The Market Revolution, Industrialization, and New Technologies

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Why did industrialization in Europe lead to imperialist conquest of other societies?

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Industrialism led to nations needing more raw materials for their factories. It increased worker output and thus made goods cheaper; however, it also led to the global exploitation of raw materials such as timber and minerals.

Since many nations in Europe lacked adequate sources of timber by the beginning of...

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Industrialism led to nations needing more raw materials for their factories. It increased worker output and thus made goods cheaper; however, it also led to the global exploitation of raw materials such as timber and minerals.

Since many nations in Europe lacked adequate sources of timber by the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, nations such as Britain, France, and the Netherlands turned their attention overseas for raw materials. Timber was needed in order to create the sailing vessels for shipping goods. One's own colonists could produce the agricultural materials such as hemp and food for the mother country.

Under mercantilism, it was expected that the nation should aspire to be more self-sufficient in terms of trade. Britain passed Navigation Acts in order to increase trade with its American colonists. Thus, not only were the colonists sources of raw materials, but they also served as a captive market for British industrial products.

Imperialism was also a factor in developing new markets for a nation's goods. During the 1800s, many European nations coveted the trade of Asia but lacked adequate coaling stations to efficiently send ships there. This led to the annexation of many islands in the Pacific that had little value other than as a naval port. These ports could also be used to threaten another nation's industrial trade in times of war.

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Industrialization did not cause imperialism, as the conquests of the Americas and much of Asia occurred prior to the advent of industrialization, but it certainly contributed to it. The development of the railroad industry in particular facilitated the spread of colonization by making it much easier for European nations to establish and maintain imperial holdings, especially in Africa. Famed industrialist and ardent imperialist Cecil Rhodes was instrumental in the establishment of rail lines across southern Africa that made the administration of colonial holdings much more efficient. In North America, the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 cemented the United States' ability to consolidate the fruits of Manifest Destiny by facilitating the movement of people and goods across the continent. All of this was possible because of the Industrial Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution contributed to imperialism also by greatly increasing the demand for natural resources. As factories sprang up and the railroad industry expanded, the need for natural resources for the manufacture of iron and steel as well as the demand for newly-discovered oil radically increased. While the oil industry in the United States was overwhelmingly domestic during the 19th century, Europe was dependent upon oil imports that came from colonial holdings, especially in Arabia. Consequently, industrialization resulted in an increasing role for imperialism by making the natural resources of the Middle East, Africa and Asia much more important to the industrial powers of Europe (and, later, Japan).

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Industrialization went hand in hand with imperialism for many reasons. 

First, industrialization created a demand for resources—timber, rubber, metals, petroleum and other goods—that were not available in Europe. European nations sought these resources on other continents, like Africa, for example. In order to secure these resources, they often established political control over peoples around the world. Securing natural resources was a major incentive for imperialism. 

Another major incentive for imperialism was the desire to secure markets for European manufactured goods. It was basically an article of faith among many economists in the late nineteenth century that the rise of technology and new production techniques would lead to overproduction—factories would produce more than markets could bear. Overproduction, in turn, would lead to economic disaster. As a result, securing markets overseas was a major motive for imperialism. European nations had a particular interest in China, which they forced to trade with them by establishing spheres of influence in coastal cities. 

Finally, industrialization led to the creation of military technologies that facilitated the conquest of people throughout the world. It also created communications networks that enabled the administration of large-scale empires. For many reasons, industrialization was a major contributing factor to European and American imperialism. 

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There are two main ways in which the industrialization of Europe led to imperial conquest.  On the one hand, industrialization made it more possible for European countries to conquer other countries.  On the other hand, industrialization also gave European countries more of a motive to go out and conquer.

Industrialization made it more possible for European countries to overcome other countries militarily.  Industrialization gave the European countries better weapons.  It gave them large numbers of guns and cannons.  It gave them the ability to mass produce these things and to use them to overwhelm the countries that they went out to conquer.  Thus, industrialization gave European countries more military power.  This became even truer when the Europeans developed steamships that increased their naval abilities.

Industrialization also made it more important for European countries to create empires for themselves.  For one thing, it caused a need for more raw materials.  The European countries had more capacity to manufacture and therefore needed to go out and get things to use in manufacturing.  Industrialization also made the countries richer.  Now, they had populations full of consumers who wanted luxury goods from other countries.  Finally, industrialization made it so that the European countries needed to sell more goods.  They had so much ability to produce that they needed captive markets in which to sell the excess.  For all of these reasons, the Europeans had more incentive to conquer after industrialization.

Thus, we can see that industrialization made it more possible and also more necessary for the European countries to engage in imperial conquest.

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