Unplug the TV and refrigerator.
Everything electric has to go. 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, because you’ll be working from sunrise to sunset.
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 gradual—but radical—changes in machinery and ideas. Those changes unleashed the world’s productive power, allowing people to create more clothes, more gadgets, more everything.
The biggest change caused by the Industrial Revolution came in the pace of change itself. A slow-moving, low-tech world vanished. It was replaced by a world where people craved new things, expected miracle drugs, and planned to do better than their parents. 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, however, it could be in Virginia, England, or France. All tools and machines were powered by animals, water, or wind. Badly kept dirt roads limited communication, because most people didn’t stray far from home.
▲ Children worked long hours helping with chores at home and in the fields. As a result, there was little or no time for schooling.
Few families had money. People learned how to make and fix things themselves. ▼
◀ Medical care was crude, even for those who could afford doctors. Poor diets and bad sanitary habits (such as not washing hands) allowed killer diseases like typhoid, cholera, and tuberculosis to spread.
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, resulting in a better yield. Because of the increase in food production, more people could live in cities, the only efficient location for factories. ▶
So What Happened During the Industrial Revolution?
Basically, countries in Europe and North America moved from an economy based on farming and crafts to one based on factories and industry. As a result, they saw changes such as:
▲ 1. An increased use of machines and science to make things like the power loom, the cotton gin, and the steam engine
▲ 2. Improved efficiency through mass production
▲ 3. A huge movement of people from farms and villages to big cities