Social Impact


The Industrial Revolution increased productivity. By 1850 fewer than 20% of Brittons were farmers (the fraction of farmers was 45% in Netherlands). By 1880 it was 1 in 7 and by 1910 it was 1 in 11. Machines were replacing people.

The unit price of cotton textiles fell by 90% between 1790 and 1830.

The 1705 steam engine used 45 lbs of coal for a single horsepower hour. A late 19th century steam engine used less than one pound to do the same work.

Which came first technology or the consumer society?

Ferguson argues that labor in Britain was more expensive than elsewhere and coal more abundant (p. 203). Motivation for the Ind. rev. for economic reaosns. Then it spread to Europe.

Productivity gains and growth of demand

So we produce more stuff but who is going to buy it?

Industrialists realized early on that their employees were also their customers. So they did not keep wages too low. The rich were getting richer: top 1% in Britain had 25% of national income in 1801 and 35% in 1848. Industrial societies were becoming less equal but (almost) everybody was getting better off. Real wages for building laborers in London doubled between 1848 and 1913 (Ferguson, p. 210). Skilled workers favored collective bargaining over revolution.

Gap in living standards in London and Beijing: 2:1 in the 1700's and 6:1 in the 1910's (p. 212)

Abolition of Slavery

Did the industrial revolution helped abolish slavery? Maybe.

The steam engine was invented in 1776 and was introduced in the textile industry in 1785. So any acts that could be said to be influenced by the industrial revolution must be after 1780. Apparently there were movements to abolish slavery before that, (The following are from Wikipedia.)

1706: In the case of Smith v. Browne & Cooper, Sir John Holt, Lord Chief Justice of England, rules that "as soon as a Negro comes into England, he becomes free. One may be a villein in England, but not a slave."
1723: Russia abolishes outright slavery but retains serfdom.
1761: Portugal abolishes slavery in mainland Portugal and in Portuguese possessions in India through a decree by the Marquis of Pombal.
1775: Pennsylvania Abolition Society formed in Philadelphia, the first abolition society in North America.
1780: Pennsylvania passes An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery, freeing future children of slaves. Those born prior to the Act remain enslaved for life.

1787: The United States in Congress Assembled passed the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 outlawing any new slavery in the Northwest Territories.
1787: Sierra Leone founded by Britain as colony for emancipated slaves.
1787: Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade founded in Britain.
1794: France abolishes slavery in all its possessions; slavery is restored by Napoleon in 1802.
1799: New York State passes gradual emancipation act freeing future children of slaves, and all slaves in 1827.

1804: Haiti declares independence and abolishes slavery
1807, 2 March: Jefferson signs the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves into law in the U.S. which took effect 1 January 1808.
1807, 25 March: Abolition of the Slave Trade Act abolishes slave trading in British Empire. Captains fined £120 per slave transported.
1807: Abolition of serfdom in Prussia through the Stein-Hardenberg Reforms.
1808: In the United States, Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves takes effect 1 Jan.

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