The Industrial Revolution in World History

By Peter N. Stearns | Go to book overview

9
New Developments in Western Societies: Redefinitions of the Industrial Economy

Changes in the industrial economies of western Europe and the United States were not as decisive as those surrounding the advent of industrialization in Russia and Japan between the 1880s and the 1950s. To speak of a "second industrial revolution" in the West is misleading, for it downplays the unique significance of the basic conversion from an agricultural to an industrial economy. Instead, a number of developments simply completed the elemental revolution in countries like the United States and Germany (only Britain had in any real sense fully converted to an industrial economy before the 1880s). It was only about 1900 that Germany became half urbanized (the marker Britain had achieved in 1850); the United States and France reached this crude measurement of extensive industrialization by 1920. Rapid growth of the industrial labor force through immigration ended in the United States only during the 1920s, and even then rural movement, including the great migration of African Americans from the South, continued to provide newcomers to the basic experience of factory work. Thus, the overlap between the essential industrial revolution and new trends surfacing in the early twentieth century was considerable.

Nevertheless, several important innovations transformed the Western industrial scene between 1880 and 1950. Earlier trends intensified to the point of unrecognizability; the pace of work, for example, accelerated well beyond anything imagined during the industrial revolution itself. Furthermore, several outgrowths of initial industrialization were rethought to produce a substantially different version of the larger industrial experience.

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