The Industrial Revolution, which began in Britain in the mid- to late-18th Century with the invention by James Watt of his steam engine, itself an evolutionary follow-on to an early 18th Century steam engine developed by Thomas Newcomen, presaged enormous technological, social, cultural and economic transformations for the entire world. Not without its critics, particularly the early 19th Century Luddite movement – textile workers who rioted and destroyed factory machinery that was displacing manual laborers – the sights associated with the introduction and rapid proliferation of labor-saving machinery were noteworthy. Technological innovations that ushered in the Industrial Revolution fundamentally transformed skylines while introducing the concepts of exhaust and air pollution.
Visually, the Industrial Revolution brought with it the appearance of enormous mechanized factories that replaced smaller mills and manufacturing facilities where tasks were performed by hand, or through the interaction of humans and large animals, for example, for the turning of industrial wheels and the pulling of plows. Large buildings topped with smoke stacks would have been one of the most visible manifestations of this “revolution,” as would the appearance of railway tracks crisscrossing formerly pristine territory and the requisite train engines transiting newly-laid track. Much formerly forested land was displaced to accommodate the railways, and forests were also increasingly exploited for manufacturing purposes. While not associated with the Industrial Revolution per se, the development of the telegraph, initially in the late 18th Century but primarily during the 1830s, resulted in the sudden appearance overhead of wires supported by thousands of wooden poles. The dual appearances of telegraph poles and wires and railway networks transformed the appearance of vast stretches of territory. The development of the process for manufacturing steel, which requires large facilities, enabled the construction of larger, taller structures, which radically transformed urban areas and ushered in the modern cityscape.
One of the most notable outcomes of the Industrial Revolution came much later, but altered landscapes more than any other: the invention of the automobile, made possible through development of the internal combustion engine. The sight of automobiles rather than horse-and-buggy contraptions was probably more noteworthy than any other single development associated with the mechanization of society. While the Industrial Revolution ended in the middle of the 19th Century in England, it continued on in the North American colonies, where later manufacturing processes were developed enabling the development by Henry Ford of the assembly line used to mass-produce automobiles. To the extent that the Industrial Revolution is directly linked to the development of such manufacturing processes, then the visual ramifications of such developments could be considered to have been enormous.
The visual effects of the Industrial Revolution mainly involved the appearance of large manufacturing facilities, the much taller buildings these facilities enabled, and the proliferation of railway tracks across countries. Later developments not normally associated with that revolution, like the invention of the automobile, greatly altered landscapes, and should be considered in this context.