Industrial Revolution

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The Industrial Revolution of the 18th century was an outgrowth from the social changes of the Enlightenment and the colonial expansion of the 17th century.

Prior to the invention of the steam engine by James Watt and others, all manufacturing had to rely for power on wind or water mills or muscle power produced by animals or humans. But with the ability to translate the potential energy of steam into mechanical force, a factory could be built away from streams and rivers, and many tasks that had been done by hand in the past could be mechanized. If, for example, a lumber mill had been limited in the number of logs it could cut in a day due to the amount of water and pressure available to turn the wheels, the steam engine eliminated that dependence. Grain mills, thread and clothing mills, and wind driven water pumps could all be converted to steam power as well.

Shortly after the steam engine was developed, a steam locomotive called The Rocket was invented by George Stephenson, and the first steam-powered ship was invented by Fulton. These inventions, and the fact that machines were not taxed as much as people, caused large social upheavals, as small mills and cottage industries that revolved around a stream or group of people putting energy into a product could not compete with the energy derived from steam. With locomotives and steamships, goods could now be transfered very quickly across a country or ocean, and within a relatively predictable timeframe, since the steam plants provided consistent power, unlike transportation relying on wind or animal power.

The transition to industrialisation was not wholely seamless, for in England the "Luddites" - workers who saw their livelihoods threatened - protested against the process and sometimes sabotaged factories.

See also History, History of Science and Technology, 18th century and 19th century, as well as Rail Transport.