Great Britain and the Industrial Revolution
Why did Great Britain lead the Industrial Revolution?
The Industrial Revolution of the 18th century changed Europe forever. At the front of this change was Great Britain, which used some natural advantages and tremendous thinking and innovation to become the leader of the Industrial Revolution.
First, Britain had some tremendous natural attributes. It was naturally endowed with many deposits of coal and iron ore, which were used heavily in the early stages of factory production. In addition, Britain was situated at a critical point for international trade. Its position between the United States and the rest of Europe allowed them to have a serious impact in all matters of trade. Likewise, a multitude of navigable waterways, easy access to the sea, and a mild climate all contributed to the onset of industrialism. Britain's topography was conducive to industrialism because its diversity allowed for the production of many agricultural products, preventing any sort of shortage or famine. Evans remarks, “Each single such advantage could be replicated in other European countries and some could be accentuated, but no other nation enjoyed such a rich combination of natural bounties” (111). Furthermore, the nation was free of many trade tariffs that hampered industry in other European nations while featuring a real opportunity for upward movement in society which provided a great incentive for acquiring wealth. Britain also experienced tremendous population growth which provided a potential workforce as well as an increase in the demand for goods.
In addition to all of these natural assets, there was also great innovation and technological advance in Britain. One of the biggest changes was the advent of the factory system which replaced domestic handicraft as the main means of production. Once the factory became common, technological advances were soon made to improve them, the most important of which was the division of labor.
This use of factories increased economic growth two-fold and “facilitated economies of scales in mass-produced goods and the introduction of new technology for accelerating production” (Evans 110). Mass production made usually expensive items, such as shoes, less expensive and easily affordable by lower class and less wealthy people, which improved the quality of life and spurred on more advancement. One such advancement was James Watt's improvement of the steam engine, which shifted factory power from water to steam, making possible steam driven machinery. This also led to an increased demand for iron and coal, which in turn led to an increase in the mining industries.