Early Life during the Industrial Revolution

Early Life during the
Industrial Revolution
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 everincreasing 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
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 heart of the new industrial city was the factory.
There, the technology of the machine age imposed a
harsh new way of life on workers.
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
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
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, wellfurnished 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, wellfurnished 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