Causes and Preconditions for the Industrial Revolution

Color sketch of River Thames, London in 1750.

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Historians may disagree on most aspects of the Industrial Revolution, but one thing they do agree on is that 18th-century Britain experienced a huge change in the economic field of goods, production and technology, and the social sphere (through urbanization and treatment of workers). The reasons for this change continue to fascinate historians, leading people to wonder if there was a set of preconditions present in Britain shortly before the Revolution which enabled or allowed it to take place. These preconditions tend to cover population, agriculture, industry, transport, trade, finance, and raw materials.

Preconditions for Industrialization in Britain Circa 1750

Agriculture: As a supplier of raw materials, the agricultural sector was closely linked to the industrial; this was the main source of occupation for the British population. Half of the arable land had been enclosed, while half remained in the medieval open field system. The British agricultural economy produced a large surplus of food and drink and had been labeled the "Granary of Europe" because of its exports. However, production was labor-intensive. Although there had been some new crops introduced, and there were problems with underemployment. Consequently, people had multiple occupations.

Industry: Most industries were small scale, domestic and local, but traditional industries could meet the domestic demands. There was some inter-regional trade, but this was limited by poor transport. The key industry was wool production, bringing in a substantial portion of Britain’s wealth, but this was coming under threat from cotton.

Population: The nature of the British population has implications for the supply and demand for food and goods, as well as the supply of cheap labor. The population had increased in the earlier part of the 18th century, especially closer to the middle of the era, and was mostly located in rural areas. The people were gradually accepting of social change and the upper and middle classes were interested in new thinking in science, philosophy. and culture.

Transport: Good transport links are seen as a basic requirement for the Industrial Revolution, as the transport of goods and raw materials were essential for reaching wider markets. Generally, in 1750, transport was limited to poor quality local roads — a few of which were "turnpikes," toll roads which improved speed but added cost — rivers, and coastal traffic. While this system was limited, interregional trade did occur, such as coal from the north to London.

Trade: This had developed during the first half of the 18th century both internally and externally, with a great deal of wealth coming from the triangle trade of enslaved people. The main market for British goods was Europe, and the government maintained a mercantilist policy to encourage it. Provincial ports had developed, such as Bristol and Liverpool.

Finance: By 1750, Britain had begun to move towards capitalist institutions — which are considered part of the development of the Revolution. The produce of trade was creating a new, wealthy class prepared to invest in industries. Groups like the Quakers have also been identified as investing in areas which contributed to the industrial boom.

Raw Materials: Britain had the raw resources necessary for a revolution in plentiful supply. Although they were being extracted in abundance, this was still limited by traditional methods. In addition, the related industries tended to be nearby because of poor transport links, exerting a pull on where industry occurred.


Britain in 1870 had the following which has all been stated as necessary for an Industrial Revolution: good mineral resources, growing population, wealth, spare land and food, ability to innovate, laissez-faire government policy, scientific interest, and trading opportunities. Around 1750, all of these began to develop simultaneously. The result was a massive change.

Causes of the Revolution

As well as the debate over preconditions, there has been a closely-related discussion over the causes of the revolution. A wide range of factors is generally considered to have worked together, including:

  • The end of medieval structures changed economic relationships and allowed for change.
  • A higher population because of less disease and lower infant mortality allows for a larger industrial workforce.
  • The Agricultural Revolution frees people from the soil, allowing — or driving — them into cities and manufacturing.
  • Proportionally large amounts of spare capital were available for investment.
  • Inventions and the scientific revolution allowed for new technology to increase and cheapen production.
  • Colonial trade networks allowed the import of materials and the export of manufactured goods.
  • The presence of all the required resources close together, such as coal near iron.
  • Culture of hard work, risk-taking, and the development of ideas.
  • Demand for goods.
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Your Citation
Wilde, Robert. "Causes and Preconditions for the Industrial Revolution." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Wilde, Robert. (2020, August 27). Causes and Preconditions for the Industrial Revolution. Retrieved from Wilde, Robert. "Causes and Preconditions for the Industrial Revolution." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 31, 2023).

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