The Role of Transportation in the Industrial Revolution: A Comparison of England and France

By Rick Szostak | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX

The French Textiles
Industry

The relative importance of the four textile industries was different in France than in England. Silk was more important in France though its output was still much smaller than the output of the more common wool and linen. Cotton was much less important in France in the late eighteenth century than in England, but this difference is due to the incredible growth of the English cotton industry during the eighteenth century. It was seen in the last chapter that technological and organizational innovation occurred in wool and linen as well, though much more gradually than in cotton. The fact that these three sectors did not undergo the same changes provides more convincing evidence of a fundamental difference between France and England than the example of cotton alone. Still, as I will show, there is no obvious explanation, in terms of raw material access, for the slow growth (by English standards) of the French cotton industry. Nor is there any obvious reason why French tastes should have been less amenable to cotton. My purpose in this chapter is to show how the backwardness of French transport prevented all French textile industries from undergoing (or even borrowing) the changes that occurred in England. I will follow the same outline used in chapter 5, this time for the more difficult task of describing why something did not happen.


Methods of Distribution

Despite the relatively high value/bulk ratio of many textile products, the cost of transport still loomed large. Thus, methods of distribution that minimized necessary movement were chosen. "As long as transport was difficult, it was important to reduce the number of movements of people and goods necessary to the conclusion of exchanges" (Levy 1912, 257). The modern distribution system that had emerged at mid-century

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