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I was listening to a (German-language) podcast where this argument was made (translation into English courtesy of Google translate):
The decisive change came in [… ] 1760 in England. And that is the moment that everyone in their textbooks knows, namely that textile manufacturers came up with the idea of mechanizing looms and spinning mills, replacing the workforce with machines that were then powered by hydropower and then steam. And of course, the crucial question is - and tons of books have been written about that - why England, why 1760, why not, for example, Cologne around 1500? [… ] The best theory that exists at the moment, and probably also true, is that from historic coincidences it was such that in England in the eighteenth century wages were twice as high as on the European continent So, textile manufacturers in England were no longer competitive because their labor was so expensive, and just when people were expensive - for the first time in history - it was worth using machines.
I usually encounter high wages as being presented as one reason in a whole bundle for the industrial revolution having started where and when it did historically, i.e. in England around 1760. But here this one reason is singled out as the root cause and a reference to a specific theory is made.
Which theory could that be and by which author? Is there a book-length account available perhaps from that author?
I suspect that the podcast may be referring to published research by Robert Allen of Oxford University. In his 2006 paper Explaining The British Industrial Revolution From the Perspective of Global Wage and Price History. Professor Allen observes:
In Britain, wages were remarkably high and energy cheap. This wage and price history was a fundamental reason for the technological breakthroughs of the eighteenth century whose object was to substitute capital and energy for labour.
He goes on to note that:
Scientific discoveries and scientific culture do not explain why Britain differed from the rest of Europe. They may have been necessary conditions for the industrial revolution, but they were not sufficient: Without Britain's distinctive wage and price environment, Newton would have produced as little economic progress in England as Galileo produced in Italy
However, Professor Allen does not seem to be claiming that high wages were a single root cause of the Industrial Revolution. Indeed, in another paper from 2006, The High Wage Economy of Pre-industrial Britain, he notes that England was not unique in having a high-wage economy in the eighteenth century. A similar situation existed in the Low Countries:
England and the Low Countries stood out in the eighteenth century for their high wage economies. At the exchange rates, wages were higher in northwestern Europe than elsewhere.
This did not impact their trading positions however, since:
English and Dutch industries were highly competitive internationally, their productivity must also have been high.
Wages were not just higher in England and the Low Countries than they were in the rest of Europe. They were also relatively high compared to the cost of living:
English and Dutch wages were also high relative to the cost of living. In most of continental Europe and Asia in the eighteenth century, a labourer's wage was just enough to keep his family at bare bones subsistence. In contrast, labourers in England and the Netherlands could afford a diet with meat, beer, and cheese and still have a little left over to buy the odd luxury.
Professor Allen also claims that this high-wage economy created a stimulus for the Industrial Revolution by priming a "consumer revolution" which generated a market for many the products produced by the Industrial Revolution:
In addition, these favoured workers had money to buy novel and exotic consumer goods. They were an important part of the 'consumer revolution' that provided a mass market for non-traditional goods that prompted much product innovation in English manufacturing.
Clearly therefore, the implication is that the high wages were an important factor in triggering the Industrial Revolution in England, but not the only one.
It is worth noting the following observation in regard to Robert Allen's hypothesis, made by @FranzPlumpton in the comments below:
But note that the so-called HWE-hypothesis as a cause for the BIR is slowly falling apart. People have been showing that his wages series were mismeasured (e.g. Judy Stephenson), furthermore his reference point of Italy was underestimated (e.g. Malanima shows that wages in Italy were higher than previously thought, as high as in ENG), wages in France were similarly high (e.g. Vincent Geloso for Straßburg). Then there is Humphries and her update on female wages. Plus she and Weisdorf have a new paper that also contradict Allen (more in support of an industrious revolution à la Jan de Vries)
- Allen, Robert: Explaining The British Industrial Revolution From the Perspective of Global Wage and Price History, Oxford, 2006
- Allen, Robert: The High Wage Economy of Pre-industrial Britain, Oxford, 2006
I don't think that's really accurate. Up until 1834 the parliament supplemented the wages of workers with tax money (poor rates). In some cases the wages were literally zero and the workers could barely get by. That's why the abolished the poor rates in 1834 and made it conditional (workhouses), no outdoor relief. There are many reasons for the industrial revolution, but not high wages.
An Interdisciplinary Approach to British Studies
After viewing our curriculum units, please take a few minutes to help us understand how the units, which were created by public school teachers, may be useful to others.
Advances in agricultural techniques and practices resulted in an increased supply of food and raw materials, changes in industrial organization and new technology resulted in increased production, efficiency and profits, and the increase in commerce, foreign and domestic, were all conditions which promoted the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Many of these conditions were so closely interrelated that increased activity in one spurred an increase in activity in another. Further, this interdependence of conditions creates a problem when one attempts to delineate them for the purpose of analysis in the classroom. Therefore, it is imperative that the reader be acutely aware of this when reading the following material.
The narrative portion of this unit is intended for the teacher’s use as a guide to teaching about this subject. It does not purport to include all that is needed to teach about the Industrial Revolution. It does provide a basis for teaching about the subject, leaving room for the teacher to maneuver as his/her style of teaching permits. One manner of capitalizing on any shortcomings in this material is to design individual or small group student activities which will enhance their study skills (reference materials, library use, research reports, etc.), while at the same time locating specific information. Also included are suggestions for utilizing this material in class. In the final analysis it is the teacher who will determine the manner in which this material is used, so it is his/her’s to modify as deemed necessary.
The improved yield of the agricultural sector can be attributed to the enclosure movement and to improved techniques and practices developed during this period. A common practice in early agriculture was to allow the land to lie fallow after it had been exhausted through cultivation. Later it was discovered that the cultivation of clover and other legumes would help to restore the fertility of the soil. The improved yields also increased the amount of food available to sustain livestock through the winter. This increased the size of herds for meat on the table and allowed farmers to begin with larger herds in the spring than they had previously.
Other advances in agriculture included the use of sturdier farm implements fashioned from metal. Up until this period most farming implements were made entirely out of wood. We do not find much technical innovation beyond the slight improvements made on existing implements. We do find increased energy being placed into the breeding of livestock, control of insects, improved irrigation and farming methods, developing new crops and the use of horsepower in the fields to replace oxen as a source of power.
These changes which have occurred in agriculture made it possible to feed all of the people that were attracted to the industrial centers as factory workers. By providing enough food to sustain an adequate work force, England was preparing the way for expansion of the economy and industry.
A strategy which may be employed to promote the students’ understanding of the changes that have occurred in agriculture during the period of this unit, and from this period to today’s modern farms, is to start with the present and work back in time to the period we are studying. Students may participate in an informative and interesting discussion centered around today’s farming methods and machinery. Classroom activities could also center about constructing a chart which lists farming methods in pre-industrial revolution times, during the industrial revolution and today. Also, activities could be centered around having students write letters to manufacturers of farm machinery, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or other farm-related concerns (e.g., farm museums).
In 18th century England, the enclosure of common village fields into individual landholdings, or the division of unproductive land into private property was the first significant change to occur. This concentrated the ownership of the land into the hands of a few, and made it possible to institute improved farming techniques on a wider scale. Students may engage in a debate over the question of enclosure, concerning its effect on the rural poor. Historians are not in complete agreement on the effects of enclosure on the poor, some arguing that it contributed to swelling the numbers of poor, while others argue that their plight was only marginally related to the enclosure movement. An excellent resource for the teacher’s use in this section is Chapter Seven of E. P. Thompson’s book, The Making of the English Working Class .
The organization of the textile industry was complicated and grossly inefficient before the age of mechanization. Differences existed from one locality to another generally, a merchant employed putters-out to distribute the raw materials to spinners and weavers who were scattered throughout the countryside.
Changes in the textile industry were already occurring in the early 1700s however, these changes were not easily accepted as evidenced by the workers’ riots which broke out in response to these new machines. John Kay’s flying-shuttle, which enabled one weaver to do the work of two, and Lewis Paul’s roller spinner, which was to make spinning more efficient (later to be perfected by Richard Arkwright), were the precursors of the inventive spirit and the application of new technology to the textile industry.
In the mid-1760s the textile industry began to experience rapid change. James Hargreaves’ jenny, a device which enabled the operator to simultaneously spin dozens of threads, was readily adopted. By 1788 nearly 20,000 of them were being employed in England. Arkwright and others developed the water frame. This device performed similarly to Paul’s roller spinner, though its use demanded greater power than could be applied by muscle.
Arkwright enlisted the financial support of Samuel Need and Jedidiah Strutt to set up a water-powered factory that utilized his invention. This factory, located in Cromford, employed more than 600 workers, many of whom were women and children. The adage “necessity is the mother of invention” is quite appropriate here, for this machine spun the cotton thread faster than human hands could supply the carded and combed raw material. This led to Arkwright’s development of a machine which would perform that function.
The changes that took place in the textile industry must certainly center about the inventions and their inventors, though not necessarily be limited to them. These inventions that were perfected and employed led to tremendous change in the world of work. Gone were the days of the Domestic System, yielding to the new ways of the Factory System. These factories which were to spring up throughout the countryside were large, dusty, poorly illuminated and ventilated and dangerous. The employment of women and children was commonplace and desired, for they were paid lower wages than their male counterparts. Working conditions in these factories were not subject to much regulation.
A strategy similar to the one that was suggested in the previous section may easily be employed here also. Discussions may center around today’s textile industry, before moving on to the methods of preindustrial and industrialized England. Today, blue jeans are often referred to as “America’s national dress.” Some interesting discussions may develop around the manufacture of blue jeans, from the cotton fields to the finished product.
By comparing and contrasting conditions of work today and in days gone by, the students should begin to grasp the magnitude of impact that technological change has had on societies. The modern-day factory bears very little resemblance to Arkwright’s factory at Cromford. Students may be assigned to write letters to the U.S. Department of Labor and its related agencies to request materials on factories today. Letters may also be written to representatives of the textile industry, as well as to labor unions within the industry. Students may also gather information concerning governmental regulation related to work in the textile industry. An excellent resource which should be used by the teacher is E. Royston Pike’s, Hard Times: Human Documents of the Industrial Revolution .
Different methods of mining coal were employed in various locales throughout England. All coal mining had one trait in common the movement of coal was accomplished solely by muscle power—animal, man, woman and child, the latter being the most desirable for their size. The process of removing the coal was obviously as slow as it was dirty. Coal was moved along horizontal tunnels by the basketful and hauled up a vertical shaft to the surface. Later, the underground movement of coal was speeded up by the utilization of ponies and carts on rail. The production of coal increased steadily, from 2 1/2 million to more than 15 million tons by 1829.
Improvements in coal mining came in the form of improved tunnel ventilation, improved underground and surface transportation, the use of gunpowder to blast away at the coal seams, and improved tunnel illumination through the use of safety lamps.
Coal mining today continues to be a hazardous job, though modern machinery and safety equipment have made the industry more efficient and safe. Students should better understand the difficulties of mining coal in the 19th century by studying modern-day coal mining. Several modern-day issues related to the use of coal (strip-mining, air pollution, etc.) should make for some lively discussions in class. Discussions may also touch upon the question of health-related problems of this industry (black lung disease).
It was not uncommon in the 19th century for women to be employed in the mining of coal. Entire families could be found working side by side in the mines. Several sections of Pike’s book, Hard Times , are an excellent teacher resource for material related to women and children working in England’s coal mines. All of these short stories, as well as the illustrations, should be sufficient to help the students to understand the harsh conditions that were endured by these people.
The mid-1700s began the first construction of canals between industrial districts. The construction of trunk lines opened the central industrial districts in the 1770s. The major thurst of financial backing came from the merchants and industrialists, who had a great stake in their construction. The problem of moving bulk goods overland was addressed, at least for the time being, by canals. However, their days were numbered, for the coming of the railroads was imminent.
The principles of rail transport were already in use in the late 1700s. Tramways, using cast iron rails, were being employed in a number of mines in England. By 1800 more than 200 miles of tramway served coal mines. It is not surprising, then, to find a number of engineers connected with coal mines searching for a way to apply the steam engine to railways.
A number of men were involved in experimentation concerning the development of railroads in England. Between 1804 and 1820 we find a few partially successful attempts at developing a practical means of rail transport: Richard Trevithick’s “New Cast1e,” a steam locomotive that proved to be too heavy for the rails, John Blenkinsop’s locomotive, which employed a toothed, gear-like wheel, and William Hedley’s “Puffing Billy,” which was used for hauling coal wagons from the mines.
A pioneer in railroads that bears mentioning here is George Stephenson. Stephenson was invited by the Stockton and Darlington Railway to build the railroad between those two towns. The Stockton to Darlington line was the first public railroad to use locomotive traction and carry passengers, as well as freight. The equipment on this line proved to be too expensive to maintain. This was not the last to be heard from Stephenson.
In 1829 the Liverpool and Manchester Railway sponsored a competition to determine the best type of locomotive. This contest took place on the Rainhill level at Lancashire from October 6 to 14, 1829. Three steam locomotives participated in the Rainhill Trials Timothy Hackworth’s “Sans Pareil,” John Braithwaite and John Ericsson’s “Novelty,” and Stephenson’s “Rocket.” The “Rocket” won the Rainhill Trials. It is interesting and ironic to note here that the first railroad accident death occurred at these trials.
Railroads dominated the transportation scene in England for nearly a century. Railroads proliferated in England, from 1,000 miles in 1836 to more than 7,000 miles built by 1852. Here again is another example of economic necessity producing innovation. The development of reliable, efficient rail service was crucial to the growth of specific industries and the overall economy.
By researching the railroad industry in the United States, students will find them to have been neglected over the years. Railroads have been superceded by modern forms of transport and superhighways. Perhaps a renaissance is due for the railroads in this country. Students will also find that the railroads are a reliable means of transportation for passengers and freight in Europe. Some interesting discussions may evolve around the railroads’ role in mass transit in an energy-conscious world.
The development of a practical, efficient steam engine and its application to industry and transportation caused a great leap for industrialization. Its application was virtually limitless, and it was responsible for lifting industries from infancy to adolescence. Obviously, the study of steam power can be a course of study unto itself, and it is included in various sections within this unit. H. W. Dickinson and H. P. Vowles book, James Watt and the Industrial Revolution , is an excellent teacher resource for use in the classroom. This book contains a number of drawings of early designs of steam engines, as well as a complete history of the search for the practical design.
The Human Aspect
One can find a myriad of reasons for the growth of the population, in addition to those above. Industry provided higher wages to individuals than was being offered in the villages. This allowed young people to marry earlier in life, and to produce children earlier. The old system of apprenticeship did not allow an apprentice to marry. City life provided young people with a greater choice of prospective partners, in contrast to the limited choices in some isolated village. Finally, industry provided people with improved clothing and housing, though it took a long time for housing conditions to improve.
With the adoption of the factory system, we find a shift in population. Settlements grew around the factories. In some cases, housing was provided to workers by their employers, thus giving the factory owners greater control over the lives of his workers. In some cases factories started in existing towns, which was desirable because a labor pool was readily available. The prime consideration for locating a factory was the availability of power. The early form of power was derived directly from moving water. Thus, we find factories cropping up in the hills near streams and rivers. Later, when steam power was developed, factories could be located near any source of water. Other factories, such as those involved in the manufacture of iron, had considerations of a different kind involving their location. Due to the great difficulty in moving bulk materials, such as iron ore, these mills had to be located close to the mineral source. In such situations, large communities grew directly above the seams of ore in the earth.
The development of the steam engine to drive machinery freed the mill owners from being locked into a site that was close to swiftly moving water. The steam powered mill still had to be located near a source of water, though the field of choice was much wider. Also, factories could be located closer to existing population centers or seaports, fulfilling the need for labor and transportation of materials.
The towns that grew in the North were crowded, dirty and unregulated. They grew so rapidly that no one took the time to consider the consequence of such conditions. In the areas of public sanitation and public health, ignorance reigned. No one understood the effects of these unsanitary conditions upon humans. Conditions in these densely populated areas worsened to the point of the reappearance of outbreaks of disease. In the mid-1800s there were several outbreaks of typhoid and cholera. Some attention to these conditions was accorded by Parliament in the form of Public Health Acts. These acts did improve conditions, though they were largely ineffective, for they did not grant local Boards of Health the powers to compel improvements.
E. Royston Pike’s Hard Times is literally a treasure chest brimming with short stories that document living and working conditions during the Industrial Revolution. These stories may be utilized in the classroom in a variety of ways, and they should be quite effective in conveying the reality of life during this period. Pages 43-57 of Pike’s book provide an excellent overview of typical living conditions.
In the early years of this period we find most investments being made in a field closely related to one’s original source of capital. Manufacturers took a substantial portion of their profits to “plough back” into their business, or they invested capital in ventures that were related to their primary business. Eventually, as opportunities to realize great profits proliferated, it was not uncommon to find these entrepreneurs investing substantially in concerns about which they knew very little.
Two kinds of capital were needed by these industrialists long-term capital to expand present operations, and short-term capital to purchase raw materials, maintain inventories and to pay wages to their employees. The long-term capital needs were met by mortgaging factory buildings and machinery. It was the need for short-term capital which presented some problems. The need for short-term capital for raw materials and maintaining stock was accommodated by extending credit to the manufacturers by the producers or dealers. Often, a supplier of raw materials waited from 6 to 12 months for payment of his goods, after the manufacturer was paid for the finished product.
The payment of wages was not an easily solved problem, one which taxed the creativity of employers. The problem was in finding a sufficient amount of small value legal tender to pay the wages. Some employers staggered the days on which they paid their employees, while others paid them in script. Some paid a portion of their work force early in the day, allowing them to shop for household needs. When the money had circulated through the shopkeepers back to the employer, another portion of the work force was paid. All of these methods proved to be unacceptable.
The root of the problem was the lack.of an adequate banking system in these remote industrial centers. The Bank of England, established in the late 1690s, did not accommodate the needs of the manufacturers. It concentrated its interest on the financial affairs of state and those of the trading companies and merchants of London.
The early 1700s brought with it the first country banks. These private banks were founded by those who were involved in a variety of endeavors (goldsmith, merchant, manufacturer). Many industrialists favored establishing their own banks as an outlet for the capital accumulated by their business and as a means for obtaining cash for wages. When the Bank of England tightened credit because of government demands, many of these banks failed. A great number of them had a large proportion of their assets tied up in long-term mortgages, thus leaving them vulnerable when demands for cash were presented by their depositors. From 1772 to 1825, a large number of these banks failed. Their limited resources were inadequate to meet the demands of the factory economy. A banking system was eventually set up to distribute capital to areas where it was needed, drawing it from areas where there was a surplus.
The factory system changed the manner in which work was performed. Unlike the domestic system the work was away from home, in large, impersonal settings. Workers were viewed by their employers merely as “hands.”
Slowly, workers began to realize the strength they could possess if they were a unified force. It was a long, uphill battle for workers to be able to have the right to organize into officially recognized unions. Their lot was one of having no political influence in a land where the government followed a laissez-faire policy.
This hands off policy changed as the pressure from growing trade unions increased. A movement was beginning to free workers from the injustices of the factory system. Political leaders called for reform legislation which would address these injustices (see lesson plans for specific legislation).
A “study set,” consisting of maps, drawings and other resources is also available to supplement the unit. Copies of this set are available through the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. This material may be used in a variety of ways.
Geography —spend as much time as is necessary to acquaint students with major geographical features of England. This knowledge will be helpful to the student later in the unit to make the connection between the location of industry and geographical features.
Agriculture —construct a chart which outlines the major changes from pre-industrialization to the present (see narrative).
Techniques and inventions:
Write letters to:
Locate mining centers (see map) Present improvements in coal and iron mining (see narrative) Stories from Pike’s Hard Times (see study set) Transportation —discuss improvements (see narrative).
Canals Assign individual students the task of Roads locating the addresses of museums re- Railroads lated to these forms of transportation Steamboats Write letters to museums.
Prominent figures in transportation revolution:
Steam power—this topic may be adequately covered in the section on transportation. Certainly, it may be studied in depth by small groups or individual students.
Living conditions —a number of class periods may be spent on this topic. Discussions may center around: Has the quality of life improved since the 18th century? What have we learned about public health? What is the importance of providing for local Boards of Health in modern-day cities?
Capital and labor —These two sectors of our system are purposely blended into one. The employers and employees, though seemingly at odds with one another, are very much dependent on each other. It is as important to the employer to have a healthy and adequate labor force, as it is for jobs to be available to the workers.
Discuss the major points of capitalism. Research labor legislation: From the early 1800s to the early 1900s, a number of laws pertaining to factory work were enacted in England: —Pauper Apprentice Act 1802 —Cotton Factory Act 1819 —Factory Act 1833 —Mines Act 1842 —Ten Hour Act 1847 —Safety Code 1855 —Factory Code 1878, 1902 Discuss the rise of the labor movement. Discuss the major “weapons” of unions and employers:
Workers’ Weapons Employers’ Weapons Strike Lockout Boycott Injunction Collective bargaining blacklist Legislative lobbying Individual bargaining Political action Open shop Picketing Right-to-work legislation Closed shop Union shop
At the level for which this unit is intended, seventh grade, it is important for the students to be exposed to some classic pieces of literature as part of their assigned reading. Thus, the work of Dickens is made to order.
Dickens’ writings selected for use in this unit should prove to be entertaining to the students, while bringing the material contained in the narrative to life. The imagery that Dickens creates should be adequate to convey to the students the real “flavor” of life in England during this period, and his social criticisms that are evident in them should aid the students in their understanding of the issues of the times.
The teacher should select the best method for utilizing Dickens in his/her classroom. Readings may be assigned to individuals, or to small or large groups. It was very common in the Victorian period for members of a family to read to others in the early evening. The teacher may choose to read aloud to the class, or even have individual students read to the rest of the class.
Notes on Oliver Twist
Oliver was treated very well by Mr. Sowerberry, though he was mistreated by several other characters in the story. One morning Oliver decides to run away.
Upon his arrival at the outskirts of London, Oliver meets a young boy named Artful Dodger. Dodger takes Oliver to meet Fagin, a master criminal. Oliver gets involved with the law when he is with two thieves who rob an old gentleman. Oliver is saved from jail by Mr. Brownlow. Later, Oliver is kidnapped by two of Fagin’s cohorts and made to participate in a burglary, during which Oliver is shot.
The plot thickens when the reader learns that Oliver’s half-brother made a pact with Fagin to make Oliver a criminal, thus disinheriting him from their father’s will.
Suggested questions for discussion:
Notes on Hard Times
The utilization of this book in the classroom can best be determined by the teacher. This may be the book that teacher chooses to read aloud to the class. Dickens’ descriptions of Coketown and some of its inhabitants are quite graphic and are examples of his best writings.
Catholic Responses to Industrialization
If American Catholic responses to industrialization's problems were complex, it was, in part, because Catholic social thought was complex. The church had a long tradition of social thinking rooted in the gospels and refined through the ages, but it was slow to adapt this thought to the social and economic revolution of the nineteenth century. Leo XIII was the first pope to address the problems of industrialization directly in his encyclical Rerum Novarum, which means, appropriately, "Of New Things."
Leo's encyclical began by pointing to a new revolution transforming the world, not political in nature, but economic. "New Developments in industry, new technologies striking out on new paths, changed the relations of employer and employee, abundant wealth among a very small number and destitution among the masses, increased self-reliance among the workers as well as a closer bond of union have caused conflict to hold forth." The changes, he noted, were so "momentous" that they kept "men's mind in anxious expectation." There were difficult problems to resolve, the pope acknowledged, but "all are agreed that the poor must be speedily and fittingly cared for, since the great majority of them live undeservedly in miserable and wretched conditions."
Leo XIII believed that the root of the problem was the decline of the old trade guilds of medieval origin and the failure of modern government to pay attention to "traditional religious teaching." Inspired by the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas and Aquinas' vision of an organic community knitting rich and poor together in reciprocal relation, Rerum Novarum in some ways looked not forward but back to a medieval golden age. In this sense it was a conservative document, or, conservatives believed that they could read it as such. They took notice of Leo's attack on the Socialists, for "exciting the enmity of the poor towards the rich" and advocating a program that "violates the rights of lawful owners, perverts the functions of the state. throws governments into confusion [and] actually injures the workers themselves."
Yet if Pope Leo XIII attacked Socialism in Rerum Novarum and gave hope to conservatives, he also assailed unregulated capitalism and encouraged reforms. Workers owed their bosses conscientious work, but "no laws either human or divine, permit them [the owners] for their own profit to oppress the needy and the wretched or to seek gain from another's want." The "principal" duty of an owner is "to give every worker what is justly due him." Leo XIII argued that "free contracts" between workers and owners must always be "an element of natural justice, one greater and more ancient that the free consent of contracting parties, namely that the wage shall not be less than enough to support a worker who is thrifty and upright." Leo contended that "in the case of the worker there are many things which the power of the state should protect. " Leo also gave support, if vaguely and cautiously worded, to the organization of workers. Many interpreted Leo's endorsement of workers' associations as an endorsement of unions.
As American Catholics came to grips with the problems and promise of economic change at the turn of the century, Leo's encyclical would become a powerful influence. Yet, if it inspired Catholic reformers and progressives, its effects would be complicated as conservative Catholics read it and their church's traditions of social thought in their own way. Nor would the encyclical and the church's formal social thought be the sole source of inspiration for Catholics confronting the industrial revolution of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
William Cardinal O'Connell
Courtesy of ACUA
Father John A. Ryan
In 1906, a young priest studying at Catholic University in Washington D.C. would draw on the new methods of American statistical analysis and available data to precisely compute what Leo's "living wage" would actually mean in concrete terms for American workers and their families. The young priest, John A. Ryan, had been born on a Minnesota farm, the son of an Irish immigrant. Raised in radical traditions rooted in the Populist movement of the U.S. plains states and Irish American custom, he would become the foremost Catholic proponent of social and economic reform in American church history and the most prominent Catholic "Progressive" of the Progressive Era. Ryan was a thinker, a philosopher, tightlipped and somewhat abrupt in person but passionate about ideas and the plight of working people. Ryan endorsed labor unions, but he believed strongly that the ultimate responsibility for rectifying the problems of the new industrial society lay with the government. His work on behalf of living wage legislation would earn him the title "Father of the Minimum Wage," and for his strong backing of Franklin Roosevelt he would be called the "Right Reverend New Dealer." In 1919 Father Ryan wrote what became known as the Bishops' Program for Social Reconstruction. Endorsed by bishops involved in the National Catholic War Council and based on Rerum Novarum, this program explicitly advocated legislation to regulate child labor, establish minimum wages, and provide national health insurance.
William Cardinal O'Connell
Not all bishops supported the programs advocated by Ryan, however. One who did not was William Cardinal O'Connell, Archbishop of Boston from 1906 to 1944. O'Connell had been born into an immigrant factory worker's family in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1859, so he knew firsthand the plight of working people. He was only the third cardinal in the history of the United States, and by the 1910s, one of the most influential men of the American Catholic Church. He was concerned about the church's place in America, and like many church leaders of his generation worried about a powerful state intruding into a moral sphere where the church alone should rule. O'Connell also objected to the government's attempts to assume responsibilities that more appropriately belonged to families--to parents over their children, for example. Unlike Ryan, then, O'Connell was suspicious of the government, doubted that it could do much good for the poor and workers through legislation, and indeed, feared that its interference would make the lives of working families much worse. In 1924 he clashed with John Ryan over adding an amendment to the Constitution permitting the federal government to ban child labor. O'Connell believed that the child labor amendment would take control of children away from their parents, handing it over to legislators and a "centralized bureaucracy" thereby weakening the family, the fundamental core unit of moral life.
Mary Harris "Mother" Jones
Courtesy of ACUA
Mary Harris, "Mother" Jones differed altogether from Ryan and O'Connell. She was a radical, self-proclaimed and universally acknowledged by friend and foe alike. Born in Ireland probably in 1836, she taught in parochial schools in Michigan briefly before marrying George Jones and settling down in Memphis, Tennessee with him and their three children. After a yellow fever epidemic killed her husband and all of their children in late 1860, she worked as a milliner (hatmaker) and drifted into the labor movement. It was not until 1900, when she was in her mid-sixties, however, that Mother Jones became an official organizer for the United Mine Workers and finally came into her own as a labor leader. She looked grandmotherly with her white hair, wire-rimmed glasses and old-fashioned lacy dresses. She spoke of her "boys," the miners or her "girls," the brewery or textile workers. Yet she swore like a sailor and stood up fearlessly to police, sheriffs, and company officials who tried to intimidate her. In the first two decades of the twentieth century she organized miners in the coal fields of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Colorado, women brewery workers in Milwaukee, and child textile workers in Philadelphia. She was arrested, tried, and imprisoned in several states. The Attorney General of West Virginia called her "The most dangerous woman in America." Jones was suspicious of the government like O'Connell, then, but for very different reasons. She believed that the government would always act on behalf of the rich, and nearly always punish workers who fought for better conditions. She put more faith in union strikes and boycotts, for she thought that workers could help themselves only through their own efforts. Ryan and O'Connell explicitly drew on church teachings to justify their positions on economic issues. Jones, born and raised a Catholic, and even a teacher in a Catholic school, grew skeptical of organized religion over her lifetime. Nevertheless, she did not seem to lose her faith in Christ and drew heavily on biblical lessons and imagery to inspire her "boys" the union workers and offer them a vision of a happier future.
This website surveys documents related to the work of John A. Ryan, William O'Connell, and Mary Harris "Mother" Jones in its attempt to convey the variety of responses among Catholics to industrialization in the United States.
Catholics continue to respond to conditions caused by industrialization. As noted in the beginning of this introduction, however, the perception of injustice caused by industrialization has become worldwide in scope. James Keady, along with labor activist Leslie Kretzu, sought to dramatize conditions among impoverished and underpaid Nike workers by living in a Nike factory workers' town in Indonesia for one month on $1.25 a day, a typical wage paid to Nike's subcontracted workers at the time. The living wasn't easy, and the experience fueled the founding of Educating for Justice, an international nonprofit organization that educates high school and college students on issues of global injustice. Educating for Justice website: http://educatingforjustice.org/history.htm.
In addition to sources cited in the endnotes, the following were consulted in compiling this introduction:
Elliott J. Gorn, Mother Jones, The Most Dangerous Woman in America (New York: Hill and Wang, 2001).
James O'Toole, Militant and Triumphant: William Henry O'Connell and the Catholic Church in Boston, 1859-1944 (South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992).
Michael Glazier and Thomas J. Shelley, eds., The Encyclopedia of American Catholic History (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1997), especially entries on Mother Jones, by Joseph Quinn, William Cardinal O'Connell by James O'Toole, and John Augustine Ryan by Jeffrey M. Burns.
Acemoglu, D. &amp Restrepo, P. NBER Working Paper No. 23285 (2017) available at http://go.nature.com/2wabaab
Solow, R. M. Q. J. Econ. 70, 65–94 (1956).
Allen, R. C. Econ. Hist. Rev. 56, 403–443 (2003).
Allen, R. C. Global Economic History: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2011).
Marx, K. Capital Vol. 1, English trans. (1887) available at http://go.nature.com/2ftxrww
Goldin, C. &amp Katz, L. F. Q. J. Econ. 113, 693–732 (1998).
Acemoglu, D. J. Econ. Lit. 40, 7–72 (2002).
Kuznets, S. Am. Econ. Rev. 45, 1–28 (1955).
Atkinson, A. B., Piketty, T. &amp Saez, E. J. Econ. Lit. 49, 3–71 (2011).
Milanovic, B. Global Inequality (Harvard Univ. Press, 2016).
Bourguigon, F. &amp Morrison, C. Am. Econ. Rev. 92, 727–744 (2002).
Piketty, T. Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Harvard Univ. Press, 2014).
Atkinson, A. B. Inequality: What Can Be Done? (Harvard Univ. Press, 2015).
Acemoglu, D. &amp Restrepo, P. NBER Working Paper No. 22252 (2017) available at http://go.nature.com/2xjwIwl
Allen, R. C. The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2009).
Colonial purchases of British goods were a major stimulus to the economy. Around 1770, 96.3% of British exports of nails and 70.5% of the export of wrought iron went to colonial and African markets. Around the same time, British exports of iron manufactures took 15-19% of domestic iron production.
Textile exports accounted for between a third and a half of total production, with colonial and African markets again taking a huge share. In the periods 1784-1786 and 1805-1807, the growth of exports accounted for no less than 87% of the growth of British output.
Slave-generated profits could have covered a third of Britain's overall investment needs
During the French Wars (1793-1802, 1804-1815) British exporters often found that, excluded from Europe, they had to rely on colonial and American markets. The merchant and finance houses that facilitated the import of sugar and cotton also helped to extend badly-needed credit to the textile and metal manufacturers.
Around 1770, total investments in the domestic British economy stood at £4 million, (or about £500 million in today's money). This investment included the building of roads and canals, of wharves and harbours, of all new equipment needed by farmers and manufacturers, and of all the new ships sold to merchants in a period of one year.
Around the same time, slave-based planting and commercial profits came to £3.8 million (or about £450 million in contemporary terms). Of course profits were not all reinvested, but they did furnish a convenient pool of resources available for this purpose. British West Indian planting profits can be estimated at £2.5 million in 1770, while trading profits on the West India trade were around £1.3 million, at a time when annual slave trading profits were at least £1 million. Even if not all reinvested the slave-generated profits were large enough to have covered a quarter to a third of Britain's overall investment needs.
Notwithstanding the interruptions of war, the plantations made a very substantial contribution for many decades, indeed for the greater part of the century after 1720. Between 1761 and 1808, British traders hauled across the Atlantic 1,428,000 African captives and pocketed £60 million - perhaps £8 billion in today's money - from slave sales.
A study of the activities of 23 London merchants who were heavily involved in the slave trade found they 'played their part in building roads and bridges . They invested in [other] maritime undertakings, especially whaling the making of cloth, mainly wool mining, especially salt, coal, and lime and the production of building materials, such as lumber, rope, iron and glass.'
Women and Children during the Industrial Revolution
Life for Women and Children during the Industrial Revolution was quite different to the way they can live today. This page looks at some of the things that women and children were expected to do during the industrial revolution and provides source material to show what people thought of this at the time.
Children during the Industrial Revolution.
At the start of the Industrial Revolution there was little legislation about working conditions in mills, factories or or the industrial plants. As factories spread rapidly the owners of mills, mines and other forms of industry needed large numbers of workers. They didn’t want to have to pay them a high wage. Children were the ideal employees. They were cheap, weren’t big enough or educated enough to argue or complain and were small enough to fit between tight fitting machinery. Children soon ended up working in all types of industry.
You may wonder why these children were not at school. This is simply because education in the early 19th century was not compulsory. Many schools were expensive to send a child to, so working class families couldn’t afford to send children there. Parents were quite willing to let children work in mills and factories as it provided the family with a higher income. One consequence of this was a high birth rate.
While education had progressed much of it was similar to the school system outlined here.
Nowadays lots of children have Saturday jobs or part time work after school. These jobs are carefully controlled and the government has made laws saying how long children can work for. It regulates the types of job they can and cannot do and what the minimum age for working is. Consider the evidence below to see how modern conditions compare with the working conditions of the early 19th century.
There was no restriction on the age of workers, nor on the number of hours that they could work. This led to children as young as 8 or 9 being required to work 12 or more hours a day.
Example: Felling Colliery Disaster
The records of the Felling Colliery disaster show that many of the victims of the explosion were children. Look at the chart below:
* Several children are recorded simply as being ‘a boy’. These children are not accounted for on the above table. The chart does not account for all types of employee at the colliery.
3. Alexander Gray, a pump boy aged 10 years old. Reported in 1842 Royal Commision into working conditions, said: “I pump out the water in the under bottom of the pit to keep the coal face dry. I am obliged to pump fast or the water would cover me. I had to run away a few weeks ago as the water came up so fast that I could not pump at all. The water frequently covers my legs. I have been two years at the pump. I am paid 10d (old pence) a day. No holiday but the Sabbath (Sunday). I go down at three, sometimes five in the morning, and come up at six or seven at night.
Women during the Industrial Revolution
Women faced different demands during the industrial age to those that they face today. Women of the working classes would usually be expected to go out to work, often in the mills or mines. As with the children and men the hours were long and conditions were hard. Some examples of work specifically done by Women can be found amongst the links at the foot of this page.
Those who were fortunate may have become maids for wealthier families, others may have worked as governesses for rich children. The less fortunate may have been forced to work in shocking conditions during the day and then have to return home to conduct the households domestic needs (Washing, Cookng and looking after children etc.) Remember that housing for many of these people was quite poor.
Women also faced the added burden of societies demand for children. The industrial age led to a rapid increase in birth rates which clearly has an impact upon the physical strength of the mothers. It was not uncommon for families to have more than 10 children as a result of this demand: and the woman would often have to work right up to and straight after the day of the childs birth for finanical reasons, leaving the care of the new born child to older relatives.
Links to sites offering greater detail on aspects of this topic.
This section of the fabulous Spartacus Encyclopedia looks at the History of Women’s Emancipation (Freedom). Plenty of pages within this extensive unit covering a variety of aspects of life in the period 1750-1920.
A Report into the conditions faced by women miners in 1812.
The Matchgirls Strike. This page looks at the conditions faced by women working in the Match factory and shows how action was taken by a number of people to try and force reform on behalf of these women.
An evaluation of the life of Women of the lower classes during the Industrial Revolution. this site also details the type of work done by middle classed and wealthier women at the time.
How Technology Has Affected Wages for the Last 200 Years
Today’s great paradox is that we feel the impact of technology everywhere – in our cars, our phones, the supermarket, the doctor’s office – but not in our paychecks. We work differently, communicate with each other differently, create differently, and entertain ourselves differently, all thanks to new technology. Yet since the beginning of the personal computer revolution three decades ago, the median wage has remained stagnant.
Over the last two hundred years, technological advancements have been responsible for a ten-fold increase in wages. But some people claim that technology has now turned against us, permanently eliminating middle class jobs and portending a future of widening economic inequality. The remedy, they say, lies in policies to redistribute wealth.
But are we really at an historical turning point? No. In fact, the present is not so different than the past. Throughout history, major new technologies were initially accompanied by stagnant wages and rising inequality, too. This was true during the Industrial Revolution in the early nineteenth century and also during the wave of electrification that began at the end of the nineteenth century. However, after decades these patterns reversed large numbers of ordinary workers eventually saw robust wage growth thanks to new technology.
Of course, circumstances are different today. Information technology automates the work of white-collar jobs and the pace of change is faster. But the key challenge facing the workforce is the same as in the past. Both then and now, in order to implement major new technologies, large numbers of people had to learn new skills and knowledge. This learning turned out to be surprisingly slow and difficult, yet it was the key to higher wages. Today’s workforce must overcome a similar hurdle before it can benefit from new technology.
Too often, when people think about technology, they only think about the initial invention. In the cartoon version, technology consists of inventions “designed by geniuses to be run by idiots.” Yet most major technologies develop over decades, as large numbers of people learn how to apply, adapt, and improve the initial invention. The initial power loom—one of the transformative technologies of the Industrial Revolution—automated weaving tasks, allowing a weaver to produce twice as much cloth per hour. But over the next century, weavers improved their skills and mechanics and managers made adaptations and improvements, generating a twenty-fold increase in output per hour. Most of the gains from this technology took a long time to realize, and involved the skills and knowledge of many people. Similarly slow progress was seen in steam engines, factory electrification, and petroleum refining. More recently, it took decades for computers to show up in the productivity statistics.
Because skills were so important during the Industrial Revolution, employers sometimes went to great lengths to build an intelligent workforce that could learn on the job. Lowell, Massachusetts, was the Silicon Valley of its day, and the textile mills of Lowell recruited bright young women by offering them something like a college experience: the mill owners funded schools, lecture series, a library, and cultural events. One mill girl, Lucy Larcom, studied German and botany, and published poems in the mill girls’ literary magazine during the 1830s and 1840s she came to the attention of John Greenleaf Whittier, who became her mentor.
These measures by the mill owners might seem surprising because even today factory workers with little education are often considered “unskilled.” Although the early mill workers had little formal schooling, they learned skills on the job, skills that were critical to keeping the strange, new, expensive machines running efficiently. Their skills were narrow compared to those of traditional craftsmen, but valuable nonetheless. These skills eventually allowed factory weavers to earn far more than earlier artisan weavers steel workers with narrow skills earned more than craft ironworkers with broad skills typographers on the new Linotype machines earned more than the hand compositors they replaced. Moreover, employers paid these workers well at a time when unions had little power. Technical skills learned through experience allowed blue-collar workers with little education to enter the middle class.
However, this process took a long time. Many workers could not teach themselves on the job. In the early textile mills, most left after just months on the job, finding the work too hard to learn or too disagreeable. Nor could these skills be learned in school. The technology was too uncertain, changing too rapidly for schools to keep up. The first textile schools were not established until after the Civil War. More important, workers’ incentives to learn the new skills were weak because the labor market was initially quite limited. During the 1830s, the textile mills mainly hired workers who had no prior experience. Experience acquired at one mill was not necessarily valuable at another because mills used different versions of the technology and organized work in different ways. But without a robust labor market, textile workers could not look forward to a long career at different workplaces and so they had little reason to invest in learning. After the Civil War, the market for skilled textile workers became very active. Only then did wages begin to grow vigorously. Weavers’ hourly pay in Lowell changed little between 1830 and 1860, but by 1910 it had tripled. It took decades for the training institutions, business models, and labor markets to emerge that unlocked the benefits of technology for ordinary workers.
Of course, technology and skills were not the only factors that helped boost wages. Growing capital investments made the workers more productive, and growing opportunities for women workers helped increase their pay. Unions also played a role, especially during the 20 th century. But consider the magnitude of these changes: studies have shown that unionized workers earn about 15% more than comparable nonunionized workers. That’s a meaningful difference, but it looks small compared to the weavers’ three-fold increase in wages. Ultimately, the biggest factor in that wage growth was technology, the productivity growth it unlocked, and the development of mature labor markets that valued the weavers’ skills.
Thanks to these developments, generations of less educated manufacturing workers have been able to earn good pay. Now, however, automation and offshoring have eliminated many of those jobs for weavers and steelworkers and typographers many of the old skills are obsolete. Nevertheless, new opportunities are emerging because technology creates jobs that demand new skills. However, the transition to new jobs is slow and difficult.
For example, computer publishing replaced typographers with graphic designers. Yet today’s graphic designers face a challenge acquiring the latest skills, not unlike the challenge faced by antebellum textile workers. Standards, business models, and technology keep changing, requiring continuous learning. First designers had to learn desktop publishing, then web publishing, and now, with the growth of smartphones, mobile design. The most able designers are able to teach themselves, but the average designer cannot. Nor have the schools kept up many still focusing on print design. The top ten percent of designers have seen their wages grow strongly along with their new skills, but the median designer wage has been stagnant for three decades.
Since the 1980s, a similar gap has widened within many jobs. In occupations where the majority of workers use computers, the wages of the top ten percent have been growing, but median wages have seen little growth. Even among scientific, engineering, and computer occupations, the median wage has grown slowly, but those with specialized technical skills earn a growing bounty from technology. And the difficulty of acquiring the new skills affects employers as well. In survey after survey, over a third of managers report difficulty finding employees who have needed skills business groups regularly decry the “skills gap.” In short, firms have plenty of demand for workers with critical technical skills, they are willing to pay high wages for workers who have them, but too few workers do.
Thus the problem isn’t that technology has eliminated the need for mid-skill workers overall. New opportunities are there, but grasping them is difficult. Overcoming that obstacle will take time as well as policies that promote technical training, certify skills learned through experience, encourage employee mobility, and foster robust labor markets.
Perhaps in the future, smart machines will drastically eliminate opportunities for mid-skill work, but that is not what is behind today’s stagnant wages. Technology has not turned against us instead, technology challenges us to develop new capabilities. If we meet that challenge, then large numbers of ordinary people will benefit substantially from new technology, just as they have for the past two hundred years.
What Was the Role of the Labor Unions During the Industrial Revolution?
During the Industrial Revolution, labor unions played a critical role in empowering workers. Not only were they effective in helping improve factory conditions and pay rates, they offered workers an important entry point into the political sphere, where they came to embody a powerful constituency with demands and views that required representation. As stated by History-World.org., unions thus helped workers gain “the right to vote and expand their political power.”
In the late 18th and 19th century, the Industrial Revolution took root in Northern and Western Europe and then in the United States. As factories emerged as the dominant method of industrial production, increasing numbers of workers were forced to work in overcrowded and adverse circumstances. In these early decades, laws seldom governed the way in which industrialists treated their workers, so conditions were frequently dangerous, hours excruciatingly long and pay abysmally low. As more and more workers collectively studied their condition, they concluded that organization could help.
Unions demanded higher pay, safer practices and limited work-weeks. To give their demands teeth, workers threatened strikes and other actions that could hamper or even halt production altogether. Next, unions turned their attention to politics. As History-World states, “they campaigned for laws that would help them.” Among the most important was the right to vote, a privilege that had been reserved for societal elites.
Thus, unions were instrumental in widening the breath of democratic participation in the 19th and 20th centuries. As political parties sought union support, further divides in political ideologies became apparent, with labor usually identified as leftist. According to Australian National University, unions also encouraged developments in areas of political theory and philosophy during the period of the Industrial Revolution, particularly with Marxism and various schools of socialist thought.
Did the Industrial Revolution Affect Society, Politics and the Economy?
The industrial revolution affected society by turning an agricultural, or agrarian, society into a consumer-based industrial society. It brought more workers into the workforce and new laws were created regarding worker safety and rights.
The industrial revolution started in England in the middle of the 18th century before gradually swinging into full effect and changing the lifestyle of the world, including in America. In the early stages of the revolution, the outwork system was used. This meant specialized parts of the work were sent out to worker's homes for completion before moving on through the production process at another location.
The factory system then evolved. Under the factory system, each of the specialized parts of production were performed at one location. This helped to streamline production but affected the family unit and social standards of the day. A businessman named Samuel Slater started the industrial revolution in the United States when he used British technology in opening his industrial mill, as noted by U.S. History. Slater's mill quickly spun cotton thread into yarn.
How the Industrial Revolution Affected Society
The industrial revolution had a major effect on society by creating social class division. The working class emerged as the majority of the population when people joined the workforce. The familial social units that made up society as it was known changed as women left home and entered the workforce. Children also went to work in industrial settings. This left children without access to education. A certain level fear of became part of the lifestyle for workers. The fear was the result of feeling workers would be replaced and lose income if they tried to get better incomes or working conditions through striking. The low wages also left workers spending long hours at work just to survive, thereby diminishing their quality of life.
How the Industrial Revolution Affected Politics
The industrial revolution changed the political scene in America by creating the need for new laws to protect workers. Early in the industrial revolution, people struggled to earn a fair wage in the competitive job market under the rule of the industrial founders. Young girls were often hired over male workers because they worked cheaper. Working conditions were often unsafe, with no repercussions to the companies.
State governments also got involved in pushing banks to fund industrial enterprises and in building an infrastructure that supported moving goods from place to place. This led to the development of improved canals, roads and railroads, as mentioned by Lumen Learning. Political intervention was eventually needed to create laws to protect children, workers in dangerous conditions and workers trying to negotiate better working conditions and pay.
How the Industrial Revolution Changed the Economy
The economy changed to an industrial- and market-based model during the industrial revolution because the market became flooded with mass-produced merchandise. The people working had more disposable income to spend, compared to when they worked in an agrarian setting. People moved into cities to take advantage of available jobs. The lack of adequate septic systems in cities led to outbreaks of cholera and other diseases, increasing the need to for medical care.
“Phossy jaw” was thought to have been eliminated through modern day working practices, but in a twist of fate, contemporary medicine has actually resurrected this disease. A group of drugs known as Bisphosphonates, commonly used in cancer treatment and to reduce the impact of bone thinning, has the potential to cause deterioration of the jaw.
Match factory worker with ‘phossy jaw’. Public Domain
With good oral care and dentistry, regular checks and antibiotic therapy, the risk is relatively low and treatment less radical. But it shows how the development of new and innovative ways of treating medical conditions – that improve and prolong life – can inadvertently create other problems.
The story of the plight of the matchstick girls and many women like them tells of the social injustices that prevailed throughout history. But disappointingly, such suffering continues to exist in society today.
Research shows hospital staff still continue to take women’s pain less seriously, compared with men’s pain. And that less time is spent treating women – who are more likely to be wrongly diagnosed.
Women in their defiance, continue to challenge health inequality and those who seek to oppress and exploit them not only nationally, but also globally. Women in their droves are standing up for other women – as can be seen in the recent outcry across the world over vaginal mesh implants. Women are no longer willing to accept poor health outcomes as an inevitability of their oppressed lives.
Today, we must continue to promote gender equality if our children and grandchildren are to have lives that are fulfilled and rewarding. To do this, we need to be as strong and courageous as the matchstick women to take action against the oppressive structures that continue to exist within a patriarchal society.