The Industrial Revolution took place during the 18th and 19th centuries. It was a time when the predominantly rural, agrarian societies in Europe and North America began to become more urban. There was a focus on manufacturing and product development thanks to new technologies and ideas to increase efficiencies, which moved the world away from the use of hand tools in the basement to large factories in the city.
The Industrial Revolution began in the 1700s in Britain, creating a shift to special-purpose equipment that led to the mass production of items. Textiles, iron industries, and many others saw surges of improvement during this era, which contributed to better systems in the banking, communications, and transportation sectors.
When we look at the pros and cons of the Industrial Revolution, we can see that it created an increased variety and volume in the availability of manufactured goods. It is a process that helped to create an improved standard of living for some. This era also created challenging employment opportunities and living conditions for the working class.
Have we truly benefitted from the processes and technologies that came from the Industrial Revolution? Should the developing world go through this process as well?
List of the Pros of the Industrial Revolution
1. The Industrial Revolution helped goods to become more affordable.
When people were making manufactured goods in their basement, most families were creating enough to meet their exact needs. If you didn’t have the skills to make your own clothes, then the scarcity in this marketplace meant that you might be spending a small fortune to get the shirt that you wanted.
Thanks to the processes introduced by the Industrial Revolution, companies could produce items faster than ever before. These methods increased the number of items that could be made per hour as well since items didn’t need to be made by hand any more. As supplies went up, then prices went down. Having an enhanced quality of life was no longer as expensive as it used to ne.
2. It helped to create the import and export markets around the world.
Businesses could use the ideas created from the Industrial Revolution to have a greater supply available for specific products. When domestic demand was not enough to help maximize production, the rise of the multinational firm began. Countries could expand their import and export markets for the goods that were being made. The world began to see that the balance of trade was shifting to the producer, increasing the wealth of businesses and adding tax revenues to society.
3. Companies were creating inventions that could save on labor and time investments.
Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, there was a rapid production of useful items and hand tools. This process quickly led to the development of new vehicles and tool types that could carry more items, including people, from one place to another. We began to create roads once again that could support higher levels of traffic. The telegraph came about during this time to improve our communication processes, which eventually led to the telephone and fiber optics.
Even machines like the Spinning Jenny, which was a multiple spindle item that could spin cotton or wool, allowed us to make more things in less time. When electricity became available, then refrigeration and home appliances increased our standard of living even further.
4. It led to an evolution in our approach to medicine.
Many of the advances that led to the development of modern medical practices occurred because of the efforts of the Industrial Revolution. It became possible to make more instruments, such as test tubes, scalpels, and lab equipment, at a lower cost so that more people could enter this field. Refinements to design helped doctors become more effective at what they could do.
As communication lines improved throughout the world, doctors and researchers could work together to find new cures or treatments for deadly diseases instead of trying to do everything on their own. New best practices were developed based on the findings of this work. These processes results in a significant increase of patient care throughout the world.
5. The Industrial Revolution improved the quality of life for the average person.
Until the Industrial Revolution swung into action full force, it was typically the aristocratic people in society who benefitted from comfort and convenience. Thanks to mass production, lower costs, and greater availability, people in the working class could obtain more items while still having money left to save for other things. Even though there were some poor working conditions at the time, it became possible for a majority of families to start building wealth of their own.
That meant people could own a home without being a farmer. They could have enough food to get by for the week instead of limiting themselves to one meal per day. Some companies were even building towns and giving away homes to those who were willing to work in the factories. This event helped to shape our modern infrastructure.
6. It created more job opportunities around the world.
As new manufacturing equipment began to make its way to factory floors, there were new jobs created in each community. There were fewer land-related concerns that drove the economy because there was less dependence on farm labor wages. It meant the average person could make their wealth with a decent job as an employee instead of trying to carve out a life for themselves on their own.
Some workers even took a portion of their wages to invest in other companies, leading to a growing middle class around the world. It created a new pool of economic power that started to limit the influence of the aristocracy. This advantage eventually led to a shift in local laws that helped to give more rights to the average person.
7. The Industrial Revolution led to the rise of specialists.
The only real specialists that existed in the economy before the Industrial Revolution were the farmers and agricultural workers who grew one crop for sale. As factories began to start operating in the cities, rural families began to move to the cities because the jobs there would pay better. Owners began to train factory workers to perform specific tasks that could become their specialty.
Some workers began to transport raw materials for processing. Others worked on specific machines. There were people in maintenance, marketing, or charged with making improvements to the overall operations of each facility. As each task became more skilled, there became a need to have more trainers to pass on what had been learned.
8. It led to the modern development of municipalities.
As people began to move away from the rural life to pursue their opportunities in the Industrial Revolution, governments needed to change how they supported each municipality. The bureaucracies grew to support specialized departments that could handle sanitation issues, tax collection, traffic problems, and other localized services that were necessary. New businesses began to form as people began to support these workers, leading to lawyers, physicians, and builders forming their own opportunities.
9. Anyone had the opportunity to make it big during the Industrial Revolution.
Charles Goodyear is credited with the discovery of rubber vulcanization, a process that allows it to withstand heat and cold. This process revolutionized the industry in the middle of the 19th century. It was also a journey that almost ruined his life. Goodyear put his family into substantial debt to finance his rubber experiences. He moved anywhere to find investors and laboratory space.
At one point, he sold his furniture, begged for money, and even sold the textbooks of his children. After the financial panic of 1837, he lost almost everything. Then, in a miracle accident, he combined rubber and sulfur on a hot stove. It hardened when it got hotter. Many people pursued a similar path without finding the same success, but it was one of the first times in history when anyone could invest into themselves to change their stars.
10. Manufactured products were seen as an investment more than a necessity.
Before the Industrial Revolution changed the quality and quantity of the goods we consume, items were purchased because of their usefulness. When inventories began to build and products became cheaper, we could make clothes that lasted longer. Structures required less maintenance. People were spending less time making their own items because a small investment created long-term results.
This advantage also increased the amount of competition that society experienced. Instead of staying in the family business or becoming an apprentice of a relative, anyone could travel anywhere in the industrialized world to look for employment opportunities that they wanted. It is a process that would help to create the first authentic free-market economies.
List of the Cons of the Industrial Revolution
1. It led to a significant amount of wealth inequality.
Before the Industrial Revolution occurred, the only people who were genuinely wealthy were those who came from royalty or had invented something that was exceptionally useful to society – such as a telescope. After this development period, it was the people who were leading the businesses that made the most money – and it was often at the expense of the poor and working class.
Before his divorce proceedings in 2019, the estimated net worth of Jeff Bezos was about $157 billion. His finances, along with Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk are all the subject of modern wealth inequality conversations. If you look at the American Industrial Revolutionists like Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller, they had $310 billion and $340 billion at a time when the money was worth more.
Rockefeller by himself controlled 1.5% of the American economy. Using a standard inflation calculator, his net worth by today’s standards of value was over $8.1 trillion.
2. The Industrial Revolution led to an overcrowding in the cities.
Many migrants began to make their way to the industrial towns and major cities during the Industrial Revolution because of the promise of better wages. These communities were not prepared for the influx of people that headed their way. Builders would eventually help to relieve the initial housing shortages that occurred, eventually leading to the modern building and multi-floor structures, there were lots of shantytowns that developed in the early days in Britain.
This disadvantage led to problems with sewage and sanitation, which caused contamination of the local drinking water. With lots of people all living in the same area, worn out by challenging working conditions, and consuming unsafe fluids, there were numerous disease outbreaks. Smallpox, cholera, tuberculosis, and typhus were all significant problems in the industrialized cities until urban planning and medical care could improve the environment.
3. It creates a higher level of pollution in the environment.
Many of the environmental problems that we still struggle with today are because of the activities and follow-up technologies from the Industrial Revolution. Factories needed fuel to sustain their daily output, so natural resources were transformed into capital. We began to use our soil, minerals, trees, oil, and water to continue producing items. This disadvantage led to global challenges that included air pollution biodiversity reduction, water pollution, habitat destruction, and even global warming.
As more countries began to pursue wealth through this process, then the adverse ecological transformations increate. One of the drivers of this problem is carbon dioxide. Before 1750, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere was about 290 parts per million. It was 400 parts per million by volume in 2017.
4. The Industrial Revolution appropriates materials for natural use to human use.
Humanity is now using about 40% of its planetary land-based net primary production to create items through manufacturing processes because of the Industrial Revolution. This measurement is the rate at which plants convert solar energy for nutrients and growth. As populations rise, more of our resources go toward human use instead of allowing nature to run its course. That means there are fewer ecosystem services, such as clean water and air, that plants and animals can use.
Our biosphere depends on these elements for our survival. Unless we are willing to make changes to our manufacturing processes that reduce the threat of habitat destruction and resource consumption, the future of our world could look very different than what we have today.
5. There were very poor working conditions in the early factories.
When the Industrial Revolution began to build factories in the cities and industrial communities, the business owners looked to maximize their profit through high levels of production. Wages and worker safety were rarely an important part of that equation. Although families could earn more working in these conditions when compared to the rural life, it came through an agreement to work up to 16 hours per day, six days per week. Women and children earned half as much of the men if they were lucky.
The equipment in the factories was usually dirty as well, expelling soot and smoke that led to breathing issues, accidents, and injuries. Although this disadvantage would eventually lead to the formation of labor unions, there were a lot of family sacrifices made before this societal transformation.
6. It created a culture of passivity.
The Industrial Revolution helped to develop numerous labor-saving devices and equipment. Instead of performing strenuous activities for the bare minimum of needs, people were using equipment more often. Specialized tools allowed for tilling, planting, and harvesting. Bicycles and automobiles reduced the need to walk. Tasks that used to require physical exertion became sedentary office jobs.
That led to entertainment options that became sedentary as well. Our eating choices became more about convenience than nutrition. It has led to a culture where many people eat items that are heavily processed with sugar and salt to maintain shelf life, increase sweetness, and lower cooking times. This disadvantage has led to lifestyle-related diseases like heart disease, obesity, and even some forms of cancer.
7. The Industrial Revolution was powered by petroleum and other oils.
It was not petroleum that helped to initially fuel the Industrial Revolution around the world. It was whale oil. This product was useful for soap and margarine, and it was widely used in the oil lamps of the time. It was not until the 19th century, when we began to use petroleum products for these needs, that the hunting habits for these creatures began to decline. The only way to harvest that product was to boil strips of blubber after pulling the creature to land.
If it happened at sea, the oil was harvested on the ship, and then the remaining carcass was thrown into the ocean to catch the next one. This disadvantage caused a significant reduction in the population of baleen, bowhead, and right whales. They were hunted almost to extinction.
8. It changed how we produce agricultural items.
The factory processes drove many workers away from the farms to earn better wages and live in bigger homes. That meant the agricultural sector had to do more with fewer workers. This disadvantage would eventually lead to the formation of corporate, large-scale forming. New methods of food production had to be created to serve the growing industrial tows around the world.
Instead of growing crops and raising livestock to meet the needs of each family, agriculture became a business that focused on profits and losses. This disadvantage is what eventually led us to the world of genetically modified foods, potentially harmful pesticides, and similar problems in our food chain.
9. The Industrial Revolution changed the politics of the world.
We are still experiencing the fallout of the Industrial Revolution today. There are currently less than 40 nations who we consider to have gone through the full industrialization process. The opportunities for success are much greater there than the rest of the world in comparison. Although most people can find a way to receive an education in the developed world if they want that opportunity, the lack of resources that are available domestically make it nearly impossible for trained individuals to come home to make the changes that are necessary for success.
This creates a dependency on the developed countries because the developing world does not have the same resource access. That is why a majority of the income today is in the nations that went through the Industrial Revolution at its earliest stages.
Verdict on the Pros and Cons of the Industrial Revolution
When we look at the results of the Industrial Revolution today, many of the items that we take for granted came about because of this process. Even for population centers in the developing world, the access to affordable clothing, production tools, and leisure equipment is due to the innovation and creativity from this time.
We must also recognize that the countries who went through the Industrial Revolution are the ones which benefitted the most financially from this process. Societal wealth was built on the backs of the working class, which allowed the aristocracy to remain in power – just in a different way. Instead of controlling the entire market, those in charge helped to determine who could have access to the new economy.
The pros and cons of the Industrial Revolution are essential to review today because we are going through a new process. We are in the middle of the Data Revolution, where every action we take in person or online allows companies to develop insights into our behavior. This process creates targeted marketing mechanisms which we continue to support through our own labor while the environmental consequences begin to build.
Unless we learn from the lessons of the past, we will repeat the same mistakes in the future.
Keith Miller has over 25 years experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entreprenuer, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.