The Second Industrial Revolution for AP European History (page 2)

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Mar 4, 2011

New Sources of Power


Coal mines provided the most important fuel of the Industrial Revolution. Initially, coal was used to heat homes and to fuel the blast furnaces of the expanding iron and steel industry. Later, demand increased even further as steam engines devoured enormous quantities of coal for fuel. Wherever there were natural deposits of coal, huge mining industries grew up around them; agricultural production in these areas was largely abandoned, and the peasants were drawn by the thousands to subterranean work in the mines.


The perfection of the steam engine increased both the scale and the pace of heavy industry by replacing human muscle and hydropower. The steam engine was first used in the early eighteenth century to pump water out of coal mines. It was perfected and made more efficient by Thomas Newcomen and James Watt. The improved version was used to drive machinery as diverse as the bellows of iron forges, looms for textile manufacture, and mills for grain. The shift to steam power allowed entrepreneurs to relocate their mills away from water sources. During the 1820s, entrepreneurs began to exploit the potential of the steam engine as a source of locomotive power. It was first used in the 1820s to power ships. In the 1830s, it was adapted to power railway locomotives.


Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Second Industrial Revolution received another boost from the widespread application of electrical power. More versatile and more easily transported than steam engines, electrical generators were used to power a wide variety of small- and large-scale factories and mills. By 1881, the first large-scale public power plant was constructed in Britain and, in the next two decades, plants were built and lines were run to illuminate houses across Europe.

Petroleum and the Internal Combustion Engine

In 1886, two German engineers, Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz, perfected the internal combustion engine, which burned petroleum as fuel, and mounted it on a carriage to create the automobile. The early German automobiles were luxury items, but in 1908 the American Henry Ford produced the "Model T," an automobile for the common man, and he mass produced it, creating yet another large factory-based industry. The internal combustion engine, along with its cousin the diesel engine, made transportation and travel cheaper and therefore more widely available.

The Railway Boom

In the 1820s, the British inventor George Stephenson developed a railway line with trains pulled by steam-powered locomotives. The Stockton and Darlington Line opened in 1825, and another major line went from Liverpool to Manchester by 1830. The speed and reliability of the new locomotives made them a huge success and began what would come to be known as the railway boom of the 1830s and 1840s, as Britain's competitors quickly developed their own systems. The development of railway systems further spurred the development of heavy industries, as railroads facilitated the speedy transportation of iron and steel while simultaneously consuming large quantities of both.

The Reciprocal Nature of Heavy Industry

The four major components of the Second Industrial Revolution—the iron and steel industry, the coal industry, steam power, and the railways—had a reciprocal effect on one another:

  • The iron and steel industry required improvements in the steam engine to run its blast furnaces, greater amounts of coal to fuel the engines, and railways to transport both the coal and the smelted iron and steel.
  • The coal industry required more and improved steam engines to pump water out of the mines and to power digging machinery; it also required railways to transport the coal.
  • The steam power industry required iron and steel to forge the engines, coal to run them, and railways to transport them.
  • The railways required huge amounts of steel and iron for the construction of the engines, cars, and tracks, steam engines to drive the locomotives, and coal to fuel the engines.

Working together, these four industries created an ever-increasing cycle of supply and demand that drove the Second Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century.

The Spread of Industrialization

The process of industrialization varied greatly across Europe. The Industrial Revolution started in Great Britain and spread eastward across the continent of Europe.

Great Britain Industrializes First

Great Britain had several natural advantages that help to explain why it was first and why it held the lead for more than a century:

  • It had a well-developed commercial economy that created a merchant class with capital to invest.
  • Britain's extensive river system was ideal for transporting goods throughout the country.
  • The country was rich in coal and iron deposits, two key components of the Second Industrial Revolution.
  • Unlike much of Europe, Great Britain had no internal tariffs to inhibit trade.
  • It had a uniform and stable monetary system and a national banking system.

Industrialization Spread Eastward from Britain

As the Industrial Revolution spread to the Continent, it moved eastward in a way that can be described by three generalizations:

  • The further east it went, the later the process began; for example, France industrialized later than Britain, Germany later than France, and Russia last.
  • The further east it went, the faster the process occurred (because innovations could be copied or purchased, rather than invented and developed); for example, France industrialized at a faster pace than Britain, Germany faster still, and Russia fastest of all.
  • The further east it went, the more the government was involved (because governments feared the political and military effects of falling behind their rivals, they invested heavily in industrialization); for example, there was no government involvement in the industrialization of Britain, some in France, more in Germany, and in Russia industrialization was almost totally government driven.

Russia Lags Behind

By 1850, large-scale industrialization had spread to northeastern France, Belgium, the northern German states, and northwestern Italy. The southern, central, and eastern areas of Europe—such as Italy, Poland, and Russia—lagged behind due to insufficient natural resources and the lack of a commercialized agricultural system to allow for a mobile workforce. These areas retained their rural character.

Russia lagged behind until two successive tsars—Alexander III (1881–1894) and Nicholas II (1894–1917)—determined that Russia should become an industrial power. In 1892, Alexander III appointed Serge Witte as finance minister. Under Witte's leadership, Russia became an iron- and steel-producing nation. By the end of the nineteenth century, factories had arisen in Moscow and St Petersburg. By 1904, the construction of a trans-Siberian railroad that linked the European portion of Russia with the East was nearly completed.

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