The Industrial Revolution

The Power of Steam

The Industrial Revolution started in the mines of England with the "Miner's Friend" patented in 1698. It was a device to extract water from the mine using steam.

An Aside: England had already patent law in the 17th century. The first English patent was granted in 1443 (by Henry VI) for a method to produce colored glass. The patent gave protection for 20 years, similar to modern patent laws. How about Chinese patent laws?

"China was a latecomer to intellectual property. Its first patent law came into effect in 1985, followed by a copyright law in 1990. ....

To fully understand why increased intellectual property in China and India is unnecessary and objectionable, it helps to understand the relationship intellectual property has with economic development. Historically, intellectual property has generally increased with economic development, but the relationship is not straightforward. Although there is no reliable cross-country index of intellectual property policy, in large part due to the difficulty of quantifying concepts like enforcement quality, some trends are discernable."


Eventually the device drew the interest of professors at the University of Glasgow. There James Watt was "Mathematical Instrument Maker" and in 1765 and the device landed in his workshop. Watt tried to make the device more efficient but by 1774 had not made much progress and was heavily in debt. Then Matthew Boulton provided financial backing and moved the operation to Birmingham.

In March 1776 there was the first successful demonstration of a real steam engine.

Steam engines spread to other uses. First in driving textile mills (1785). Then to metalworking, boat and train propulsion and all manufacturing. That brought down the price of manufactured goods.

Robert Fulton (1765 – 1815), an American engineer is widely credited with developing the first commercially successful steamboat. In 1800. Before him there have been several French efforts to built mechanically propelled vessels.

A landmark: George Stephenson's Rocket 1829 had all the elements of a modern steam locomotive. (Same year Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.)

The Uses of Hot Air: On June 4,1783 the French Montgolfier brothers demonstrated their first balloon.

The industrial revolution brought a population explosion. Britain's population went from 7 to 14 million between 1780 and 1830. No consensus on why [MORR], p. 505. There was a rise in the standards of living (Marx non withstanding). Trains and steamboats speed up travel. In the meantime, any suggestions for reform and innovation in China were pushed aside.

Is it a coincidence that slavery and serfdom were abolished after the invention of the steam engine?

The Impact of Science

The steam engine motivated scientists to study the natural laws underlying its function. While the roots of Thermodynamics go back to the 1650's, it acquired new importance in the early 1800s.. The Frenchman Sadi Carnot (1796-1832), the "father of thermodynamics", published Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire (1824), a discourse on heat, power, energy and engine efficiency. It marked the start of thermodynamics as a modern science. (48 years after the first steam engine.)

German scientists were keen in applying science to compensate for the limited resources of their country. (Several small states and no colonies.)

The British scientist Michael Faraday, (1791 – 1867) discovered electromagnetic induction and electrolysis (and several other things). The first led to electric motors and generators(circa 1830). While an electric generator must be driven by outside power source (often steam driven) it is relatively easy to transfer the power over long distances and that allows the small business and household use of power.

The first electrochemical cell was developed by the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta in 1792, In 1800 he invented the first battery, a "pile" of many cells in series. Michael Faraday explained in 1834 the science behind Volta's work.

The American artist-turned inventor Samuel F. B. Morse conducted the first successful experiment with an electrical recording telegraph in 1837. (Morse argued that the term telegraph can strictly be applied only to systems that transmit and record messages at a distance. This is to be distinguished from semaphore which merely transmits messages. Smoke signals, for instance, are to be considered semaphore, not telegraph. According to Morse, telegraph dates only from 1832 when the first electric telegraph was invented by Pavel Schilling.) Instantaneous messaging was the biggest breakthrough in communications, EVER.

The Frenchman Antoine Lavoisier (1743 – 8 May 1794) is widely considered to be the "Father of Modern Chemistry." (Discovered the role oxygen plays in combustion. He recognized and named oxygen (1778) and hydrogen (1783) and opposed the phlogiston theory).


The Frenchman Joseph Niepce (1765-1833) is credited with capturing the first image (photogravure) around 1825. Soon afterwards he partnered with Louis Daguerre (1787-1851) who continued working on the process. The first Daguerreotype was made around 1837..

A New World

By 1850 we have steamboats, trains pulled by steam driven locomotives, electric motors, telegraph, photographs, etc, etc. None of these existed or could even be dreamed in 1750. The 100 years between 1750 and 1850 saw more technological progress than ever in human history. But we may want to keep a sense of proportion and point out pre-historical breakthroughs: invention of cooking, agriculture, building houses, to name a few. Let's say after 3000BCE.

The Best is Yet to Come

How do you know there are radio waves unless you have a device to detect? But how can you build such a device if you do not know there exist and what properties they have?

The British scientist James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879) predicted the existence of electromagnetic waves based on theatrical reasoning (light is also electromagnetic waves)

"With the publication of A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field in 1865, Maxwell demonstrated that electric and magnetic fields travel through space as waves moving at the speed of light. Maxwell proposed that light is in fact undulations in the same medium that is the cause of electric and magnetic phenomena. The unification of light and electrical phenomena led to the prediction of the existence of radio waves."

Thus 1865 is the year that radio (and television) became theoretical possibilities. The first experimental demonstration of radio waves was the work of the German physicist Heinrich Rudolf Hertz (1857–1894) in 1887. The enormous applications of this scientific work had to wait the 20th century.


The first surgeries under anesthesia was performed in the 1840's. Ether was first used in 1842 and chloroform in 1847. The word "anesthesia" was coined by the American physician and polymath Oliver Wendel Holmes in 1846.

Until the early 1800's people thought that illness was caused by "miasma." Several scientists contributed to the discovery that illness is caused by microorganisms or microbes. The Italian Agostino Bossi came with the idea around 1810 for disease that destroyed silkworms. The British John Snow suggested microbes as the cause of the cholera epidemic in London in 1854.

The Frenchman Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) showed in 1862 that microbes were the cause of fermentation and in 1885 performed the first vaccination.

The German Robert Koch (1843-1910) discovered the cause of tuberculosis and he is considered the founder of modern bacteriology.

And Also the Worst

The industrial revolution had also a big impact on weaponry. Breech-loaded rifles that fire much fast than front loaded rifles were introduced in the 1840's and came into widespread use within a few decades.

There have several efforts in the 18th century to develop rapid firing weapons but it was not until 1861 that the first modern machine gun was patented by the American Richard Jordan Gatling. It was the first gun to offer controlled, sequential fire with automatic loading. While the Civil War gave an impetus to the development of the gun, it saw only limited use because of the conservatism of the military leadership. It took a few more decades to perfect machine guns but by the end of the century they had achieved enormous destructive power.

The military advantages of the industrial revolution were amply demonstrated in the two opium wars between England and China (1839-1842 and 1856-1860). Morris uses the story of these wars in the introductory chapter of his book [MORR].

The Challenge to the Rest of the World

It took a while for the effects of the industrial revolution to be appreciated by the rest of the world but it has taken much longer to understand its underlying factors. A country can import western technology but it will stay backward until it also imports the western way of thinking. This a complex issue and underlies a lot of the upheavals of the 20th and 21st centuries.

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