Coal was mined in Europe, East Asia, and North America. According to the McNeills, “Song China had used [coal] on a large scale in its iron industry. London had burned coal for home heating from at least the thirteenth century.”
One innovation that many historians point to as being the catalyst — cause — for the Industrial Revolution is the invention of the steam engine in 1698 by Thomas Savery, an English engineer.
The steam engine was ﬁrst used to pump water out of coal mines. However, after years of improving upon the invention, it was eventually adapted and used for tugboats (1736), paddleboats (1788), steamships (1814), and railroad engines (1825). Obviously, the steam engine helped to make transportation more efﬁcient, but it was also used to transform the textile industry.
In the mid-1700s the ﬁrst machine that could turn raw cotton into thread was created. (It was called the steam-powered spinning jenny). This machine could produce as much thread in three hours as an expert spinner could produce in 50 hours by hand, and for a lot less money.
We know, though, that by the late eighteenth century and through the nineteenth century, Great Britain became the leader in the production and trade of manufactured goods.
Yet, the Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain it happened in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Europe (not including Great Britain) 21.2%
Asia (not including China and India) 12.7%
America and Africa 6.8%
Great Britain 2.0%
Between 1750 and 1914, there was a global shift in how goods were manufactured. To some extent, these changes happened across the world — from Europe and the Americas to Asia. During this 164-year period, each of these regions became much more industrialized.
According to historian John Merriman, between 1760 and 1815, 3,600 acts or laws by England's Parliament "enclosed more than seven million acres of land, more than one-fourth of the farmlands in England.” (361) This meant that all of this land was removed from public access and use and taken over by private individuals.
Merriman also notes that after 1760, “The poorest members of the rural community lost their age-old access to lands on which they had gleaned (collected) ﬁrewood, gathered nuts and berries, and grazed animals. Before enclosure, it was said, a 'cottager' was a laborer with land; after enclosure, he was a laborer without land.” (361) It was these landless laborers who would eventually become the workers of the Industrial Revolution.
Then in 1785 the ﬁrst steam-powered loom was invented. At ﬁrst it made a
coarse, uncomfortable fabric that was not very desirable. That would soon change, and quickly. By 1797, there were more than 900 cotton mills operating in Great Britain. By 1835, there were more than 106,000 steam-powered looms.
Between 1800 and 1835, the wages of hand-loom weavers had dropped by 60 percent.
50 million tons of coal burned in 1850.
The majority of Great Britain’s cotton came from the American South. In 1861, just before the U.S. Civil War, Great Britain purchased more than half of the cotton the American South produced. (Pomerantz and Topik, 230) Great Britain bought cotton from Egypt and India, too, knowing the Civil War would disrupt trans-Atlantic trade. The mills in Britain needed raw cotton to keep working.