Industrial Revolution got under way first in England. This
is a historical fact of the utmost significance, for it
explains in large part England's primary role in world affairs
in the nineteenth century. Consequently, the question of
why the Industrial Revolution began where it did is of much
more than academic interest.
problem may be simplified by eliminating those countries
that could not, for one reason or another, have generated
the Industrial Revolution. Italy at one time had been an
economic leader but had dropped behind with the discoveries
and shift of the main trade routes from the Mediterranean
to the Atlantic. Spain had been economically predominant
in the sixteenth century but had then lost out to the northwestern
states for various reasons already noted. Holland had enjoyed
her Golden Age in the seventeenth century, but she lacked
the raw materials, labor resources, and water power necessary
for machine production. The various countries of Central
and Eastern Europe had been little affected by the Commercial
Revolution and hence did not develop the technical skills,
the trade markets, and the capital reserves needed for industrialization.
leaves only France and Britain as possible leaders, and
of the two, England had certain advantages that enabled
her to forge far ahead of her rival. In commerce, for example,
the two countries were about equal in 1763, or, if anything,
France was somewhat in the lead. But France had a population
three times that of England. France also lost ground in
foreign trade when she was driven out of Canada and India
in 1763. Furthermore, the blockade of the British fleet
during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars reduced French
commerce to about half its 1788 value, and the loss was
not restored until 1825.
important advantage enjoyed by Britain is that she had taken
an early lead in the basic coal and iron industries. Because
the forest reserves were being depleted, Britain early began
using coal for fuel and for smelting iron. By the time of
the French Revolution in 1789, Britain was producing about
10 million tons of coal per year, while France was producing
700,000 tons. A contemporary poet sensed the significance
of this unlimited source of power for English industry when
he wrote, England's a perfect World! Has Indies
too! Correct your maps! New-castle is Peru!
also pioneered in the development of the blast furnace which,
in contrast to the old forges, could mass-produce iron.
In 1780 Britain's iron out put had been a third that of
France; by 1840, it was three times more. All this meant
that Britain was pushing ahead in the production of goods
of mass consumption for which there was a large and steady
demand, whereas France specialized more in luxury commodities
of limited and fluctuating demand. Perhaps Voltaire had
this in mind when he wrote in 1735, "In truth we are
the whipped cream of Europe."
L.S. Stavrianos, The World Since 1500: A Global History.