Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions:
by Rit Nosotro
The Events that Changed the Face of the Earth
Compare how the Industrial Revolution and the Agriculture Revolution effected each other and affected society during the 18th and 19th centuries
Agricultural technology and mass production have a part in the lives of hundreds of millions of people. One only needs to drive through the Midwestern United States to see the vast amounts of land covered in luscious crops. In cities, factories run almost non-stop, inexorably rolling out neat, clean rows of plastic and metal contraptions designed to provide the creature comforts mankind yearns for. Without the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions, few of the luxuries we take for granted would exist. Their effects have reached far and wide across the globe.
The Middle Ages in Europe were marked by plagues, a low population, and the practice of serfdom. However, as the Middle Ages ended and the population began to recover from the plagues that had swept across Europe, an increasing demand for food began to put strain on the economy. Reforms in land management were imminent. The landlords quickly discovered that serfdom was rather inefficient. This practice required that the serf be the landlord’s servant, but in return, the landlord had year-round responsibility of the serf’s well being. The landlords freed their serfs, relieving themselves of that responsibility, and began to hire the peasants only during planting and harvest seasons when their labor was required. Over the centuries, this practice left many peasants with no land to cultivate, and not enough food to eat. With no other option, many of these peasants were forced to migrate to cities offering low-paying jobs or immigrate to new lands. These desperate poor people provided the workforce that the Industrial Revolution required.
The Agricultural Revolution did not just involve the redistribution of land and the freeing of the serfs. Improvements in farming technique and the appearance of new technology helped increase efficiency and boost agricultural output. New methods of crop rotation kept the land fertile, and the introduction of new crops like the potato and clover brought more variety. During this time the seed drill was invented. This machine made sowing seed more effective, distributing the seeds evenly. Livestock had been kept for milk, wool, and labor, but improvements in breeding produced heavier animals marketed for their meat. New iron plows made plowing easier and less time consuming. Thus, less human labor was required as the output of the farms increased dramatically. This increase, however, meant larger plantations could be developed in the Americas where nearly ten million Africans had been sold into slavery. An increase in food brought an increase in population. The increase of population allowed for more labor and more consumers for the goods produced.
In order for a country to industrialize, it must first take care of its food problem. Without sufficient agriculture to support the workers in the cities, industries producing various items would not be able to run. The Industrial Revolution was dependent upon the Agricultural Revolution. The surplus of crops produced on farms provided the opportunity for the cities to develop. Without the high rate of unemployment caused by the land redistribution, there would be no cheap, desperate workforce eager to do the dreary jobs in industry. Also, after human needs are satisfied by food, human wants increase for non-essential items produced in factories. The growing middle class desired many items that had previously only been affordable to the rich.
The Industrial Revolution gave birth to a multitude of inventions. Plantations in the Southern United States produced massive amounts of cotton, and machines such as the cotton gin, spinning jenny, and the flying shuttle made it possible for the mass manufacture of cloth. The textile industry set off a host of other inventions. Factories require power to run, and the evolution of the steam engine had sweeping effects. Coal and iron industries gained importance, as coal mining and the refining process for iron were enhanced. The age of mass production had arrived with interchangeable parts. Not only were the machines easier to repair but also were goods, such as the Colt revolver, made available to larger populations. The inventions in weaponry eventually stockpiled into the killing machines of World War I.
The demand for raw material to feed the industrial machinery brought about European competition to gain colonies in Africa and Asia. Improved transportation opened these regions to Christian missionary workers who built churches, schools and hospitals. It was at this time that the Inland Mission to China was established. Although atrocities were committed in areas where Christians were not allowed, such as the rubber plantations of the Belgium Congo, Christians led the fight against colonial greed and exploitation.
The Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions had far ranging effects on society. For some, life became increasingly more comfortable, as various products made everyday tasks less time consuming. For a large number of other people, especially in cities, life was harsh. Workers lived in cramped, unsanitary conditions. Food was low quality and lacked nourishment, while water was tainted by chemicals. The factory owners frequently took advantage of the desperate workers, and a high unemployment rate ensured that wages would not increase. Education was not widely available, and child labor was also practiced.
Many new political ideas were formed during these times. Socialism quickly gained popularity among the workers, and it was by observing the Industrial Revolution that Karl Marx developed his infamous philosophy known as Communism. Resentment against the rich made these ideas popular. During the 19th century, labor unions with the goal of improving the welfare of the working man began to form among the working class. There was much struggle between the unions and the factory owners, and riots sometimes occurred. City governments were rife with corruption, and officials were often bribed by factory owners.
Another reactionary development was the formation of Christian service organizations and missionary developments. The Salvation Army, the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), and even Sunday School were all formed due to the negative consequences of the Industrial Revolution.
The environment was neglected, and toxic chemicals and fumes were released from pipes and smokestacks.
Despite all of these negative things, the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions brought about much good. Much of what we take for granted today is produced in efficient factories, and the food that we devour mindlessly is the product of advanced farming techniques. Workers are protected by unions (perhaps too protected today), and quality control is everywhere. The world has been changed significantly through these two very important time periods in history.
1. What crop did most plantations in the southern United States produce?
2. As livestock breeding improved, what were most cattle raised for?
3. Socialism was popular with what people?
a. Government officials
b. Factory owners
4. Why were labor unions formed?
a. To improve the welfare of workers
b. To help the factories increase revenue
c. To save the trees
d. To satisfy Karl Marx
“Short Narratives: the Early Modern Agricultural Revolution,” World
History at KMLA
“Industrialization: The First Phase: 1700-1850,” http://www.emayzine.com/lectures/indust~2.htm
“Industrial Revolution,” Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition,
Copyright (c) 2004.
“Agriculture,” Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, Copyright
“The Agricultural Revolution,” © The Open Door Team
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