Main content

Tim Harford charts the history of the factory, from "dark, Satanic mills" to the sprawling industrial parks where today's consumer goods are assembled. Have factories made workers' lives better - and what does their future look like?

Available now

9 minutes

Last on

Mon 8 Jul 2019 03:50GMT

Image credit

Workers in the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, in southern China's Guangdong province, pictured in May 2010 (Credit: AFP/Getty Images)


 Justin Corfield “Lombe, John” in Kenneth E. Hendrickson III The Encyclopaedia of the Industrial Revolution in World History Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p568.

 Joshua Freeman Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World WW Norton: London 2018 pp1-8

Adam Smith An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of The Wealth of Nations 1776 

William Blake Milton A Poem c1804-1811 

Picture the Past – Belper Round Mill 

The life and adventure of Michael Armstrong, the factory boy 

Bill Cahn Mill Town Cameron and Kahn: New York 1954 

Friedrich Engels The Condition of the Working Class in England 1845 

F.W. Taylor Principles of Scientific Management 1911 p83 

Daniel Wren and Arther Bedeian “The Taylorization of Lenin: Rhetoric or Reality” International Journal of Social Economics 31 (3) (2004) cited in Freeman Behemoth pp174-175. See also Stephen Kotkin Magnetic Mountain University of Chicago Press: Chicago 1997; Loren Graham The Ghost of the Executed Engineer Harvard University Press: Cambridge 1996 

Myself included: Tim Harford The Undercover Economist (Oxford University Press, New York 2005). For a detailed account of conditions for women in Chinese factories see Pun Ngai Made In China Hong Kong University Press, Hong Kong, 2005. An intriguing study of Ethiopian factories is summarised by Christopher Blattman and Stefan Dercon “Everything We Knew About Sweatshops Was Wrong” The New York Times 27 April 2017.

Wolfgang Streeck “Through Unending Halls” The London Review of Books Vol. 41 No. 3 · 7 February 2019 pages 29-31 

Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher “How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work” The New York Times 21 Jan 2012 

Niall McCarthy “The World’s Biggest Employers Infographic” Forbes with data from Statista  

James Fallows “Mr China Comes To America” The Atlantic December 2012 

Charles Babbage On The Economy of Machinery and Manufactures London: Charles Knight 1832 (Reprinted Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 2009) 

Richard Baldwin “Globalisation, automation and the history of work: Looking back to understand the future” 31 January 2019 and Richard Baldwin The Great Convergence Harvard University Press 2016

BetaNews “The Global Supply chain Behind the iPhone 6”


  • Sat 6 Jul 2019 04:50GMT
  • Sat 6 Jul 2019 13:50GMT
  • Sun 7 Jul 2019 14:50GMT
  • Sun 7 Jul 2019 21:50GMT
  • Sun 7 Jul 2019 22:50GMT
  • Mon 8 Jul 2019 03:50GMT