Families ate more varied diets, lived in better homes, and dressed in inexpensive, mass-produced clothing. Advances in medicine ensured healthier lives.

New job opportunities opened up for skilled and unskilled workers. The building of cities, railroads, and factories provided jobs. The demand for goods and the growth of new industries, such as railroads and eventually automobiles, created more job opportunities.

New Worlds for Entrepreneurs

The new industrial world was more open to change and innovation than the old rural world. Enterprising people opened new businesses and invented new products. The British potter Josiah Wedgwood, for example, was an entrepreneur who combined science and new industrial methods of production. Wedgwood experimented with new materials to improve the quality of his pottery. He set up a factory that gave each different job to a specially skilled worker. Wedgwood also used his pottery to spread ideas about social justice, especially the abolition of the slave trade. His factory cast antislavery medallions, worn by many, that carried the image of a slave in chains with the words “Am I not a man and a brother?”

Social and Political Impact

The Industrial Revolution opened new opportunities for success and increased social mobility, or the ability of individuals or groups to move up the social scale. In the past, birth determined a person's rank in society. Although birth still gave nobles their status, some families were able to move up the social ladder through successful enterprise. By the late 1800s, many people embraced the “rags to riches” idea, whereby a person could achieve great wealth and status through hard work and thrift.

Illustration of a man in a powdered wig, hat, coat and carrying a cane while pointing at a book on a desk.

In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith proposed ideas about free market competition that are still applied today.

With social mobility came greater political rights. As the middle class expanded, its members pushed for political influence. Gradually throughout the 1800s, working-class men gained the right to vote. From 1831 to 1885, the number of voters in England and Wales increased from 366,000 to almost 8 million. The growing number of voters gave the working class more power as politicians began to have to appeal to their concerns. Later, women also earned the right to vote. Labor unions won the right to bargain with employers for better wages, hours, and working conditions.

Laissez-Faire Economics

Many thinkers and economists tried to understand the staggering changes taking place in the early Industrial Age. As heirs to the Enlightenment, these thinkers looked for natural laws to explain the world of business and economics. Their ideas would influence governments down to the present. Among the most influential schools of thought were laissez-faire economics, utilitarianism, and socialism.

Adam Smith and Laissez-Faire Economics

During the Enlightenment, thinkers looked for natural laws that governed the world of business and economics. Physiocrats argued that natural laws should be allowed to operate without interference. As part of this philosophy, they believed that government should not interfere in the free operation of the economy. In the early 1800s, middle-class business leaders embraced this laissez-faire, or “hands-off,” approach.

The main proponent of laissez-faire economics was Adam Smith, author of the bestseller The Wealth of Nations. Smith asserted that a free market, or unregulated exchange of goods and services, would come to help everyone, not just the rich. The free market, Smith said, would produce more goods at lower prices, making them affordable to everyone. A growing economy would also encourage capitalists to reinvest profits in new ventures.

As the Industrial Revolution spread, later supporters of this free-enterprise capitalism pointed to the successes of the early Industrial Revolution, in which government had played a limited role.

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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