Roots of the Industrial Revolutionby Rit Nosotro
Change Over Time essay
Explain the interaction of transportation, electricity and communications in the growth of the Industrial Revolution.
Three inventions which exemplify the major turning points of the Industrial Revolution are the steam engine, the light bulb, and the telephone.
Industrial power, transportation and communication revolutionized the world. It brought far away communities closer together and created efficient trade opportunities.
The Industrial Revolution was made possible by a variety of interdependent and successive inventions. Of these, harnessing the steam engine, electric power, and developing the telephone were most notable. Other strong contenders are processes to make strong steel and dramatic improvements in other areas such as removing seeds from cotton. We are not degrading the many other important contributions to the Industrial Revolution, but are simply narrowing the picture down to the most important breakthroughs.
Beginning in Britain, the Industrial Revolution lasted from the middle of the 18th century to the beginning of the 20th century. There were two phases to this Revolution. The first phase was founded on iron, steam, and coal. The second phase was founded on steel, electricity, and oil. Throughout both of these phases, cities grew rapidly as impoverished rural agricultural workers sought a better life with urban job opportunities. Modern sciences developed which increased life span and lead to an excitement of new horizons for inventors.
In 1698, an Englishman named Thomas Savery patented the first steam engine. This invention was created to solve the serious problem of pumping water out of coal mines. Like most inventions, it borrowed from ideas of others. Savery’s design was based on Denis Papin’s “Digester” which had been created in 1679. The first steam engine was improvised from preexisting inventions and latter inventions improved models of Savery’s engine. These improvements, along with interchangeable parts assembled in factory line precision, brought about massive improvements in transportation. Inventors made famous in this process were Thomas Newcomen, James Watt, and Benjamin Franklin Tibbets.
Newcomen created a steam engine which used the force of atmospheric pressure to do work instead of the pressure of steam. Watt further improved the design by adding a separate condenser connected to a cylinder by a valve. This would allow the condenser to be cool while the cylinder was hot. Needless to say, Watt’s engine became the dominant design for all the steam engines of that time. Tibbets too improved the steam engine. The steam engine was used to create power for factories, trains, ships, etc.. Without the steam engine, the Industrial Revolution would not have been very industrious.
Turn on the lights, surf the web, switch on the TV, listen to the radio, cook in the microwave, all of these activities are made possible through electricity. There are several individuals who have played with electricity before the famous Ben Franklin got it to come down his kite string. The Greeks certainly noticed the strange “attraction” between certain metals and many people felt the minor shock of static electricity. Yet no one could really describe electricity until 1752. He developed a theory that lightening was electricity and proved it through his kite experiment. James Joule gained well deserved fame in his quest to understand and control electricity.
As electricity became commercially available to factories, and the first electronic utility was created in 1816, many additional uses for electricity were being conceived. Michael Faraday is credited with the first electric motor. These motors were a simplistic version of what is under the hood of today's electric cars. Today, men like Elon Musk are taking it to a new level, and efficiently producing electric motors in his company Tesla Motors. The success of electricity to drive transportation was dependent on the initial invention of the steam engine. Note that the first phase of the Revolution depended on steam, the next phase depended on electricity.
The history of communication seems to have culminated in wireless technologies and satellites that span the heavens. A key turning point within that story is how the telegraph morphed into the telephone. In 1831, Joseph Henry created the first electric telegraph system. Samuel Morse created the Morse code four years later. The telegraph system was limited due to its ability to only send one message at a time and the need for an experienced person to decipher the codes.
The telephone which Alexander Graham Bell created in 1876, shrunk the world to immediate long distance communication with messages being conveyed around the world in a matter of seconds. Tracing the component developments back through time, the invention was made possible by the telegraph, which signaled breaks in electric energy across wires that carried electricity as a product of a spinning turbine, initially a steam engine.
The Industrial Revolution, still going on in the developing world, has produced countless tons of CO2 emissions. The International Energy Agency estimates that 41% of the world’s CO2 emissions come from electricity generation. Steam producing electricity is still used to power the always-on grids of telephone companies, but that is changing with electricity generated from solar and wind farms.
In Boulder, Colorado Xcel Energy built America's first smart grid in 2009. Inspired by that community of about 100,000 people, more telecommunications companies with intelligent DSL network sensors have joined to monitor peak and off-peak usage to reduce electricity generation by up to 20%. There is hope to decrease fossil fuel dependency and transfer clean energy technologies to developing countries.
Steam Engine. Electricity. Telephone. Like an inventor climbing the winding stairs in a lighthouse, one level gained leads to the next until the height of travel can be observed from the top. However, like building the Tower of Babel, the danger comes when pride in accomplishment and the consuming desire to consume actually feeds back on itself as people are enslaved by their increasing possessions.
The oldest tale of long distance communication was when a runner came to Job to tell him of the collapse of a hall that killed all his children. Job, who had reached the pinnacle of wealth, health, and reputation in the Near East, was now humbled in sackcloth and ashes. God help us as the Industrial Complex nears the top of the lighthouse to see there is nothing left to exploit. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.QuickQuiz:
1. Mary Bellis, The History of Communication, 25 March 2004,
(26 March 2004)
2. EIA, Electricity in Milestones, February 2004, <http://www.eia.doe.gov/kids/milestones/electricity.html> (26 March 2004)
3. Peter Nunns, The Industrial Revolution, 26 March 2004, <http://www.mvhs.net/~pnunns/ind_rev/> (26 March 2004)
4. Mary Bellis, The History of Steam Engines, 25 March 2004, <http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blsteamengine.htm> (26 March 2004)
5. Phil Shapiro, “The Invention of the Steam Engine”, 1995, <http://www.his.com/~pshapiro/steam.engines.html> (26 March 2004)
6. Mary Bellis, The History of the Telephone, 25 March 2004, <http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bltelephone.htm> (26 March 2004)
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