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The Industrial Revolution. Una risorsa per il CLIL di Storia in Inglese

red - Di seguito viene proposta una risorsa didattia rielaborata dalla prof.ssa Susanna Carra. La risorsa può essere utilizzata nelle classi CLIL di Storia in lingua inglese.

The Industrial Revolution

    A sudden acceleration of technical and economic development began in Britain in the second half of the 18th century. The Traditional agrarian economy was replaced by one dominated by machinery and manufacturing, made possible through technical advances such as the steam engine. This transferred the balance of political power from the landowner to the industrial capitalist and created an urban working class. From 1830 to the early 20th century, the Industrial Revolution spread throughout Europe and the USA and to Japan and the various colonial empires.

    The invention of the steam engine provided the spur for much of the innovation and development in this period. Originally developed for draining mines (by Thomas Newcomen), it was rapidly adapted for use in factories and on the railways (by James Watt, Richard Arkwright, Samuel Crompton, and Richard Trevithick).

    The term 'industrial revolution' has been criticized on the grounds that it implies a sudden and dramatic change, whereas the process of industrialization was long drawn out, erratic, and varied from industry to industry and from region to region. It should be understood in the context of the continuing social and political changes, agricultural innovations, accumulation of capital, and expansion of trade, which had taken place in the 17th century and earlier.

    Britain exhibited a combination of favourable circumstances for such a change: an increasing population creating a larger workforce; natural resources, especially plentiful and accessible coal; raw materials from its colonies; expanding markets in its increasing population and its colonies; a strong middle class and comparatively stable political system: a sound monetary system and cheap capital as a result of low interest rate, essential for the high levels of investment required in the new technology.

Technological, political, and social change

    The Industrial Revolution brought many changes. New materials, basically iron and steel, were used as well as new energy sources, such as coal and the steam engine, and most obviously new machinery, particularly in the textile industry. Transport systems were revolutionized by steam trains, canals, and better roads. As cottage industries were replaced by the factory system, new methods of labour organization were employed, bringing specialization, the division of labour, and new relationships between employer and employee.

    The new working conditions led to political changes as wealth moved away from the land and toward the new manufacturing classes and there were massive social changes brought about by internal migration, a rising population, and the growth of urban areas.

Textile industry

    The textile industry saw most of the early benefits of these innovations. The flying shuttle was invented 1738, rendering the old process of carrying the weft through the threads of the warp obsolete and enabling the weaver to double output. This in turn led spinners to seek mechanical aids to meet the increased demand for yarn. These innovations were swiftly followed by others, notably James Hargreaves' spinning jenny 1764, Richard Arkwright's water-frame spinning roller 1768, and Samuel Crompton's 'mule', a combination of Hargreaves' jenny and Arkwright's water-frame, 1779. Edmund Cartwright's power loom was not perfected for another 25 years but by that time his Doncaster factory was equipped with a steam engine and a year or two later hundreds of his looms were selling to Manchester firms. Gradually the power loom began to be used in the woollen industry as well as the cotton trade for which it had been invented.


    Perhaps the most obvious single enhancement was the general replacement of water-power by steam, made possible by James Watt's steam-engine, Watt's various patents were taken out in 1781-85, after which time the change from water-power to steam made rapid progress and mills and factories were set up near the coalfields, where fuel was cheaper. Later the ironmasters began to investigate the use of coal as a smelting fuel, and with improved production methods the output from their furnaces increased by leaps and bounds.


1709 Abraham Darby introduced coke smelting to his ironworks at Coalbrookdale in Shropshire.

1712 The first workable steam-powered engine was developed by Thomas Newcomen.

1730 The seed drill was invented by Jethro Tull. This was a critical point of the agricultural revolution which freed labour from the fields and lowered crop prices.

1740 Crucible steel-making was discovered by Benjamin Huntsman, a clockmaker of Doncaster.

1759 The first Canal Act was passed by the British Parliament; this led to the construction of a national network of inland waterways for transport and industrial supplies. By 1830 there were 6,500 km/4,000 mi of canals in Britain.

1763 The spinning jenny, which greatly accelerated cotton spinning, was invented by James Hargreaves in Blackburn.

1764 Pierre Trosanquet, a French engineer, developed a new method of road building. Similar techniques were used by Thomas Telford in Britain to build modern roads from 1803. 

1765 James Watt produced a more reliable and efficient version of the Newcomen’s engine.

1779 The spinning mule, which made the production of fine yarns by machine possible, was developed in Bolton by Samuel Crompton.

1785 The power loom marked the start of the mechanised textile industry. 

1785-99 Techniques of mass production of interchangeable parts were developed by the arms industry in the USA, led by Eli Whitney.

1793 The problem of supplying cotton fast enough for the textile industry was solved by Eli Whitney's cotton gin. 

1797 The first true industrial lathe was invented, virtually simultaneously, by Henry Maudslay in England and David Wilkinson in the USA.

1802 The first electric battery capable of mass production was designed by William Cruickshank in England. 

1811-16 Textile workers known as Luddites staged widespread protests against low pay and unemployment in Nottinghamshire, which involved destroying new machines. The organizer of the Luddites was referred to as General Ludd, but may not nave existed. Many Luddites were hanged or transported to penal colonies, such as Australia. The movement, which began in Nottinghamshire spread to Lancashire, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Yorkshire, was primarily a revolt against the unemployment caused by the introduction of machines in the Industrial Revolution.

l812 The population of Manchester passed 100,000.

1813 Industrial employment overtook agricultural employment in England for the first time.

1825 The first regular railway services started between Stockton and Darlington in NE England.

1826 The Journeymen Steam Engine Fitters, the first substantial industrial trade union, was established in Manchester. 

1829 With his steam locomotive Rocket, English engineer George Stephenson won a contest to design locomotives for the new Manchester-Liverpool railway.

1831-52 British industrial production doubled.

1832 Hippolyte Pixii of France produced a prototype electricity generator using magnets.

1832 The Reform Act concerning elections to the British Parliament gave representation to the industrial cities.

1833 The first effective Factory Act was passed in Britain regulating child labour in cotton mills.

c. 1840 The USA became the world leader for railroads, with over 5,000 km/3,000 mi laid. By 1860 this would rise to 50,000 km/30,000 mi.

1840s Cornelius Vanderbilt and John Jacob Astor became the most prominent millionaires of the industrial age.

1842 Cotton-industry workers in England staged a widespread strike.

1846 Repeal of the Corn Law in Britain reduced agricultural prices, thereby helping industry.

1851 Britain celebrated its industrial achievements in the Great Exhibition. 

1852-80 British industrial production doubled again.

1858 The 'great stink' of London dramatised the increasing pollution in the cities.

1860 New York City became the first US city with over one million inhabitants.

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