An Introduction to the Industrial Revolution

Steve Davies,

Release Date
October 7, 2011



What was the industrial revolution? According to Dr. Stephen Davies, it was an extraordinarily innovative period in history that generated the highest living standards the world had ever seen. For instance, over the course of the 19th century, average per capita income in the United Kingdom rose by a factor of six. To put this in perspective, prior to the industrial revolution, it typically took 300-400 years for the standard of living to rise by a factor of 0.5. Why did this explosion of human flourishing take place? Dr. Stephen Davies claims that people began to embrace an engineering culture along with a respect for trade and business. It was this synergy of trade and engineering that led to a revolution in production and business organization.

  • Facts about The Industrial Revolution [Article]: Ludwig von Mises discusses the differences between the conventional views of his time and the facts of the industrial revolution.
  • The Myth of the Robber Barons (Video): Burton Folsom discusses how entrepreneurs during the industrial revolution played a major role in lifting consumers out of poverty.
  • Roberts on the Least Pleasant Jobs [Audio]: Russ Roberts looks at the evolution of the least pleasant jobs over time and how technology interacts with rising productivity to make the least pleasant jobs more pleasant.
  • A Different Story [Article]: Stephen Davies discusses the importance of the types of historical events we pay attention to when studying history.
  • Visions of History: Ways of Seeing the Past (Video): Stephen Davies argues that the way we think about and understand the past has an enormous effect on the way we view both the present and the future.

An Introduction to the Industrial Revolution
In the course of the 19th century, average incomes per capita in the United Kingdom rose by a factor of six. In other words, people in 1900 were six times better off than they had been—or their ancestors been, rather—a hundred years earlier. The Industrial Revolution was a true turning point in human history.
In previous centuries, the standard of living had remained constant for hundreds and hundreds of years. It would take typically 300 to 400 years for the standard of living to improve even by as little as 50 percent. So to have this kind of increase in living standards in just a hundred years was something truly novel in human history.
Certain people in Europe, initially the Dutch and then the British, came to value trade and commerce and business highly. Instead of despising and looking down on merchants, wealth creators, and traders, they began to esteem them. And as a result, a lot more talent, if you like, went into those kinds of endeavors.
The development of what one historian calls an “engineering culture,” particularly in Britain; one which integrates pure scientific research with their practical applications in technology is what leads to an increasingly rapid rate of technical innovation. When you combine that with increased entrepreneurialism, what you get is a revolution in production and business organization.