Age of Industrialisation

Proto Industrialisation

Many of you may be under the impression that industrialization means large scale production with huge machines in big factories. But industrialization had been there even before the arrival of huge machines and before the opening of big factories.

The period of industrialization before the first factories came up in Europe is termed as proto-industrialization. This period was marked by merchants from towns getting products made in villages.

Reasons for focus of merchants on villages:

There were powerful trade and craft guilds in urban areas. These associations controlled competition and prices and prevented entry of a new player in the market. Because of them, it was difficult for new merchants to set business in towns.

This was the period when the land of commons was getting barricaded. So, marginal farmers were getting devoid of resources (fodder, firewood, open fields, etc.) which were earlier available to them because of the commons. Farmers were looking for newer means of livelihood. The offer from merchants came as a boon for the farmers.

Features of proto-industrialization in Britain:

The merchants supplied money to the peasants in the countryside. They motivated farmers to produce products for an international market.

The proto-industrial system was a network of commercial exchanges. It was controlled by merchants. Goods were produced by peasants who worked within their family farms and not in factories. The finished product passed through several stages and reached the markets of London. From London, the products were supplied to the international market.



The Coming Up Of Factory

The earliest factories in England came up in the 1730s. By late 18th century, there were numerous factories dotting the landscape of England. Initially, industrialization happened in cotton textiles sector. This was evident in the fact that import of raw cotton grew from 2.5 million Pounds in 1760 to 22 million Pounds by 1787.

Benefits of factories: The factories increased efficiency of workers. Because of new machines a worker could produce better products in much bigger quantities. Cotton textiles were the main area in which industrialization happened. Managing and supervising the labour was much easier in factories than it was in the countryside.

Pace of Industrial Change

Industrialization did not happen overnight rather it took many years before entrepreneurs fully accepted the new machines.

Up to 1840s: This phase can be termed as the first phase of industrialization. Cotton was the leading sector in this phase.

After 1840s: The railways expanded in England from the 1840s, and in colonies from 1860s. Expansion of railways fuelled the demand for iron and steel. By 1873, the export of iron and steel from Britain was valued at about 77 million pounds. This was double the value of cotton export.

Then new industry could not displace the new industry even by the end of the nineteenth century. This is evident from the fact that at the end of the nineteenth century, less than 20% of the total labor was employed in big factories.

New machines were very costly. Contrary to tall claims by inventors and manufacturers, the new machines were not very effective. Moreover, the machines often went out of order and cost of repair was very high. This discouraged the merchants and industrialists.

Even in the mid-nineteenth century, the typical worker was not a machine operator but the traditional craftsperson and laborer.


Hand Labour Vs Steam Power:

steam engine by James Watt

Steam Engine (Ref: Wikipedia)

There was no shortage of human labor during this period. So, there was no issue of high wages. So, the merchants and industrialists preferred human labor rather than investing in costly machines.

The finish and quality of hand-made goods was much better than that of machine-made goods. People from upper classes preferred hand-made goods. Machine-made goods were generally sent to the colonies.

The situation was different in contemporary America. There was shortage of labor in America and hence mechanization was the only way out in that part of the world.


Life of Workers

There was large scale migration from countryside to cities in search of jobs. Finding a job depended on existing network of friendship and kin relations. People without existing social connections in the cities found it difficult to find a job. Many people had to wait for long periods before they could get a job. Such people often had to spend nights on bridges or in night shelters. Some private individuals set up Night Refuges. The Poor Law authorities maintained Casual Wards for such people.

Many jobs were seasonal in nature. Once a busy season was over, the poor were once again on the streets. While some people returned to the countryside, many stayed back to look for some odd jobs.

Unemployment was rampant. During the best of the times till the mid-nineteenth century, about 10% of urban population was extremely poor. During the periods of economic slump, the unemployment increased anything between 35 and 75%.

Workers often turned hostile to new technology because of fear of unemployment. For example; when Spinning Jenny was introduced, women began to attack the new machines because they survived on hand spinning. This mindset can be seen even in modern times. When computers came in India, most of the people began to protest against computerization because of fear of losing their jobs.

After the 1840s, construction activity increased in the cities. This opened greater employment opportunities. The number of workers in the transport industries doubled in the 1840s, and doubled again in the subsequent 30 years.



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