By increasing productivity and at the same time releasing part of the farm labor force for other work, the revolution in agriculture contributed to that in industry. Industry also required raw materials, markets, and capital to finance the building and equipping of factories. Thus the prosperity of commerce also nourished the growth of industry.
The first major changes were in textile manufacture, where the making of yarn and cloth had long been organized under the domestic system, in which spinners and weavers worked at home with wheels and looms. Often they did not buy their own raw materials or market their finished products, but worked as wage-laborers for someone who furnished the raw materials and sold the finished products.
In other industries, however, production was sometimes organized in simple factories, which brought together many laborers in a large workshop. These factories were particularly common in enterprises requiring close supervision for reasons of state, like cannon foundries, or because they used expensive materials, like gold or silver threads for luxury cloth.
The industrial revolution made the domestic system obsolete and transformed the early factory system. Machines superseded the spinning wheel, hand loom, and other hand tools, and water or steam replaced human muscle and animal energy as the chief source of power. Because power-driven machines were often cumbersome and complicated, larger factories were needed to house them.
Coal mining was becoming a big business, largely because of increased demand for coke by iron smelters, which had previously used charcoal to make ore into iron. Ordinary coal could not replace charcoal as smelter fuel because the chemicals in coal made the iron too brittle.
The Darby family of Shropshire discovered how to remove the chemical impurities from coal by an oven process that converted it into coke. The Darbys and other private firms were the pioneers in metallurgy.
The revolution in textiles focused on the cheaper production of cotton cloth. The flying shuttle, a technical device first applied to the hand loom in England (1733), enabled a single weaver to do the work that had previously required the services of two. Looms equipped with the flying shuttle used up the supply of hand-spun thread so rapidly that a private organization, the London Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce, offered a prize for improving the spinning process.
James Hargreaves (d. 1778) won the prize in 1764 with his spinning jenny, a series of wheels geared together to make eight threads simultaneously. Soon the jenny was adapted to water power, and its output was increased to more than a hundred threads at once. The eventual emancipation of industry from dependence on unreliable water power was foreshadowed in the 1760s when the Scotsman James Watt (1736-1819) introduced the steam engine.
Although Britain had nearly 150 cotton mills in 1789, woolens and dozens of other basic commodities were still made by hand. Full industrial development would not occur until the canals and railroads permitted cheap transport of heavy freight and until shortages of capital and skilled labor were overcome. The difficulty of making precisely machined parts for Watt’s engine delayed its production in large quantities. Although the eighteenth century had taken many of the initial steps in the industrial revolution, it remained for the next century to apply them on a truly revolutionary scale.