Remember that to be called a Marker Event in world history, a development should qualify in three ways:

  • It must cross national or cultural borders, affecting many civilizations.
  • Later changes or developments in history must be at least partially traced to this event or series of events.
  • It must have impact in other areas. For example, if it is a technological change, it must impact some other major areas, like government, belief systems, social classes, or the economy.

Like the Neolithic Revolution that occurred 10,000 years before it, the Industrial Revolution qualifies as a Marker Event according to all of the above criteria. It brought about such sweeping changes that it virtually transformed the world, even areas in which industrialization did not occur. The concept seems simple &endash; invent and perfect machinery to help make human labor more efficient - but that's part of its importance. The change was so basic that it could not help but affect all areas of people's lives in every part of the globe.

The Industrial Revolution began in England in the late 18th century, and spread during the 19th century to Belgium, Germany, Northern France, the United States, and Japan. Almost all areas of the world felt the effects of the Industrial Revolution because it divided the world into "have" and "have not" countries, with many of the latter being controlled by the former. England's lead in the Industrial Revolution translated into economic prowess and political power that allowed colonization of other lands, eventually building a worldwide British Empire.


The Industrial Revolution helped England greatly increase its output of manufactured goods by substituting hand labor with machine labor. Economic growth in Britain was fueled by a number of factors:

  • An Agricultural Revolution - The Industrial Revolution would not have been possible without a series of improvements in agriculture in England. Beginning in the early1700s, wealthy landowners began to enlarge their farms through enclosure, or fencing or hedging large blocks of land for experiments with new techniques of farming. These scientific farmers improved crop rotation methods, which carefully controlled nutrients in the soil. They bred better livestock, and invented new machines, such as Jethro Tull's seed drill that more effectively planted seeds. The larger the farms and the better the production the fewer farmers were needed. Farmers pushed out of their jobs by enclosure either became tenant farmers or they moved to cities. Better nutrition boosted England's population, creating the first necessary component for the Industrial Revolution: labor.
  • A technological revolution - England also was the first to experience a technological revolution, a series of inventions built on the principles of mass production, mechanization, and interchangeable parts. Josiah Wedgwood developed a mold for pottery that replaced the potters wheel, making mass production of dishes possible. Many experimented with machinery to speed up human labor, and interchangeable parts meant that machines were more practical and easier to repair.
  • Natural resources - Britain had large and accessible supplies of coal and iron - two of the most important raw materials used to produce the goods for the early Industrial Revolution. Also available was water power to fuel the new machines, harbors for its merchant ships, and rivers for inland transportation.
  • Economic strength - During the previous era, Britain had already built many of the economic practices and structures necessary for economic expansion, as well as a middle class (the bourgeoisie) that had experience with trading and manufacturing goods. Banks were well established, and they provided loans for businessmen to invest in new machinery and expand their operations.
  • Political stability - Britain's political development during this period was fairly stable, with no major internal upheavals occurring. Although Britain took part in many wars during the 1700s, none of them took place on British soil, and its citizens did not seriously question the government's authority. By 1750 Parliament's power far exceeded that of the king, and its members passed laws that protected business and helped expansion.


The earliest transformation of the Industrial Revolution was Britain's textile industry. In 1750 Britain already exported wool, linen, and cotton cloth, and the profits of cloth merchants were boosted by speeding up the process by which spinners and weavers made cloth. One invention led to another since none were useful if any part of the process was slower than the others. Some key inventions were:

  • The flying shuttle - John Kay's invention carried threads of yarn back and forth when the weaver pulled a handle, greatly increasing the weavers' productivity.
  • The spinning jenny - James Hargreaves' invention allowed one spinner to work eight threads at a time, increasing the output of spinners, allowing them to keep up with the weavers. Hargreaves named the machine for his daughter.
  • The water frame - Richard Arkwright's invention replaced the hand-driven spinning jenny with one powered by water power, increasing spinning productivity even more.
  • The spinning mule - In 1779, Samuel Crompton combined features of the spinning jenny and the water frame to produce the spinning mule. It made thread that was stronger, finer, and more consistent than that made by earlier machines. He followed this invention with the power loom that sped up the weaving process to match the new spinners.

These machines were bulky and expensive, so spinning and weaving could no longer be done at home. Wealthy textile merchants set up the machines in factories, and had the workers come to these places to do their work. At first the factories were set up near rivers and streams for water power, but other inventions later made this unnecessary. Before the late 1700s Britain's demand for cotton was met by India, but they increasingly came to depend on the American south, where plantation production was speeded by Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin, a machine that efficiently separated the cotton fiber from the seed. By 1810 southern plantations used slave labor to produce 85 million pounds of cotton, up from 1.5 million in 1790.


Once the textile industry began its exponential growth, transportation of raw materials to factories and manufactured goods to customers had to be worked out. New inventions in transportation spurred the Industrial Revolution further. A key invention was the steam engine that was perfected by James Watt in the late 1790s. Although steam power had been used before, Watt invented ways to make it practical and efficient to use for both water and land transportation.

Perhaps the most revolutionary use of steam energy was the railroad engine, which drove English industry after 1820. The first long-distance rail line from the coastal city of Liverpool to inland Manchester was an immediate success upon its completion in 1830, and within a few decades, most British cities were connected by rail. Railroads revolutionized life in Britain in several ways:

1) Railroads gave manufacturers a cheap way to transport materials and finished products.

2) The railroad boom created hundreds of thousands of new jobs for both railroad workers and miners.

3) The railroad industry spawned new industries and inventions and increased the productivity of others. For example, agricultural products could be transported farther without spoiling, so farmers benefited from the railroads.

4) Railroads transported people, allowing them to work in cities far away from their homes and travel to resort areas for leisure.


The Industrial Revolution occurred only in Britain for about 50 years, but it eventually spread to other countries in Europe, the United States, Russia, and Japan. British entrepreneurs and government officials forbade the export of machinery, manufacturing techniques, and skilled workers to other countries but the technologies spread by luring British experts with lucrative offers, and even smuggling secrets into other countries. By the mid-19th century industrialization had spread to France, Germany, Belgium, and the United States.

The earliest center of industrial production in continental Europe was Belgium, where coal, iron, textile, glass, and armaments production flourished. By 1830 French firms had employed many skilled British workers to help establish the textile industry, and railroad lines began to appear across western Europe. Germany was a little later in developing industry, mainly because no centralized government existed there yet, and a great deal of political unrest made industrialization difficult. However, after the 1840s German coal and iron production skyrocketed, and by the 1850s an extensive rail network was under construction. After German political unification in 1871, the new empire rivaled England in terms of industrial production.

Industrialization began in the United States by the 1820s, delayed until the country had enough laborers and money to invest in business. Both came from Europe, where overpopulation and political revolutions sent immigrants to the United States to seek their fortunes. The American Civil War (1861-1865) delayed further immigration until the 1870s, but it spurred the need for industrial war products, all the way from soldiers' uniforms to guns to railroads for troop transport. Once the war was over, cross-country railroads were built which allowed more people to claim parts of vast inland America and to reach the west coast. The United States had abundant natural resources &endash; land, water, coal and iron ore &endash; and after the great wave of immigration from Europe and Asia in the late 19th century &endash; it also had the labor.

During the late 1800s, industrialization spread to Russia and Japan, in both cases by government initiatives. In Russia the tsarist government encouraged the construction of railroads to link places within the vast reaches of the empire. The most impressive one was the Trans-Siberian line constructed between 1891 and 1904, linking Moscow to Vladivostock on the Pacific Ocean. The railroads also gave Russians access to the empire's many coal and iron deposits, and by 1900 Russia ranked fourth in the world in steel production. The Japanese government also pushed industrialization, hiring thousands of foreign experts to instruct Japanese workers and mangers in the late 1800s. Railroads were constructed, mines were opened, a banking system was organized, and industries were started that produced ships, armaments, silk, cotton, chemicals, and glass. By 1900 Japan was the most industrialized land in Asia, and was set to become a 20th century power.


Industrialization greatly increased the economic, military, and political strength of the societies that embraced it. By and large, the countries that benefited from industrialization were the ones that had the necessary components of land, labor and capital, and often government support. However, even though many other countries tried to industrialize, few had much success. For example, India tried to develop jute and steel industries, but the entrepreneurs failed because they had no government support and little investment capital. An international division of labor resulted: people in industrialized countries produced manufactured products, and people in less industrialized countries produced the raw materials necessary for that production. Industrial England, for example, needed cotton, so turned to India, Egypt, and the American south to produce it for them. In many cases this division of labor led to colonization of the non-industrialized areas. As industrialization increased, more iron and coal were needed, as well as other fibers for the textile industry, and the British Empire grew rapidly in order to meet these demands.

Many countries in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia, and southeast Asia became highly dependent on one cash crop - such as sugar, cotton, and rubber - giving them the nickname of "Banana Republics." Such economies were very vulnerable to any change in the international market. Foreign investors owned and controlled the plantations that produced these crops, and most of the profits went to them. Very little of the profits actually improved the living conditions for people that lived in those areas, and since they had little money to spend, a market economy could not develop.

Despite the inequalities, the division of labor between people in countries that produced raw materials and those that produced manufactured goods increased the total volume of world trade. In turn, this increased volume led to better technology, which reinforced and fed the trade. Sea travel became much more efficient, with journeys that had once taken months or years reduced to days or weeks. By 1914 two great canals shortened sea journeys by thousands of miles. The Suez Canal built by the British and French in the 1850s linked the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, making it no longer necessary to go around the tip of Africa to get from Europe to Asia by sea. The Panama Canal, completed in 1913, did a similar thing in the western hemisphere, cutting a swath through Central America that encouraged trade and transportation between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.