Again it was the duty of the employers to clothe and educate the children of those workers.

No child below the age of nine was supposed to work in factories with the exemption of the textile industries. Again as per this act, those below thirteen years were not supposed to work for more than 9 hours in a day. Women were also not left behind because according to the 1844’s factory act, women were not supposed to work for more than twelve hours in a day. Another social impact attributed to the First Industrial Revolution was the existence of a very sharp difference in the housing system. The rich stayed in beautiful and expensive houses while the poor workers lived in shanty houses where there were even no sewerage systems.

Sewage water would mix with drinking water giving rise to dirty related diseases such as cholera, dysentery and typhoid. The poor workers would not afford personal toilet facilities and for this reason they had to share thus increasing the prospects of diseases being spread. The industrial Revolution had a lot of both negative and positive impacts but most of the negatives impacts were social. The revolution led to the transformation in the lives of people. Food started to be produced in large quantities and population increased.

Some of the social impacts attributed to the First Industrial Revolution were that communal life came to an end and was replaced by individualistic life. People started to migrate from rural areas to urban centers to look for job prospects. The living conditions in towns were very poor and workers lived in badly constructed houses while the rich lived in palace like houses. The workers were also exploited by the rich, they were poorly paid and forced to work for long hours. The revolution also led to the emergence of classes that is the rich in one class and the workers on the other.



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