Though relatively a small nation, Britain had large supplies of coal to power steam engines. It also had plentiful iron to build the new machines. According to the map above, what other natural resources did Great Britain have?
What does the map above tell you about Great Britain’s ability to trade? How did it impact industrialization in Great Britain?
In the 1700s, trade from a growing overseas empire helped the British economy prosper. The business class accumulated capital, or wealth to invest in enterprises such as mines, railroads, and factories. A large number of these entrepreneurs were ready to risk their capital in new ventures. At home, the population explosion boosted demand for goods. However, a growing population alone would not have resulted in increased production. General economic prosperity was also needed to enable not only the middle and upper classes but also artisans and farmers to afford the new consumer goods.
Britain had a stable government that supported economic growth. It built a strong navy to protect its empire and overseas trade. Although members of the upper class tended to look down on business and business people, they did not reject the great wealth produced by the new entrepreneurs. Religious attitudes also played a role in the growth of British industry. Many entrepreneurs came from religious groups that encouraged thrift and hard work. At the same time, for many people, worldly problems had become more important than concern about life after death. Thus, inventors, bankers, and other risk-takers felt free to devote their energies to material achievements.
A large number of workers were needed to mine the coal and iron, build the factories, and run the machines. The agricultural revolution of the 1600s and 1700s freed many men and women in Britain from farm labor. The population boom that resulted further swelled the work force. In the 1700s, Enlightenment thinkers promoted the idea of progress through technology. The Encyclopedia compiled by the Diderot included articles on technology as well as on social and political reform. In the 1700s, Britain had plenty of skilled mechanics who were eager to meet the growing demand for new, practical inventions.
In the 1700s, some capitalists invested in turnpikes, which were privately built roads that charged a fee to travelers who used them. Others had canals dug to link rivers or connect inland towns to coastal ports. Engineers also built stronger bridges and upgraded harbors to help rapidly expanding overseas trade. The great revolution in transportation, however, was the invention of the steam locomotive. It was this invention that made possible the growth of railroads. In the following decades, railroads got faster and railroad building boomed. Other inventors applied steam power to improve shipping, creating coal powered steamships.