Answer: The Industrial Revolution brought about dramatic changes in nearly every aspect of British society, including demographics, politics, social structures and institutions, and the economy. With the growth of factories, for example, people were drawn to metropolitan centers. The number of cities with populations of more than 20,000 in England and Wales rose from 12 in 1800 to nearly 200 at the close of the century. As a specific example of the effects of technological change on demographics, the growth of coke smelting resulted in a shift of population centers in England from the south and east to the north and west.
The Industrial Revolution marked a major turning point in Earth’s ecology and humans’ relationship with their environment. The Industrial Revolution dramatically changed every aspect of human life and lifestyles. The impact on the world’s psyche would not begin to register until the early 1960s, some 200 years after its beginnings. From human development, health and life longevity, to social improvements and the impact on natural resources, public health, energy usage and sanitation, the effects were profound.
Technological change also made possible the growth of capitalism. Factory owners and others who controlled the means of production rapidly became very rich. As an indication of the economic growth inspired by new technologies, purchasing power in Great Britain doubled and the total national income increased by a factor of ten in the years between 1800 and 1900.
Such changes also brought about a revolution in the nation’s political structure. Industrial capitalists gradually replaced agrarian land owners as leaders of the nation’s economy and power structure.
It wasn’t that the Industrial Revolution became a stalwart juggernaut overnight. It started in the mid-1700s in Great Britain when machinery began to replace manual labor. Fossil fuels replaced wind, water and wood, used primarily for the manufacture of textiles and the development of iron making processes. The full impact of the Industrial Revolution would not begin to be realized until about 100 years later in the 1800s, when the use of machines to replace human labor spread throughout Europe and North America. This transformation is referred to as the industrialization of the world. These processes gave rise to sweeping increases in production capacity and would affect all basic human needs, including food production, medicine, housing, and clothing. Not only did society develop the ability to have more things faster, it would be able to develop better things. These industrialization processes continue today.
Working conditions were often much less than satisfactory for many of those employed in the new factory systems. Work places were often poorly ventilated, over-crowded, and replete with safety hazards. Men, women, and children alike were employed at survival wages in unhealthy and dangerous environments. Workers were often able to afford no more than the simplest housing, resulting in the rise of urban slums. Stories of the unbelievable work conditions in mines, textile factories, and other industrial plants soon became a staple of Victorian literature.
One consequence of these conditions was that action was eventually taken to protect workers—especially women and children—from the most extreme abuses of the factory system. Laws were passed requiring safety standards in factories, setting minimum age limits for young workers, establishing schools for children whose parents both worked, and creating other standards for the protection of workers. Workers themselves initiated activities to protect their own interests, the most important of which may have been the establishment of the first trade unions.
Overall, the successes of the technological changes here were so profound internationally that Great Britain became the world’s leading power, largely because of the Industrial Revolution, for more than a century.
The most prolific evidence of the Industrial Revolution’s impact on the modern world is seen in the worldwide human population growth. Humans have been around for about 2.2 million years. By the dawn of the first millennium AD, estimates place the total world (modern) human population at between 150 – 200 million, and 300 million in the year 1,000. The population of the United States population is currently 312,000,000 (August 2011). The world human population growth rate would be about .1 percent (.001) per year for the next seven to eight centuries.
At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-1700s, the world’s human population grew by about 57 percent to 700 million. It would reach one billion in 1800. (Note: The Black Plague reduced the world population by about 75 million people in the late 1300s.) The birth of the Industrial Revolution altered medicine and living standards, resulting in the population explosion that would commence at that point and steamroll into the 20thand 21st centuries. In only 100 years after the onset of the Industrial Revolution, the world population would grow 100 percent to two billion people in 1927 (about 1.6 billion by 1900).
During the 20th century, the world population would take on exponential proportions, growing to six billion people just before the start of the 21stcentury. That’s a 400 percent population increase in a single century. Since the 250 years from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to today, the world human population has increased by six billion people!
Human population growth is indelibly tied together with increased use of natural and man-made resources, energy, land for growing food and for living, and waste by-products that are disposed of, to decompose, pollute or are recycled. This exponential population growth led to the exponential requirements for resources, energy, food, housing and land, as well as the exponential increase in waste by-products.