Factors that led to the Industrial Revolution: An analysis

Industrialisation was a defining period in history that enabled the transition of predominantly agrarian economies to manufacturing hubs. The Revolution, which took place in the 1700s, ushered in a holistic transformation: an increase in demand, a shift to a culture incentivizing productivity and increased utilisation of economic resources. A booming market requires just this; the climate created in the 1760s, therefore, led to an unprecedented rise in manufacturing.  

Of the numerous factors leading to industrialization, the rise of capitalism was arguably one of the most significant. Adam Smith’s proposed laissez-faire economic principles pioneered a marked transition from previously interventionist policies to those that allowed the “invisible hand” of demand and supply to govern markets.  

With this shift in perception, tangible results followed; firms, moving away from the shackles of mercantilism and government control, were increasingly driven by profit motives as markets shifted away from egalitarianism to individualism. The promise of “individual gain” from greater economic performance drove innovation towards increased productivity and efficiency. Europe’s textile industry yields an excellent example of this. Technological developments such as the “Spinning Jenny” invented by Hargreaves facilitated the transition of the British textile industry from “cottage industries” to large-scale production and increased productivity. This shift also involved tapping into previously unused natural resources like coal, further strengthening the industrial process by allowing new technology like the “steam engine” to be developed, a crucial part of transportation and production machinery. 

Imperialism also contributed to the advent of industrialization. Besides the soft power that nations accumulated through conquest, they acquired resources and labour at low costs. This enabled high-scale production, rapid expansion and economic growth. The “Trade Triangle”, for instance, developed significantly during this time. European nations would buy enslaved people in Africa by selling them already manufactured goods and services; they would subsequently be sent to America to work on plantations, and the fruits of their labour would be used to buy more “slaves” in a large-scale vicious cycle. Historians suggest that up to 12 million enslaved people were involved in this “Triangle”, illustrating the magnitude of cheap labour available to Europe that made industrial production possible by the 17th century. Imperialism enabled the creation of a large market for goods produced; money gained from this was further invested in creating the infrastructure and transport needed to access new markets. Historian Eric Hobsbawm, to this effect, stated once that “no part of Britain is more than seventy miles away from the sea, and even less from some navigable waterway”, indicating the extent to which this held true. 

Another undeniable factor that resulted in the Industrial Revolution was the Agricultural Revolution which preceded it; Beginning in the 17th century, the Revolution resulted in a massive increase in food production through effective cultivation and crop handling techniques such as the seed drill, invented by Jethro Tull. The result was a wide-scale increase in efficiency and, subsequently, the population due to the rise in the food supply. This allowed for a solid workforce to be built, setting the stage for the Industrial Revolution. 

A combination of these crucial factors undeniably created an unprecedented phenomenon in Britain, facilitating mass production and structural changes in world economies.


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