What advantages did Britain have that helped it be the first to industrialize?
Since the Norman invasion in 1066, or perhaps the Viking attack on Lindisfarne in 793, the British peoples have relied on world trade via the oceans. William the Conqueror and his Norman nobles led expeditions deep into the Mediterranean. English shipwrights were historical leaders in innovation and development. The Magna Carta (1215) endowed English citizens with more rights and freedoms than the citizens of virtually any other country until the American and French revolutions nearly four hundred years later.
Coupling the English spirit of adventure with an emerging market economy and a governmental system that encouraged entrepreneurship, the British developed a world empire—truly, one which the “sun never set upon.” The military adventures of the British in the New World, Europe, Africa, and India made Britain a superpower by 1815. The exchange of goods, ideas, commerce, and access to appropriate raw materials—most significantly coal and iron—allowed the British to absorb, adapt, improve, and capitalize on (sell) their products in a global market.
The English and Scottish invented the incandescent light (1802), the steam locomotive railway (1804), the electromagnet (1825), a pedal bicycle (1839), and the first steam-powered, propeller-driven passenger liner (1843). By harnessing the power of steam, created in boilers forged from English iron and burning English coal, entrepreneurs soon recognized that powered machinery could be placed in specialized facilities and production could vastly exceed the scale of the historical “cottage industry.”