September 3, 2014 9:49 am

The Industrial Revolution was an incubator for innovation and change. From the mid-18th century to the mid-19th century, the transition to new manufacturing processes changed the daily lives of those in the United States, Great Britain, and the rest of Western Europe. The United States shifted from a mainly agriculturally based economy to one that focused more on industry and textile production.

In the spirit of Labor Day and the Industrial Revolution, we would like to highlight some of the most essential inventions of this period to remind us of the great strides that innovation and technology have made over the past 250 years.

Steam Engine

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, horse-and-buggy was the primary way of getting from Point A to Point B, even when traveling long distances. James Watt, a Scottish engineer, changed this when he developed a more efficient steam engine. Steam engines date back to the 1600s, but were not practical until Mr. Watt patented a steam engine that produced continuous rotative motion. This steam engine was essential to developing steam-powered locomotives and boats, changing transportation forever.

Steam engines also revolutionized the mining process. Previously, mining practices required many long hours of labor for few mined materials. The steam engine made the process more efficient though the use of a faster, more fuel-efficient engine.

Coal, Iron, and Metal

During the era of the Industrial Revolution, a huge change occurred in metal industries. Previously, wood and other bio-fuels were used for power. Coal replaced these and proved to be a much better option because it required less labor and was more abundant than wood.

The demand for metals increased dramatically during the Industrial Revolution, but prior to some innovations, it wasn’t easy or efficient to mine and transport raw materials. Mining companies began to supply cast iron instead of wrought iron, its pricey counterpart.Scientists also began to use metallurgy, the study of physical and chemical behavior of metallic elements, to discover how to best use them. These innovations allowed them to build the infrastructure to support the Industrial Revolution.

Textiles and Machinery

Fashions prior to the Industrial Revolution were mainly hand-made by the woman of the household. Cloth and one-of-a-kind clothing items could be purchased from a town seamstress, but it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that mass produced cloth and eventually, clothing, became possible. The combination of many different inventions led to the factories that our clothing is made in today. The spinning wheel, spinning jenny, carding machines, spinning frame, spinning mule, and vertical power loom are just some of the inventions that were created during the Industrial Revolution that aided the textile making process.

With an increase in textile production, there was higher demand for cotton. Eli Whitney accepted the challenge of making cotton more readily available through the invention of the cotton gin. This inexpensive invention allowed the seed to be removed from the crop at a surprisingly faster rate than if it were done by hand. Someone operating a cotton gin could remove as much seed as someone processing it by hand for two months. This convenience led to more yarn, innovation in looms, and eventually, Richard Arkwright’s cotton mill.

So, after this history review, what lessons can we take away from the Industrial Revolution?

Innovation Takes Time 

It took over a century for one movement to spread across Europe and the United States. Now, technology is constantly changing our world and no one knows what will happen 10 years from now, let alone 100. However, it’s important to remember that innovation doesn’t happen overnight.

Try and Try Again

These inventors made many prototypes to come up with one finished product. Just because your first try didn’t work doesn’t mean that your idea is “wrong” or “bad.” Some of the best inventions came from ideas that were thought and rethought many times over. Keep going!

Individual’s Efforts Lead to Change

Although some groups of inventors worked together on their ideas, many worked alone. These individuals borrowed concepts and improved on them. An invention doesn’t have to be a brand new idea. You can take something that already exists, change it, and make it better.

Anyone Can Invent Something

Many people think that you have to be a genius or an entrepreneur to invent something. Some of these historical figures were experts in their field, but many others were ordinary citizens with an idea, perseverance, and patience.

Innovation is a chain reaction. When an individual creates something, society is called upon to improve, and someone else continues the innovation process.The Industrial Revolution set the stage for more modern inventions later in the 1800s, which would eventually help us come up with the inventions of today. Our appreciation and admiration go out to those historical figures who improved our world with their ideas, intentions, and inventions.

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