Till the early eighteenth century, spinning had been a slow and laborious process. A series of technological inventions helped in increasing the speed of spinning so that it could match with the speed of weaving. From the 1780s, the British cotton textiles industry had two features, which were also seen in other industries. Raw cotton had to be entirely imported, and a large part of the finished cloth was exported. This helped in sustaining the process of colonization. The industry was heavily dependent on women and children for labor.
Hydraulic power from water had been used for centuries. But it was limited to certain areas, seasons and by the speed of flow of water. Steam power provided pressure at high temperatures. This meant the steam power was the only source of energy that was reliable and inexpensive enough to make machinery itself.
Coal mines were becoming deeper to satiate the increasing demand for coal and metals. Flooding was s serious problem in deep mines. Thomas Savery (1650-1715) built a model steam engine (called Miner’s Friend) in 1698 to drain mines. The Miner’s Friend was slow, could work only in shallow depths, and its boiler burst under high pressure.
Thomas Newcomen (1663-1729) made another steam engine in 1712. This engine had the defect of losing energy due to continuous cooling of the condensing cylinder.
James Watt (1736-1819) developed a new steam engine in 1769. This invention changed the steam engine from being a mere pump into a ‘prime mover’. Now, the steam engine was capable of powering machines in factories. By the end of the eighteenth century, Watt’s steam engine was beginning to replace hydraulic power. Steam engine witnessed further improvements, and in 1840 the British steam engines were generating more than 70% of all European horsepower.
Coal was the primary source of energy for industry and for heating and lighting in cities. It was expensive and time-consuming to transport coal by road. Hence, canals were built to transport coal to cities. Canals were generally built by big landowners to increase the value of mines, quarries or forests on their lands. The confluence of canals created marketing centres in new towns. For example, the city of Birmingham grew because it was at the heart of a canal system connecting London, the Bristol Channel, and the Mersey and Humber rivers. The period from 1788 to 1796 is known as the ‘Canal Mania’. During this period, 46 new canal projects saw the light of the day. More than 6,000 miles of canal were built over the next 60 years.
Stephenson’s Rocket was the first steam locomotive which appeared in 1814. The iron track replaced the wooden track in the 1760s. The invention of railways took the process of industrialization to the next stage. In the 1830s, transport through canals presented several problems. Vessels’ movement became slow on certain stretches of canals because of congestion. Frost, flood or drought limited the time of their use. The railways opened a convenient alternative. About 6,000 miles of railways was built in Britain between 1830 and 1850. The railways used vast amounts of coal and iron, employed large number of workers and boosted activity in the construction and public works industries.
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