The industrialization and its effects on society

Before industrialization, things were made in small numbers, every piece handcrafted more or less the same, but still with differences in them, carrying the emotions and fingerprints of its creator as a result of its moment of creation. With the industrial revolution, the invention of steam-powered engines and mass production, this has mainly changed. Now let’s see the events that result in these changes and their effects on the history of design.

A Watt steam engine from the beginning of industrialization

Before industrialization

The lives of people back in the 18th century were much different than today. Nine out of ten people were living in rural areas and there was a large poor lower class, little rich upper class and not much of a middle class. There were no electric lights, no movies, no telephones, no recorded music, no cars, no trains and no artificial noise coming from the engines. People used their hands and labor to make the things that they needed. The food was produced in small farms and people did not have to leave their home each day to go to their jobs. Even the clocks were unnecessary as they were living the days in tune with the rising and setting of the sun.

Industrialization, factories and deskilling of the workers

The early entrepreneurs of the 18th century wanted to create more products for less cost and the methods they were using was ‘the division of labor‘ or ‘deskilling of the workers‘. The idea was to decrease the amount of time spent for the production of a single piece by a skilled craftsman, dividing the process into smaller pieces that can be done by an unskilled worker who would eventually become proficient in only a single step of the production. At the same time, the innovations in casting products, most notably by Abraham Darby, allowed cheaper costs with the ability to use the same casts over and over again.

Cooking Pot by Abraham Darby – photo by Colin Gould

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, large buildings called factories started to appear in Europe and North America. Factories, where a small number of workers operate expensive and quite complicated machines, produced manufactured goods for the mass market. This was a turning point for human society because people now had to leave home each day and go to work to earn a living, in great numbers.

Changing social lives

New production methods combined with technological innovations allowed the industrialization to speed up and expand into many disciplines. More and more people were leaving the rural areas and moving to the cities. As the number of people in the cities increased so as the competition to find a job.  The machines tended to be extremely loud and dangerous to operate. The working hours were long. The wages were low. The work was quite monotones and the air in the factories was filled with fibers that would damage the worker’s lung. Although the working conditions in these factories were not very good at the time, there was always someone to accept the job. On the other hand the basic necessities, clothes, household items and many other daily objects – which were only be acquired by few people – could now be found easily and much more cheaply all thanks to the mass production.

New housings for workers had to be built near the factories, and the cities rapidly grew in size while a number of people living in rural areas greatly decreased. Also as the factories had to meet certain production deadlines, people had to show up at the factories at specific times. This meant that for the first time in history, the lives of many people were regulated by the clocks and ringings of factory bells.

Textile manufacturing was the first major industry that will be transformed by the industrialization, which would affect the poor rural class dramatically. Besides their unreliable income from farming, the main source of income for this class was domestic or cottage industries by making threads and cloth. These traditional home-based textile workers were the first people replaced by machines when the industrial revolution began.

Spinning Jenny
Markus Schweiß, Spinning jenny, CC BY-SA 3.0

In the 1760s, two new machines, the Spinning Jenny and the Water Frame cause a revolution in the textile industry because both machines sped up the process of making threads for weaving. These machines were using the hydraulic power to be operated. Another machine, the Spinning Mule was developed later and when it is hooked up to the watermill, only one worker could do the job of 3000 hand spinners. These machines were so efficient to produce high-quality low-cost clothing threads that the whole home cottage industry collapsed. Also, later developments like Flying Shuttle, which could allow a lot of threads to be weaved into textiles, put an end to a cottage weaving industry.

Steam Powered Engine

The switch from water to steam power sped up the industrial revolution and led to many changes in manufacturing, transportation, and farming. The first steam powered engine with pistons was invented by Thomas Newcomen around 1712. The goal of the invention was to remove the water out of the coal mines, which would eventually allow reaching deeper for extracting more coal to be used by more steam engines.

Later James Watt improved the engine of Newcomen’s and finally modifying it to provide a rotary motion suitable for driving factory machinery. This enabled factories to be located away from the rivers – which were powered by watermills – and further accelerated the pace of the Industrial Revolution.

While these things were happening, the deskilling of the craftsman and manufacturing of mass-produced items, expansion of factories and even growing cities, a reaction emerged in the late 19th century, the Arts and Crafts movement. In the next post, we are going to see the reasons behind this movement which started in Britain and its results that resonate even now. 

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