The Industrial Revolution, 1750-1914

Key industries and innovations


Textile manufacture changed dramatically in the 1700s. Key inventions such as Hargreaves' spinning jenny (1764), Arkwright's water frame (1769), Crompton's spinning mule (1779) and Cartwright's power loom (1784) reduced human labour by up to a third. Early models of these machines tended to be unreliable, and some looms were ruined by machine breakers as a statement against the replacement of human labour with machines.

The main centres of textile production in England became Greater Manchester, Lancashire and West Yorkshire. Leeds, for example, boasted around 170 'scribbling machines' (which prepare wool for spinning) by 1786; this had unfortunate consequences for workers, who signed a petition in that year stating that 'twelve men are thrown out of employ for every single machine used in scribbling'.

By 1830, over half of British exports consisted of cotton textiles. People began to favour the novelty and affordability of British garments over the high-quality Italian textiles that once dominated; France, too, struggled to keep up with British adaptability and ingenuity. India, which previously had the world's largest cotton industry, faced stiff competition from Britain until the early 1900s.

Activity 5

Watch the first 20 minutes of a lecture, 'The English Industrial Revolution II', by Professor Gregory Clarke (University of Columbia, Davis) on key textiles inventions.

Play the interactive game 'Who Wants to be a Cotton Millionaire?'

  1. What were the key names and inventions mentioned in Professor Clarke's lecture?
  2. How did the majority of inventors discussed in the lecture end up, financially speaking?
  3. After playing the interactive game 'Who wants to be a cotton millionaire?', note down five things you learned about the cotton industry during the Industrial Revolution.


In the 1750s, stage coaches achieved an average speed of 5 miles per hour; by the 1790s this had risen to almost 7 miles per hour. By the 1780s there were 16 coach services going from London to Bath per week. A 1754 advertisement boasted: 'However incredible it may appear, this coach will actually arrive in London four days after leaving Manchester'. Consumer transport allowed city-dwellers to go to the countryside on weekends, partly making up for the pollution and stress of daily life.

By 1810 Britain had the world's most well-developed transport system, with 30,000 miles of navigable river, 1500 miles of horse-drawn railways (iron railways emerged in the 1730s) and 2000 miles of canals. Tar roads allowed people to travel readily between centres (as John Wesley did extensively in the late 1700s to spread his new religion of Methodism).

Australia developed its transport systems relatively quickly, as it was settled at the time of the Industrial Revolution and tended to adopt new approaches readily.

Activity 6

Read 'Australia and the Industrial Revolution in Transport and Communications' by Dr Robert Lee (University of Western Sydney).

  1. For each Australian state/territory mentioned in the chapter, list the changes in transportation that occurred after settlement.
  2. Find 3–4 pieces of evidence from the chapter to demonstrate that transport and communications are essential to a modern economy.
  3. In 50 words explain what the extract tells you about the effects of the Industrial Revolution on Australia.

Iron and coal

In the Industrial Revolution, coal replaced wood as the dominant form of fuel. This was partly because wood was becoming very expensive and hard to obtain on account of its overuse; Britain was beginning to rely on imports from Sweden and Russia.

In the mid-1700s, bar iron became available for small forges and by 1770 there were 6.5 million tons of coal mined every year. In 1783, a furnace was invented for producing wrought iron economically – it was used in train tracks, pipes and ships.

Between 1788 and 1806 there was a 200% increase in production of crude iron, or pig iron (so named because of the shape of the moulds used).

Activity 7

Using the article 'Coal'  on the Open Door website as a starting point for your own research, create a slideshow that explains the following:

  • why coal came to be the dominant fuel source during the Industrial Revolution
  • where coal production was concentrated
  • how much coal was produced in Britain in the eighteenth century
  • unintended consequences of widespread coal use.