industrial revolution

[ in-duhs-tree-uhl rev-uh-loo-shuhn ]
/ ɪnˈdʌs tri əl ˌrɛv əˈlu ʃən /
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(sometimes initial capital letters) the totality of the changes in economic and social organization that began about 1760 in England and later in other countries, characterized chiefly by the replacement of hand tools with power-driven machines, as the power loom and the steam engine, and by the concentration of industry in large establishments.
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Origin of industrial revolution

First recorded in 1840–50
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is the Industrial Revolution?

The Industrial Revolution is the rapid period of economic and social change that began in Britain around 1760 and was fueled by technology and invention. The Industrial Revolution led to the rise of industry, factories, and manufacturing.

Prior to 1760, goods were produced mostly by individuals using tools. For example, a shoemaker would make shoes with their hands and simple tools. A weaver wove threads into cloth on a loom they manipulated with their hands. Most people worked on farms, however, and wealth was determined by the amount of land a person owned.

In the late 1700s, British inventions such as the steam engine, water jenny, and powered loom allowed goods to be produced more quickly by machine than by hand. These inventions led to the creation of factories where laborers operated machinery rather than making the goods themselves. Too, steam-powered boats and trains meant food and goods could be transported quicker.

The Industrial Revolution led people to move away from farms to cities, where they could work in factories and more food was available for purchase. Many people no longer had to grow their own food and make their own goods to survive. They could work a machine for pay and use the pay to buy the things they needed. The factory system allowed goods to be made so quickly that countries actually had surpluses and were able to trade with each other.

As a result, business owners were becoming extremely wealthy and political power shifted away from landowners to rich merchants and businesspeople. By the middle of the 1800s, Europe and the United States had notably shifted from agricultural nations to capitalist countries built on manufacturing and industry.

Why is industrial revolution important?

The first records of the term Industrial Revolution come from around 1840. The phrase combines the word industrial, which describes something as related to manufacturing, and the word revolution in the sense of “rapid or sudden change.” The Industrial Revolution was a period of many inventions and advances in manufacturing, which led to sudden, widespread change in economics and society as a whole.

The shift from farming to industry that occurred during the Industrial Revolution made a lot of people rich. It also led to advances in banking, transportation, long-distance communication, and other industries. Suddenly, science and technology were very important to both business and society.

The Industrial Revolution had long-lasting, negative effects as well. Economic classes became further and further apart from each other. Long hours and unsafe working conditions caused anger and unrest among the many laborers. This later caused economic thinkers like Karl Marx to oppose this new system of the wealthy elite oppressing the poor laborer. Marx and thinkers like him created and spread  the political idea of communism in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Did you know … ?

Modern historians argue that the Industrial Revolution was later followed by a second American Industrial Revolution that occurred in the late 1800s. This second revolution would lead to plastic and electricity replacing iron and steam. This revolution would continue into the late 1900s with the rise of computers.

What are real-life examples of Industrial Revolution?

More than 200 years later, the Industrial Revolution is remembered as a pivotal period of innovation that changed the world.


What other words are related to Industrial Revolution?

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The Industrial Revolution led to people moving away from farms to work at factories and live in urban cities.

How to use industrial revolution in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for industrial revolution

Industrial Revolution

the Industrial Revolution the transformation in the 18th and 19th centuries of first Britain and then other W European countries and the US into industrial nations
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for industrial revolution

Industrial Revolution

The rapid industrial growth that began in England during the middle of the eighteenth century and then spread over the next 50 years to many other countries, including the United States. The revolution depended on devices such as the steam engine (see James Watt), which were invented at a rapidly increasing rate during the period. The Industrial Revolution brought on a rapid concentration of people in cities and changed the nature of work for many people. (See Luddites.)

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.