What Were the Main Inventions of the British Industrial Revolution?

The Industrial Revolution began in Britain. What were some of the most important inventions of this period?
Christopher McFadden
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Between the mid-1700s and the end of the first world war, mankind experienced one of its greatest leaps in technology innovation ever seen in history. Beginning in small cottage industries in England, the Industrial Revolution would literally change the world forever.

The developments made throughout this period would spread around the world in very short order. In the following article, we'll take a look at some of the most important inventions made in Britain during this unprecedented period of time.


What were the 7 major inventions of the Industrial Revolution?

This is a very difficult question to answer as many very important inventions were created during this period of time. But, there are some great candidates. 

By our estimation, the following 7 are some of the most important British inventions of the Industrial Revolution: -

1. The Flying Shuttle arguably kicked the whole thing off

industrial revolution britain flying shuttle
Flying Shuttle Loom, Weaver's Cottage Museum Source: Betty Longbottom/Wikimedia Commons

The Flying Shuttle, though rather simple in design, was a massive innovation when it was first introduced in 1733 by John Kay. It effectively doubled the output of a single weaver and showed the potential for technology to improve efficiency to all who adopted it. 

Its impact was enormous, and it allowed the British textile industry to become the envy of the world at the time. Many other industries would begin to think about how they too could 'up their game'.

2. James Watt's Steam Engine powered the Industrial Revolution

Although Newcomen had developed a working steam engine before James Watt, he was the man who made the technology reliable and efficient. His addition of a separate condenser significantly improved the engine's efficiency, making it commercially viable.

The steam engine would, quite literally, power the Industrial Revolution for the next century or more.

3. Macadamization was the single biggest advancement in road building since the Roman Empire

industrial revolution britain macadam roads
Example of Macadam Road in around 1850. Source: Sutter County Library/Wikimedia Commons

Roads had changed very little since the fall of Rome around much of Europe and the known world prior to the 19th Century. In Britain, road systems were in a very poor state prior to the work of John McAdam.

His new "macadamized" roads would change the world forever. 

4. The Bessemer Process allowed for cheap, reliable steel to be produced

industrial revolution bessemer process
Bessemer converter at former ironworks, Hogbo, Sweden. Source: Calle Eklund/V-wolf/Wikimedia Commons

The Bessemer Process made mass production of steel from pig iron efficient and cheap. The ability to produce large quantities of cheap, high-quality steel, was one of the biggest innovations of the Industrial Revolution. 

Bridges, ships, household items, machines, tools, and many other things could now be made from steel with ease. The world would never be the same again.

5. John Trevithick and his "toy" trains changed transportation

When John Trevithick developed the world's first train in 1804, transportation and logistics around the world would change forever. Now people and stuff could be moved in massive amounts over long distances efficiently. 

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6. Michael Faraday opened the door for the dynamo

industrial revolution britain dynamo
Hippolyte Pixii's Dynamo. Source: DMahalko/Wikimedia Commons

Michael Faraday developed the basic principles of electromagnetic generators back in the 1830s. His groundbreaking work would lay the foundations for the development of the first true dynamo in 1832 by Hippolyte Pixii.

The stage was set for the electrification of the world later in the Industrial Revolution.

7. Babbage's Analytical Engine arguably paved the way for the digital revolution

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Model of Babbage's Analytical Engine. Source: Bruno Barral/Wikimedia Commons

In the late 1830s, Charles Babbage first described his groundbreaking Analytical Engine. This was the world's first mechanical general-purpose programmable computer. 

It would, arguably, lay the foundations for the rise of our current digital/information age

What was invented during the Industrial Revolution in Britain?

Further to the 7 important British Industrial Revolution inventions highlighted above, there are numerous others that appeared throughout this period of time. 

Some of the other most notable inventions include, but are not limited to (courtesy of The Telegraph): -

  • Marine chronometer: John Harrison, 1761
  • Spinning frame: Richard Arkwright, 1768
  • Toothbrush: William Addis, c. 1770
  • Soda water: Joseph Priestley, 1772
  • Hydraulic press: Joseph Bramah, 1795
  • Steam engine: Richard Trevithick, 1801
  • Glider: George Cayley, 1804
  • Tension-spoked wheel: George Cayley, 1808
  • Tin can: Peter Durand, 1810
  • Modern fire extinguisher: George William Manby, 1818
  • Electric motor: Michael Faraday, 1821
  • Waterproof material: Charles Macintosh, 1823
  • Cement: Joseph Aspdin, 1824
  • Passenger railway: George Stephenson, 1825
  • Lawnmower: Edwin Beard Budding, 1827
  • Photography: William Henry Fox Talbot, 1835
  • Electric Telegraph: Charles Wheatstone & William Cooke, 1837
  • Chocolate bar: JS Fry & Sons, 1847
  • Hypodermic syringe: Alexander Wood, 1853
  • Synthetic dye: William Perkin, 1856

  • Linoleum: Frederick Walton, 1860
  • Sewage system: Joseph Bazalgette, 1865
  • Modern Torpedo: Robert Whitehead, 1866
  • Telephone: Alexander Graham Bell, 1876
  • Light Bulb: Joseph Swan, 1880
  • Steam turbine: Charles Parsons, 1884
  • Safety bicycle: John Kemp Stanley, 1885
  • Pneumatic tire: John Boyd Dunlop, 1887
  • Thermos flask: Sir James Dewar, 1892
  • Electric vacuum cleaner: Hubert Cecil Booth, 1901
  • Disc Brakes: Frederick William Lanchester, 1902
  • Stainless Steel: Harry Brearley, 1913
  • Military tank: Ernest Swinton, 1914

Why did Britain start the industrial revolution?

In short, Britain was fertile ground for an event like the Industrial Revolution to get off the ground. It wasn't, as some might believe, pure chance (though that did play its part).

Since the fall of Rome, Britain's history, more or less, followed that of mainland Europe. But, after the Norman Invasion during the 11th Century, Britain would be set on a path that would make it a very different place from mainland European nations.

Chance played its part, of course, with events like the Black Plague empowering serfs with the ability to demand higher wages for their labor and help weaken hegemonic control of the people. Other major events in British history, like the Magna Carta, would begin the slow, but inevitable, rise of the rule of law over autocratic Monarchial power in Britain.

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Swansea, Wales, UK was once the world's biggest metal producing center. Source: National Library of Wales/Wikimedia Commons

Later, events like the English Civil War, and more importantly, the Glorious Revolution, kick-started Britain's journey to embracing Liberalism (in the British sense) and all its benefits.

As a consequence of this process, patent granting was eventually wrestled from Monarchial control. This allowed inventors to protect their ideas, and feel secure in investing time and capital into their inventions.

According to seminal works on the subject, like "Why Nations Fail", once the path had been set for greater rule of law, the development of inclusive institutions in society, property rights and the lack of fear of "creative destruction" by ruling classes, ultimately meant the Industrial Revolution was all but guaranteed in the United Kingdom.

The book's authors' succinctly explain this principle as “inclusive economic institutions… are those that allow and encourage participation by the great mass of people in economic activities that make the best use of their talents and skills.” 

But, as we touched on earlier, some chance played its part too. Britain's geology happens to have everything the small nation would need to help fuel the fires of industry. 

For example, it has abundant, high-quality coal, plenty of iron, and other resources that were vital for the rise of the Industrial Revolution. Britain's geography also helped, allowing it to be partially insulated from the constant wars that plagued the continent thanks to it being an island. 

So, in conclusion, the Industrial Revolution, rather than being a fluke, was the culmination of almost 800 years of small, yet significant, historical events in Britain. It was, by all accounts, a sure bet that Britain would be the spark that ignited a worldwide revolution we are still continuing to benefit from today.


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