Unplug the TV and refrigerator.
Get rid of all the electric devices. Dump all the packaged food and start growing your own. Toss the store-bought soaps and shampoos. Chop some wood for the fireplace so you can cook and stay warm. Forget about school from now on: You’re working dawn to dusk.
Do all that and you’ll see how most people lived before the Industrial Revolution. This period, which stretched from roughly 1760 to 1860, got its name from a series of changes in machinery and ideas. Those changes were gradual but radical, and they expanded the world’s productive power. That allowed people to create more clothes, more gadgets, more everything.
The biggest change caused by the Industrial Revolution was in the speed of change itself. A slow-moving, low-tech world disappeared. It was replaced by a world where people craved new things, expected miracle drugs, and planned to do better than their parents had. In other words, the Industrial Revolution created modern life.
▲ Before the Industrial Revolution, life in Europe and North America was hard. More than 90 percent of people lived on farms and in villages. This is a re-creation of a Plymouth, Massachusetts, settlement during the late 1600s. With a few changes, it could be in Virginia, England, or France. All tools and machines were powered by animals, water, or wind. Badly kept dirt roads kept communication to a minimum because people usually didn’t go far from home.
▲ Children worked long hours helping with chores at home and in the fields. So there was little or no time for school.
Few families had money. People had to make and fix things themselves. ▼
◀ Medical care was crude. Few people could even afford doctors. Poor diets and bad sanitary habits (such as not washing hands) helped spread killer diseases. Typhoid, cholera, and tuberculosis were common.
March of Progress?
“Every house swarms with children who are set to work as soon as they are able to spin and card [work with cotton and wool].”
—New York Governor Sir Henry Moore, 1767
The Industrial Revolution was made possible by an agricultural revolution in the early 1700s. Farmers in England learned to fertilize and rotate crops. That led to bigger harvests. Increased food production meant more people could live in cities, the only efficient location for factories. ▶
So What Happened During the Industrial Revolution?
Basically, people in Europe and North America used to work on farms and make things. In this period, they started working in factories and industry instead. As a result, they saw changes such as:
▲ 1. More use of machines and science to make things. These included the power loom, the cotton gin, and the steam engine.
▲ 2. More efficiency through mass production.
▲ 3. A huge movement of people from farms and villages to big cities.