What cultural advantages allowed Britain to develop industry?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It is still debated among economists and historians why exactly Britain was the first country in the world to industrialize, and if you ask different people you'll get different answers. However, there are certain definite advantages Britain had that may have contributed to their early industrialization:

1. Britain was already rich by world standards at the time. While their level of income seems small to us today, it was larger than that of most other countries in the world; people had enough income to be consumers and investors rather than simply working to survive.

2. Britain has one of the most stable, long-standing governments in the world. Whereas most countries go through a revolution every few generations, Britain has undergone a process of gradual reform that has preserved the same core---a constitutional monarchy with Parliament as the primary governing body---for some one thousand years. Even by the start of the Industrial Revolution Britain had already been in its current form of government for over 700 years.

3. Britain has a very strong and stable currency (the pound), allowing them to purchase imports cheaply from the rest of the world. Their central bank has never defaulted on debt in centuries, and thus has the highest level of credibility for borrowing; so they are essentially unconstrained in how much money they can borrow when they need it.

4. Britain has well-established property rights and relatively free markets. While they are certainly not wholly unregulated (and were considerably more tightly regulated in the 18th century than today), markets in Britain generally have been more limited and permissive in their regulations, allowing private innovation to flourish without excessive barriers or heavy-handed government intervention. Their court systems have a reliable record of establishing and enforcing clear property rights.

5. Britain has a very high level of education. The educational system in Britain has been one of the best in the world for centuries, especially at their very top universities such as Oxford and Cambridge (both of which were founded hundreds of years before the industrial revolution!). This high level of education allowed them to produce the large numbers of highly-qualified scientists and engineers necessary to establish an industrial economy.

6. Britain has enormous reserves of coal. Coal was the chief fuel of the industrial revolution, and Britain had at that time one of the largest proven reserves of coal in the world. This made coal cheap and easy to get, and thus made it much more profitable for businesses to industrialize.

Beyond that, it is difficult to say which of these factors was most important, and there are very likely other important factors as well.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.”

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Images:
Image (1 of 1)
Last Updated on