Sewage was also dumped into rivers, which created an overwhelming stench and contaminated drinking water. This led to the spread of diseases such as cholera.
During the early Industrial Revolution, there were no labor unions, organizations of workers who bargained for better pay and working conditions. As the Industrial Revolution began, weavers and other skilled artisans resisted the new “labor-saving” machines that were replacing their jobs.
From 1811 to 1813, protesting workers, called Luddites (LUD yts), smashed machines and burned factories. The Luddites were harshly crushed. Although frustrated workers continued to protest, they were forbidden to form worker associations and strikes were outlawed.
Many working-class people found comfort in a religious movement called Methodism. John Wesley had founded the Methodist movement in the mid-1700s. Wesley stressed the need for a personal sense of faith. He encouraged his followers to improve themselves by adopting sober, moral ways.
John Wesley, founder of Methodism, is shown preaching at his father's grave in a churchyard in Epworth, Lincolnshire, where he was born and raised.
Methodist meetings featured hymns and sermons promising forgiveness of sin and a better life to come. Methodist preachers took this message of salvation into the slums. There, they tried to rekindle hope among the working poor. They set up Sunday schools where followers not only studied the Bible but also learned to read and write. Methodists helped channel workers' anger away from revolution and toward reform.
How did members of the working class react to their new experiences in industrial cities?
The heart of the new industrial city was the factory. There, the technology of the machine age imposed a harsh and dangerous way of life on workers. The miners who supplied the coal and iron for the Industrial Age faced equally unsafe working conditions.
Working in a factory system differed greatly from working on a farm. In rural villages, people worked long hours for low wages, but their work varied according to the season. Life was also hard for poor rural workers who were part of the putting-out system. If they worked too slowly, they did not earn enough, but at least they worked at their own pace. In the factories of industrial towns, workers faced a rigid schedule set by the factory whistle.
Working hours in early factories were long, with shifts lasting from 12 to 16 hours, six or seven days a week. A factory whistle announced time to eat a hasty meal, then quickly sent them back to the machines. Exhausted workers suffered accidents from machines that had no safety devices. They might lose a finger, a limb, or even their lives.
In textile mills, workers constantly breathed air filled with lint, which damaged their lungs. Those workers who became sick or injured lost their jobs.
At first, women made up much of the new industrial work force. Employers often preferred to hire women workers. They thought women could adapt more easily to machines and were easier to manage than men. More important, they were able to pay women less than men, even for the same work.
Factory work created a double burden for women. Their new jobs took them out of their homes for 12 hours or more a day. They then returned to their tenements, which might consist of one damp room with a single bed. They had to feed and clothe their families, clean, and cope with such problems as sickness and injury.