As the Industrial Revolution took hold, Europeans realized that their new factories, which were growing ever more efficient, could process vast amounts of raw material in a very short time. The problem was getting sufficient supplies of raw material to feed the industrial machine. For example, the many cotton mills in England could go night and day processing cotton into cloth at high speed, but they needed quite a lot of raw cotton to do so.
To help with this, England developed "ties" with other countries (i.e., they took over and ran these countries for their own benefit). They leaned on the local populations, in places such as India and Egypt, to grow indigo, cotton, or other goods the Europeans needed for their factories. People in these countries were often forced to grow cotton or other cash crops (though these crops depleted the soil) to pay the taxes the imperial power imposed. This, however, supplied the mills back home. Likewise, the Europeans took control in the Congo to get cheap access to the badly needed rubber supplies there.
On the other side, the Industrial Revolution was producing a vast number of consumer goods. Industrialists needed markets to sell these finished products in, which is where imperialism came in again. By controlling countries like China, the Europeans could force them to buy a great number of European-produced consumer items.
The connection between the Industrial Revolution and imperialism proved to be a brutal combination, as profit-making most often overrode humanitarian considerations about what was best for the subject nations or the workers who labored in the factories and fields. However, it did provide Europe (and later, the United States) with great wealth.
First, the Industrial Revolution created a need for more raw materials, such as coal. Countries needed colonies in order to find these raw materials. If a colony could not be useful in terms of natural resources, then it could be used as a base to get to another area with raw materials. Nations continued to acquire colonies because they were worried about one day not having these valuable means of production that they needed to run their factories.
Secondly, the goods created during the Industrial Revolution did no good unless there was a market for them. Imperialist nations hoped that colonists would move to these new lands in order to create new markets. Also, the indigenous people who lived in these colonies could perhaps buy the conquering nation's goods. Even if the new land was not conquered, then it could sign a trade treaty with a host country, thus creating lucrative overseas markets. China was never colonized, but European nations created "spheres of influence" in order to boost their trade in this populous market.
According to Western powers, imperialism was necessary for the industrial revolution because of the increased need for raw materials and market expansion. The countries needed to expand their territories in order to increase the resources available for the industries. The empires expanded into far-flung regions in Asia and Africa. The raw materials required by the imperialist countries included cotton, coal, and iron ore. Cheap labor provided by natives in the conquered territories was also used to extract the raw materials, which were transported to the industries.
Mass production techniques during the industrial revolution increased the need for new markets. Industries were competing for higher profits, and the governments supported their ventures due to the taxes remitted by the industries. Thus, the expansion of the country’s territory resulted in the direct expansion of their market and a subsequent increase in industrial profits and government revenues.
There are two main ways in which the Industrial Revolution and imperialism were linked to one another. First, the Industrial Revolution made imperialism more necessary. Second, it made imperialism more possible.
The Industrial Revolution helped to create a situation in which the European countries (as well as the United States and, eventually, Japan) felt that they needed to have large empires. They needed these empires for two main reasons. First, they needed places from which to get raw materials. The industrialized economies of these countries needed raw materials and imperialism was seen as a way to get those materials. Second, they felt they needed captive markets in which to sell the goods produced in the factories. Imperial possessions could be useful in this way too.
The Industrial Revolution also made it much more possible for these countries to take and hold empires. The Industrial Revolution greatly increased the military strength of these powers. It gave them better weapons. It gave them ships that could reach various parts of the world faster and more reliably than sailing ships could in pre-industrial times. These sorts of factors made it easier for Europeans to reach and conquer every corner of the globe.
In these ways, the Industrial Revolution and imperialism were closely connected to one another.