How Did the Industrial Revolution Change European Society

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The Industrial Revolution started in the continent of Europe in Britain in the second half of the 18th century. It is traditionally viewed as the deepest mutation ever known to have affected men since Neolithic times. The Industrial Revolution shaped the face of new industrial and economically successful societies by modifying their social and economic structures and destabilizing all established hierarchies. It eventually influenced every aspect of people’s daily life. Thanks to the introduction of new high-impact inventions into the world of production, which emerged in a changing intellectual environment, the human power of production was released spectacularly. The industrial revolution witnessed an explosion of various manufactured goods such as textile items and metal products. This helped to build the basic infrastructures such as roads, canals, railways, etc. which contributed to expanding the market and commercializing the rural areas. The factory system, a new form of labor organization, developed progressively and started to regulate people’s lives as never before. The industrial revolution helps to urbanize very rapidly in industrializing countries. (Neuss, 2015)

The annus mirabilis year 1769, as Cardwell (1972) has called it, during which James Watt and Richard Arkwright patented respectively the separate condenser for the steam engine and water frame, has often been considered the symbolic starting point of British industrialization. The Industrial Revolution then swept through Europe- first Belgium and France – and the USA, before reaching Japan and Russia by the end of the 19th century. (Neuss, 2015)

The world was more affected by the Industrial Revolution of Great Britain and the wealthy Dutch country France. The researchers were confused about how did Industrial Revolution started in Great Britain but not in France. The major changes of the Industrial Revolution were seen in Britain and France.

Social and Political condition of Britain and France.

Britain was better suited for the industrial revolution than France because of its higher standard of living, and relatively stable government. The free market of Britain encouraged technological innovation and the purchase of consumer goods, while France’s stricter economy hindered these things. Britain could use the sea to easily transport goods, while France could not. It had a more centralized banking system compared to France and it also did not have tariffs as bad as those in France.

The people in Britain had higher standards of living than those in France, allowing them to spend freely on things produced by the Industrial Revolution. British people had higher incomes than the people of France and its rapid population growth supplied the demand of labor force. Most importantly, the people of Britain were generally more knowledgeable and entrepreneurial than the people in France.

The British government remained stable throughout the eighteenth century, but the French government underwent massive changes due to the French Revolution and Napoleon’s rule. During the 19th century, Britain’s government was the model most liberals throughout Europe sought to copy (History Home, 2016). Parliament remained in power long after the glorious revolution, allowing industrialization to progress smoothly. It also gained territory and resources from the French after the Seven Years’ War.

Economy of France and Britain.

Before the 19th century, the balance between resources and the population was the major issue to determine the real wages of the workers. In the case of Britain black death killed almost one-third population, which later on caused a dramatic increase in the real wages of workers (Harley, 2014). On the other hand, the real wages of France and other European nations in 1870 were low in comparison to Britain.

In 1870 and 1913, the Gross Domestic Product per capita in Britain was $3191 and $4921 respectively (Harley, 2014). On the other hand, the Gross Domestic Product per capita in France in 1870 and 1913 was $1876 and $3485 respectively (Harley, 2014). In the time of 1870s, the percentage of industrial structure (% of manufacturing) in Britain and France was 14% and 17% in food, drink, and tobacco, 26% and 34% in textiles and clothing, 18% and 3% in metals, and 25% and 3% in mining respectively (Harley, 2014). These data and figures indicate that Britain was far stronger and more developed in Economy and development of industrial raw materials, which led to the prosperity of the nation.

Development of Industry

Textile industries dominated the other industries during the period of the Industrial Revolution. Before the Industrial Revolution, almost all countries were based on agriculture and handicrafts, which were not sufficient to boost the economy of the nation and the world. After the Industrial Revolution, there was a vast change in the living standard of the people and economy of the nation and the world, mostly in European countries like France and Britain. In the late 18th century, the industrialized nations started to develop their existing industries and companies because they were at an infant age. And nation has learned from the past, that industries are the backbone of any nation.

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In 1900 it was estimated that 30% of the population lived on the edge of starvation. During that time, there was a huge gap between working-class and middle-class families. In comparison with the economic development rate of the USA and Germany, Britain was relatively declined. Although Britain continued to be the banking capital of the world. Most of the industry had failed to update their machinery and technologies according to the time and changing conditions of the global consumer and many factories were slow to use the electricity facilities. For example, by 1910 German steel production was double that of Britain and US output of coal had overtaken and was greater than Britain (History Home, 2016). From the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, Britain had used to policy of free trade tariffs to expand their market area in the global market. After the Industrial Revolution, most of the countries erected their tariffs which caused to decrease in the market area of Britain industries. The percentage distribution of the world’s manufacturing production in Britain in 1870 and 1913 was 31.8% and 14.0% (History Home, 2016). At the time of the 1870’s, Britain was leading the world in terms of manufacturing production. But after almost 4 decades Britain went very back in the race of manufacturing production.

On the other hand, France faced a problem while industrializing its nation. It did not have lots of resources and most of the coals used in the industries of France were imported from Belgium during the time of the industrial revolution. Its natural resources like coal and metals were located in the eastern parts of the country. Although France was the major competitor on an equal level with Britain. From the beginning, France industries had developed a good image in the textile industries. They were focused on the finished clothes.

France experienced a slow rate of commercialized agriculture, power-driven machinery, and mass production. Even by the end of the 19th century, the majority of workers were employed outside of industry, and factories were located mainly in a few cities in the northern part of France (Mtholyoke, n.d.). Due to the development of industries basic infrastructure was being developed like railways connecting new cities and markets for the industries, road transportation was being developed, etc. France ranked 4th place in terms of manufacturing production in the world and its market share at that time was 10.3% in 1913, France was again ranked 4th place, and its market share decreased to 6.4% (History Home, 2016). During the period from 1870 to 1913 only a few countries had increased their market share in the global market, for example, the USA, Russia, Germany, etc.

From 1870-1879, France and Britain produced 16.20 million metric tons of coals and 129.45 million metric tons of coals respectively (Munro, 2011). From 1910-1913, France and Britain produced 39.90 million metric tons of coals and 275.40 million metric tons of coals respectively (Munro, 2011). Thus, France's coal output was only about 14% of the total production of coal in Britain. This was because the French had very small and scattered coal deposits and mining was running on a very small scale. France was mostly dependent on the coal of Germany because it was closer to the largest steel factory in France. In terms of iron and steel production, France and Britain produced iron, from 1870-1879, 1.337 million metric tons and 6.648 million metric tons respectively (Munro, 2011). From 1875-1879, France produced 0.260 million metric tons of steel and Britain produced 0.695 million metric tons of steel (Munro, 2011). During 1910-1913, the production of steel and iron in France and Britain was 4.090 million metric tons 4.664 million metric tons 6.930 million metric tons, and 9.792 million metric tons respectively (Munro, 2011). Thus, this data also shows that France was very slow in terms of the development of industries and factories in comparison with the development of Britain's industries and factories.

Textile industries were the biggest manufacturing units in terms of both employment and value of output together were textiles: the three most being woolens, cottons, and linens (but not silks in that upper range (Munro, 2011). By 1900 France had developed Europe's leading automobile company led by Renault and Citroën (Munro, 2011). Due to this, France's exports of automobiles were doubled in comparison to her comparator Britain in World War I.

In terms of development and industrialization Britain was far better than France. But if we look at the data on growth of Per capita income of Britain and France from 1850 to 1910, France's percentage of growth was 204% and Britain's percentage of growth was 197% (Munro, 2011). France and Britain experienced roughly experienced same kind of economic growth. But keep in mind, France had reached her economic growth in 1850.


The period from 1870 to 1914 is also known as the Second Industrial Revolution. It is, however clear that the rapid rate of path-breaking inventions (micro inventions)slowed down after 1825, and picked up steam again in the last third of the century (Mokyr, 1990). Everywhere in the world, there was an update in the system of the technology and working conditions of workers in the factories and industries. Some rudimentary “systems” of this nature were already in operation before 1870: railroad and telegraph networks and in large cities gas, water supply, and sewage systems were in existence (Mokyr, 1990). These systems expanded enormously after 1870, and several new ones were added: electrical power and telephone being the most important ones (Mokyr, 1990). The second industrial revolution turned large-scale technological systems from an exception to a commonplace. Systems required a great deal of coordination that free markets did not always find easy to supply, and hence governments or other leading institutions ended up stepping in to determine railroad gauges, electricity voltages, the layout of typewriter keyboards, rules of road, and other forms of standardization (Mokyr, 1990). The notion that the technology consisted of separate components that could be optimized individually – never quite true – became less and less appropriate after 1870 (Mokyr, 1990).

The second industrial revolution was in many ways, the continuation of the first. This revolution directly affects the real wages and standards of living of the general people. This also shifted it geographical focus of technological leadership away from Britain to a more dispersed locus, though leadership remained firmly and monopoly of the industrialized Western world (Mokyr, 1990). Finally, by changing the relationship between knowledge of nature and how it affected technological practices, it irreversibly changed the way technological change itself occurs. In so doing, what was learned in these years prepared the way for many more industrial revolutions to come.


    1. Harley, C. K., 2014. British and European industrialization. In: C. U. Press, ed. The Cambridge History of Capitalism. London: s.n., pp. 491-532.
    2. History Home, 2016. A Web of English History. [Online] Available at: http:/[Accessed 9 Feburary 2019].
    3. Mokyr, J., 1990. The Second Industrial Revolution, 1870-1914. In: N. University, ed. The Liver of Riches(1990). 2003 Sheridan Rd., Evanston IL 60208: Northwestern University, pp. 219-245.
    4. Mtholyoke, n.d. The France of Victor Hugo. [Online] Available at: https:/ [Accessed 9 February 2019].
    5. Munro, P. J. H., 2011. The Economic History of Modern Europe to 1914. Tronto ON, University of Tronto.
    6. Neuss, L. v., 2015. Why did the Industrial Revolution Start in Britain?, Liege, Belgium: University of Liege.
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