As millions of acres were enclosed, farm output rose. Profits also rose because consolidated fields needed fewer workers. However, such progress had a human cost. Many farm laborers were thrown out of work, and small farmers were forced off their land because they could not compete with large landholders. Villages shrank when people left in search of work.

This shift in the labor force became a key factor in industrialization. Jobless farm workers migrated to towns and cities. Many found work in the new factories, tending to the machines of the Industrial Revolution.

Population Grows Because of Better Farming

Not only did people move to towns and cities, but an overall boom in population also occurred. The improved farming practices of the agricultural revolution contributed to this rapid population growth. Precise population statistics for the 1700s are rare, but those that do exist are striking. Britain's population, for example, soared from about 5 million in 1700 to almost 9 million in 1800.

The population of Europe as a whole shot up from roughly 120 million to about 180 million during the same period. Such growth had never before been seen.

Illustration of a mechanical contraction with a series of pulleys, wooden frame, gears and pistons, built against a bricked corner structure.

Watt's engine used steam and atmospheric pressure to power pistons and rods that moved machinery. It had a separate condenser to keep the water hot, conserving energy.

Why did this population increase occur? The population boom was due more to declining death rates than to rising birth rates. The agricultural revolution reduced the risk of famine. Since people ate better, they were healthier. Also, by the late 1800s, better hygiene and sanitation, along with improved medical care, further slowed deaths from disease. During the Industrial Revolution, this growing population tended the machines and bought the goods produced by factories.

Coal, Steam, and the Energy Revolution

Another major factor that contributed to the Industrial Revolution was an “energy revolution.” In the past, the energy for work came mostly from the muscles of humans and animals. In the 1700s, inventive minds found ways to use water power more efficiently and harnessed new sources of energy. Among the most important energy sources was coal, which was used to develop the steam engine.

James Watt and the Steam Engine

In 1712, inventor Thomas Newcomen developed a steam engine powered by coal to pump water out of mines. Later, in 1764, Scottish engineer James Watt looked at Newcomen's invention and set out to make improvements on the engine in order to make it more efficient. Watt's engine would become a vital power source of the Industrial Revolution.

The steam engine was first used to power machines, but later was adapted to power locomotives and steamships.

Producing Better Iron

Coal was also a vital source of fuel in the production of iron, a material needed for the construction of machines and steam engines. The Darby family of Coalbrookdale, England, pioneered new methods of producing iron. In 1709, Abraham Darby used coal instead of charcoal to smelt iron, or separate iron from its ore.

Darby's experiments led him to produce less expensive and better-quality iron, which was used to produce parts for the steam engines. Both his son and grandson continued to improve on his methods. In fact, Abraham Darby III built the world's first iron bridge. In the decades that followed, high-quality iron was used more and more widely, especially after the world turned to building railroads.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments