How did industrialization in Britain and the United States differ during the Industrial Revolution?

Expert Answers
larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There were perhaps more similarities than differences between the two; and the American Industrial Revolution was in many respects an accidental child of the British revolution.

One important difference is that the first major industry in the United States was transportation. The advent of major railroads and steam boats together with the large-scale production of canals in the Northeast shifted the industrial and commercial center of the nation from New Orleans to major ports in the Northeast, such as New York, Boston and Philadelphia. Industrialization created something of a nationwide market, as goods could be transported easily from one end of the nation to the other. The factory system came to America much later with the development of the Lowell System, where all production was done under one roof. This would not have happened had not a British citizen, Samuel Slater, disguised himself to travel to America with the plans for a fully operational textile mill memorized. Upon arrival, he built the first successful textile mill in the Americas in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

In Britain, Industrialization was born with large scale textile production rather than means of transportation, including the invention of the water frame, flying shuttle, and spinning mule. Ironically, British textile mills were heavily dependent on American cotton for raw materials. Still, Britain closely guarded its textile industry, so much so that it was a crime punishable by death to export parts or plans for textile operations. This made Slater's actions all the more daring, and ultimately damaging to British manufacturing.

In both nations, the invention of the steam engine proved essential to industrialization.


jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Industrial Revolution occurred earlier in Britain than it did in the United States; therefore, the industrialization of Britain, which took place from approximately the 1770s to the 1820s, is generally referred to as the First Industrial Revolution. During this period, production turned from using manual processes to using machine processes. The major sources of power were steam and coal, and the processes were centered on improving the efficiency of the textile industry. As a result, a managerial middle class and capitalist owner class were created as well as a large urbanized working class.

The Industrial Revolution occurred in the United States at a later time (approximately 1840s-1910s) and is often referred to as the Second Industrial Revolution. The creation of steel was essential to the new technology that emerged during this revolution, including the construction of railroads and later, early forms of the car. This later revolution used not only steam power but also petroleum and electricity. Similarly to the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain, the Second Industrial Revolution created a large working class and a small elite capitalist class along with a sizable middle class. 

thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Industrial Revolution was marked by a shift in handmade products to mass products made using machines. The period ushered in the beginning of the factory system of production and enhanced division of labor and job specialization.

The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain. Thus, Britain experienced the changes much earlier compared to the United States.

Individual and home processing was popular in Britain prior to the Industrial Revolution. Thus, people had no choice but to seek employment in the factories. The United States was largely agrarian, and thus, the people could opt out of factory employment.  

Although the working environment was poor in both countries, the situation was worse in Britain. Factories in Britain could easily pay lower wages because there was an extremely high level of labor supply.