Industrial Revolution: Advantages & Disadvantages

Posted on March 7, 2011


The evolution of human thought which started with Renaissance, after passing through phases of scientific revolution and enlightenment, reached unprecedented altitude with the Industrial revolution of 18th and 19th century. This process which occurred in different parts of Europe at different times permeated the social and cultural fabric of European society. While the revolution benefitted every field of occupation such as agriculture, textiles, construction, transportation and communications etc., it took a heavy toll on the human condition. The vast pace of urbanization which coincided with industrial revolution could not cope up with the development of sanitation, city planning, health systems etc.

One of the major achievements of Industrial revolution was its impact on iron industry. Until the late 17th century, iron production was carried out by methods used since the middle ages. The practice was based on trial-and-error methods using wood as combustible fuel. In the 18th century, entrepreneurs such as Darby replaced wood with coal to produce cast iron and wrought iron. The process was further refined by using furnaces with two separate compartments. These developments in the field of metallurgy led to the production of wrought iron, a much better quality of iron, which could be used for construction and machinery. Further advances brought the age of Steel. This was a major breakthrough. Railroads, canals, bridges and road were constructed first in England and France, and later, in rest of Europe. These developments in the production of iron and steel also had a profound impact on machinery. Steam engines, perfected by that time, replaced horse-powered railroads in 1820s. Faster mode of transportation revolutionized travel for both people and goods. A new era of commercial activity thus strengthened economy.

While industrial revolution caused a seismic shift in every aspect of life, it had a profound effect on the human condition, especially on urban workers. One distinguished feature of industrial revolution was urbanization. A shift of occupation from agrarian to industrial led to a sharp increase in city populations, which was not associated with developments in infrastructure, sanitation, city planning, law and order etc. Thus diseases, crimes and filth became dominant themes of city life. Working conditions were also hard as factories were dirty, hot, unhygienic and sometimes dangerous with no safety measures. Workers were forced to work for long hours and sometimes the whole family worked to earn their living. Housing facilities were often overcrowded and dirty. Life for unemployed was even worse as most of them lose their shelters with loss of jobs. As more and more people shifted to cities from rural areas and number of unemployed increased, homelessness became a pressing issue. Many homeless people were compelled to live in dire conditions in charitable institutions. Social isolation and exploitation by employers were also pressing issues for urban workers.

Thus, while industrial revolution brought an unprecedented development and progress in commerce and production, it worsened human life particularly in cities. These conditions started to improve in the early 19th century as governments instituted reforms and regulations to redress these issues.