Why did the Industrial Revolution begin in England and not another country? Historians attribute this to a convergence of several factors, and nobody can agree on which one is the most influential one. The following factors combined in late 18th century England to create the unique conditions to set the stage for the first Industrial Revolution:
- The Agricultural Revolution led to increased food production and in turn, increased population.
- The population development meant that more people from the countryside were moving to work in the new cities, which led to increased demand for clothing and other products.
- Financial Innovations such as stock markets, banks and joint stock companies encouraged people, especially those in Northern Europe, to invest, trade, and purchase new technologies.
- The Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment encouraged academics and craftspeople to apply the new scientific thinking to mechanical and technological uses. In the years prior to the Industrial Revolution, Europeans were increasingly encompassing science and logic into their worldview. Some historians say that these shifts in ideals made English culture more receptive to new ideas in science and technology.
- Rivers and Canals in Great Britain made transportation of products and materials cheaper and faster than ever. Adam Smith, the first contemporary economist, considered this a major factor in England’s initial success. In his famous book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations in 1776, he wrote, “Good roads, canals, and navigable rivers, by diminishing the expense of carriage, put the remote parts of the country more nearly upon a level with those in the neighborhood of the town. They are upon that account the greatest of all improvements” (Weightman 43).
- Coal and iron resources were abundant in Great Britain at the time, and these resources could be used to make and power new machines, such as the locomotive and steam-powered machinery used in textile factories.
- England’s political policies regarding commerce and property stimulated innovation and the spread of international trade. Patent laws were created that permitted inventors to reap financial benefit from their inventions and the “intellectual property” thereof. The British government also facilitated global trade by expanding their Navy to protect trade and also by giving monopolies and other financial incentives to companies, encouraging them to explore the world in search of resources.
- In the centuries leading up to the industrial revolution, international trade was gradually increasing, providing European countries with raw materials and a market for commodities. This led to an increase in available funds, which could then be loaned by banks to fund further industrial expansion. By 1500, England was technologically superior in navigation, shipbuilding, and metallurgy. As years went on, these technological advantages allowed Europe to dominate trade with Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
- The Cottage Industry helped transition the economy from rural to industrial. This is because the cottage industry ran very similarly to the industrial factories.