The Industrial Revolution was the transition to new manufacturing processes that occurred in the period from about 1760 to some time between 1820 and 1840. This transition included going from hand production methods to machines, new chemical manufacturing and iron production processes, improved efficiency of water power, the increasing use of steam power and development of machine tools. The transition also included the change from wood and other bio-fuels to coal. The Industrial revolution began in Britain and within a few decades spread to Western Europe and the United States.
The Industrial Revolution marks a major turning point in history; almost every aspect of daily life was influenced in some way. Most notably, average income and population began to exhibit unprecedented sustained growth. In the words of Nobel Prize winner Robert E. Lucas, Jr., “For the first time in history, the living standards of the masses of ordinary people have begun to undergo sustained growth … Nothing remotely like this economic behavior has happened before”.
William Bell Scott Iron and Coal, 1855-60
The period of time covered by the Industrial Revolution varies with different historians. Eric Hobsbawm held that it ‘broke out’ in Britain in the 1780s and was not fully felt until the 1830s or 1840s, while T. S. Ashton held that it occurred roughly between 1760 and 1830. Some 20th-century historians such as John Clapham and Nicholas Crafts have argued that the process of economic and social change took place gradually and the term revolution is a misnomer. This is still a subject of debate among historians. GDP per capita was broadly stable before the Industrial Revolution and the emergence of the modern capitalist economy.
The Industrial Revolution began an era of per-capita economic growth in capitalist economies. Economic historians are in agreement that the onset of the Industrial Revolution is the most important event in the history of humanity since the domestication of animals and plants. The First Industrial Revolution evolved into the Second Industrial Revolution in the transition years between 1840 and 1870, when technological and economic progress gained momentum with the increasing adoption of steam-powered boats, ships and railways.