Britain also had plenty of skilled mechanics. They developed practical new inventions and partnered with entrepreneurs to profit from them. An entrepreneur is someone who manages and assumes the financial risks of starting new businesses.
Technology was important to the Industrial Revolution, but did not cause it. Only when other necessary conditions existed, including demand and capital, did technology pave the way for industrialization.
In addition to the advantages already cited, Britain had a stable government that supported economic growth. Other countries in Europe imposed heavy river tolls and other barriers to growth. Britain had far fewer blocks to the movement of goods. The government built a strong navy that protected its empire, including shipping and overseas trade.
Social attitudes adjusted to changing economic conditions. Although members of the upper class looked down on business and business people, they did not reject the great wealth produced by the new entrepreneurs. Religious groups encouraged thrift and hard work. These goals led inventors, bankers, and other risk-takers to devote their energies to new enterprises.
Generations of women made textiles at home as part of the putting-out system. These women are making lace.
What impact do you think machines and industrialization will have on the putting-out system?
What conditions in Britain paved the way for the Industrial Revolution?
The Industrial Revolution first took hold in Britain's largest industry—textiles. In the 1600s, cotton cloth imported from India had become popular. British merchants tried to organize a cotton cloth industry at home. They developed the putting-out system, also known as the cottage industry, in which raw cotton was distributed to peasant families who spun it into thread and then wove the thread into cloth in their own homes. Skilled artisans in the towns then finished and dyed the cloth.
Under the putting-out system, production was slow. The process of using manually operated machines for spinning and weaving took time. As the demand for cloth grew, inventors came up with a series of remarkable devices that revolutionized the British textile industry. For example, John Kay's flying shuttle enabled weavers to work so fast that they soon outpaced spinners. James Hargreaves solved that problem by producing the spinning jenny in 1764, which spun many threads at the same time. Five years later, Richard Arkwright patented the water frame, a spinning machine that could be powered by water.
Meanwhile, in America, these faster spinning and weaving machines presented a challenge—how to produce enough cotton to keep up with England. Raw cotton grown in the South had to be cleaned of dirt and seeds by hand, which is a time-consuming task. To solve this, Eli Whitney invented a machine called the cotton gin that separated the seeds from the raw cotton at a fast rate. He finished the cotton gin in 1793, and cotton production increased at a rapid rate.
The new machines doomed the putting-out system. They were too large and expensive to be operated at home. Instead, manufacturers built long sheds to house the machines. At first, they located the sheds near rapidly moving streams, harnessing the water power to run the machines. Later, machines were powered by steam engines.