The manufacturing process has undergone numerous changes over the course of human history. During the last few centuries in particular, entrepreneurs have discovered ways to mechanize the production process for countless goods once created by hand, greatly increasing productivity. This change began in England in the 18th century, gradually expanded to neighboring countries such as France and Germany, and—by the late 18th century—had arrived in the United States.
The Industrial Revolution had a far-reaching impact on the way items were produced. Industries such as textile manufacturing, mining, glass-making, and agriculture were all radically transformed. For example, before the Industrial Revolution textiles were primarily made from wool, which was hand-spun. The invention of the spinning wheel and loom meant cotton fabric could be produced more quickly, and it eventually replaced wool as king of the textile industry. These changes dramatically reduced the time required to make a bolt of cloth, and hence the cost of producing the material. Advances such as these occurred in all industries during this era. Many important inventions such as the spinning wheel, the water wheel (which powered machinery), and the steam engine were introduced during the Industrial Revolution.
As the newly transformed industries grew, they hired more and more workers for jobs in the factories. Factory-owners began to fill these positions with women and children, who were just starting to join the industrial workforce. Before the Industrial Revolution families had usually worked together in agriculture or in family-run businesses. As the center of manufacturing shifted to the factory and the demand for labor grew, increasing numbers of workers left their homes behind.
With materials now being produced more quickly and cheaply than ever, the demand for manufactured goods exceeded the supply. This shortage forced factories to increase production hours, placing harsh demands on the men, women, and children in the workplace. These demands became increasingly difficult to comply with and ultimately led to laws to protect workers. In 1833, Parliament passed the Factory Act to place restrictions on the working hours of children, and set standards that factories needed to respect.
As the government began to monitor the industries, the changes also led to the beginnings of the labor movement. Workers now had a voice in the workplace, and the factories started to listen.
With the advent of machinery to ease workloads, the Industrial Revolution spread from region to region. Inventions such as the modern-day printing press led to the growth of the newspaper industry. In addition, the steam engine made travel much faster than it had been via horse and wagon. With new transportation methods available, railroads, roads, and our modern transportation infrastructure began to develop during this era.
The Industrial Revolution was one of the most important events in history. The foundation set during this time period became the foundation of today's modern society. The technology and services that we enjoy today can trace their roots to this era.