Characteristics Of Industrialization In Great Britain

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Industrialization is the largescale introduction of manufacturing, advanced technical enterprises and other productive economic activity into a society or country. Essentially the replacement of manual labor with the use of machines. This was the result of interrelated changes, which transformed a society that once relied on agricultural into an industrial one. The most immediate change was the rate of production including where and how things were being produced. We saw a change from goods being produced on a small scale out of people’s homes to goods being manufactured in large factories. They had to transition from agriculture to manufacturing in order to produce more food and goods more quickly. The major cause of this industrialization in Britain was their expansion of overseas trade, their large supply of raw materials and the population growth as a result.

The expansion of overseas trade is arguably the most important cause of industrialization in Britain. They received many raw materials from the colonies and received exotic products like chocolate, tea and silk from India. In exchange, the market opened for more goods overseas which lead to an increase in production once again. As empire began to grow so did their trade market. The value of their exports exceeded the value of their imports and made a great profit for them. As Thomas Mun said, “The ordinary means therefore to increase our wealth and treasure is by Forraign Trade, wherein we must ever observe this rule: to sell more to strangers yearly than we consume of theirs in value.” This is something Britain manages to accomplish through their cotton production and more. The focus for them is to produce more in order to trade but also to keep for themselves so they don’t have to import more than they export. In Voltaire’s letter on trade he says, “Posterity will very probably be surprised to hear that an island whose only produce is a little lead, tin, fuller’s-earth, and coarse wool, should become so powerful by its commerce, as to be able to send, in 1723, three fleets at the same time to three different and far distanced parts of the globe.” In essence a country that produces these few things is dominating the trade market in terms of profit so much so that they have built up enough commerce to afford three ships to go to different parts of the world all at the same time. Most countries at the time could not afford to send out multiple ships at the same time and such a far distance as well.

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Britain’s government greatly encouraged economic expansion which allowed industrialization to flourish. They allowed the economy to function with very few restrictions and encouraged technological advancement. Unlike Europe where a merchant would have to pay money when crossing the border of a country, Britain had free internal trade which allowed many british merchants to build up enough capital to invest in these new industries. As we read in Voltaire’s letters, The merchants had so much capital built up they were able to lend 5 million to Prince Eugene in a matter of 90 minutes which is a feat in itself. merchants were making so much money through trade they were able to easily come up with large sums of money like this when needed. “As trade enriched the citizens in England, so it contributed to their freedom, and this freedom on the other side extended their commerce, whence arose the grandeur of the State,” (Voltaire). Trade brought them power but it also brought them wealth and freedom as well. The government essentially let the merchants, who were helping the economy thrive, be in order to maintain a stable united country.

Britain had a large supply of raw materials which were useful as factories started to develop and new inventions emerged. Coal, iron and wood were found in abundance in England, giving them a commodity to trade overseas. Coal and iron were the two biggest resources needed to keep many of these new factories running. Coal was an essential source of power at the time to keep most of the new machines running but also to heat the many homes in Britain. Iron was used to build these machines when they discovered it lasted longer than wood. Their infiltration of colonies allowed them to receive raw materials from other places around the world as well. For example, the cotton that came from America was used to create cloth in the textile industry. New inventions helped the textile industry of Britain to grow quickly. In order to sustain their wealth, Britain needed to keep up in the cotton industry, especially after the invention of the cotton gin in the American colonies. In 1733, the first cotton related invention was created by John Kay. His Flying Shuttle was used to increase the speed of textile weaving. With the advancement of scientific and technical knowledge came the invention of more machines such as the Spinning Jenny, which was used to spin cotton domestically. As Radcliffe states, “From the year 1770 to 1788 a complete change had gradually been effected in the spinning of yarns – that of wool had disappeared altogether, and that of linen was also nearly gone – cotton, cotton, cotton, was become the almost universal material for employment, the handwheels, with the exception of one establishment were all thrown into lumber-rooms, the yarn was all spun on common jennies…” With cotton becoming the biggest source of income at this time, more machines needed to be invented and updated throughout the years in order to keep up with the production rates.

The population growth had many positive effects for Britain throughout the era of industrialization but it also caused many problems such as overcrowding of homes and villages. The influx of people provided a cheap labor force which fulfilled the need for factory workers and meant there were more people to buy the goods being produced which kept demand high and in turn caused businesses to supply more as well. Traditional farming was being industrialized as well. In Radcliffe’s article, he says that “… out of these fifty or sixty farmers, there were only six or seven who raised their rents directly from the produce of their farms; all the rest got their rent partly in some branch of trade, such as spinning and weaving woolen, linen, or cotton.” Agriculture was no longer the best way to make a living and many farmers understood this which is why they made the change to manufacturing in some way in order to take part in trade and turn a higher profit. As the population grew, that meant more food was needed than what was currently being produced. To increase production, they changed their methods and started using new machines that were being invented to keep up with demand and make it easier to produce more. Demand was so high that farmers could charge higher prices and make a bigger profit.

Overall Britain was the first industrial nation and became the ‘Workshop of the World’ due to many crucial factors. It’s tough to pinpoint which factor was the most important as all were very influential in the industrialization of Britain. The three biggest factors in my opinion, which affected each other and resulted in the industrialization of Britain were overseas trade, the abundance of raw materials, and population growth. These three points were the root of economic growth in Britain, and they triggered other factors which led to the industrialization of Britain. The growth in population created demand that manufacturers were able to satisfy and the investment in industry brought good returns. The state didn’t try to limit economic growth and allowed foreign trade to provide the raw materials and profits that could be invested in each industry. The industrialization of Britain was a revolutionary process, which would prove to be easily gained by other countries and ultimately detrimental to Britain’s supremacy prospects.


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