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Introduction to the Agricultural Revolution

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Introduction to the First Industrial Revolution
Iron and Steel Manufacture
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The Second Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution and Warfare
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Industrial Revolution in Britain

It needed the combination of a number of factors for the Industrial Revolution in Britain to take place at all. The special factors which encouraged industrialisation in Britain, almost a century before the rest of Europe are detailed below.

A work force

There would be little point in investing enormous sums of money in machines and factories if, at the end, production was not possible because not enough people could be persuaded to work in them. In Britain there was no such problem because of the hundreds of thousands of peasants who had been forced off the land (with dramatic consequences for them) and were desperate for any kind of work. In continental Europe the peasants were not only still on the land, they were determined to stay there (re-examine the demands of the French peasants during the Revolution).


It is not only necessary to have people with money. They must also be prepared to risk losing that money in order to make a profit (the risk would have to be small, of course) by investing it in new commercial enterprises. In Britain this "middle class risk mentality" existed; in the rest of Europe it did not. This was because the British middle class not only had money, they also had political power (which made them unique in Europe). This meant that they had the power to abolish the old laws which, up to then, had discouraged trade, commerce and profit, and introduce new laws which were more to their advantage. Another vital point was that Britain was the only country in Europe to have a national bank, the Bank of England, and a national Stock Exchange, or bourse, which encouraged people to invest money in companies in order to earn a profit.

A captive market

During the 18th. century Britain had built up a large colonial empire. If the populations of this empire wanted to purchase manufactured products, they had no choice other than to buy British goods. With time this empire grew enormously, at the expense of Britain's major rivals, France, Spain and Holland, and the "captive market" for British goods grew in consequence. Even the loss of the United States made little difference to Britain economically. For over half a century, the U.S.A. would be a major market for British manufactured products while the Americans created their own manufacturing base.


You have already seen that the 18th. century was a century of wars in Europe. Between 1792 and 1815 continental Europe was a permanent battle-ground, and international trade cannot develop in this kind of situation. Although Britain was a major protagonist in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, she was not only protected by her navy from invasion, but trade with the rest of the world carried on as usual. Britain was not only spared the devastation of war on its soil, it positively profited from war by providing its allies with some of the necessary warfare materials. (Unbelievable as this may seem, even Napoleon was obliged to buy shoes "unofficially" from Britain to supply his armies. To this day, the people of Northampton praise the memory of Napoleon because he ordered one million pairs of shoes to supply the soldiers of "la Grande Armée" which invaded Russia in 1812). Only when the wars were over in 1815, were conditions in continental Europe favourable to the development of commerce and international trade. By this time Britain had an enormous advance.

Geographical isolation

Many regions of Europe were handicapped by their distance from the major axes of communication (rivers) They were often rich in raw materials but were so far from major rivers (the only important axes of communication) that they were ignored. Britain, by contrast, was aided by its small size and the fact that it is an island. No place in Britain is more than 110 kilometres from the sea, which meant that wherever industries were established, they were close to a river, a canal, or the sea, which not only encouraged external trade but internal trade as well.

The Landed Gentry

England, after the reign of Henry VIII, was the only country in Europe to have a land owning middle class. They replaced the traditional nobility, which had almost disappeared after the Wars of the Roses. When this landed middle class, or " gentry ", purchased the land they did so with the firm intention of using it to make a profit. Hundreds of thousands of peasants were forced off the land so that it could be enclosed (fenced off) in order to raise sheep. Sheep provided wool for the manufacture of textiles, which were England's traditional export to the rest of Europe. It worked. The landed gentry made enormous profits. This social class did not exist in other European countries, where land was still owned by the traditional nobility who rented most of it to the peasants.



The Krupp Family

The Krupp family established what was to become the world's largest munitions factory. The family originated from Essen where Friedrick Krupp founded a cast-steel factory in 1811. This first factory specialised in field gun manufacture and, by 1887, it supplied arms to forty six different countries.

Friedrick's son, Alfred, took over the firm in 1826, when he was only fourteen years old. His achievements over the following sixty one years earned him the title "The Cannon King". Alfred also launched the firm into railway development and he was the first steel manufacturer in Europe to adopt Henry Bessemer's open-hearth process.

When Alfred died in 1887, his son, Friedrick, inherited the firm. However, Friedrick committed suicide in 1902 and ownership was passed to his son-in-law, Gustav Krupp (Gustav had taken his wife's family name). During World War I the Krupp factories made guns for the German artillery. One gun, a 98 ton howitzer, which was used to bombard Liège and Verdun, was named "Big Bertha" after Gustav's wife.

Gustav and his son, Alfred, supported Hitler in the German general election of 1933. As Nazi Germany occupied neighbouring countries, Alfred Krupp seized new land to make more factories. Many of these factories used slave-labour from the Nazi concentration camps.

When World War II ended, Gustav was considered too ill to stand trial, but Alfred was sentenced at Nuremberg to twelve years in prison and the Krupp properties were confiscated. However, in 1951, an amnesty was granted and Alfred regained control of the family's holdings. By the early 1960's the Krupp Empire had well surpassed its former status.







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The Industrial Revolution

Industrialisation in Europe

In comparison to Britain, industrialisation in other regions of Europe took very much longer to get started. In fact, with the exception of Belgium which began to industrialise in 1806, industrialisation on the British model only started after 1830.

The first attempt in continental Europe to industrialise on the British model occurred in France just before the Revolution.

In 1764 Gabriel Jars, a member of l'Académie des Sciences, visited Britain and saw the new techniques of iron making. He returned to France and wrote a detailed report. In 1777 the French navy minister decided to build a cannon foundry using the new methods. He even managed to recruit William Wilkinson, an English engineer who had worked with James Watt. Several possible sites were examined but Wilkinson's final choice was Le Creusot, a small town in the Saône-et-Loire region of Burgundy. It was chosen because of the availability of coal and iron and also because of its geographical position midway between the River Loire and the River Saône (access to both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean).

Wilkinson and his British technicians successfully set up the iron foundry and then went home, but it was not long before  la Fonderie Royale  was facing serious problems:


  • It was impossible to find sufficient qualified technicians to supervise the manufacturing process, particularly since France and Britain were now on opposing sides in the American Revolutionary War.

  • The local population was very reluctant to abandon its traditional peasant way of life and the labour force had to be recruited from as far away the Pas de Calais, Lorraine and even Germany. There were serious problems of cohabitation among the workers who refused to cooperate with those from other regions.

  • Because of these problems, the foundry found it increasingly difficult to attract investment, so there was a serious shortage of money.


Le Creusot

Le Creusot


During the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods, work at Le Creusot almost stopped. So this first experiment in modern industrialisation was a failure.

The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1792-1815) were a tremendous handicap to international trade, except for Britain. Her powerful navy permitted Britain to trade with the rest of the world and remain prosperous. This was why Napoleon, after having to abandon his plan to invade Britain, due to the destruction of the Franco-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar in 1805, decided to defeat Britain by attacking its economy. In 1806 Napoleon created the "Continental System". This forbade all continental European countries from trading with Britain in an attempt to strangle her commerce and force Britain to surrender.

Ironically, it was France and the rest of continental Europe which suffered most because they had come to depend upon British manufactured goods, while Britain continued to trade, very profitably, with the rest of the world.

It was in 1807 that a British engineer, William Cockerill, founded a textile factory near Liège (in what is now Belgium), and later introduced British iron making technology in order to meet the demand for manufactured goods in Europe.



After the failure of "la Fonderie Royale" at le Creusot, the site was taken over by two British engineers, Manby and Wilson, in 1826. They re-equipped the factory with modern machines and introduced the latest techniques but all their efforts were in vain, because, during the economic crisis of 1832, it went bankrupt.

It was the beginning of the "railway age" which was to permit France to develop modern industries on the British model. The first steam railway in France opened in 1832 with the completion of the Lyon-Saint-Etienne line. Others followed rapidly, Paris-Saint Germain, Paris-Rouen, Paris- Lyon; and although the money to finance this work came from French financiers and banks (such as the Pereire brothers), the tracks, the civil engineering work and the locomotives were all built by British companies until the 1850's.

French industrialisation really began in 1836. In this year Eugène Schneider, a wealthy businessman from Alsace, bought the site at le Creusot and began to manufacture railway equipment. (The period 1830-1846 witnessed " railway mania " throughout Europe). In 1838 the first French locomotive "la Gironde" was constructed at le Creusot, after which the Schneider family made its fortune by specialising in railway equipment and, later, armaments (including the famous "75", the finest field-gun of World War 1).

Despite the success of the Schneiders at le Creusot, French industrialisation was never as thorough or complete as the British or the German. France remained basically a rural economy. ( Historians and economists are still trying to explain this.) So, French industrialisation in the 19th. century was steady rather than spectacular. It was also very regional and tended to be concentrated in the big cities such as Paris and Lyon, or the traditional textile regions of Lille, the iron-producing areas of Lorraine and the coal-producing areas of the "Nord" and "Pas de Calais".

Nevertheless, by the end of the century, France was the most industrialised nation in Europe after Britain, Germany and Belgium and this success was, in large part due to government encouragement during the Second Empire of Napoleon III, (1852-1870).



It is, in fact, wrong to talk about Germany before 1871 when the German states united around Prussia to form the German Empire. During the 18th. century it was Prussia that had emerged as the most powerful German state under the rule of the Hohenzollern dynasty. Prussia played a major part in the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars and was one of the four great European powers to emerge victorious after Napoleon's final defeat in 1815.

The Congress of Vienna in 1815 dismantled Napoleon's empire and re-drew the map of Europe. Until 1815 Prussia had been an exclusively north German Baltic state but in this year it was rewarded for its contribution to the defeat of Napoleon by being given more German territory, - a great chunk of Saxony and the Rhineland. (What no-one knew at the time was that the Rhineland included some of Europe's richest coal deposits. Coal was vital for industrial development).

Prussia's early economic development was commercial rather than industrial. It began in 1832 when the Zollverein (a customs union) was created. This encouraged the growth of free trade between the German states and by 1844 most of them had joined it, with the notable exception of Austria, which Prussia had deliberately not invited.

As in France, it was the coming of the "railway age" after 1830 which stimulated trade, communications and economic growth among the German states. The first German railway was constructed in 1835 linking Dresden and Leipzig and it proved so successful that the decade of the 1840's was one of " railway mania " in all the German states and especially Prussia. By 1850 they had constructed half as much as Britain and twice as much as France.

Thanks to the Zollverein and the rapidly expanding railway network, the German states began to overtake France and catch up with Britain between 1850 and 1870. This was particularly true of Prussia, which exploited its rich coalfields (Silesia and the Rhineland -the Ruhr) and iron deposits (Bohemia). in order to create a flourishing steel industry. Alfred Krupp had established an iron foundry at Essen in 1810. It was a very modest affair and even by 1846 still only employed 140 workmen. By 1870 Krupp of Essen, after investing enormously in the Gilchrist - Thomas process of steel making, had been transformed into a giant company employing thousands of workers and making a fortune for the Krupp family with its railway locomotive and armaments production. In turn, the invention of the electric dynamo by Werner Siemens in 1866,laid the foundations of a new electrical industry in which Germany would lead the world.

The defeat of France in 1870 and the creation of a united Germany in 1871 stimulated industrialisation even further, because the new politically united Germany could now exploit the rich iron-fields of Lorraine taken from France.

By the opening decade of the twentieth century, Germany was challenging Britain as Europe's major industrial power. Britain was still producing more coal, but Germany was producing more steel. What was worrying about this situation for Britain and France was the fact that a great proportion of this industrial production was used to build up Germany's military and naval power. Would it be used once more to defeat France and to challenge Britain's domination of the oceans?


The Siemens Brothers

The Siemens family originally came from Prussia. There were four brothers, all of whom made their mark on the European Industrial Revolution.

Ernest Werner von Siemens (1816 - 1892) was an engineer in the Prussian army. In 1847, after studying a model of Charles Wheatstone's electric telegraph, he became interested in telegraphy and laid underground telegraph lines for the army. He resigned his commission in 1849 and became a telegraph manufacturer, setting up the firm Telegraphenbauanstalt Siemens and Halske.

Karl Siemens (1829 - 1906) was responsible for establishing subsidiary factories in London, Vienna, St. Petersbourg and Paris. He also supervised the installation of a telegraph cable across the Mediterranean Sea to India.

Karl Wilhelm Siemens (1823 - 1883) and another brother, Frederick (1826 - 1904), moved to London in 1844. Karl Wilhelm was a prolific inventor. His achievements included the water meter (1851) and the gas-heated open-hearth furnace (1861). The two brothers set up a cable factory in 1863 which was responsible for the first cable to be laid from Rio de Janeiro to Montevideo in 1874, and from Britain to the USA in 1875.






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