The Industrial Revolution

Early 18th century industries were small-scale and unsophisticated. Mid-18th century saw the invention of new technologies and rise of large scale, intensive factory system.


Events leading up to the Industrial Revolution


The spinning of cotton into thread generally took place at the homes of the textile workers – this was known as cottage industries. Invention of the spinning wheel by James Hargreaves radicalized the process, with the worker being able to spin 80 spools of thread at once as compared to the previous number of eight. This invention facilitated the rise of large textile factories. The new machines also led to reduction in number of workers required, thus threatening jobs of textile workers.


The first steam engine had been patented in 1698. Watt, however, realized that this design was highly inefficient and his first patent of his steam engine in 1769 improved upon the earlier engine. Unemployment rose creation of mills and factories run on steam drove out hand-produced goods. Steam powered ships and trains moved goods and people from one place to another more efficiently. A middle class sprang up amongst the factories and mills – these people worked less, yet enjoyed improved standard of living. The majority of the population who worked in the factories, however, labored at low wages and long hours. This also led to child laborers, as children of laborers worked in order to earn more money.


The reduction in jobs led to lower quality of life. Those who once worked outdoors were forced to work indoors under bad conditions. Moreover, they lost their individuality. Romanticism emerged as a movement to depict these emotions and nostalgia and focus on the wild beauty of nature and its ruggedness and freedom. While several paintings were abstract in their forms, some were not afraid to address the industrial side of the problem, such as Turner’s “The Fighting Temeraire Tugged to her Last Berth to be Broken Up”.

At the same time, realist painters showed things exactly as they were and wished to give laborers something they could relate to. John Ruskin began giving art lectures to laborers at the Working Men’s College and supported and encouraged many artists.


Charles Stanhope built the first printing press in 1800, which had an iron press rather than a wooden one. It could print 200 impressions per hour. Stanhope’s contribution was a crucial preliminary step in print communication. The use of steam for the machinery and replacement of the flatbed with rotary motion of cylinders further radicalized the printing press.


During the Napoleonic Wars, both England and France were in economic retribution, thus testing the usual neutrality of the United States. Tension between England and US grew. British deserters joined ranks of USS Chesapeake. The British ordered that should any ships cross the Chesapeake, it must be searched for the deserters. On June 22, 1807, Chesapeake captain James Barron refused to allow the British ship HMS Leopard to search his ship. The British violated American sovereignty by using force, firing upon the American flag, and destroying American life and property.  After the incident, President Thomas Jefferson, on December 21, 1807, passed the Embargo act which closed all US ports to export shipping in US of foreign vessels. Heavy restrictions were placed on imports from England. He hoped that this act would destroy economies of both France and England, and thus force them to accept US’ neutrality. However, the two economies continued unchanged. The economy of The United States, however, was devastated. There was high unemployment, bankruptcy, lack of profits and little trade. This resulted in the people of US producing their own goods.


Troubles with Native Americans, war hawks, British aid to Native Americans, impressment and loss of respect for America were a few of the factors that led to the war of 1812. The Embargo Act of 1807 and the War of 1812 acted as a springboard for industrial revolution. It forced the United Nations to begin producing its own goods. The war revealed the need for better transport, economic independence and independent market.


The evolution of Design is closely linked to technological innovations, societal needs and the visual imagination of the practitioners. With the advancement in technology available to designers, the artistic and commercial possibilities for design increased rapidly. The Government school of Design in Somerset House was established in 1837 by the Board of Trade for the improvement of ornamental art. Experienced masters taught drawing, practical geometry, perspective, painting, modelling and casting.


In 1846, Henry Cole, as a council member of The Society of Art, met Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria and the two of them developed an idea for an exhibition for all Nations, meant to be the greatest collection of art in the industry. It was in 1851 that the idea was put into execution. Visiting the exhibition became feasible for the masses due to the recently developed railway lines spread across the country. The events turned out to be one of the defining points of the 19th Century. Not only was the event self-financing, it also turned in a small profit. The exhibition, however, caused further partition within society. Class-consciousness became more defined.


In response to the faults of the Great Exhibition, architect Owen Jones realized the need for a better understanding of design and ornamentation. In response to this realization, he published an extensive inventory of international and historical decorative styles. The book had 20 sections on illustrated motifs and contained 37 propositions on what makes good design. His book was a pioneer in chromolithography (multi-colored printing). Jones also developed new binding techniques, which further expanded design technology and design knowledge.

1880 – 1910

Many believed that the Industrial Revolution had made man less creative and the manufacturing process had removed individuality from each product produced. This led to the Arts and Crafts movement which aimed to establish ‘man’ back into the manufacturing process. The movement promoted simple goods manufactured through good craft techniques. This movement also influenced movements such as Bauhaus and Modernism.


The industrial Revolution had several effects, such as the emergence of middle class, faster transportation and communication and more efficient technology. There was surplus food and people led longer lives, thus leading to increased population.









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