The Industrial Revolution in Western Society
I am here in the centre of the most advanced industry of Europe and of the Universe." So wrote the young French textile entrepreneur Motte Bossut during a visit to England in 1842. He was not exaggerating. A few years later, in 1851, when Britain celebrated its industrial might in the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace, it had no peer in any of the principal phases of mechanical production. Several European countries were superior in textile design and the United States led in a few minor categories such as machine stitching. But the British lead in textiles, metallurgy, mining, and machine building seemed insurmountable.
Britain's industrial superiority inevitably affected the next phase of industrialization: A list of causes of all the industrial revolutions launched between 1820 and 1870 has to include both the example of Britain and the international activities of British businesses. The countries that first imitated Britain did so not only because they shared many of the same features that had produced the British surge but also because they were geographically close (or in the case of the United States, historically and culturally close) to the industrial island. French textile factories surged in the north, which abutted the English Channel, and in Alsace, where the leading industrialists were Protestant and therefore shared contacts with England.
The industrial rise of Britain spurred west European and American businesses. There were profits to be made and industries to defend lest British exports overwhelm the entire manufacturing base. Foreign governments had to take an interest as well. British economic might during the Napoleonic Wars demonstrated the relevance of industrialization to power politics. Gains in metallurgy and machine building had direct links to armaments. The obvious potential of the railroad moved government officials interested in better political and military contacts who otherwise would have preferred to keep society immune from the upheavals