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The GED® Social Studies Test: What You Need to Know About the Industrial Revolution

When, Where, and What Was the Industrial Revolution?

It is debatable when the Industrial Revolution actually began. However, most historians agree it started in England sometime around 1750 and spread to the rest of Western Europe and the United States soon after. The period between, roughly, 1750 and 1900 is often the general consensus as to when the Industrial Revolution took place. More important than any discrepancies about time are the characteristics of the Industrial Revolution. It was a period of rapid industrial and urban growth and we refer to it in history as the time when people and countries transitioned from farming and rural living to factory production and urban living.

What Life Was Like During This Time

To best understand the wide sweeping effects of the Industrial Revolution, it helps to compare and contrast what life was like before and after it happened. Before the Industrial Revolution, life could be described this way:

  • Most people lived in rural areas and farmed for a living.
  • Very few people lived in cities.
  • Man-made goods were expensive because people produced them (from start to finish) in their homes.
  • Disease was common.
  • Farm work was hard.
  • Overall, life was difficult.

Important results of the Industrial Revolution were:

  • As societies learned about new farming techniques and steam power was discovered, people moved to cities to work in factories.
  • Fewer people were needed to work the farm now that machines did the work.
  • Life in cities at this time was arguably dirtier, more disease-ridden, and definitely more crowded.
  • People worked long hours for little pay but quality of life would continue to improve throughout this period.
  • The advances made during the Industrial Revolution, along with the transition to urban living and factory production, marked the beginning of the modern world in which we live today.

Some Important People During This Era

  • Edmund Cartwright— invented the power loom, which greatly increased the production of textiles
  • George Stephenson— developed the steam engine for use in trains, which allowed for faster transportation and the growth of railroads as an industry
  • Sir Henry Bessemer— invented the process for making steel that allowed for mass production
  • Andrew Carnegie— American steel businessman
  • John D. Rockefeller— American oil and railroad businessman

A Brief Chronology of the Industrial Revolution

  • 1712— Thomas Newcomen invented the first steam engine, giving rise to the demand for coal.
  • 1794— Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, allowing for fast cotton processing and production.
  • 1844— Samuel Morse invented the telegraph, a major innovation in communication technology.
  • 1855— Bessemer method for producing steel was invented and steel production increased dramatically, allowing for rapid urban growth.
  • 1870— Louis Pasteur invented vaccines for some diseases, effectively lowering the death rate and improving health care.
  • 1876— Telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell.
  • 1903— Wright brothers made their first successful flight.
  • 1908— Henry Ford produced the Model T with revolutionary assembly line model of production.

Some Important Documents During This Time

  • Communist Manifesto— This document, written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, changed the world. The philosophies outlined by these men were a direct criticism of big business and capitalism. They argued that factory workers were treated unfairly and received little pay for their hard work comparative to the benefits reaped by a select few large business owners.
  • Wealth of Nations— This book, written by Adam Smith, was the antithesis of the Communist Manifesto. Smith outlined the principles of supply and demand that are the driving force behind free market capitalism.
  • Essay on the Principle of Population— This book, written by Thomas Malthus, outlined a theory that humans were overpopulating the planet and there would not be enough resources to provide for the needs of everyone. Though much of what Malthus predicted has not happened, population has grown significantly since the Industrial Revolution due to better quality of life and better medical technology.

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