The Industrial Revolution, which occurred in England roughly
from 1784-1837, was a revolution in art, politics, industry and
society. It had far-reaching implications for the people at the
time, and it still influences us today.
It was the time of rapid change from
* rural to urban living,
* agriculture to manufacturing,
* home production to factory production,
* hand labor to machines,
* direct exchange of goods to banking and capitalism.
The change began with improvements in the textile industry.
The spinning Jenny made it possible to stretch much more
cotton into thread, and the flying shuttle, to weave threads into
cloth faster than ever before. These improvements, coupled
with recent improvements in the steam engine, made it possible
to do work which had formerly been done by many individual
Within a 35-year period from the 1790s to the 1830s, more
than 100,000 power looms with 9,330,000 spindles began
working in England and Scotland.
Starving weavers, forced out of work by the machines, took
their frustrations out on the closest things at hand--the
machines themselves. Known as the Luddites, in 1811 they
began breaking into factories and smashing the frames that
were depriving them
of their livelihood.
Government response was quick and brutal. Breaking frames
became a capital offense, punishable by hanging.
On February 27, 1812, the British poet, Lord Byron, made his
maiden speech in the House of Lords on the Frame Bill. He
defended the workers who had been replaced by machinery:
â€œNothing but absolute want could have driven a large,
once honest and industrious body of people, into the
commission of excesses so hazardous to themselves, their
families, and their community,â€� he pointed out. Despite his
efforts, the bill passed. People could be hanged for industrial
Byron followed his speech with a scathing satirical poem, â
€œAn Ode to the Framers of the Frame Bill.â€� Here is a
The rascals, perhaps, may betake them to robbing,
The dogs to be sure have got nothing to eat--
So if we can hang them for breaking a bobbin,
'Twill save all the Governmentâ€™s money and meat:
Men are more easily made than machinery--
Stockings fetch better prices than lives--
Gibbets on Sherwood will heighten the scenery,
Showing how Commerce, how Liberty thrives!
Though the Luddite Rebellion occurred long ago and far away,
we today can sympathize. In a society where technological
improvements constantly force people from their jobs, we do
well to look back and consider the questions raised by this
initial Industrial Revolution:
1. What happens in a society when a few become rich and
many are left jobless?
2. Just how valuable is money in contrast with peopleâ€™s
3. What does it say about us if we respond to desperate
people with more prisons and increased death penalties?
4. Can we make financial gains without hurting others?
5. What is the real meaning of progress?