First Industrial Revolution (1760-1840)

The First Industrial Revolution marked a period of development that transformed rural, agrarian societies into industrialized urban ones, switching from hand production methods to factory systems.

The Crystal Palace housed the Great Exhibition of 1851

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Modern historians set this period apart from the Second Industrial Revolution that took place between 1840 and 1870, characterized by rapid advances in the steel, electric, and automobile industries, led by the United States of America and Germany.

The First Industrial Revolution began in Britain around 1760 and spread to the rest of the world by the 1830s. It was a period of massive economic, technological, social, and cultural change, which marks a major turning point in history since almost every aspect of our daily life was influenced in some way.

What was revolutionized?


The Iron Bridge, Shropshire, England, the world’s first bridge constructed of iron opened in 1781

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Handloom weaving in 1747

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  • The improvement of iron-making techniques, metallurgy, and chemical production. The Coalbrookdale Bridge on the Severn River is an exemplary result of these innovations: engineered by J.Wilkinson and T.Pritchard, it was the first civil engineering structure in the world to be made entirely of cast iron;
  • The use of coal soared over the traditional charcoal since melting iron ore with coke, a material made by heating coal, was cheaper and produced higher-quality metal, which led coal to eventually replace wood;
  • The first canals and then railways allowed workers and materials to be moved cheaper and more efficiently;
  • The banking industry developed to meet the needs of entrepreneurs, providing finance opportunities that allowed the industries to expand.

Society and culture

  • The rapid urbanization led to an unprecedented rise in the rate of population growth, bringing significant challenges such as overcrowded cities suffering from pollution, inadequate sanitation, and a lack of clean drinking water;
A Roberts loom in a weaving shed in 1835. Textiles were the leading industry of the Industrial Revolution, and mechanized factories, powered by a central water wheel or steam engine, were the new workplace.

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  • Industrialization improved living standards for the middle and upper classes, while poor and working-class people continued to struggle. Working in factories was increasingly tedious and dangerous since workers were forced to work long hours for pitifully low wages. Such dramatic changes fueled debates regarding child labor, public health, and working conditions, as well as opposition groups such as the “Luddites”, known for their violent resistance.

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