Industrial Revolution and Technology

Industrial Revolution and Technology

Whether it was mechanical inventions or new ways of doing old things, innovations powered the Industrial Revolution.


3 - 12


Social Studies, World History


Steam Engine Queens Mill

The use of steam-powered machines in cotton production pushed Britain’s economic development from 1750 to 1850. Built more than 100 years ago, this steam engine still powers the Queens Mill textile factory in Burnley, England, United Kingdom.

Photograph by Ashley Cooper
The use of steam-powered machines in cotton production pushed Britain’s economic development from 1750 to 1850. Built more than 100 years ago, this steam engine still powers the Queens Mill textile factory in Burnley, England, United Kingdom.
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The Industrial Revolution (1750–1850) brought some of the biggest and fastest changes in human history. It began in Great Britain. Then, it spread to other European countries and the United States. Many new machines were first introduced during this period. People's everyday lives were greatly transformed. Below are some of the key changes.


Eighteenth-century Britain saw a major increase in agricultural productivity. Farms grew more crops than ever before. New inventions were partly responsible. The seed drill is one important example. Farmers also learned better farming methods. New kinds of crops were developed as well. The result of all this was far bigger harvests. In turn, that led to a quickly growing population.

Farming became much more large-scale during these years. Land long open to all became private property. Small peasant farmers began struggling. Many were forced to move to the cities. Often, they became factory workers.


By the 1500s, England had lost many of its forests. This led to a shortage of wood for fuel. Coal then became a new fuel. By the late 1600s, England had largely switched to coal. The coal-fired steam engine was soon developed. It became the key technology of the Industrial Revolution.

In preindustrial Europe, water power was widely used as a source of energy. By the late 1700s, however, steam engines had been perfected. Steam power soon replaced water power. It became the key power supply.

The steam engine powered factory work. It also freed manufacturers from the need to build their factories near water. Large new factories were built in cities. They turned many cities into industrial centers.


Many valuable metals can be found in rock. Rock containing metal is called ore. Metallurgy involves extracting, or removing, that metal. The metal is separated out through heating and melting, or smelting. Metal heated to the melting point is called molten. Metallurgy also involves the shaping of metal.

Wood was long used to power the smelting process. That changed during the Industrial Revolution. Metallurgists switched to coal. The new fuel turned out to be highly useful. It allowed for much greater iron production. Iron is one of the strongest materials.

There were other advances as well. One was a new way of stirring molten iron. It made it possible to produce larger amounts of wrought iron. Wrought iron is very malleable, or moldable. It is useful for making machinery.


Textiles were key to Britain's economic growth between 1750 and 1850. Cotton was the most important of these fabrics. Cotton production had long been a small-scale business. People wove and spun cloth in their homes. Most of these workers lived in small villages. During the years of the Industrial Revolution, that changed. Cotton production turned into a large, factory-based business. Machines took over much of the work. More cloth than ever before was produced.

Several new inventions greatly increased productivity in the textile industry. They included the spinning jenny, the spinning mule, the cotton gin, and the power loom. Steam power was also very important. It sped up the production of textiles. It was used to run power looms and other machines.


The chemical industry also developed very quickly during these years. It arose partly to meet the demand for better bleaches. These were used to whiten cloth. Soon, many other valuable chemicals were being developed.


Huge increases in the production of goods had many ripple effects. One was a need for better transportation systems. Producers needed faster ways to get their goods to market. Because of this, better roads were built. New canals were dug. Soon, it became far easier to move goods and people around the world.

The first steamboats appeared in the early 1800s. Steam-engine trains appeared soon after. Railways quickly spread across Europe and North America. They helped industrial societies grow even further.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
Freddie Wilkinson
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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