Unplug the TV and refrigerator.
Toss out all your electric toys and tools. Dump all the packaged food and start planting seeds. Chuck 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.
Think you could do all that? You’d see how most people lived before the Industrial Revolution. This period stretched from roughly 1760 to 1860. It got its name from a series of slow but big changes in machinery and ideas. They increased 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 went away. It was replaced by a world where people wanted new things and expected miracle drugs. Everyone 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 copy 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. Roads were made of dirt and hard to travel. So most people didn’t go far from home. That limited communication.
▲ Children worked long hours helping with chores at home and in the fields. So they had little or no time for schooling.
Few families had money. People had to make and fix things themselves. ▼
◀ Medical care was crude. Not many people could even afford doctors. Poor diets and bad sanitary habits (such as not washing hands) helped killer diseases to spread. 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
Big changes in farming in the early 1700s made the Industrial Revolution possible. Farmers in England learned to fertilize and rotate crops. That led to bigger harvests. Increased food production meant more people could live in cities. They were the only place where it made sense to put 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 like:
▲ 1. More things made with machines, like 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