The Industrial Revolution can be summed up as the revolution that happened to the industrial sector in the past 300 years. But it still can't be explained in just one sentence, as it doesn’t do justice to the greatness of the revolution. It brought about a radical change that was direly needed.
Industrial Revolutions of Our World through Time
The First Industrial Revolution: 1760 – 1840
The Second Industrial Revolution: 1870 – 1914
The Third Industrial Revolution: 1969 – 2000
The Fourth Industrial Revolution: the digital revolution occurring since the middle of the last century
Revolutions are a result of humankind's desire to develop, expand, and grow. This has led to all the significant inventions in our society.
If we look back in time, many of the technologies that we use today are improvements of the basic concepts laid during the previous revolutions.
The spark that led to the proliferation of innovation and inventions was off during the first and second industrial revolutions. However, the gears were set in motion as early as the 1700s.
The period from 1750 onward interests many because humankind saw a great deal of change in that era.
It was the period that gave us many socio-economic reforms along with some of the most practical technical marvels.
Let’s understand how the First and Second Industrial Revolutions changed the world by learning all about their great technological advancements and inventions.
The First Industrial Revolution
The First Industrial Revolution started in 1760 and is a part of the history that ushered the future.
This revolution holds a crucial place in history as it marked the era of mechanization.
It was a time where man began to understand and use different energy sources; it was the time when industries began to reign over the world.
The First Usable Steam Engine
It all started when we found out a new form of energy – Steam.
Then, Thomas Newcomen, a British engineer, in 1712 made history with his prototype steam engine.
He made the atmospheric steam engine that can be used to pump water from mines. The need for such an invention came when Newcomen knew about the high operating costs of using horses to pump water out of mines.
The steam-powered pump was used in mines to extract water out of mining shafts. The reason for the limited use was that the engine could only manage about 12 strokes per minute.
The Age of Textiles - Spinning Jenny
The textile industry was booming in the 1700 and elites were going gaga over silk and intricately woven clothes. But the demands posed a severe challenge for the workers as the spinning process took a lot of time, especially the hand-woven materials.
The British weaver James Hargreaves invented something that revolutionized the textile industry. He invented the Spinning Jenny that considerably reduced the time taken to produce threads from raw materials.
The Spinning Jenny enabled a single worker to produce eight threads as opposed to one thread per worker norm.
Hence, the output of a single worker rose to 8-times compared to the previously obtained output.
James Watt’s Take on the Steam Engine in 1778
It is here where the crux of the industrial revolution lies. Even though the steam engine was built well before the time of James Watt, it only produced a reciprocal motion and to move something like a wheel a rotary motion was needed.
James Watt believed that steam energy had an untapped potential that could be applied to countless industrial processes. Also, until Watt’s invention, conventional steam engines were slow and inefficient.
The story of James Watt is pretty interesting as he was always fascinated by stories he heard about steam-powered devices. But one day, he got his hands on a Newcomen engine and tried to improve on its flaws.
He subsequently went to tinker the equipment and made his version of the Newcomen engine with a separate condenser and other useful modifications. The result was a double-acting pump that was powerful and fuel efficient.
It was a stepping stone which proved that steam packs a serious punch and can be used for more power demanding applications.
The ripples of the new steam engine propagated like wildfire and led to the following advancements:
The first railway steam locomotive | Inventor – Richard Trevithick (1804)
The first commercially successful steamboat name Clermont | Inventor – Robert Fulton (1807)
The Rise of Power Looms
Since the cotton industry was on a roll, the demand for textiles just kept on increasing. The stroke of innovation had already changed how the threads were made, and the invention of water frame made spinning easy.
But the weaving process could not keep up with other industrial machinery.
This need led to the creation of the Power Loom by Edmund Cartwright. It was an ordinary loom mechanized by a drive shaft to reduce worker input and increase overall output.
After the invention of steam engines, the power looms utilized steam power to automate the process.
Since then, the machine had a lot of improvements by many inventors to increase efficiency and effectiveness further.
The Age Of Iron
When you look back at the industrial revolution, one thing is clear; the revolution wasn’t just about steam, cotton, and coal. There was another critical element that added to the overall industrialization – Iron.
In the 1700s, if one was to convert cast iron to wrought iron, they had to heat the whole piece in a furnace and then beat it to perfection. Henry Cort from Lancaster was someone who loved to tinker with different processes associated with Iron.
He wanted a system that was cost-effective and less demanding in terms of human effort. For creating his method of metal curing, he bought a Slitting mill forged at Fontley.
He used a process called puddling. The process involves stirring molten iron in a reverberation furnace. The molten metal was then decarbonized to make a real mixture of thick molten metal.
This thickened Iron was called puddled iron and had many properties that were not available with pig iron. This puddled iron was then formed into bars using a grooved roller which he had patented.
The finished product was better and pure than wrought iron, and the bar shape was apt for immediate use. The beauty of this method was that all these processes were mechanized using steam engines and the furnaces did not require charcoal or coke.
This was one of the great advancements that shaped the First Industrial Revolution.
The Cotton Gin
The innovations in the textile industry just kept on coming one after the other. After the waves of industrialization hit the different manufacturing processes associated with textile manufacturing, the transformation began to improve the necessary means of raw materials procurement.
The process of separating cotton from cotton seeds, which was mostly done by workers using their hands.
This process changed when American inventor Eli Whitney made the first cotton gin. The cotton gin was a mechanized device that can easily separate the cotton seeds from cotton. He patented the product in 1794.
These new inventions in addition to the plethora of other inventions made the textiles industry unbelievably efficient in a matter of few years.
The Second Industrial Revolution
The period during the First Industrial Revolution saw the rise of industries mechanized by steam energy, the fast-paced textile industry, evolving stages of metallurgy, and metal works.
Approximately, a century after the end of the First Industrial Revolution, the world witnessed a rapid shift from the conventional forms of the previous innovations. This change was a target in utilizing the power of electricity, oil, and gas.
In this era, the world witnessed innovations in communication, transport, and manufacturing.
To start things off into the second revolution, a remarkable invention in the field of communication was made – the telegraph.
The Invention of Telegraph and Morse
The telegraph stands as the cornerstone of modern day communication systems. It was invented by Samuel Morse in the 1800s, but the first working telegram station came into operations only in 1844.
It is believed that Morse got the idea of using electricity for communication during a conversation that took place while he was returning from Europe in 1832 on a ship. The passengers on the ship were discussing the recent invention of the electromagnet by Michael Faraday, and that is when Morse thought of sending a coded message over a wire.
This dots-and-dashes technology revolutionized communication systems and enabled people to communicate over distances.
The Telephone by Meucci
Even though telegram proved as a means of long-distance communication, it was in no way a means to share personal messages. What if a person standing a considerable distance away from you could hear your voice in real time as you spoke?
This is, precisely, what happened in the year 1876 as Alexander Graham Bell took the patent for a device called telephone. Yes! In a way, he is the forefather of today’s smartphones that we use on a daily basis.
Many believe that Alexander Graham Bell was the one who invented the telephone, but this was proved wrong. The real credit for developing the phone goes to the mechanical genius named Antonio Meucci. History hailed Graham for the invention, but it was the blood, sweat, and tears of Meucci that made the “Talking Telegram.”
Thus, making Antoni Meucci the father of modern communication.
Edison's Quest to Light up the World
Again, Edison wasn’t the person behind the first light bulb. But, he was the one to perfect the light bulb. The bulbs before Edison’s intervention worn out pretty quickly, hence not viable for day to day use.
The first patent from Edison was filed on October 14, 1878. The patent was for the improvement of electric lights. Edison continued his research on bulb even after filing the patent to perfect the design.
It was in 1906 that the patent for bulbs with tungsten based filaments was filed by Edison. The manufacturing of bulbs brought about changes that were beyond imagination.
People were able to light up their homes and work even at odd hours. It also accelerated the adoption of electricity.
The First Flight
There have been many attempts to sail on the skies in the mid-1800s. Most of them relied on wind energy to fly their dreams to the sky. But, this method had a serious flaw, as wind alone could not propel an aircraft’s weight.
The Wright brothers, however, succeeded in solving this problem The solution can be called as powered flight. Then again, powered flights had a bad reputation for being uncontrollable.
Therefore, the real genius of the Wright Brothers came into play. They invented a three-axis system that made the aircraft maintain equilibrium even at high speed.
This fundamental principle remains the same even today in the aviation field.
Henry Ford's Model T
Owning a car was a costly affair back in the 1900s, which meant that only the wealthiest would get the privilege to own one. But that soon changed with the introduction of Model T.
It was the innovation of the legend, Henry Ford. The introduction of the assembly line was a reason why Model T was such a hit. This brought down the cost considerably and changed how Americans travel forever.
It is estimated that over 15 million Model Ts were sold worldwide in 15 years.
Ushering us into a New Age
When we look back at the First and Second Industrial Revolution, we see an age that genuinely defined where we are now. We cannot deny that automation and industrial revolution brought on some adverse effects to the world.
Then again, we proved to triumph the adversities to enjoy the fruits of our labor. It is truly amazing how the phase of the world changed with a handful of inventions.
This brings us to the universal fact by Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher– the only thing that is constant is change!