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Industrial Revolution
A revolution is a complete change in a basic way of thinking. During the Industrial
Revolution, which occurred from about 1750 to 1900, many people stopped working at home
or in small shops and became part of larger enterprises. Wood and stone were often
replaced with iron and concrete as building materials. Energy from animals became less
important as new ways were found to tap energy from fire and water, then transmit it as
electric power. At the beginning of the revolution, transportation was limited to animal
power or sailing ships. At the end, much of the world was crossed by railroads, the
automobile was becoming popular, and the airplane was just around the corner.
Changes in the manufacture of fibers and cloth were an early part of the Industrial
Revolution. Before 1750, cloth was made by hand from plants such as flax or from animal
hairs, such as wool from sheep. Short pieces of very thin fiber, beaten out of plants or cut
from animals, were twisted together to make a single long strand, called yarn. Yarns were
woven to make cloth. Although tools such as spinning wheels (for making yarn) and looms
(for turning yarn into cloth) were used, each step was done by hand
After 1750, this system changed. The flying shuttle loom, invented by John Kay in 1733,
produced cloth so fast that yarn became scarce. James Hargreaves [English: 1720-1778]
developed a device in 1770 he called the spinning jenny, which could spin 8 times as much
yarn as the ordinary spinning wheel. Samuel Crompton [English: 1753- 1827] produced an
even better device for making yarn about 1779, the spinning mule. During this period
Richard Arkwright also invented spinning machines and adapted the machines of others to
create the first factory system for making cloth. Edmund Cartwright, impressed with
Arkwright's system, developed a loom that could run on water power. The invention of the
cotton gin by Eli Whitney in 1793 helped insure a large supply of cheap cotton.
The steam engine, in use from the start of the 1700s, was improved throughout that
century. By 1785, steam engines powered a cloth-making factory in England. In the United
States, the first steam-powered boat was developed in 1787. In the early 1800s,
steamboats and steam-powered railroads became commercial successes. Although most
factories continued to use water power because it is inexpensive, movable machinery of all
kinds was powered with steam engines.
Steam engines depended on reliable iron and steel. Iron became much less expensive after
a process for making it with coal instead of wood was introduced in 1735, and even less so
after new production methods in 1785. In 1856, new ways to make steel were introduced.
Source Citation: "Industrial Revolution." The Blackbirch Encyclopedia of Science &
Invention. 4 vols. Blackbirch Press, 2001. Reproduced in Kids
InfoBits. Detroit: Gale, 2011.