Britain's Role in the Industrial Revolution

MatthewA By MatthewA, 21st Sep 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
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A brief account of Britain's role in the Industrial Revolution.

Britain's Role in the Industrial Revolution

Britain's role in the Industrial Revolution (circa 19th century) was influential. Britain was the first nation to embrace industry, and was later followed by the likes of America, Germany and France by the end of the 19th century.

A number of factors fueled Britain's industrial leadership. To begin with, coal, the most essential of raw materials needed for industry of the time, was abundant within the British Isles. With coal Britain had a cheap resource available to them. Not forgetting other valued resources like copper, lead, tin and limestone that the U.K. possessed.

In addition, coal was a key ingredient of the steam engine designed by scientists such as Thomas Newcomen and Sir James Watt. The first real locomotives burnt the coal that roared steam engines on. Britain's canal system, which was already useful for trade and commerce, became antiquated as the railway network developed for transporting raw materials to industrial locations expanded.

With Britain's commodities, combined with the development and use of steam engines, the U.K. had a very strong base for industry. It cannot be considered a surprise that Britain began to lead world industrial output by the 19th century.

The empire, which was of considerable size, provided a further platform for the U.K. to become the leading industrial nation. That Britain had colonies it could import other raw materials from to manufacture valuable finished goods gave U.K. trade a prominent position. Britain could produce textiles in abundance, along with other such goods like glass and metals.

Britain also possessed a large merchant fleet for trade. The Royal Navy was clearly the largest in the world after the Napoleonic Wars. The wars had wrecked French and other European merchant shipping. This further assisted British industry.

Competition for Britain was scant to begin with. America was still a young nation when the Industrial Revolution began, and likewise Germany would not become a unified country until the latter part of the 19th. Russia was backward with little or no heavy industry. This left the French, who were held back by the aristocracy that gave way to Napoleon's revolution during the era.

Therefore, Britain was poised to become the leading industrial country. It duly was by the mid 19th century. The U.K. became the dominant industrial nation, and a great exhibition was held in 1851 to celebrate Britain's industry. This showcased Britain's vast range of goods to foreign visitors. It was a high-point for U.K. industry.

The competition began to emerge after the exhibition in the latter half of the century. The USA boldly began to compete and caught up. The conquests of Bismarck united Germany, and with that the country embraced industry (the Second Industrial Revolution). Germany's industrial base in the Rhineland was especially proficient in chemical production, which they emerged as a world leader in.

Towards the end of the 19th century, British industry was no longer so dominant; and in certain industries the USA and Germany had already overtaken them. Even Russia started to build railways, and small pockets of industry emerged in the country - although they remained behind.

Overall, Britain's role in the first Industrial Revolution was pivotal. They became the leading industrial nation. U.K. industry was a model to the competition that would catch up, with British entrepreneurs assisting nations such as Russia. The Industrial Revolution was a golden age for Britain's Empire, and one the Victorian era certainly holds dear.


Britain, Industrial Revolution, Steam Engine

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Matthew is the author of the book Battles of the Pacific War 1941 - 1945. You can find further details at

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