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The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution was a period of great change in the 18th century, which began in Britain and spread across the rest of the world. It transformed the handicraft and agrarian economy into one dominated by industrial and machine manufacturing.

Relating to 1760 to 1840, when rapid advances occurred in society, in technological, cultural and socioeconomic terms, the period was extended as the Industrial Revolution continued throughout the 19th century.


Steam train

© Roberto Sorin / Adobe Stock


Key changes

The advances included the use of new materials (mainly iron and steel) in industry and new energy sources. Fuels such as coal and petroleum and motive sources including electricity, the steam engine, and the internal-combustion engine, revolutionised the workplace.

New machines were invented, including the power loom and the spinning jenny, which increased production and reduced costs, requiring less human input. The factory system saw the birth of the production line.

There were also significant developments in communication, such as the telegraph and radio, and transportation, including steam trains and steamships, later followed by automobiles and aeroplanes.


Transport system

At the end of the 17th century, Britain's roads were in a terrible state, as local people were expected to maintain them. They were supposed to do so through completing six days per year of voluntary labour, but many of them didn't bother.

Road maintenance usually consisted of throwing stones in the worst potholes, with no attention paid to drainage, so they were often like a quagmire in wet weather. The increase in industrial production in the mid-18th century created a need for improvements in the transport system.

Factory owners preferred to use Britain's network of rivers to transport their wares. However, this wasn't always convenient if the customers didn't live near the rivers, so they were forced to use roads.

This was a huge problem for the mine-owners in particular, who needed to get their coal to market in good time, at a competitive price. The state of the roads was continually letting them down, while factory owners complained that flooded roads were creating problems for them too.

Factory owners and merchants complained to Parliament and after discussions, it was decided road-building should be made profitable in itself to improve the network. Business people were asked to form Turnpike Trusts, which were given Parliament's permission to maintain and build roads.

They were able to make a profit from the venture by charging people to use the roads. More than 400 Turnpike Trusts were established in the 18th century.



There was also an increase in the application of science to industry. Inventions such as the battery changed the way we lived. In 1800, the Italian scientist and physicist Alessandro Volta invented the first true battery.

It consisted of copper and zinc discs stacked on top of each other, separated by a layer of cardboard or cloth soaked in brine, providing the electrolyte. Known as the voltaic pile, it produced a stable current and continuous electricity, losing little charge when not in use.

British chemist John Frederic Daniell improved upon the design of the voltaic pile battery when he invented the Daniell cell, the first practical source of electricity.

It comprised a copper pot filled with copper sulfate, with an unglazed earthenware container immersed inside and filled with a zinc electrode and sulfuric acid. The porous earthenware barrier permitted ions to pass through, while keeping the solutions from mixing.

Batteries were the main source of electricity before electric generators and electrical grids came into existence at the end of the 19th century.


Coca Cola

Another invention of the Industrial Revolution was the iconic soft drink, Coca Cola. The American pharmacist John Stith Pemberton developed the first version of the carbonated beverage.

Born in 1831, in Knoxville, Georgia, he fought for the confederate states' army during the American Civil War and was wounded in the battle of Columbus, Georgia. At the time, morphine was the commonly-used medicine for soldiers with war wounds, but it was known to be addictive.

Pemberton began trying to develop an alternative medication. In 1865, the year he was wounded, a new medicinal drink was launched, Vin Mariani. It was a combination of Bordeaux wine, treated with coca leaves.

The beverage was a "cure all" and was said to restore energy, strength and vitality. Pemberton experimented with his own version of coca wine and called the end result Pemberton's French Wine Coca.

When temperance legislation was introduced in 1886 in Atlanta and Fulton county, it restricted the sale of alcohol, so Pemberton created a non-alcoholic version of his medicine and called it Coca Cola. The coca leaf wasn't made illegal in the US until 1914.

Pemberton collaborated with fellow pharmacist Willis Venable, from Atlanta, to perfect the recipe, which included blending sugar syrup with carbonated water.

While Coca Cola was originally sold as a medicine, the company today denies it ever contained any parts of the coca leaf, but historical evidence suggests the recipe was changed in 1903, turning it into a coca-free soft drink, rather than medication.



Historians have frequently discussed whether the Industrial Revolution had a positive effect on society and the world. The general consensus was that it had more plus points than negatives.

On the positive side, the new inventions made life easier for everyone and made Britain more advanced, as machines could be used to do jobs in factories, on farms and in daily life.

There was more fresh food available, thanks to machinery helping the farmers to plant and harvest crops. This resulted in lower food prices, enabling even poorer people to eat more healthily.

Improvements in transportation enhanced people's lives, because as well as transporting goods, it also became cheaper for passengers to travel too. The new railways enabled people to find employment in different places, rather than having to work locally.



The Industrial Revolution also led to the reform of the education system, making it compulsory for children to go to school. Before the 1800s, poorer children didn't have the benefit of an education.

In 1833, when more children were working in factories, people began to complain that they weren't receiving any kind of education. Subsequently, the government passed the Factory Act, which meant child workers had to have two hours' education a day by law.

Government funding was also made available to charities for the first time to help set up schools. The Ragged Schools' Union was launched in 1844 to make education available even to the poorest children.

State-funded boarding schools for primary age children were set up in 1870 as a result of Forster's Act. Attendance at school became compulsory for youngsters up to the age of ten as a result of the Education Act 1880. The Education Act of 1902 established secondary schools.

All of this came about as a result of the number of factories springing up due to the Industrial Revolution.


Living conditions

Negative consequences were connected to the increasing population in urban areas, as a result of the need for more factory employees. Living conditions were unsanitary as a result of overcrowded housing. There were no drains and no way of hygienically disposing of waste, so disease was rife.

In addition, the factory jobs were repetitive and the employees had to work long hours doing boring jobs, although this did enable them to feed their families. Child labour was rife and they had to work long hours, carrying heavy loads, while being paid low wages.

However, over the years, conditions improved as a result of the creation of hygienic sewers and waste disposal systems and new laws to protect workers from a health and safety point of view. So, on the whole, the Industrial Revolution is seen as having had a positive impact on society.

Coruba's rubber safety matting, with anti-slip and anti-fatigue properties, is ideal for working environments, including workshops and factories. Give us a call on 01702 560194 for further details of our wide range of rubber matting products.

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