About the Age of Industrialization

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Industrialisation is the process of automation of various processes in manufacturing and thus by extension to different areas of economic spheres. In simple terms, industrialisation can be said as the setting up of factories or industries that result in mass production of consumables by utilising machines that automate entire production processes. So, plainly speaking if there is anything that can be said about the age of industrialization, then it is that the age of industrialization is characterized by the setting up of factories fueled by the active use of machinery and its impact on different economic spheres and networks. 

Before Industrialization

People generally believe about the age of industrialization that it was the first time that there were mass production and intense structural organisation in economic activities. But this is not true. Historians now call the phase of industrialization before the beginning of factories as the period of proto-industrialization. This is the period when there existed organised markets and economic networks of merchants, artisans and peasants with a wide scale of production. But this period lacked the active use of machinery and scientific advancements in technology and production. Business in this period or manufacturing of products in this period was largely dependent on human resources available. 

The proto-industrialization period can be accounted for the period of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. During this period, there were vast movements of exploration and colonial expansion by economic powers in Europe of the global world opening up a vast scope of international trade and markets. This led to an increase in the demand for products which the European merchants deemed as a developing opportunity. But to increase the production the merchants could not depend on the towns because of the powerful associations of crafts and trade guilds which maintain a monopoly on the production, quality and quantity of production and regulation of competition and prices. Hence, the merchants turned to the countryside persuading peasants and artisans to produce for the international markets. 

Age of Industrialization

The age of industrialization is said to have begun around 1760 i.e. in the middle of the eighteenth century. It began in Britain and then subsequently spread to the rest of the European continent and North America and their colonies. 

One thing that has to be known about the age of industrialization is that there a number of factors that were responsible for the start of the setting up of factories and automation. These factors were largely about the land i.e. the natural resources, capital and labour. Britain had all these factors readily available not only for production but also for the markets which facilitated the beginning of industrialization. It also had plenty of ports providing access to trade routes and foreign markets, access to capital such as goods and money and an abundance of labour. The British colonies provided a huge market for the goods produced in England thus maintaining a steady and increased flow of supply and demand. 

Inventions, Factories and Human Labour

An important fact about the age of industrialization is that various small and large inventions were its driving force. Cotton was the first product that saw the rise and marked the beginning of industrialization. There was an increase in the efficiency of each step of production such as carding, twisting and spinning, and rolling. The spinning jenny was one of the inventions that increased the production of thread by eight times as much thread as the single spinning wheel.

Apart from these mechanistic inventions, the establishment of factories played a huge role in mass production. Richard Arkwright established the first mill in England. These mills led to the organisation of all the production processes under one roof. Because of this, there was an increased demand for mill workers and machine operators. Over the end of the eighteenth century, this demand although increased was short of the huge human labour that was available. When it manifested in other sectors of the economy production and manufacturing, this also led to an increase in employment opportunities.

One of the other important inventions that revolutionized the process of automation and the use of machines was the invention of the steam engine by Thomas Newcomen. James Watt later created another modern version of the steam engine and patented it. This steam engine was widely exploited in the production and development of railways, naval ships, etc. 

Industrialization in Colonies - India

The availability of a potential colonial market was one of the biggest influencers in the story about the age of industrialization. The industrial revolution impacted greatly the local and indigenous market and economic systems in place in colonies such as India. Before India became a part of the tale about the age of industrialization, there was an efficient system of merchants, bankers and other economic players in place. Ports of Surat and Hooghly provided the trade opportunities of merchants residing in and around these places in international markets with their connections to Continental African and Southeastern nations. The products available at the ports were made available by inland merchants that brought the produce from the inland to these places. The weavers and artisans in India produced huge handcrafted products that were highly valued in markets such as European markets. 

But with increased control over trade policies and practices, the East India Company and later the British administration established a monopoly of British markets in India. For example, with the increased mass production of cotton and its products the British banned sale of Indian products even though they were of high quality. Alongside the banning of products, the products from Britain were available in large quantities compared to the quantities in India and this led to them being available at cheaper prices. This led to a decrease in the market in India for indigenous goods and also the export of finished goods abroad decreased. Even though the raw material such as cotton was exported to Britain and other countries that too decreased over time in the nineteenth century. This essentially led to the hampering of local economic activities and economic markets. 

Owing to the above-mentioned reasons the business and trade activities at the ports of Surat and Hooghly declined. Their place was taken up by the development of ports and cities such as Bombay and Calcutta, because of the goods and material available at these ports from the imports. Also, the establishment of factories in these areas led the weavers and artisans from the neighbouring areas and provinces to come and work as labourers as the inland economic system and network declined.

However, there were some notable pioneering Indian industrialists as well like Dwarkanath Tagore, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata who established their own cotton mills and the first-ever iron and steel industry in India. Their contributions to the development of Indian economies in the pre and post independence period has been instrumental.


The story about the age of Industrialization is an interesting one as even though it comes at the cost of replacing many ‘traditional’ processes of manufacturing and production by weavers and artisans, it is the story of very rapid progress and development of science and technological prowess. This has led to major economic changes in the world and changes in the economic picture. Even then small-scale industries and handcrafted products are still a significant part of the industrial landscape and provide a significant contribution to the economy. 

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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q1. What is Industrialization?

Ans: Production of goods with the help of machines in factories is Industrialization. The use of machines makes mass production possible at a huge scale and within a small time period when compared to human labour. The establishment of factories helped in streamlining the production process as everything was now available under one roof. Thus, all these factors along with innovations and inventions impacted the economic growth and widespread changes in the industrial landscape. This process is known as Industrialization.

Q2. What is Proto-industrialization?

Ans: The period of industrialization that existed before the phase of the establishment of factories in England and Europe is known as proto-industrialization. There was a high large scale industrial production for the international market but were completely handcrafted by the weavers, artisans and peasants. This did have large-scale production but there were less automation and machine control. It was more under the control of merchants, and other skilled artisans who would contribute to it along with cultivation as a subsidiary activity.