The Economic Underpinnings of the First Industrial Revolution in England


The manufacture of military munitions and the development of a home
market were critical underpinnings of the first industrial revolution in Britain.
Military manufacturing supported by the British Government contributed directly
to technological innovation and spurred industrialization. This is because the
companies that choose to fulfill the government contracts to make military
munitions found money could be made if new processes and technology was
developed to fulfill the huge contracts. Military manufacturing was one of the
few industries where innovation was rewarded. In most other industries
conservative investors were reluctant to invest in new manufacturing technology.
But in military manufacturing the government was the investor and was
unconcerned with the manufacturing technology as long as the product was
delivered on time. Many technological advances were made through military
manufacturing some of these were new ways to manufacture iron, conveyer belts,
and the use machine tools . The technology developed for military manufacturing
then spilled over into the civilian sector of the economy. And because it was
now a tested technology investors who were normally cautious were willing to put
their capital into these ventures which instead of pouring iron to make guns now
made iron ore into stoves and pots.
The second critical underpinning of the first industrial revolution was
the development of a home market in Britain. The first British industrialists
manufactured textiles; specifically cotton for the home market. The growth of
the home market in Britain promoted industrialization in several ways. First, it
was a steady market which able to cushion the export market which was very
dynamic and had sudden fluctuations. This allowed a steady rate of growth even
when exports fell. Second, the home market started the process of urbanization
by causing people to leave the agricultural sector of the economy and move to
the cities to work in the cotton and textile factories. This urbanization had a
snowballing effect throughout the economy because it caused other business and
factories to open in the cities to support this new urban class. Third, the home
market caused investments to be made in improving infrastructure including roads,
bridges and canals. This paved the way for industrialization which needed an
efficient system to transport goods from factory to market. The home market also
provided the base for other industries such as coal. This was because the home
market created greater urbanization and thus the need for coal in urban England
grew. The military sector of the economy provided some of the key technological
innovations that promoted industrialization. And the home market that was
produced by the cotton textile trade promoted improvements in infrastructure and
spurred other industries to develop.