Causes of the Industrial Revolution

The historian Arnold Toynbee also created the idea that, in the years between 1780 and 1830, there was an 'Industrial Revolution'.

  • Toynbee (1884) and the first historians of the Industrial Revolution thought that the industrial growth had been stimulated by Britain's trade. There was a need to develop more manufactured goods and ready-made markets around the world through the British Empire.
  • A H John (1961) thought that growth had been stimulated by the Agricultural Revolution. This had increased the population and therefore domestic demand.
  • W W Rostow (1960) traced the growth of output back to capital investment, which had allowed expansion and innovation.
  • Musson and Robinson (1969) credited science and technology. They thought that technological advancement made improvement in industry inevitable.
  • Recently, the African historian Joseph Inikori (1987) has focused on the profits made by the slave traders, which provided money for investment in British industry.

Inventions and innovations in the Industrial Revolution

1712 - Thomas Newcomen's steam engine. 1760s-70s - James Watts steam engines. 1769 Arkwright's Water Frame spinning machine. 1779 - Samuel Crompton's Mule spinning machine. 1785 Edmund Cartwright's power loom. 1784 - Henry Cort's puddling process made wrought iron. 1856 - Henry Bessemer converter made steel.

The Industrial Revolution involved innovation, capital investment and increased output:


  • John Kay’s Flying Shuttle was a very successful innovation in weaving. Spinning technology needed frequent development over the next fifty years before weaving experienced further major changes.
  • James Hargreaves' Spinning Jenny (1764) and later Richard Arkwright's Water Frame (1769), Samuel Crompton's Mule (1779) were spinning machines that all improved upon the quality and quantity of spun yarn. Edmund Cartwright's Power Loom (1785) was the first steam-powered weaving machine. Many of these inventions were powered by James Watt's steam engines (1765).
  • Large purpose-built factories were a new idea, eg Arkwright's Mill at Cromford, full of machines.
  • Output increased 15-fold in the century 1815-1914.

Iron and steel

  • Abraham Darby smelted iron using coke (1709), Henry Cort's puddling process made wrought iron (1784) and Henry Bessemer's Bessemer converter (1856) and the Gilchrist-Thomas process (1879) made steel.
  • Huge ironworks, eg Richard Crawshay's Cyfartha works in South Wales and John Roebuck's Carron Works in Scotland.
  • Production of 'pig' iron increased 30-fold in the century 1815-1914.
Artist's impression showing Humphrey Davy testing his miner's safety lamp in an mine.
Humphrey Davy testing his miner's safety lamp


  • Better coal mining techniques allowed deeper mines, eg 'roof and pillar' working to support the roof, upcast and downcast shafts to provide ventilation and the Davy Lamp (1815) invented by Humphry Davy to help prevent gas explosions.
  • In 1914, the coal industry employed a million men in 3,000 collieries.
  • Production of coal increased 20-fold in the century 1815-1914.

Steam power

  • In around 1712, Thomas Newcomen built the first commercially successful steam engine to pump water out of mines.
  • James Watt made steam engines much more efficient in the 1760s and 1770s giving huge savings on fuel. His other improvements meant steam engines could replace water and horse power in a wide variety of industries, which in turn allowed factories to be built anywhere.