British Industrial Revolution



The Industrial Revolution, which began three hundred years ago, was a period of unprecedented technological, economic and social change that completely transformed British culture from a largely rural, static society with limited production and division of labor into the world's first modern industrial society.


  • wood was main source of energy, but as population grew it became more difficult and expensive to transport
  • coal is much more efficient: 3 times the power of wood
  • Britain's mines were near the sea, so ships could carry coal cheaply to the most important market - London
  • demand for coal led to deeper mines and more flooding, people had to pump water out of mines and horse-drawn pumps wouldn't suffice
  • Thomas Newcomen invented the first commercially successful steam engine in 1712, did the work of 20 horse-drawn carts and pumped water from hundreds of feet below the ground, his machine burnt tons of coal so it worked well in mines
  • Britain now had a seemingly inexhaustible source of energy
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Boulton & Watt

  • Matthew Boulton owned an engineering works in Birmingham
  • Boulton and James Watt, a Scottish scientist, began to manufacture more steam engines
  • Boulton & Watt became the most important engineering firm in the country
  • demand initially came from Cornish mine owners, but extended to paper, flour, cotton and iron mills, as well as distilleries, canals and waterworks
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  • in 1709 Abraham Darby invented a way of smelting iron using coke (processed coal) instead of charcoal
  • the iron industry took off after 1760 since iron ore and coal were both very plentiful in England
  • the metal industry developed into one of the most profitable in the country from the late 18th century onwards
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  • shipping increased in importance as the distribution of products and the movement of people increased dramatically
  • coastal, foreign and slave trades placed new demands on the shipping industry- brought wealth to coastal towns
  • introduction of steam power, the use of iron and steel in shipbuilding and other advances in the design of merchant ships made sea travel faster and more reliable
  • by 1819 steamships extended past rivers and started taking on ocean voyages
  • trade expanded greatly

Parliamentary Acts

This was one of several petitions sent to the House of Lords in opposition to the Iron Bill then passing through Parliament, which received Royal Assent in 1750 as An Act to encourage the Importation of Pig and Bar Iron from His Majesty's Colonies in America; and to prevent the Erection of any Mill or other Engine for flitting or rolling of Iron, or any Plateing Forge to work with a Tilt Hammer, or any Furnace for making Steel in any of the said Colonies. This Act was designed to restrict manufacturing activities in North America and thus to encourage manufacture to take place in Great Britain.

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  • the first big industry was cotton textile factories
  • what brought the workers together into a factory was the invention of spinning machines that could spin more than one thread at a time, and the application of water power, first to spinning and then to weaving
  • Samuel Slater ("Slater the Traitor") learned textile machinery in Britain and brought the knowledge to America where he designed the first textile mills

Great picture galleries of the Industrial Revolution!