Tools have always defined mankind. Every attempt to make work easier led to search for tools or external power that could help human beings. This dates back to prehistoric times when people started using tools and most of these were hand powered.
When all work involves manual labor, one sure way of increasing productivity adding more power to the work. Animals would be used to help in carrying loads, ploughing land or just any work where muscles were needed. This limited how things could be done.
Once in a while, a new technology or a new way of perceiving the world shows up and triggers a great change both socially and economically. Such was the First Industrial Revolution.
The background to this was the Agricultural Revolution which had managed to feed people; hence people could focus on solutions to other problems. With surplus food, ready investors, people willing to take risks and ready supply of resources like coal for power, a great innovation was obviously lurking.
In the mid-1700, man began to understand and use different energy source. People learnt that they could harness the power of steam and convert it into motion. This is what gave the rise to the use of steam engine and was Central to the First Industrial Revolution.
The immediate application of steam power is the steam engine which allowed for different things to be done. Ships could sail any time and for long distances. Factories could mass produce goods because there was a supply of power to keep it running. Many things that were done by hands could now be done in centralized place – the factory.
This led to shift from a lifestyle where everything was centered around farms to where people moved to urban areas and they were involved in production of goods and services that would be used all over the world. For example, textile industries sprung up in Great Britain and the products could be shipped to many places all over the world.
The major disruption was the chain effect that followed. It became possible to make railway lines that would cut across countries thus making movement of goods and people possible. Steel girders could be used to make skyscrapers. Life gradually changed.
This period of the First Industrial Revolution ran from 1765 to 1870 and saw a rise in many applications of steam power. Transport, agriculture and manufacturing were changed because of steam powered machines as opposed to animal power or hand-drawn tools.
Mechanization led to urbanization and the way of living was altered. Goods could move far because of steam powered ships. Textile industries thrived. It was a major leap for humanity.
It was not all rosy as we may want to imagine.
The negative effect was that people moved to work in factories where working conditions were not good. They would work for long hours and even children would also work in factories. Those who could not get jobs formed a huge population in urban areas.
People had been used to a quiet farm life where life was slow and the weather controlled most activities. This time they were to work in factories where the clock controlled everything.
Summary of the First Industrial Revolution
- Use of machines (mechanization) led to increased productivity and efficiency.
- Steam power took over from muscular power.
- Steam engines powered trains and ships, allowing goods and people to move great distances over a short time.
- The factory as opposed to the farm became the center of the economy.
- Population shift from rural agriculture to work in factories in urban areas.
- Mass production led to reduced costs of goods.
- The textile industry was among the first to use mechanized production methods.