A map shows resources and industry in England, circa 1750.
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Analyze Maps

Notice where various resources and industries were located in 1750. Why is the location of navigable rivers important to resources and industry?

Why Did the Industrial Revolution Start in Britain?

Historians have fiercely debated why the Industrial Revolution began in Britain in the 1700s. They have identified a number of advantages Britain had. No single one was unique to Britain, but taken together they helped Britain take an early lead. This complex combination included natural resources, labor, capital, and entrepreneurship. Economists call these the four factors of production; that is, the elements necessary to produce goods. In addition to these factors, growing demand for goods and new technology provided the essential building blocks for Britain's leap forward.

Natural Resources and Geography

During the 1700s, Britain began to take greater advantage of its abundant natural resources. Although Britain was a relatively small nation, it had large supplies of coal to power steam engines. Britain also had plentiful iron, which was used to build machines.

Britain's geography also provided an advantage. As an island nation with many ports, Britain had long benefited from trade. Its ships brought raw materials from its overseas empire and exported finished goods. Britain also had streams and rivers that could be harnessed to provide water power. Many rivers were later developed with canals and then used to transport goods to internal markets.

Labor and Capital

A large number of workers were needed to mine the coal and iron, build the factories, and run the machines. The agricultural revolution of the 1600s and 1700s freed many men and women from farm labor. The population boom that resulted from changes in agriculture further swelled the available work force. The growing population also increased the demand for goods, which industry supplied.

To develop mining and other industries, capital was needed. Capital is money used to invest in enterprises. An enterprise is a business organization in an area such as shipping, mining, railroads, or factories. Many businesspeople were ready to risk their profits in new ventures. The capital that helped Britain industrialize came from landowners, banks, and merchants who profited from overseas trade, including the slave trade.

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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