in addition to solving technical problems what did the industrial revolution create


28 Industrial Revolution Inventions That Shaped Our World

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Crampton's Railway Steam Locomotive Engine, 19th Century

The Industrial Revolution, an innovative period between the mid-18th and mid-19th centuries, shifted people in Europe and the U.S. from a predominantly agricultural existence into an urban, industrialized lifestyle. Goods that had been produced by hand, one at a time, became mass-produced in factories, while transportation and other industries greatly advanced [source: History ].

Although we label this era a "revolution," that title is somewhat misleading. The movement, which first took root in Great Britain, wasn't a sudden burst of advancement, but rather a buildup of breakthroughs that relied on or fed off one another. Some of the main breakthroughs came via the use of new materials such as iron and steel ; new energy sources like coal and steam; new machines such as the power loom; the novel factory system of labor ; and new means of transportation, like trains and boats powered by steam engines [sources: Brittanica , History ].

Eventually, these innovations made their way to other corners of the world and additional countries began embarking upon their own industrial revolutions. By the late 19th century, the U.S. actually began a second Industrial Revolution — one which lasted until about 1914 and gave birth to the modern assembly line and other important inventions [source: Brittanica ]. But the Second Industrial Revolution is a topic for another article.

Bottom line: Just as the dot-coms were integral to the 1990s, it was the particular inventions during the first Industrial Revolution that made this epoch unique. Without all of the period's ingenuity, many of the basic goods and services we use today wouldn't exist. So whether that era's adventurous souls dared to tinker with existing inventions or to dream of something brand-new, one thing's for sure — the Industrial Revolution changed the course of human history. Here are 28 Industrial Revolution inventions that changed the world forever.

  • Difference and Analytical Engines
  • Factory System
  • Water Frame
  • Voltaic Pile
  • Electromagnet
  • Internal Combustion Engine
  • Spectrometer
  • Bessemer Process
  • Portland Cement
  • Pneumatic Tire
  • Steam Engine
  • Steam Locomotive
  • Food Canning
  • Spinning Jenny
  • Spinning Mule
  • Flying Shuttle
  • Sewing Machine
  • Ways to Mine Iron

28: Difference and Analytical Engines

Charles Babbage's analytical engine

For some of us, the phrase "put your calculators away for this exam" will always elicit anxiety, but those calculator-free exams give us a taste of what life was like for Charles Babbage . The English inventor and mathematician, born in 1791, was tasked with poring over mathematical tables in search of errors. Such tables were commonly used in fields like astronomy, banking and engineering, and since they were generated by hand, they often contained mistakes. Babbage longed for a calculator of his own. He ultimately would design several.

Of course, Babbage didn't have modern computer components like transistors at his disposal, so his calculating engines were entirely mechanical. That meant they were astoundingly large, complex and difficult to build (none of Babbage's machines were created in his lifetime). For instance, Difference Engine No. 1 could solve polynomials, but the design called for 25,000 separate pieces with a combined weight of around 15 tons (13.6 metric tons) [source: Computer History Museum ]. Difference Engine No. 2, developed between 1847 and 1849, was a more elegant machine, with comparable power and about one-third the weight of its predecessor [source: Computer History Museum ].

Impressive as those engines were, it was another Babbage design that led many people to consider him the father of modern computing. In 1834, Babbage set out to create a machine that users could program. Like modern computers, Babbage's machine could store data for use later in other calculations and perform logic operations like if-then statements, among other capabilities. Babbage never compiled a complete set of designs for the analytical engine as he did for his beloved difference engines, but it's just as well; the analytical engine would have been so massive that it would have required a steam engine just to power it [source: Computer History Museum ].

27: Typewriter

A blue laptop with black keys on a dark, wooden surface

The typewriter , invented in the early 19th century, offered speed, efficiency and legibility. While the exact origins of the typewriter are unclear, Italian inventor Pellegrino Turri and later Christopher Latham Sholes played important roles in its development.

The invention also led to subsequent advancements, such as word processors and computers. Its influence is evident in the standard QWERTY keyboard , which remains widely used today on typewriters, smartphones and other devices. Despite debates about its efficiency, the QWERTY layout became dominant due to early adoption and the popularity of the Remington brand.

26: Cotton Gin

The cotton gin , invented by Eli Whitney in 1794, revolutionized the laborious task of separating cotton fibers from seeds, greatly increasing productivity. The automated machine fueled economic growth, particularly in the Deep South, where cotton production flourished. However, the cotton gin also perpetuated the reliance on enslaved labor, contributing to the persistence of slavery.

The invention of the cotton gin propelled the expansion of cotton cultivation and production, leading to a surge in demand for cotton and driving rapid growth in the textile industry.

The cotton gin's efficiency and increased productivity made cotton a dominant crop and fueled economic development, particularly in the Southern United States. The reliance on cotton production, facilitated by the cotton gin, played a significant role in the lead-up to the Civil War due to its connection to the institution of slavery.

25: Factory System

Antique photograph of the British Empire: Lancashire cotton mill

The factory system , a hallmark of the Industrial Revolution, brought about a profound transformation in manufacturing. This system consolidated machinery, skilled workers and production processes under one roof. It introduced principles that remain vital in contemporary manufacturing practices, such as centralized production, efficiency and specialization.

The factory system fueled innovation, enabled mass production and played a significant role in shaping the global economy. It emerged as large factories powered by steam engines replaced small workshops and homes as the centers of production.

However, it also resulted in harsh working conditions and exploitation of workers, leading to social and labor movements that demanded better treatment and improved rights. The factory system's importance lies in its impact on industrialization, economic growth, and the evolution of labor rights and worker protections.

24: Water Frame

A wooden water wheel turning and generating power outside a stone wall

The water frame , invented by Richard Arkwright during the late 18th century, played a crucial role in the Industrial Revolution. This mechanized spinning machine automated the process of spinning cotton fibers into yarn, significantly increasing productivity and efficiency.

The water frame utilized the power of water — transmitted through belts, pulleys and gears — to rotate multiple spindles vertically, allowing for the rapid and consistent production of fine yarn.

This invention transformed textile production by enabling continuous production, increasing output, and driving the growth of the industry. It facilitated the transition from small-scale cottage industries to large-scale factories, establishing the foundation for the factory system.

23: Voltaic Pile

The voltaic pile , invented by Alessandro Volta, consisted of alternating layers of copper and zinc discs separated by an electrolyte-soaked material, generating an electrical potential difference.

This early battery enabled the flow of electric current through an external circuit, providing a practical method of generating electric power and paving the way for further advancements in the field.

By demonstrating the connection between chemical reactions and electricity, Volta's invention laid the foundation for the development of more sophisticated battery systems that have revolutionized various industries, including transportation, communication and energy production.

22: Electromagnet

Unlike permanent magnets, electromagnets are temporary; their magnetic field only exists when the current is flowing through them. You can also control an electromagnet's strength by adjusting the current flow.

The ability to turn electromagnets on and off by completing or interrupting the circuit made them highly useful in industrial applications. During the Industrial Revolution, they were used in telegraph systems, electric generators and motors. Their ability to convert electrical energy into mechanical energy made them vital in the development of industrial machinery and automation.

21: Internal Combustion Engine

Two hands touch an engine surrounded by metal parts

By harnessing controlled fuel explosions, the internal combustion engine converted energy into powerful mechanical motion, propelling vehicles and machinery with unprecedented efficiency. It became the primary power source for automobiles, airplanes, boats and various machines.

The engine's mechanics and components — such as the cylinder, piston, crankshaft, valves and spark plug — worked together to produce power. Most internal combustion engines used a four-stroke cycle (including intake, compression, combustion and exhaust strokes) to efficiently convert fuel into mechanical power.

The internal combustion engine replaced cumbersome steam engines with a portable and efficient power source, enabling unprecedented mobility and rapid transportation. It facilitated trade, expanded markets and contributed to urbanization. The invention's importance lies in its transformative effect on transportation and manufacturing.

20: Motorcycle

The Daimler Reitwagen, invented by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in 1885, is recognized as the world's first gasoline-powered motorcycle. It featured a wooden bicycle frame, a single-cylinder engine and a steerable front wheel.

This breakthrough laid the foundation for the future development of motorcycles and contributed to the evolution of engine technology, chassis design and riding dynamics.

The invention of the first motorcycle symbolized the pioneering spirit of its inventors and continues to shape the world of two-wheeled transportation, providing a sense of freedom, adventure and innovative design.

19: Dynamite

Invented by Alfred Nobel in the late 19th century, dynamite revolutionized construction, mining and infrastructure projects by providing a safer and more efficient explosive. It enabled workers to excavate tunnels, break through hard materials like rock and concrete, and construct complex foundations with greater ease.

However, dynamite also had controversial applications. It found use in the military, altering the nature of warfare and raising ethical concerns due to its destructive power. Debates about its responsible use and led Alfred Nobel to establish the Nobel Prizes as a way to recognize achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace.

18: Metallurgy

A worker sorts containers of metals and ores to be used for different applications.

Metallurgy , the study and manipulation of metals, was fundamental in society's shift from manual labor to machine-based manufacturing. Metallurgists work with metals like iron, aluminum, copper and steel, extracting them from ores and purifying them, then improving their properties for various applications.

During the Industrial Revolution, metallurgy advanced significantly, thanks to innovations in metal extraction techniques and the development of stronger and more durable materials. This fueled the construction of railways, buildings, machinery and infrastructure, driving industrial growth and technological progress.

17: Spectrometer

The spectrometer , invented by Joseph von Fraunhofer in 1814, breaks down light into its constituent wavelengths, providing valuable insights into the composition, behavior and structures of substances.

During the Industrial Revolution, spectrometers aided in the development of new industrial processes and materials. The device helped scientists understand the properties of metals and analyze chemical reactions, driving discoveries and innovations across multiple fields, including chemistry, physics and astronomy.

16: Bessemer Process

The Bessemer process , invented by Sir Henry Bessemer during the Industrial Age, revolutionized steel production. The process involved heating pig iron in a furnace and transferring it to the Bessemer converter, where impurities were burned off by blowing air through the molten iron.

The resulting steel had a low carbon content, making it ideal for construction, bridges and machinery. The Bessemer process enabled the mass production of steel, making the material more affordable, efficient and versatile.

The revolutionary process allowed for stronger and more durable structures, and the availability of cost-effective steel facilitated rapid growth and innovation. Additionally, steel became essential for transportation systems, connecting regions and enabling efficient trade.

15: Portland Cement

A construction worker mixes cement to create concrete at a construction site.

Portland cement , developed by Joseph Aspdin in 1824, consists of limestone, clay and gypsum. It works through a process called hydration, in which water is added to dry cement particles, causing a chemical reaction that forms a solid mass.

The availability and versatility of concrete made possible by Portland cement transformed cities and allowed for the construction of iconic buildings, bridges, roads and infrastructure. Its strength and durability facilitated the rapid urbanization and industrialization of the 19th century, contributing to the growth of the construction industry and the development of taller, more resilient structures.

Portland cement remains a preferred material for construction projects, due to its reliability and widespread availability.

14: Pneumatic Tire

Workers place rubber over a canvas foundation

Like so many of the inventions during the Industrial Revolution, the pneumatic tire simultaneously "stood on the shoulders of giants" while ushering in a new wave of invention. So although John Dunlop is often credited with bringing this wondrous inflatable tire to market, its invention stretches back (pardon the pun) to 1844, when Charles Goodyear patented a process for the vulcanization of rubber [source: Lemelson-MIT ].

Before Goodyear's experiments, rubber was a novel product with few practical uses — thanks, largely, to its properties changing drastically with the environment. Vulcanization , which involved curing rubber with sulfur and lead, created a more stable material suitable for manufacturing processes. Vulcanization allowed rubber to be flexible enough to hold its shape in hot or cold weather.

While rubber technology advanced rapidly, another invention of the Industrial Revolution teetered uncertainly. Despite advancements like pedals and steerable wheels, bicycles remained more of a curiosity than a practical form of transportation throughout most of the 19th century, thanks to their unwieldy, heavy frames and hard, unforgiving wheels. (The wheels had rubber tires on them but they weren't filled with air, making for a tough ride.)

Dunlop, a veterinarian by trade, spied the flaw as he watched his young son bounce miserably along on his tricycle, and he quickly got to work on fixing it. His early attempts made use of inflated canvas garden hose that Dunlop bonded with liquid rubber. These prototypes proved vastly superior to existing leather and hardened rubber tires. Before long, Dunlop began manufacturing his bicycle tires with the help of the company W. Edlin and Co. and, later, as the Dunlop Rubber Company. They quickly dominated the market and, along with other improvements to the bicycle, caused bicycle production to skyrocket. Not long after, the Dunlop Rubber Company began manufacturing rubber tires for another product of the Industrial Revolution, the automobile [source: Automotive Hall of Fame ].

13: Anesthesia

Dentist Moron removes tooth from Charles Jackson

Great inventions like the light bulb dominate the history books, but we're guessing that anyone facing surgery would nominate anesthesia as their favorite product of the Industrial Revolution. Before its invention, the fix for a given ailment was often far worse than the ailment itself. One of the greatest challenges to pulling a tooth or removing a limb was restraining the patient during the process, and substances like alcohol and opium did little to improve the experience. Today, of course, we can thank anesthesia for the fact that few of us have any recollection of painful surgeries at all.

Nitrous oxide and ether had both been discovered by the early 1800s, but both were seen as intoxicants with little practical use. In fact, traveling shows would have volunteers inhale nitrous oxide — better known as laughing gas — in front of live audiences to the amusement of everyone involved. During one of these demonstrations, a young dentist named Horace Wells watched an acquaintance inhale the gas and proceed to injure his leg. When the man returned to his seat, Wells asked if he'd felt any pain during the incident and, upon hearing that he had not, immediately began plans to use the gas during a dental procedure, volunteering himself as the first patient. The following day, Wells had Gardner Colton, the organizer of the traveling show, administer laughing gas in Wells' office. The gas worked perfectly, putting Wells out cold as a colleague extracted his molar [source: Haridas ].

The demonstration of ether's suitability as an anesthesia for longer operations soon followed (though exactly who we should credit is still a matter of debate), and surgery has been slightly less dreadful ever since.

12: Photograph

early photo by Niepce

Numerous world-changing inventions came out of the Industrial Revolution. The camera wasn't one of them. In fact, the camera's predecessor, known as a camera obscura , had been hanging around for centuries, with portable versions coming along in the late 1500s.

Preserving a camera's images, however, was a problem, unless you had the time to trace and paint them. Then along came Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. In the 1820s, the Frenchman had the idea to expose paper coated in light-sensitive chemicals to the image projected by the camera obscura. Eight hours later, the world had its first photograph [source: Harding ].

Realizing eight hours was an awfully long time to have to pose for a family portrait, Niépce began working with Louis Daguerre to improve his design, and it was Daguerre who continued Niépce's work after his death in 1833. Daguerre's not-so-cleverly-named daguerreotype generated enthusiasm first in the French parliament, and then throughout the world. But while the daguerreotype produced very detailed images, they couldn't be replicated.

A contemporary of Daguerre's, William Henry Fox Talbot, was also working on improving photographic images throughout the 1830s and produced the first negative, through which light could be shined on photographic paper to create the positive image. Advancements like Talbot's came at a rapid pace, and cameras became capable of taking images of moving objects as exposure times dropped. In fact, a photo of a horse taken in 1877 was used to solve a long-standing debate over whether or not all four of a horse's feet left the ground during a full gallop (they did) [sources: International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum , Shah ]. So the next time you pull out your smartphone to snap a picture, take a second to think of the centuries of innovation that made that picture possible.

11: Phonograph

Thomas Alva Edison poses with the Edison Business Phonograph

Nothing can quite replicate the experience of seeing your favorite band perform live. Not so long ago, live performances were the only way to experience music at all. Thomas Edison changed this forever when, working on a method to transcribe telegraph messages, he got the idea for the phonograph . The idea was simple but brilliant: A recording needle would press grooves corresponding to sound waves from music or speech into a rotating cylinder coated with tin, and another needle would trace those grooves to reproduce the source audio.

Unlike Babbage and his decades-long endeavor to see his designs constructed, Edison got his mechanic, John Kruesi, to build the machine and reportedly had a working prototype in his hands only 30 hours later. Edison tested the machine by speaking "Mary had a little lamb" into the mouthpiece and was elated when the machine played back his words [source: Library of Congress ].

But Edison was far from finished with his new creation. His early tin-coated cylinders could only be played a handful of times before they were destroyed, so he ultimately replaced the tin with wax. By this time, Edison's phonograph wasn't the only player on the market, and over time, people began to abandon his cylinders in favor of records. But the basic mechanism remained intact.

Of all his many inventions , Thomas Edison held a special fondness for his phonograph. He claimed to have spent 20 hours a day, seven days a week, tinkering with the machine in an attempt to properly record the word "species" [source: Dwyer ]. And while he might have been exaggerating a bit, we do know that he ended up spending 52 years working to perfect the machine [source: National Park Service ].

10: Steam Engine

James Watt, steam engine

Like the revved-up V-8 engines and high-speed jet planes that fascinate us now, steam-powered technology once was cutting-edge, too, and it played a giant role in furthering the Industrial Revolution. Before this era, transportation was by horse-and-buggy carriages, and certain industries, like mining, were labor-intensive and inefficient. The creation of the first steam engine (and later the steam-powered locomotive) was about to dramatically change all of that.

The origins of the steam engine actually go back to Heron of Alexandria, who in the first century C.E. created the aeolipile, a steam turbine that caused a sphere to revolve. Heron's invention was just a curiosity; it wasn't used for any purpose. It wasn't until the late 17th and early 18th centuries that various inventors began looking to the aeolipile's technology to begin patenting steam-powered devices that were far more than a toy [source: History ].

steam engine illustration

In 1698, Thomas Savery created a pump running on steam power to raise water from mines; in subsequent decades, Thomas Newcomen and Scottish engineer James Watt improved and embellished his device. Watt collaborated with Matthew Boulton to create a steam engine with a rotary motion, which allow steam power to be used in industries [source: History ].

Other inventors wondered if a machine running on steam power could be used to transport people, goods and raw materials. This led to the development of the first steam-powered locomotives and boats in the 1830s. The steam-powered locomotive, in particular, dramatically changed life in the U.S. and beyond, as it marked the first time that goods were transported over land by a machine, not an animal or human. And while steam locomotives were eventually replaced by diesel trains, that didn't happen until the 1950s [source: WorldWideRails ].

9: Steam Locomotive

With the invention of the steam engine and subsequent development of the steam locomotive , the transport of goods and people became faster, more efficient and more reliable.

Rail networks expanded, connecting distant regions and enabling the transportation of raw materials to factories and finished products to markets. It revolutionized the textile industry by facilitating the movement of raw materials, such as coal and cotton, to manufacturing centers.

The steam locomotive also stimulated urbanization, as cities developed around railway hubs. Additionally, the increased speed and capacity of steam-powered transportation accelerated the growth of trade and commerce, fueling economic prosperity during the Industrial Revolution.

8: Steamship

Steam power revolutionized water transportation, replacing a longstanding reliance on wind and sails with steamships . The steam-powered vessels offered reliable and efficient travel regardless of weather conditions, allowing for precise scheduling, increased reliability and faster travel times. It was a huge turning point for global trade.

Steam-powered ships played a crucial role in the growth of industrialization and influenced advancements in marine engineering. While steamships were eventually replaced by diesel-powered vessels, their impact on transportation and commerce during the Industrial Revolution was profound.

7: Food Canning

Workers fill and solder cans of food i

Open your kitchen cabinets, and you're bound to find a particularly useful Industrial Revolution invention. It turns out the same period that brought us steam engines also altered how we store our food.

In 1795, Frenchman Nicolas Appert was working as a chef, candymaker and distiller when he heard about a monetary prize being offered to someone who could uncover a way to preserve food for transport. The prize was prompted by the wealth of spoiled food regularly seen by chefs in the French army. Intrigued, Appert spent the next 14 years trying to solve this puzzle [source: Brittanica ].

While foods could be preserved via methods such as drying and fermenting, these methods didn't preserve flavor and they weren't 100 percent effective. Reasoning that he should be able to preserve food like wine, Appert worked on boiling techniques that consisted of adding food to a jar, sealing it, wrapping the jar in canvas and then boiling it in water to create a vacuum-tight seal. He perfected the process and won the prize. But he never knew exactly why his innovative process worked. That puzzle would later be solved by Louis Pasteur [source: Eschner ].

Nevertheless, Appert's basic concept took hold and today we enjoy canned goods ranging from Spam to SpaghettiOs.

6: Telegraph

reception rooms for telegraph messages

Before the age of smartphones and laptops , people still used technology to communicate — albeit at a slower pace — with an Industrial Revolution invention called the electric telegraph.

The telegraph was developed in the 1830s and 1840s by Samuel Morse , in conjunction with other inventors. The group discovered that by transmitting electrical signals over wires connected to a network of stations, their new telegraph could send messages from one location to another over long distances. The messages were "written" using a code of dots and dashes developed by Morse, who assigned a specific pattern to each letter of the alphabet. The person receiving a telegraph simply decoded its Morse code markings [source: History ].

The first message Morse sent in 1844, from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, indicates his excitement. He transmitted "What hath God wrought?", expressing he had discovered something big. That he did! Morse's telegraph allowed people to communicate almost instantaneously without being in the same place [source: United States Senate ].

Information sent via telegraph also allowed news media and the government to share information more quickly. The development of the telegraph even gave rise to the first wire news service, the Associated Press. Eventually, Morse's invention also connected America to Europe — an innovative and global feat at the time.

5: Spinning Jenny

spinning jenny

Besides the steam engine, this important invention of the Industrial Age might rank as the most notable where commerce is concerned. Whether it's the contents of your sock drawer or the most fashionable article of clothing, advancements in the textile industry during the Industrial Revolution made mass production possible. The spinning jenny had a big part in these developments.

During the 18th century, cloth was being produced in England by people working from their homes — part of the popular cottage industry system. Cotton was an especially popular raw material for cloth, and textile workers would spin it into yarn via a spinning wheel — a slow task, as spinning wheels could only produce one spool of thread at a time. With fabric in high demand, cotton producers were having a hard time producing enough cloth via this labor-intensive process.

Enter James Hargreaves, a weaver and inventor. In 1764, Hargreaves created a machine, the spinning jenny, that could produce eight spools of thread at a time using just one wheel (the word "jenny" is British slang for "engine"). It wasn't too long before others expanded upon his invention, creating ever-bigger machines that could produce as many as 50, 80 and even 120 spools of thread at a time. These become too large to fit into people's homes, which led to the birth of the factory-based textile industry and mass production [source: BBC ].

4: Spinning Mule

Combining the features of the spinning jenny and spinning wheel, the spinning mule drastically increased efficiency and allowed for the production of finer yarns. Invented by Samuel Crompton, the machine addressed the limitations of existing spinning technologies and paved the way for increased textile production.

Richard Roberts further enhanced the spinning mule with the introduction of the self-acting version, which automated various processes, eliminating the need for manual intervention. This innovation enabled better control over the spinning process and the production of high-quality yarns at different speeds.

The spinning mule's impact on the textile industry and society was immense, fueling mass production and sparking the transition from cottage industries to factory production. The subsequent transformation resulted in population shifts from rural areas to urban centers like Manchester.

3: Flying Shuttle

The flying shuttle , invented by John Kay in 1733, was a crucial innovation during the Industrial Revolution that transformed the weaving process. Before its invention, weaving was a slow and labor-intensive task, limiting productivity.

The flying shuttle's mechanism enabled a smoother and swifter movement, eliminating the need for the weaver to manually pass the shuttle back and forth. This boosted productivity, reduced production costs and met the growing demand for textiles.

Despite safety concerns that accompanied the fast-moving shuttle, the invention paved the way for subsequent advancements in the industry, such as automatic machine looms and powered spinning machines, leading to even greater levels of productivity and output.

2: Sewing Machine

The sewing machine utilized gears, pulleys and motors to automate stitching, allowing for the mass production of high-quality clothing. It replaced labor-intensive hand-sewing with a simple and elegant mechanism that produced finely stitched garments, driving growth in the textile industry.

Subsequent innovations included the loop stitch, chain stitch, and the shuttle hook and bobbin assembly, enhancing efficiency and strength. Today, there are even computerized sewing machines with programmable stitch patterns and enhanced features that provide ease to both beginners and advanced sewists alike.

1: Ways to Mine Iron

Lead Mining Museum

Building the infrastructure to support the Industrial Revolution wasn't easy. The demand for metals, including iron, spurred industries to come up with more efficient methods for mining and transporting raw materials.

Over the course of a few decades, iron companies supplied an increasing amount of iron to factories and manufacturing companies. To produce the metal cheaply, mining companies would supply cast iron rather than its expensive counterpart — wrought iron. In addition, people began to use metallurgy in industrial settings.

Mass-producing iron drove the mechanization of other inventions during the Industrial Revolution and even today. Without the iron industry providing assistance in the development of the railroad , locomotive transportation may have been too difficult or expensive to pursue at the time.

This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.

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  • Automotive Hall of Fame. "John Dunlop." (Aug. 18, 2022)
  • BBC. "Improved Spinning Jenny." (Aug. 12, 2022)
  • Bellis, Mary. "James Hargreaves and the Invention of the Spinning Jenny." ThoughtCo. Jan. 31, 2021. (Aug. 12, 2022)
  • Brittanica. "Nicolas Appert." (Aug. 11, 2022)
  • Brittanica. "Industrial Revolution." (Aug. 13, 2022)
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  • Computer History Museum. "A Brief History." (Aug. 10, 2022)
  • Computer History Museum. "The Babbage Engine." 2008. (Jan. 27, 2012)
  • Eschner, Kat. "The Father of Canning Knew His Process Worked, But Not Why It Worked." Smithsonian. Feb. 2, 2017. (Aug. 11, 2022)
  • Exploratorium. "The Wheel." (Jan. 27, 2012)
  • Harding, Colin. "N Is For ... Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, Creator Of The First Photograph." Science + Media Museum. Nov. 25, 2013. (Aug. 10, 2022)
  • Hardy, Rob. "Ether Day: The Strange Tale of America's Greatest Medical Discovery and the Haunted Men Who Made It." The American Journal of Psychiatry. Dec. 1, 2001. (Jan. 27, 2012)
  • Haridas, Rajesh. "Horace Wells' Demonstration of Nitrous Oxide in Boston." Anesthesiology. November 2013. (Aug. 10, 2022
  • History. "Industrial Revolution." Sept. 9, 2019. (Aug. 13, 2022)
  • History. "Morse Code & the Telegraph." June 6, 2019. (Aug. 11, 2022)
  • International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum. "William Henry Fox Talbot. (Aug. 10, 2022)
  • Lemenson-MIT. "Charles Goodyear." (Aug. 10, 2022)
  • Library of Congress. "History of the Cylinder Phonograph." (Aug. 10, 2022)
  • National Museum of American History. "The Development of the Bicycle." (Jan. 27, 2012)
  • National Park Service. "Thomas Edison: Frequently Asked Questions." March 31, 2012. (Aug. 10, 2022)
  • Peckham, Matt. "Who Really Invented the Computer." Time Techland. Nov. 10, 2011. (Jan. 27, 2012)
  • Shah, Haleema. "How a 19th-Century Photographer Made the First 'GIF' of a Galloping Horse." Smithsonian Magazine. Dec. 13, 2018. (Aug. 10, 2022)
  • Thomas, Roger K. "Crawford W. Long's Discovery of Anesthetic Ether: Mesmerism, Delayed Publication, and the Historical Record." 2003. (Jan. 27, 2012)
  • United States Senate. "First Telegraph Messages from the Capitol." May 2018. (Aug. 11, 2022)
  • WorldWideRails. "When Did Diesel Trains Replace Steam?" (Aug. 13, 2022)

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Industrial Revolution - From Industry 1.0 to Industry 4.0

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Industrial Revolution - From Industry 1.0 to Industry 4.0

Technical advances also change the way humans produce things. The step into production technology, which was completely different from the past, is also called the industrial revolution. The new production technologies fundamentally changed the working conditions and lifestyles of people. What were the industrial revolutions and where do we find ourselves now? “From the First Industrial Revolution to Industry 4.0”

1st Industrial Revolution

The  First Industrial Revolution began in the 18th century through the use of steam power and mechanisation of production . What before produced threads on simple spinning wheels, the mechanised version achieved eight times the volume in the same time . Steam power was already known. The use of it for industrial purposes was the greatest breakthrough for increasing human productivity . Instead of weaving looms powered by muscle, steam-engines could be used for power . Developments such as the steamship or (some 100 years later) the steam-powered locomotive brought about further massive changes because humans and goods could move great distances in fewer hours.

2nd Industrial Revolution

The  Second Industrial Revolution began in the 19th century through the discovery of electricity and assembly line production . Henry Ford (1863-1947) took the idea of mass production from a slaughterhouse in Chicago: The pigs hung from conveyor belts and each butcher performed only a part of the task of butchering the animal. Henry Ford carried over these principles into automobile production and drastically altered it in the process. While before one station assembled an entire automobile, now the vehicles were produced in partial steps on the conveyor belt - significantly faster and at lower cost .

3rd Industrial Revolution

The  Third Industrial Revolution began in the ’70s in the 20th century through partial automation using memory-programmable controls and computers . Since the introduction of these technologies, we are now able to automate an entire production process -  without human assistance. Known examples of this are robots that perform programmed sequences without human intervention.

4th Industrial Revolution

We are currently implementing the Fourth Industrial Revolution . This is characterised by the application of information and communication technologies to industry and is also known as " Industry 4.0 ". It builds on the developments of the Third Industrial Revolution . Production systems that already have computer technology are expanded by a network connection and have a digital twin on the Internet so to speak. These allow communication with other facilities and the output of information about themselves. This is the next step in production automation . The networking of all systems leads to " cyber-physical production systems " and therefore smart factories , in which production systems , components and people communicate via a network and production is nearly autonomous .

When these enablers come together, Industry 4.0 has the potential to deliver some incredible advances in factory environments. Examples include machines which can predict failures and trigger maintenance processes autonomously or self-organized logistics which react to unexpected changes in production.

And it has the power to change the way that people work. Industry 4.0 can pull individuals into smarter networks, with the potential of more efficient working. The digitalization of the manufacturing environment allows for more flexible methods of getting the right information to the right person at the right time. The increasing use of digital devices inside factories and out in the field means maintenance professionals can be provided with equipment documentation and service history in a timelier manner , and at the point of use . Maintenance professionals want to be solving problems, not wasting time trying to source the technical information that they need.

In short, Industry 4.0 is a game-changer, across industrial settings. The digitalization of manufacturing will change the way that goods are made and distributed, and how products are serviced and refined. On that basis, it can truly lay claim to represent the beginning of the fourth industrial revolution .

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Steam in the Industrial Revolution

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The steam engine, either used on its own or as part of a train, is the iconic invention of the industrial revolution. Experiments in the seventeenth century turned, by the middle of the nineteenth, into a technology which powered huge factories, allowed deeper mines and moved a transport network.

Industrial Power Pre 1750

Before 1750, the traditional arbitrary starting date for the industrial revolution , the majority of British and European industries were traditional and relied on water as the main power source. This was a well-established technology, using streams and waterwheels, and was both proven and widely available in the British landscape. There were major problems because you had to be near suitable water, which could lead you to isolated places, and it tended to freeze or dry up. On the other hand, it was cheap. Water was also vital for transport, with rivers and coastal trade. Animals were also used for both power and transport, but these were expensive to run because of their food and care. For rapid industrialization to take place, alternative sources of power were needed.

The Development of Steam

People had experimented with steam-powered engines in the seventeenth century as a solution to power problems , and in 1698 Thomas Savery invented his ‘Machine for Raising Water by Fire’. Used in Cornish tin mines, this pumped water with a simple up and down motion that had only limited use and couldn’t be applied to machinery. It also had a tendency to explode, and steam development was held back by the patent, Savery held for thirty-five years. In 1712 Thomas Newcomen developed a different type of engine and bypassed the patents. This was first used in Staffordshire coal mines, had most of the old limitations and was expensive to run, but had the distinct advantage of not blowing up.

In the second half of the eighteenth century came inventor James Watt , a man who built on the development of others and became a major contributor to steam technology. In 1763 Watt added a separate condenser to Newcomen’s engine which saved fuel; during this period he was working with people involved in the iron-producing industry. Then Watt teamed up with a former toy manufacturer who had changed profession. In 1781 Watt, former toy man Boulton and Murdoch built the ‘rotary action steam engine’. This was the major breakthrough because it could be used to power machinery, and in 1788 a centrifugal governor was fitted to keep the engine running at an even speed. Now there was an alternative power source for the wider industry and after 1800 the mass production of steam engines began.

Considering steam's reputation in a revolution which is traditionally said to run from 1750, steam was relatively slow to be adopted. A lot of industrialization had already taken place before steam power was in major use, and a lot had grown and improved without it. The cost was initially one-factor holding engines back, as industrialists used other sources of power to keep start-up costs down and avoid major risks. Some industrialists had a conservative attitude which only slowly turned to steam. Perhaps more importantly, the first steam engines were inefficient, using a lot of coal and needed large-scale production facilities to work properly, while much industry was small scale. It took time (until the 1830s/40s) for coal prices to fall and industry to become large enough to need more power.

The Effects of Steam on Textiles

The textile industry had used many different sources of power, from water to human in the many laborers of the domestic system. The first factory had been built at the start of the eighteenth century and used water power because at the time textiles could be produced with only a small amount of power. Expansion took the form of expanding over more rivers for the waterwheels. When steam-powered machinery became possible c. 1780, textiles were initially slow to adopt the technology, as it was expensive and required a high starting cost and caused trouble. However, over time the costs of steam fell and use grew. Water and steam power became even in 1820, and by 1830 steam was well ahead, producing a large increase in the productivity of the textile industry as new factories were created.

The Effects on Coal and Iron

The coal , iron and steel industries mutually stimulated each other during the revolution. There was an obvious need for coal to power steam engines, but these engines also allowed for deeper mines and greater coal production, making the fuel cheaper and steam cheaper, thus producing more demand for coal.

The iron industry also benefited. At first, steam was used to pump water back up into reservoirs, but this soon developed and steam was used to power bigger and better blast furnaces, allowing for an increase in iron production. Rotary action steam engines could be linked to other parts of the iron process, and in 1839 the steam hammer was first in use. Steam and iron were linked as early as 1722 when Darby, an iron magnate, and Newcomen worked together to improve the quality of iron for producing steam engines. Better iron meant more precision engineering for steam. More on coal and iron.

The Importance of the Steam Engine

The steam engine might be the icon of the industrial revolution, but how important was it in this first industrial stage? Historians like Deane have said the engine had little impact at first, as it was only applicable to large-scale industrial processes and until 1830 the majority were small scale. She agrees that some industries used it, such as iron and coal, but that the capital outlay only became worthwhile for the majority after 1830 because of delays in producing viable engines, high costs at the start, and the ease with which manual labor can be hired and fired compared to a steam engine. Peter Mathias argues much the same thing but stresses that steam should still be considered one of the key advances of the industrial revolution, one which occurred near the end, initiating a second steam-driven phase.

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Important Inventions of the Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution was a time of great change and development throughout parts of Europe in which society made substantial technological progress. A large amount of this progress was centered in Britain, not only because of its resources, but also due to the economic conditions that were present in Britain during the time. The inventions themselves were not an immediately profitable investment throughout many parts of Europe during the 18th century and, as such, were not a smart venture to participate in in many countries. Inventors in Britain, however, had the resources and economic conditions available to make a profitable product that could be duplicated, improved upon, and, eventually, would spread throughout many parts of Europe. Three of the most influential of these inventions were the coke fueled furnace, steam engine, and spinning jenny; all of which increased production capabilities large amounts in many parts of Europe. This page will work to explore these three inventions and their impact on the lives of those living in Britain during the late 18 th and early 19 th centuries.

For more background information on the Industrial revolution watch the video below:

Steam, and The Industrial Revolution: Crash Course World History #32

Coke-Fueled Blast Furnace

The coke fueled blast furnace, made by Abraham Darby, is one of the many inventions that shaped the modern world. The blast furnace revolutionized the way that pig iron was melted down for the production of steel. It was also a much easier and more efficient way of producing steel. The blast furnace was created in 1709 as a way to use coke instead of charcoal, as a fuel. 1 Charcoal was becoming increasingly scarce and as a result it was also becoming increasingly expensive. This increase in price caused the production of steel to slow. This increasingly difficult way to produce steel created a demand for a new, cost efficient way to make steel.

Abraham Darby, the creator of the coke fueled blast furnace, decided to settle his invention in the town of Coalbrookdale in Shropshire, England. Darby settled in Coalbrookdale because of its readily available supply of coal, which was one of the best options for making coke.

Blast furnaces revolutionized the production of steel. 2 It allowed for a faster production as well as a better product to be produced. Due to the fact that the coke-fueled blast furnaces allowed for the furnace to maintain a hotter temperature for a longer time, the quality of the steel was finer. The invention of the coke-fueled blast furnace led to many other inventions that the Industrial Revolution is known for. The blast furnace allowed for steel structures to be made faster and cheaper, propelling the Industrial revolution.

First thing to explore is the substance that is called “coke”. What is it and how is it created. One particular source gives a great definition of what the substance is and how it is created. Coke is a solid residue remaining after certain types of bituminous coals are heated to a high temperature out of contact with air until substantially all of the volatile constituents have been driven off. 3 The residue is chiefly carbon, with minor amounts of hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur, and oxygen. Also present in coke is the mineral matter in the original coal, chemically altered and decomposed during the coking process.

The success of the blast of the blast furnace would continue to make great strides in creating new jobs. 4 Abraham Darby would pass away in 1717, but would his business would be in good hands with his son Abraham Darby II who would discover a way to create better coke by burning coal in the ovens. With this discovery the iron quality was far more superior. The result would only continue to help the industry for many more years.

The thriving blast furnace industry, created a demand for many new jobs. It boosted the local economy by creating more jobs within the coal industry as well as in the steel producing industry. With the use of the blast furnaces, steel became a common good. The lower and middle classes could now afford steel goods, such as cookware and utensils that previously, only the upper classes could afford, due to the cost of the production of steel. The creation of the coke-fueled blast furnace created a bridge between the classes and gave them something in common.

Questions about the Reading

Whose lives did the creation of the coke-fueled blast furnace effect?

Thank you for your response.

What was the furnace designed to do?

What types of jobs might the invention of the furnace have created?

Steam Engine

In the early 18 th century, an Englishman named Thomas Newcomen invented the steam engine. Its sole purpose was to help lift water out from mines that were repeatedly waterlogged. 5   Later, James Watt reworked the flaws of the Newcomen steam engine and made it more efficient in the process of how the condensation was carried. 6 Watt’s partnership with Matthew Boulton, a British manufacturer, helped spread the work of the steam engine by solving problems of other businesses. With the creation of the steam engine, it made industrialization possible in Britain.

The  Newcomen and Watt steam engines had the biggest impact on mining. The Watt steam engine had drastically improved the efficiency of the Newcomen engine. This caused the demand of coal to go up. Due to the introduction of the steam engine and Britain’s coal deposits, the steam engine allowed the industry to flourish as Britain quickly industrialized before anyone else. 7 In addition, the steam engine allowed the creation of mills and factories to produce mass amounts of goods faster than the labor of people. The Corliss steam engine had an impact on the textile industry, it allowed the mass production of textiles. 8  Not only did the steam engine help produce mass amounts of goods but it also had an impact on boats and railroads. 9 Although later in the industrial revolution, the steam engine was applied to locomotion. Application to locomotion would spark the rail era. The steam engine made transportation easier and quicker both on land and water. Along with the easier transportation, the opportunity for making profits increased.

 Questions about the Reading

Whose invention of the steam engine had a huge impact on industrialization?

What helped powered the steam engine?

What impact did the steam engine do to transportation?

Spinning Jenny

The spinning jenny, invented by James Hargreaves in the mid-1760s, was one of the first inventions of the Industrial Revolution that got widespread use. The jenny was initially used in Britain and eventually spread to places like France after several improvements were made to its design. The jenny itself was an improvement of the older used spinning wheel, a commodity in many houses in Britain before the Industrial Revolution. The jenny’s job was to spin threads of cotton for widespread use and, unlike the spinning wheel, the jenny could be used in both small homes and industrial factories and varied in size from containing 12 to 120 spindles. The jenny was so convenient that it took substantially less labor than previous techniques and “raised the capital-labor ratio seventy-fold.” 10 People were also frequently improving the jenny’s design and size, making it more efficient.

Still, in contrast to its many positives, the spinning jenny had its flaws, some of which were connected to its advantages. For example, since jenny’s were frequently being improved upon and changed, models quickly became outdated, much like modern IPhones and computers. Maintenance was also a factor in the frequently breaking jenny’s convenience and “annual maintenance costs equaled 10% of the purchase price of the machine” 11 . In many cases, however, the gain outweighed the losses and the spinning jenny was typically a wise investment.

The spinning jenny itself also drastically changed the lives of many women and children living during the Industrial Revolution. Since they had smaller and more agile hands, women and children were popular factory employees and often worked long hours, avoiding domestic duties and proper schooling. This fact brought about many issues on whether or not women and children, specifically girls, should work in factories. The Primary source by an unknown author touches on both the positives and negatives of girls working with spinning jenny’s in factories towards the beginning of the Industrial revolution in 1794. Click the link below and read the source carefully. Then answer the questions below to gain a better understanding on the author’s main points.

Observations on the Loss of Woollen Spinning, 1794

What were some of the advantages of women and children working with the spinning jenny? Disadvantages?

Why do you think the author was so concerned with the fact that young women were working in factories and using new machinery like the spinning jenny?

Do you think the Spinning Jenny was beneficial to women and children working during the Industrial revolution? Why or why not?

All of these inventions had a large impact on the Industrial Revolution. While this chapter focuses on three main inventions, it is important to remember that there were many more inventions that helped shape the modern world. Although all of these three inventions were instrumental to the progress of the industrial revolution. Without these inventions, we would not be as technologically advanced as we are now. As a society, we are constantly progressing and coming up with new inventions that shape society. What do you think is the most important invention to come out of the Industrial Revolution?  What modern inventions do you think that we will look back on as the inventions that shaped the 21st century?

1 . “BBC – History – British History In Depth: The Blast Furnace Animation”., date accessed 11 May 2016,

2 . “World Of Coke: Coke Is A High Temperature Fuel”.

3 . “Coke,”  Encyclopædia Britannica Online , date accessed 11 May 2016, .

4 . “ Iron & Steel Manufacture Industrial Revolution Significance.” Industrial Revolution,  date accessed 11 May 2016,

5 . Richard Dennis Hoblyn, A Manual of the Steam Engine  (London: Scott, Webster and Geary), chap. 2.

6 . Hoblyn, chap. 3.

7 . Alessandro, Bart, and Nick von Tunzelmann, “The early diffusion of the steam engine in Britain, 1700-1800: a reappraisal,” Cliometrica 5:3 (October, 2011): 314.

8 . Corliss Steam Engine Company, The steam engine as it was, and as it is … (Providence: Knowles, Anthony, 1857), chap. 1.

9 . Hoblyn, chap. 9.

10 . Robert C.  Allen, “ The Industrial Revolution in Miniature: The Spinning Jenny in Britain, France, and India ” working paper, last modified 2007,

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