Nearly everything we use today can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution. The cars we drive. The planes we fly. The tools we use in our houses to make our lives easier can all be traced to this important time in Western history. It pushed the world into a new age that we celebrate and will continue to do so for years. But...
Now that we are a few hundred years from that all-important age, we can see that the great age also created many things that were no helpful. Death came from the age. Societal changes were instituted that were not for the best. There was quite a few things that came from the Industrial Revolution that damaged the Western world.
Children have been working to help support their families since the beginning of time. The further down the social ladder the family resided, the more important any funds could be for survival. The funds a child could bring in possibly was the difference between starvation and life. The Industrial Revolution took advantage of that fact.
We think of eight to twelve hour work days with oversight by organizations such as OSHA, but that was not the case during this expansive time. Workers were taken advantage of and their safety was not concerned over. "The conditions that children worked under during the Industrial Revolution were morbid. They had long and inflexible work hours. According to many studies, these hours ranged from 14 hours a day or 70 hours per week. The child laborers worked in environments that were unhealthy and dangerous to their physical well being. Many lost limbs, were killed in gas explosions; crushed under machines; and burned. The workers developed lung cancer from poisonous fumes. When their work or machines were not harming them, their supervisors and overseers harmed them. They were beaten, and when they tried to escape from the factories, they were shackled." (https://www.mtholyoke.edu/~hicks22a/classweb/Childlabor/WebsiteChildlabor/History.html#:~:text=The%20conditions%20that%20children%20worked,or%2070%20hours%20per%20week.)
They were nothing more than slaves to the few bits of money they were able to take home. Their lives were at risk everyday they went to work all for make headway in the world of technology.
Hazardous Work Environments
The Industrial Revolution was all about getting more products made and making more money in the process. It didn't matter how it happened. That meant most of the work environments were extremely hazardous to the health of the employees. Employers weren't concerned with the safety of their employees: " owners were under no regulations and did not have a financial reason to protect their workers." (https://www.historyonthenet.com/industrial-revolution-working-conditions)
Employees were a dime a dozen. If one lost a hand or a life, a new worker was easily found to replace him/her. Machines failed. Tools dismembered employees. Fires broke out. Employees breathed in deadly fumes. As long as the money was made, it did not matter to the employers what happened to their employees.
The Industrial Revolution did a ton of damage to the environment. Most of that damage was in the air and water though all of the environment was drastically impacted.
What was used to power the Industrial Revolution? It was coal. This natural resource is dirty. Burning it, left heavy clouds which were known to block out the sky over large cities. The quality of the air in cities such as London as horrible and left many sick. There were times when the air became toxic. A rather recent time was in the 1950s when several thousand people died due to the air pollution over London. (https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/smog-kills-thousands-in-england)
The water also suffered. While even before the Industrial Revolution, rivers such as the Thames were extremely dirty, this historic period made it all even worse. As company owners dumped waste into the waterways, toxic levels rose to alarming rates. In 1969, Lake Erie in the United States caught fire. Many lakes and rivers became deadly to those around them and killed most of the fish that once supported the area.
The Industrial Revolution might have begun over a century before the instances noted above, but the impact reached far into the twentieth century.
Urban Slum Growth
Cities were large before the Industrial Revolution, but this period caused unprecedented growth. Most of that growth was by the working class who did not have the funds to pay for decent housing. That meant slums were numerous.
Shacks. Sewage in streets. Bad hygiene. Disease. The increase in slums brought a blight to cities that still linger today in many countries. Poverty was more common than not. Disease spread from the slums to the more affluent areas.
The cities were where the jobs where. People were willing to live in the depths of disease if it gave them even a slight chance of a better life.
Increase Demand of Natural Resources
Remember that I mentioned that coal was used in such quantities that it polluted the air enough to kill many of the people who lived in the industrial cities? Coal was mined which increased the number of deaths in the deep pits, stripped the land of its minerals, and contaminated the ground and water supply to such degrees that nothing can grow in some areas.
Think of it this way. The Industrial Revolution became a hungry monster that needed more and more natural resources to continue growing. It did not care that these resources were limited. It did not care how the resources were obtained. The demand had to be met even upon death of those who supplied it.
In today's world, we are reaping what our ancestors sowed. Dead land. Dead people. And resources that are drying up.
Abuse of Unskilled Workers
Who fueled the Industrial Revolution? It was the unskilled worker. There were millions of them with only a handful of the skilled ones who rose up within companies. They were easily replaceable which led to abuse of these workers.
This abuse could be found in the unsafe work environments, the overwork of the employees as well as the lack of healthcare. We have discussed much of this already, but the abuse in the section could be actual physical and mental abuse perpetrated by the management of many companies during the period of the Industrial Revolution. Beatings. Murder. Rape. All of this could occur within the industries and no one said a word.
This abuse stretched into the twentieth century and is still fought today in many areas. Yes, advancements have been made, but the struggle is still real.
Without the Industrial Revolution, the technology and advancements of today would not exist. Cars are a result of that period. Our ability to build large buildings, ships, and spacecraft are a byproduct of what occurred in that era. Yet it left so much damage.
The world is still cleaning up the environmental impact. Society is still fighting for safe and fair workplaces. Many employers still push for the bottom line over the well-being of their employees. The Industrial Revolution left damage that our grandchildren will still be cleaning up.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 08, 2021:
You have made some interesting points of how things have changed over the years.