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The Industrial Revolution had a significant impact on Western society and the effects were numerous and mainly positive. The Industrial Revolution began in England in the 1790’s and spread throughout Europe and eventually to America. The extensive effects of the Industrial Revolution influenced almost every aspect of daily life and human society in some way. During this time period, widespread transportation such as railroads became available and important for the movement of goods and people. Also, new social reforms came about, dealing with critical issues including that of child labor.
In addition, the effects of the revolution resulted in a great improvement in living standards for many people. Although the positive affects of the Industrial Revolution were plentiful, there were also several negative affects concerning the issues of railroads, child labor, and certain living conditions.
The railroads built during the Industrial Revolution allowed for widespread transportation to now be available for goods and people. Consequently, the coal burned in train engines created great pollution resulting in an unhealthy and dangerous environment for the people. In addition, as European governments became involved with the creation of railroads, taxes increased resulting in the lower classes experiencing greater burdens. Despite these negative repercussions, railroads were beneficial to society in a variety of ways. Railroads created a way for people to quickly and easily move throughout their own countries and other various parts of the world. The simple and speedy transportation of people allowed for a sharing of ideas and cultures by bringing people to other parts of the world.
In addition, railroads were very useful in the trading and transportation of goods by providing an easier, quicker, and cheaper way of getting goods to various parts of a country and to other countries. The less expensive transportation of goods resulted in lower priced products, making more items affordable to more people creating larger markets and more sales. In turn, more factories and machinery needed to be built to keep up with the consumer’s demand for products providing more jobs. The construction of these railways also created jobs for the common people. The increase in job opportunities led to an increase in people who could afford to buy the products, which consequently led to even more factories and employment opportunities. Railroads, in addition to improved roads, canals, and seaports created enormous trade systems that benefited the lower class as opposed to solely the elite resulting in great economic growth in many countries.
During the Industrial Revolution, new social reforms came about, eventually resulting in a positive change for much of European society. Much of these reforms were due to the issue of child labor. Children worked with unsafe machinery in dangerous environments where permanent injury or even death was not uncommon. Many children worked in places like mines where cave-ins, gas fumes, explosions were common, cotton mills in which the temperature were dangerously high, and factories where they were terribly mistreated. Children were forced to work long hours, earning low wages, received few, if any, breaks, and were disciplined by receiving beatings. For example, Joseph Hebergam, a boy who worked since age 7, stated, “…and beat us till we were black and blue,” resulting in Hebergam being forced to deal with life long injuries. However, eventually a series of factory acts limited the work hours of children and women.
The Factory Act of 1833 eliminated the extensive use of children in potentially dangerous situations and the use of children in any workplace that used any machines that were driven by any source of electrical power at night. Furthermore, set the minimum age for a child to legally work at 9 and stated that children 9-13 were not allowed to work for more than twelve hours a day. The act also set guidelines as to what children were permitted to do while working. The Mines Act of 1842 set the regulation that no female or boy under ten years of age was to be employed underground in the mines. The factory acts allowed for a more modern day pattern of work in which men were expecting to be the main wage earners. The Industrial Revolution increased the awareness of human rights of women and children, and therefore, accelerated the process of equality in society.
An additional effect of the Industrial Revolution on Western society was the improvement in living standards for people. The invention of the steam engine, run by coal, allowed factories to be located in cities and no longer by water. This resulted in people flocking to these densely populated cities for job opportunities and in turn, eventually led to bad living conditions for many of the inhabitants. It was believed filthy living conditions in cities were a chief cause of epidemic diseases such as cholera. In addition, overcrowded, disease-ridden slums were viewed as dangerous to physical health, moral health, and political health resulting in urban reforms. Governments soon created boards of health to improve the quality of housing in large cities. These boards of health soon authorized city medical officers and building inspectors to inspect dwellings for public health hazards and set building regulations that required running water and an internal drainage system for all new buildings.
The ability to bring clean water to cities and expel sewage was also very important to public health. According to Speilvogel, “The need for fresh water was met by system of dams and reservoirs that stored water and water by aqueducts and tunnels that carried water from the countryside to the city and into individual dwellings.” (Speilvogel 696) Also, gas heaters and later electric heaters made hot baths available resulting in better hygiene for the inhabitants of the cities. Another contributing factor to the health of individuals during the Industrial Revolutions was the Agricultural Revolution that provided a greater food supply, causing food to be cheaper and more easily bought, and therefore allowed the masses to get enough food to stay healthy.
The increase in food supply also caused a population boost that would then, in turn, produce a larger amount of people to work in the factories and therefore earn enough money to consume large amounts of items such as cotton, boosting the economy. After Industrial Revolution began, the amount of cotton imported increased by about eight hundred percent was then sold to the new textile factories. This surplus of cotton led to cheaper yarn, and therefore cheaper, more easily acquired clothes that even the common people could afford. This created a large demand for cotton clothing and, as a result, a large demand for workers in textile factories providing employment opportunities. Therefore, the Industrial Revolution greatly improved the standards by which one lived by allowing people to live healthier and more hygienic lives.
The Industrial Revolution had a significant impact on Western society and the affects were numerous and mainly positive. The Industrial Revolution was a time of great change in areas such as agriculture, textile and metal manufacture, transportation, economic policies and the social structure, and therefore affected the everyday life of almost every European. Railroads provided a widespread transportation and allowed goods and people to travel quickly and easily, benefiting society from an economic and social standpoint. A series of factory acts allowed for new social reforms concerning issues such as child labor. The living standards for even the common people were rising due to inventions that provided more hygienic living conditions, a greater food supply, and more employment opportunities. Despite several negative effects of the Industrial time period, the Industrial Revolution resulted in a dramatic increase in prosperity in the west, and ultimately had an affect on the whole world.