Early Life during the Industrial Revolution. Presentation created by Robert Martinez Primary Content Source: Prentice Hall World History Images as cited.
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Presentation created by Robert Martinez
Primary Content Source: Prentice Hall World History
Images as cited.
The Industrial Revolution brought rapid urbanization, or the movement of people to cities. Changes in farming, soaring population growth, and an ever-increasing demand for workers led masses of people to migrate from farms to cities.
Almost overnight, small towns and coal or iron mines mushroomed into cities. Other cities grew up around the factories that entrepreneurs built in small market towns.
A gulf divided the urban population. The wealthy and the middle class lived in pleasant neighborhoods. Vast numbers of poor struggled to survive in foul-smelling slums. They packed into tiny rooms in tenements, multi-story buildings divided into crowded apartments. These buildings had no running water, only community pumps. There was no sewage or sanitation system, and wastes and garbage rotted in the streets. Cholera and other diseases spread rapidly. In time, reformers pushed for laws to improve conditions in city slums.
The factory system differed greatly from farm work. In rural villages, people worked hard, but their work varied according to the season. In factories, workers faced a rigid schedule set by the factory whistle.
Working hours were long. Shifts lasted from 12 to 16 hours. Exhausted workers suffered accidents from machines that had no safety devices. They might lose a finger, a limb, or even their lives. Workers were exposed to other dangers, as well. Coal dust destroyed the lungs of miners, and textile workers constantly breathed air filled with lint. If workers were sick or injured, they lost their jobs.
Employers often preferred to hire women workers rather than men. They thought women could adapt more easily to machines and were easier to manage than men. More important, they were able to pay women less than men, even for the same work.
Factory work created special problems for women. Their new jobs took them out of their homes for 12 hours or more a day. They then returned to crowded slum tenements to feed and clothe their families, clean, and cope with sickness and other problems. Family life had been hard for poor rural cottagers. In industrial towns, it has even harder.
Factories and mines also hired many boys and girls. Often, nimble-fingered and quick-moving children changed spools in textile mills. Others clambered through narrow mine shafts, pushing coal carts. Because children had helped with farm work, parents accepted the idea of child labor. And the wages of children earned were needed to keep their families from starving.
Employers often hired orphans, making deals with local officials who were glad to have the children taken off their hands. Overseers beat children accused of idling. A few enlightened factory owners did provide basic education and a decent life for child workers. More often, though, children, like their parents, were slaves to the machines.
In the 1830s and 1840s, British lawmakers looked into abuses in factories and mines. Government commissions heard about children as young as five years old working in factories. Some died; others were stunted in growth or had twisted limbs. Most were uneducated. Slowly, Parliament passed laws to regulate child labor in mines and factories.
In rural villages, farm families had strong ties to a community in which they lived for generations. When they moved to the new industrial cities, many felt lost and bewildered. In time, though, factory and mine workers developed their own sense of community.
As the Industrial Revolution began, weavers and other skilled artisans resisted the new “labor-saving” machines that were costing them their jobs. Some smashed machines and burned factories. In England, such rioters were called Luddites after a mythical figure, Ned Ludd, who supposedly destroyed machines in the 1780s.
Protests met harsh repression. When workers held a rally in Manchester, England in 1819, soldiers charged the crowd, killing a dozen and injuring hundreds more. Workers were forbidden to organize in groups to bargain for better pay and working conditions. Strikes were outlawed.
Many working-class people found comfort in a new religious movement. In the mid-1700s, John Wesley had founded the Methodist Church. Wesley stressed the need for a personal sense of faith. He urged Christians to improve their lot by adopting sober, moral ways.
Methodist meetings featured hymns and sermons promising forgiveness of sin and a better life to come. Methodist preachers took this message of salvation into the slums. There, they tried to rekindle hope among the working poor. They set up Sunday schools where followers not only studied the Bible but also learned to read and write. Methodists helped channel worker’s anger away from revolution and toward social reform.
Those who benefited most from the Industrial Revolution were the entrepreneurs who set it in motion. This new middle class came from several sources. Some members were merchants who invested their growing profits in factories. Others were inventors or skilled artisans who developed new technologies. Some rose from “rags to riches,” a pattern that the age greatly admired.
Middle-class families lived in solid, well-furnished homes. They dresses and ate well. Middle-class men gained influence in Parliament, where they opposed any effort to improve conditions for workers.
As a sign of their new standard of living, middle-class women were encouraged to become “ladies.” They took up “ladylike” activities, such as drawing, embroidery, or playing the piano. A “lady” did not work outside the home or do housework. Instead, the family hired a maid-servant. The family then set about educating its daughters to provide the same type of happy, well-furnished home for their future husbands. Sons gained an education that allowed them to become businessmen.
The new middle class valued hard work and the determination to “get ahead.” They had confidence in themselves and often little sympathy for the poor. If they thought of the faceless millions in the factories and mines, they generally supposed the poor to be responsible for their own misery. Some believed the poor were so lazy or ignorant that they could not “work their way up” out of poverty.
Since the 1800s, people have debated whether the Industrial Revolution was a blessing or a curse. The early industrial age brought terrible hardships. In time, “something” would be done. Reformers pressed for laws to improve working conditions. Worker’s organizations called labor unions won the right to bargain with employers for better wages, hours, and working conditions. Eventually, working-class men gained the right to vote, which gave them political power.
Despite the social problems created by the Industrial Revolution – low pay, unemployment, dismal living conditions – the industrial age did bring material benefits. As demand for mass-produced goods grew, new factories opened, creating more jobs. Wages rose so that workers had enough left after paying rent and buying food to buy a newspaper or visit a music hall. As the cost of railroad travel fell, people could visit family in other towns. Horizons widened; opportunities increased.