Industrial revolution in France and around the world (19th century)

Industrial revolution in France and around the world (19th century)

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From the end of the 18th century, the industrial Revolution opens a period of transition from an economy traditionally based on agriculture to one based on the mechanized and large-scale production of manufactured goods. At the origin of a considerable social change, the phenomenon of the industrial revolution occurs at different times in different countries. In France, industrial growth was regular and substantial in the 19th century, but not very spectacular and without a phase of sudden acceleration, as in Great Britain, Germany or the United States.

Great Britain: the pioneer

The first industrial revolution took place in Great Britain at the end of the 18th century, around 1780. It profoundly changed the British economy and society. The most immediate changes affected the nature of production, but also the modalities and location of it. Labor power was transferred from the production of primary products to that of manufactured goods and services. The production of manufactured articles increased considerably thanks to technical innovation, resulting from the invention of more and more efficient machines, linked to the use of steam as the main source of energy. Productivity growth was also made possible by the systematic application of scientific and practical knowledge to the production process. The output was finally improved when companies gathered in large numbers on limited areas. Thus, the industrial revolution is linked to urbanization, that is to say to the process of rural exodus and international migration from rural to urban areas.

It is perhaps in this organization of work that the most important changes took place. The company expanded and took on new features. Production now took place within the company and no longer with the family or within the framework of the seigneurial domain. The tasks became more and more routine and specialized. Industrial production began to depend largely on the intensive use of capital. Cutting tools and machines enabled workers to produce in much larger quantities than in the past. The advantages of experience in a task (making a particular part or tool) reinforced the tendency towards specialization.

Increased specialization and the intensive use of capital in industrial production created other social differences. New social and professional classes were born: workers, concentrated in manufacturing companies and heavy industries and who soon formed a very homogeneous social class, bringing to the forefront of political debate at the end of the 19th century, the "social question"; a large industrial and possessing bourgeoisie, owner of the means of production and whose members took the name of capitalists.

Economic take-off

The first industrial revolution having taken place in Great Britain, this country became for a time the laboratory of deep economic and social change. Through most of the 18th century and much of the 19th century, London was the center of a complex trading network that spanned the entire world and where exports of goods associated with industrialization increased. Exports provided an indispensable outlet for textile products and other manufacturing industries, in which the introduction of new techniques had allowed rapid growth in production.

Available data indicates a significant acceleration in the growth rate of British exports after 1780, as well as strong economic growth. This development of exports and openness to the international market brought other advantages to the country's economy: the income from imports allowed manufacturers to buy raw materials at low prices (from the colonies) necessary for industrial production. , and traders practicing export acquired a know-how which was very useful to them in developing internal trade.

Economist W.W. Rostow called this phase of industrialization, which gradually spread across Europe, the “economic take-off”. Characterized by a strong acceleration in growth, household consumption and savings capacities, and investment, this phase did not take place everywhere at the same pace and at the same time. Generally preceded by strong demographic growth (due to the decline in mortality), the “takeoff” took place between 1780 and 1820 in England, between 1830 and 1870 in France, and between 1850 and 1880 in Germany. It took place at the end of the 19th century in Sweden and Japan, at the beginning of the 20th in Russia and Canada, in the 1950s in Latin America and Asia and still later in many parts of Africa and the Middle -East.

The industrial revolution in France

The case of France is, in this respect, a bit special. There was no real French "take-off" in the 19th century, but continued growth from 1815 to 1860. This can be explained by the greater importance of the agricultural sector in France than in other countries, which continued to decline for a long time. '' print its rhythm on the country's economy. From 1830, the role of industry in the development of the industrial revolution was nevertheless more important and in 1860, the French pig iron production was clearly higher than that of all the German states combined.

Witnesses of the industrial development of France, the development of its network of railroads, which passes from 3,000 km in 1850 to 17,500 km in 1870 and to 50,000 in 1913. It is also attested by the growth of the textile industries , mining and steel, the latter two benefiting from this new means of transport by having to produce energy, rails, wagons ... The French "performance" is therefore not negligible, although it is lower than that of England during the first two-thirds of the century, and that of the United States and Germany in the last third.

The role of states in the industrial revolution

When France and Germany began to industrialize, they had to compete with Great Britain and benefited unevenly from the British experience. The slowdown of the first industrial revolution in France coincided with the signing of a free trade treaty with England in 1860. This opening of the borders harmed the French economy, which was too little industrialized to meet the challenge of competition. international (tripling of imports, weakening of industrial exports). On the contrary, a redistribution of the cards took place for the benefit of Germany and to the detriment of the United Kingdom during these years which saw the development of a particularly rapid industrial revolution across the Rhine (creation of the great Konzerns, etc. .). Mediterranean Europe, on the contrary, stayed away from the industrial revolution for a long time and did not experience it until the 20th century.

If the role of the state was far from being negligible in favoring the industrialization of Great Britain, it was on the other hand considerable in Germany, in Japan, in Russia and in almost all the countries which industrialized in the XXth century. . In France, the state also intervened more and more clearly in economic development from this period.

The consequences of the industrial revolution

By definition, successful industrialization leads to an increase in national income per capita, gross national product (GNP) and gross domestic product (GDP). It also brings about changes in the distribution of resources, in living and working conditions, as well as in behavior and social codes. In Great Britain, as everywhere else, the industrial revolution began by causing a fall in the purchasing power of workers and a deterioration in their living conditions, then its living conditions improved due to general enrichment and workers' struggles. These were the result of a booming unionism and a socialism which saw the emergence, at the end of the century, of Marxist conceptions. But the victorious social group of the industrial revolution was the bourgeoisie, which, from the dominant classes which control the banking and industry to the middle classes whose heterogeneity remains the rule, tended to unify its way of life.


- The first industrial revolution 1750-1880, by Patrick Verley. Armand Colin, 2016.

- The industrial Revolution. 1780-1880, by Jean-pierre Rioux. History points, 2015.

- Industrial revolution and economic growth in the 19th century, by Chantal Beauchamp. Ellipses, 1997.

Video: THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION comes to Europe and America!


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