How was the Industrial Revolution that began in Britain similar to or different from this phenomenon as it developed in the United States?

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lhc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The "first" Industrial Revolution is generally described by scholars as beginning in Britain in the mid- to late 1700's, and involved a movement away from agrarian living to manufacturing, particularly of textiles, and mining, as well as changes in transportation technology. These changes brought other changes as well:  greater income and higher living standards, more people moving to, and staying in, cities, and a bigger market for products made possible by newer, faster transportation. 

The "second" Industrial Revolution is generally focused on the United States, although it is usually described as having "spread" from Britain and Europe.  Samuel Slater is usually given the credit for the first well-known case of industrial espionage; he memorized the layout and specifications of the English mill where he was an apprentice, brought the knowledge to the United States and became wealthy as the owner of thirteen spinning mills in and around Rhode Island. 

Ironically enough, the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, and the appearance of the textile mills later on would create a complementary system that inadvertently exacerbated the economic conflicts that led to the American Civil War.  Many historians believe that slavery in the South was becoming less profitable until the cotton gin came along; it did the work of several slaves, making many planters rich beyond their wildest dreams, and giving slavery a new foothold in the South.  Many Southern planters grew cotton as fast as they could, but to profit from it, had to sell to someone who could turn it into fabric--which would be the rapidly industrializing North.  Although it might appear a win-win situation for everyone, it was not to be because the slavery issue was becoming ever more divisive, and economic policy that was good for the cotton-growers was not always good for the cotton-spinners--creating another divide between North and South.