Industrial Revolution

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The Industrial Revolution is the period in European (and especially British) history from roughly 1750 to 1850 CE which saw a rapid rate of technological development that had profound economic and social consequences. Technological advances such as mechanized industrial and agricultural production and the creation of railways led to widespread social change including urbanization, the rise of the working and the middle classes, the advent of social programs like public education and public health, and renewed imperialism. They also produced massive amounts of pollution and environmental destruction, the effects of which would not be fully understood or appreciated until a significant amount of damage had already been done.

Politically, the era saw numerous revolutions, not least the American, the French, and Haitian cases, the latter being an early coffin-nail in the Atlantic slave system. The replacement of enslaved labour with wage labour was an important feature of the Industrial Revolution.

While many monarchies survived and managed to hold onto the reins of power, the era saw some proliferation of democracy, tempered by a limited franchise, as well as the "invention" of nationalism.

Among the new technologies and discoveries, both electricity and radioactivity were quickly latched onto by new generations of woo-meisters.


The development of rail transportation in the early-19th century was a crucial aspect of the Industrial Revolution. Before the development of steam power,[1] donkeys or humans propelled rail-based vehicles, which mainly operated in mines. With the onset of steam, travel by rail became faster than riding animal-powered transportation and allowed for the more efficient transportation of massive quantities of goods. By 1869, rails spanned the entirety of the United States.


The Industrial Revolution increased social inequality in several ways. It introduced large wealth disparities between industrialized countries and pastoral ones, and between rural and urban areas of the same country. These inequalities gave rise to political movements to redistribute wealth; communism and socialism arose during the period.[2]

Quantifying the impact[edit]

Thomas Piketty presents the following table:[3][note 1]

Annual average growth rate World GDP growth per year, % World population growth per year, % GDP per capita growth per year, %
0-1700 0.1 0.1 0.0
1700-2012 1.6 0.8 0.8
   1700-1820 0.5 0.4 0.1
   1820-1913 1.5 0.6 0.9
   1913-2012 3.0 1.4 1.6

See also[edit]


  1. Because a growth in population implies a growth in production without inherent growth in per-capita production, Piketty subtracts the world population growth per year from the world GDP growth per year to find the per capita growth per year.