Industrialization, Labor, and Life

Industrialization, Labor, and Life

Industrialization ushered much of the world into the modern era, revamping patterns of human settlement, labor, and family life.


3 - 12


Social Studies, Economics, U.S. History, World History


Power Looms

Women and children were often employed in the textile industry during the first century of industrialization. Their smaller fingers were often better at threading the machinery. Despite routinely working 16 hours, or longer, a day they were paid little.

Photograph by Nancy Carter
Women and children were often employed in the textile industry during the first century of industrialization. Their smaller fingers were often better at threading the machinery. Despite routinely working 16 hours, or longer, a day they were paid little.
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The world changed when the first factories arrived in Western Europe and the United States. The time period from 1750 to 1850 is known as the Industrial Revolution because so many changes were happening. Work and family life would never be the same.

Before the Industrial Revolution, most people in Europe worked as farmers or artisans. Artisans were people who made hand-crafted goods such as shoes and clothing. Everyday life had not changed much since the Middle Ages.

Farmers Feel the Industrial Revolution Pinch

The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain around 1750. Before that time, people did not travel much outside of their small villages. They did not have much need to do so. Farmers grew crops to feed their families. During the 1700s, populations grew larger. Farmers began producing more food to feed everyone. They started using machines to help do the work and, as a result, fewer farm workers were needed. Large business farms replaced family farms.

Experts say that large farms allow more crops to be grown on the same land. Unfortunately for poor farmers, bigger farms meant their lives became harder. That was because wealthy people started to buy up lands that were previously shared by communities.

Because of these changes, peasants struggled to earn money in the countryside. Many went to cities looking for new jobs. British cities such as Manchester and Leeds grew quickly as factories developed.

In 1800, only one in five British people lived in a city. Just 50 years later, that number had risen to half. Cities in other Western European nations also grew much larger. France, Germany, and the Netherlands all underwent industrialization during this time period.

Many Families Forced To Follow Factory Work

Previously, craftspeople made goods such as clothing and jewelry. They used tools and their own skills. Factory work in cities was quite different.

The Industrial Revolution was made possible by new inventions. One was the steam engine. In factories, people worked long hours in horrible conditions. Factories kept growing and earlier types of work started to disappear. Transportation also began to change how people could move around.

The most harmful effects of the Industrial Revolution might have been changes that families had to make. Before the revolution, most people worked with their families on farms or in shops.

Most men no longer worked at home once the factories were built. Some left their families behind for jobs in the city. Even when whole families moved to the city, factory jobs were so exhausting that the men did not have much time for their families.

Women also worked outside the home. Unmarried women worked as servants in other families' homes. Many others worked in textile mills that produced cloth. During the first 100 years of industrialization, children worked in factories. Factory owners wanted workers with small fingers to help operate complicated machines. Despite their importance, women and children received low pay. They were forced to work 16 hours per day or longer. Although their work conditions could be very dangerous, women's jobs were seen as less skilled than men's jobs.

Manufacturing Sends U.S. Economy Soaring

The Industrial Revolution also arrived in the United States. U.S. manufacturing first began in the 1770s, when the country gained independence from Great Britain. The process took off even more during Thomas Jefferson's presidency, which lasted from 1801 to 1809. Jefferson began a trade ban on Great Britain. Because of the trade ban, companies from foreign countries could no longer sell goods to the United States. This meant Americans had to buy goods from American companies.

The British navy blocked U.S. ports during the War of 1812. This allowed U.S. factories to grow, and by the 1830s, the United States had one of the biggest economies in the world.

As in Great Britain, many farmers moved to factory jobs during the Industrial Revolution. There was now a large group of working people who lived in cities. Soon, these working men and women would lead strikes to demand higher pay and safe working conditions.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, industrial countries made laws that helped workers. As other countries developed factories, they experienced similar problems. Today, we still live with the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution.

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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