The British Industrial Revolution: The Age of Cotton, Iron, and Water Power

Chris Freeman and Francisco Louçã

in As Time Goes By

Published in print March 2002 | ISBN: 9780199251056
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191596278 | DOI:
 The British Industrial Revolution: The Age of Cotton, Iron, and Water Power

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The available statistics show that there was a sharp acceleration of the growth of British industrial output, investment, and trade in the last few decades of the eighteenth century, justifying the general use of the expression ‘Industrial Revolution’ and refuting the efforts of a few historians to deny its very occurrence.

In particular, the extraordinarily rapid growth of output and exports of the cotton industry was widely remarked upon both at the time and ever since, and was generally and plausibly attributed to a series of inventions and innovations, which increased productivity per hour of work by more than an order of magnitude and made possible rapidly descending costs and prices.

Only a little less rapid was the growth of the British iron industry, its rate of technical change, and its widening range of applications throughout the economy.

These exceptionally dynamic industries made an outstanding contribution to the growth of the economy as a whole based on water‐powered mechanization and a new transport infrastructure of canals, rivers, and roads.

Finally, British leadership in the Industrial Revolution must be attributed not only to these changes in technology and in the economy but also to the confluence and congruence of these changes with developments in the political and cultural subsystems particularly favourable to science, technology, and entrepreneurship.

Keywords: Britain; canals; cotton; entrepreneurship; Industrial Revolution; innovation; iron; mechanization; productivity; water power

Chapter.  16191 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Economic History

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