The Industrial Revolutions, spurred by technological innovation and the discoveries of new materials, created new industries. One of the first to be mechanized is the textile industry. From James Hargreaves’ creation of the spinning jenny, workers, mainly women, were able to mass produce goods from home. Thus, the cottage industry was born. However, with the development of Richard Arkwright’s water frame, John Kay’s flying shuttle, and Edmund Cartwright’s power loom, factories soon replaced the domestic system and the women who lost their jobs now moved to the factories. Nevertheless, the factories were very successful due to high demand and cheap cotton sources in the Americas and in India. Ironically, American cotton was the product of slavery, which the British had banned in 1838.
Iron, similar to cotton, became especially important as it helped support other industries. Iron was used in steamships, railways, and other machinery used in factories. Materials and people could travel farther and faster than ever before. Before railroads, Europeans heavily depended on local time—train schedules helped establish a national conformity for time. In the nineteenth century, steel succeeded iron. Though Great Britain dominated the market for iron during the first Revolution, Germany managed to surpass British steel production during the second. In addition to steel, chemistry made its way to the manufacturing business. Germany produced 1.7 million tons of sulfuric acid by the start of World War I and 90% of the dyes used in textiles (Wyatt 52-53, 133).
While the new industries have had a positive impact on the economies, it did not help the environment. Before the Revolutions, people relied on charcoal, but trees were scarce and took very long to grow. As my teacher would say, “the revolution waits for no one”—and the English took the initiative to find a more viable source of power: coal. Mining coal was a perilous task that was made easier with water pumps that ran on Thomas Newcomen’s steam engines (which were improved later by James Watt). The problem was that the steam engines in trains, factories, and water pumps were also fueled by coal (83-86). It was a positive feedback loop, at least for the economy. Energy is released when coal is burned, but pollutants and greenhouse gases escape with the steam. Cities were often at risk of having smog. London, for instance experienced a week of smog that was responsible for the deaths of 700 people (“The Industrial Age”).
The Industrial Revolution in the late nineteenth century saw the discovery of a lifetime. Electricity, the power we all hungrily crave today, finally enters society. This one source can convert to multiple types of energy with ease, making it an ideal alternative, especially for Continental nations without an abundant coal supply. People found ways to integrate electricity with telephones, street lights, and now cars. For a while it ran on clean energy, until, that is, the discovery of...