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The Impact of the Industrial Revolution on Living Conditions

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The Impact of the Industrial Revolution on Living Conditions

The Industrial Revolution was a period filled with drastic social and economic changes. The transformation between hand-made tools and goods to machine-manufactured products changed not only the economy, but also the lives of the workers. The first changes began in Great Britain in the 1780’s and spread across Europe and North America by the 19th century leaving a profound effect on the entire world. The Industrial Revolution effected every aspect of human society including the nature of work, child labor, and health conditions of the workers.

Agriculture was a dominant job for workers before the Industrial Revolution. Sebastian Le Prestre Vauban listed many typical jobs including “…mowing, harvesting, threshing, woodcutting, working the soil and the vineyards, clearing land, ditching, carrying soil to vineyards or elsewhere, labouring for builders and several other tasks…” (Wiesner 152) in his tax-reform proposal. This document shows that life as farmer consisted of purely manual labor. Although these jobs were arduous and demanding, the typical agricultural worker was only employed for half the year according to Vauban. Agriculture was a task-based working system where the work was completed according to a completing a task by a certain deadline. As long as the tasks were completed on time, the hours spent working were not tightly regimented. With the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, workers moved from the fields to the factories.

The concept of mass production and machine-manufactured goods changed the lives of workers throughout Europe. In contrast to the pre-industrial task-based system, factory work was clock-based. This is one of the most radical changes seen in the lives of workers. People were used to completing work when necessary, and being able to take time for meals and bathroom breaks. In “Rules for Workers in the Foundry and Engineering Works of Royal Overseas Trading Company, Berlin”, a document laying out regulations for factory work, “…working day begins at all seasons at 6 a.m. precisely…” and continues on util late evening (Wiesner 161). Small breaks were scheduled for meals, but conversing and extra breaks were not allowed. This was a complete change in lifestyle for workers who were used to taking off holidays and “holy Mondays” after a Sunday of heavy drinking. The strict regulations made sure the work was done as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Pre-industrial labor allowed more lenience for adults working with families. When working in the fields, families were able to work together. In a “Testimony of an Agricultural Worker’s Wife and Former Factory Worker”, a farm-labor’s wife, Mrs. Britton, described being able to keep her family close and how when she worked in the fields she “…frequently carried the baby…”(Wiesner 153). Older children would also take responsibility in caring for their siblings while the parents spent the day in the field. This document gives a unique perspective showing both the agricultural and factory work conditions. During the Industrial Revolution, there was a large increase of women and children labor compared to pre-industrial labor.


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