5.3D The Industrial Revolution Begins


AP Theme

Humans and the Environment

Learning Objective 5D

Explain how environmental factors contributed to industrialization from 1750 to 1900.

Historical Development 1

A variety of factors contributed to industrialization.

Historical Development 2

The factory system led to more specialization of labor.


Key ideas

The industrial revolution shifted production from agricultural to the mass production of industrial goods in industrialized countries.

Industrialization began in Britain before quickly expanding to Europe.

Access to cheap and plentiful raw materials supported early European industrialization. Europeans produced raw materials domestically as well as imported them from colonies.

Governments supported industrialization by building infrastructure and writing new laws to support business and commerce.

Industrialization resulted in the increased specialization of labor.

Environmental Factors Resulted in European Industrializations

The Industrial Revolution remains one of Europe’s most significant achievements. The Industrial Revolution changed the course of humanity. Within a century of Industrialization, European powers would control almost all of Africa and Asia. New classes of global business elite replaced the old social structures based upon agrarian wealth. The industrial revolution also began a new phase in human impacts on the worldwide environment as humans began producing pollution on an industrial scale. While this pollution’s effects were immediate for those living near it, the long-term effects are now being felt worldwide due to global climate change from hundreds of years or carbon release into the atmosphere.

What was the Industrial Revolution?

The Industrial Revolution was a series of technological innovations that shifted industrial economies from wealth production based primarily on agriculture to the mass production of manufactured goods. As countries industrialize, agriculture and resource production remain essential. They are just no longer the primary source of a society’s wealth.

Causes of the early Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution began in England and quickly spread to continental Europe. Various environmental factors led to explosive growth in industrial production in England and Europe.

Factors that helped start industrialization.

Proximity to waterways like rivers and canals for moving resources to factories and moving finished goods to markets

Urban areas where large populations of industrial workers and consumers  

Legal protections for private property

Access to cheap foreign raw materials from colonies

Accumulation of capital (money) that investors invested in industrial production

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Easy access to coal, iron, and timber

Improved agricultural practices in previous centuries resulted in fewer workers needed on farms and available for industrial production

Why did industrialization begin in Britain?

  1. There was access to abundant supplies of coal and iron across Britain.   

  2. There was a strong emphasis on promoting science after the Scientific Revolution in Britain. Business people and merchants maintained close connections with scientists. In 1660, King Charles II supported the founding of the Royal Society to promote the role of science and “useful knowledge.” Scientists were vital in helping British businesses make the technological advances that started the Industrial Revolution. 

  3. The British government promoted commercial and economic innovation. The government made it easy to form companies while at the same time preventing the formation of worker’s unions that might have fought to raise the wages and working conditions of workers. 

  4. Britain had good infrastructure like roads and canals for moving products. 

  5. There were strong patent laws that protected inventors’ intellectual property. These protections allowed inventors to profit from their ideas, incentivizing people to innovate new technologies. 

  6. British monarchs had less power than monarchs in other areas inside and outside Europe. Less government intervention allowed business interests to operate more freely. 

  7. Britain’s global business contacts also helped provide Britain with access to information and science from around the world. 

  8. The British aristocracy (land-owning class) was interested in commerce and willing to invest their wealth into new business. 

  9. The British population had a plentiful supply of available industrial workers living in urban areas. 

Industrialization quickly spread to continental Europe

British industrialization quickly spread to the continent of Europe. Northern and Western Europe (France, the Netherlands, and Germany, industrialized first.  

  1. Northern Europe’s proximity and similar conditions to England allowed industrial technologies to diffuse to the continent rapidly. 

  2. Northern Europe’s global trading connections also placed them at a commercial advantage. 

  3. The French and the Dutch had colonies to access cheap raw materials and sell finished manufactured goods. 

  4. In the 19th and 20th centuries, European nations Asian empires also provided locations to sell their finished manufactured goods. 

Early Industrialization: The Factory System and Specialization of Labor

The development of the industrial factory system led to increasing labor specialization. Labor specialization is the breaking down of tasks into smaller components. Instead of one person completing a whole business process, the work is broken apart and assigned to multiple people who “specialize” in a specific task. Smaller tasks allow production to occur faster and at higher volumes than one person trying to complete an entire process.

You see specialized labor systems all around you.

Specialized labor within a school 

  • Administrators manage the operation of the school and make significant decisions.
  • Teachers are responsible for guiding students through their learning.  
  • Counselors support students’ mental health and guide them through course selection and college admissions. 
  • Clerks are responsible for managing attendance, answering phones, and welcoming guests into the building. 
  • Maintenance staff are responsible for cleaning and providing maintenance within the school.

If each employee within a school were responsible for completing each of these tasks,  educating hundreds of millions of students worldwide would not be possible. The specialization of labor in education makes educating large numbers of people quick and efficient. Each person gets quick at completing their assigned role in the system.