The Industrial Revolution was one of the most important events in human history and dramatically transformed life for people throughout the world.  While it first began in Britain, its effects later spread to other parts of Europe, the Americas and now parts of Asia.  In general, the Industrial Revolution unfolded in a series of stages which historians refer to as the First Industrial Revolution and the Second Industrial Revolution.
The First Industrial Revolution began in the 18th century and focused primarily on textile manufacturing and steam power.  During this time period inventors across Europe and the United States created devices and machines that mechanized production.  For example, the steam was a vitally important invention to the revolution because it lessened the need for manual labor.  The first steam engine was created by Thomas Newcomen in 1712.  Newcomen produced items for tin mine owners who often complained that they were struggling to deal with flooding in their mines. Traditional methods of removing water from the mines were slow, and hard work. Newcomen realized that he could help the tin mine owners. He developed a pump engine that used a piston in a cylinder; it was the first of its kind.  In the 1760’s, James Watt improved on and perfected the design first produced by Thomas Newcomen.  In 1764, Watt was given a Newcomen steam engine to repair. He started working on it and soon realized that it was inefficient. As a result, Watt wanted to improve the design. He was successful, and found a way to prevent steam from escaping from the engine by adding a separate condensing chamber. Watt patented his new steam engine design, and it paved the way for other mechanical design work.

James Watt

John Kay

Richard Arkwright
Textile manufacturing was benefitted from the effects of the First Industrial Revolution and there were several inventions that streamlined the manufacturing process.  In 1733, the clockmaker John Kay invented the flying shuttle, which replaced the handheld shuttle used in weaving. His invention sped up the weaving process and allowed for faster production such that weavers were outpacing spinners.  In 1764, James Hargreaves, a carpenter, developed a way to speed up spinning. He did this by attaching several spindles to a single spinning wheel. Using this spinning jenny, as it was called, a person could spin several threads at once.  In 1769, Richard Arkwright developed a spinning machine, called the water frame, that could hold up to 100 spindles and was capable of producing strong yarn. The machine replaced the need for manual labour and enabled the production of inexpensive spun cotton by the use of moving water from a creek or river. It was important at the time because cotton was used for clothing and other everyday items.  In 1793, the American Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin – a machine that automated and sped up the separation of cottonseed from the short-staple cotton fiber. The invention helped the British cotton industry because it increased the production of cotton and made it cheaper.  Samuel Slater is considered to be the “Father of the American Industrial Revolution” when he introduced British industrial techniques into American textile mills in the late 18th century.  Slater, who was born in England, arrived in the United States in 1789 and having memorized many of the techniques used in British factories, used his knowledge to develop similar production methods in the United States.  For example, he helped a fledgling textile mill in Rhode Island in 1793 with the operation of its spindle frame.  Soon, Slater’s designs were spreading across the east coast of the United States in numerous other textile operations.
The Second Industrial Revolution began in the mid-19th century and continued until World War I in 1917.  While the First Industrial Revolution centered on textile manufacturing and the innovation of the steam engine, the Second Industrial Revolution focused instead on steel production, the automobile and advances in electricity.  Discoveries in the field of electricity improved communication technologies. In 1866, the first underwater telegraph cable across the Atlantic Ocean was successfully installed, and ten years later, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.  In the late 1800’s American Thomas Edison produced an amazing array of inventions. Among them were the phonograph and the incandescent light bulb.  In 1886, German scientist Gottlieb Daimler devised an internal combustion engine that was fuelled by gasoline and could power a small vehicle. His invention was one of the biggest advances in transportation technology since the development of the steam engine. Daimler would use his engine to create one of the first automobiles.  An improvement in production was the introduction of the assembly line by Henry Ford in 1914. On an assembly line, the complex job of assembling many parts into a finished product was broken down into a series of small tasks. It sped up production and reduced costs as each worker was only required to install one or two parts at their position on the assembly line. Ford would use the assembly line to speed up the production of automobiles in his factory in Highland Park, Michigan.

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