Industrial Revolution

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January 6, 2007, 1:51 pm
December 18, 2011, 7:20 pm

The Industrial Revolution is a commonly used term for a transitional period when traditional economies (based on biomass fuels, muscle power, and artisanal manufactures) began to be transformed into more complex systems based on coal and steam power and using mechanized, factory-based processes to produce larger volumes of more affordable goods. There is no consensus about dating this process that stretched across many generations and that began in England but had many important continental and American components. Samuel Lilley favored the most liberal span between 1660 and 1918 and subdivided it into the early agricultural period (1660-1815) and the mature (1815-1918) period. Walt Rostow defined the most restricted span (1783-1802) which he defined as the period of England's economic take-off.

The most common periodizations span the second half of the 18th and the first half of the 19th century: Arnold Toynbee opted for 1760-1840; Thomas Ashton for 1760-1830; and Hugh Beales for 1750-1850, although he also argued for no terminal date. Leaving aside the appropriateness of the term 'revolution' for what was an inherently gradual process, it is obvious that because energy transitions and technical and economic take-offs began at different times in different places – and industrialization is yet to commence in most of the sub-Saharan Africa where biomass fuels, animate energies, and artisanal work are still so common – there can be no clear consensus on dating this remarkable era of human history.


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Vaclav Smil (2011). Industrial Revolution. eds. Brian Black & C. Michael Hogan. Encyclopedia of Earth. National Council for Science and Environment. Washington DC. Retrieved from