The Industrial Revolution, 1750-1914


This unit examines the Industrial Revolution in the period 1750–1914, a time of dramatic technological and social change. It examines in particular the effects of industrialisation on work, society, politics and the environment.

What was the Industrial Revolution?

The Industrial Revolution occurred between the late 1700s and the early 1900s. Originating in Britain, it was characterised by the introduction of machines for laborious work, the replacement of animal labour with human labour and the widespread use of mineral resources. Broader changes involved the concentration of workers into factories, mills and mines, access to fast transport and the emergence of the middle class.

The First Industrial Revolution, which occurred in Britain in the late 1700s and later spread to Europe, was prompted by mechanisation (as cottage industries gave way to factories and mills), technology (as the steam engine came to replace human, wind and water power) and minerals (as iron became widespread and coal overtook wood as the favoured fuel source).

The Second Industrial Revolution, which began in the 1860s in Europe, the US and Japan, saw great strides in the production of steel, railroads, electricity and chemicals, and was characterised by the mass-production and mass-consumption of goods.

Activity 1

Examine The Industrial Revolution: A Timeline and complete the following questions.

  1. Note down 2–3 key inventions in each of the following areas: farm work; textiles; transport and shipping; communications; mining and fuel.
  2. What kinds of events does the timeline emphasise? What kinds of events, developments and people are not included?
  3. Following from your responses above, suggest a more specific title for this source than 'The Industrial Revolution: A Timeline'.
  4. What type of items do you think could be added to the timeline that cover important social, political or environmental events in this period?
  5. In 50 words describe the strengths and weaknesses of the timeline as a historical source.

Activity 2

Choose a piece of farm machinery (eg tractor, threshing machine, combine harvester) and trace it back to its earliest form. Show the different phases of the machine from design to modern-day use in the form of a flow-chart, diagram or slideshow.

Links with the Agricultural Revolution

The Industrial Revolution was closely tied with the Agricultural Revolution that began in the early 1700s. Traditionally Britain had a series of small local economies rather than a single economic system. Advances in agriculture – including the enclosure movement that divided common fields into private plots – combined with new farming technologies and efficiencies resulted in an increased supply of food and raw materials for exchange. Farmers in Britain became the most productive in Europe, with the possible exception of the Netherlands, and farming for subsistence gave way to large-scale output for the purposes of trade.

Due to the availability of food, prices went down and living standards went up, with farmers able to exchange their surplus goods for new farming equipment, thus supporting manufacturers and further increasing production.

Activity 3

Refer to:

Summary of the Agricultural Revolution (PDF, 133 KB)

British population figures, 1740s-1900 (PDF, 111 KB)

After examining these two sources, write a 200-word account of Britain's transition from a collection of local rural economies to an urbanised industrial nation between the early eighteenth and late nineteenth centuries. Alternatively, record your response as a podcast and play it to the class.

Migration, population and capitalism

Millions of people migrated during the Industrial Revolution. Most travelled to find work, but some were transported for their crimes or migrated to escape Britain's poor living conditions. About a million Irish labourers fled the famine of the 1840s for England or North America. From 1701 to 1751 Britain's population went from 6.5 to 7.5 million, and by 1901 it was just under 40 million.

Australia was settled by Europeans during the Industrial Revolution. Convicts in the First Fleet benefited from the knowledge of navigation and diet that had emerged during the Scientific Revolution of the late 1800s. The first steam mill began operating beside Sydney's Darling Harbour in 1813 and steamships were to be found in New South Wales waters as early as 1830. In other Australian colonies ports operated from the early days of settlement and railways emerged during the 1850s.

The Industrial Revolution was closely associated with the development of capitalism, a system in which individuals own the means of production and attempt to maximise personal profit. Before then the economy was a combination of local industry and mercantilism (control of foreign trade by governments).

Case study: Manchester

The northern English city of Manchester demonstrates many aspects of the Industrial Revolution and therefore makes a good case study. In 1858 Chambers' Edinburgh Journal stated that 'Manchester streets may be irregular, … its smoke may be dense, and its mud ultra-muddy, but not any or all of these things can prevent the image of a great city rising before us as the very symbol of civilization, foremost in the march of improvement, a grand incarnation of progress'.


The painting has the countryside of Kersal Moor in the foreground and the smoke belching chimney stacks of Manchester's factories filling the background. 'Industrial Manchester from Kersal Moor', William Wylde, 1851
© 2013 Education Services Australia Ltd, except where indicated otherwise. You may copy, distribute and adapt this material free of charge for non-commercial educational purposes, provided you retain all copyright notices and acknowledgements.


The painting shows well-dressed people travelling across the countryside in open carriages pulled by a steam engine. 'Inaugural journey of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway', A.B. Clayton, 1830
© 2013 Education Services Australia Ltd, except where indicated otherwise. You may copy, distribute and adapt this material free of charge for non-commercial educational purposes, provided you retain all copyright notices and acknowledgements.


Activity 4

  1. Read ‘Industrial Manchester in the Nineteenth Century’ and, using the table entitled Manchester in the Industrial Revolution (PDF, 106 KB), make your own summary.
  2. Examine the two paintings from the period shown above:
    'Industrial Manchester from Kersal Moor', William Wylde, 1851
    'Inaugural journey of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway', A.B. Clayton, 1830
    In what sense do the two paintings differ from each other in the impression they give of 1800s Manchester?
  3. Based on the example of Manchester, list 6–8 aspects that may have been typical of such British cities during the Industrial Revolution (including any contradictory aspects).