The Industrial Revolution

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 11856

Would you like to walk everywhere, make your own clothes (from cotton balls!) and furniture, and work at age 7? Then be thankful for the Industrial Revolution, and make a visual presentation about it!


United States

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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What was the Industrial Revolution? Did machines rise up and protest working conditions? How did it impact the American way of life?

The Industrial Revolution was a time period — lasting roughly from 1790 to 1870 — that transformed British and American lifestyles.

This time period, marked by increased technology and transportation, transformed rural life, saw the emergence of major cities, and provided easier access to goods and services for the masses.

In this lesson, you will learn what the Industrial Revolution was, and how it transformed American life. As you read through this section, make a list of the inventions you read about that were part of the Industrial Revolution.

Historians tend to disagree on the exact dates the Industrial Revolution began and ended, but it is known to have started in Great Britain around 1790. The inventions and ideas then spread to the United States and other parts of Europe in the early 1800s.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, most people lived quiet, rural lives on farms. It was common for people to grow their own food and make their own clothing and furniture. The Industrial Revolution changed this way of life by transforming many rural areas into large cities bursting with machinery that was able to work much faster than any human being. This led many Americans to move from rural to urban areas, changing careers from farmers to factory workers. Even those who remained farmers had improved equipment, increasing the speed at which crops could be planted and plowed.

The emergence of factories is what truly shaped the Industrial Revolution. Factories created more jobs, and people began moving to be near this new form of work.

Some of the first inventions of the Industrial Revolution changed the way textiles were produced. James Hargreaves' spinning jenny spun several spools of thread simultaneously and within minutes, and Edmund Cartwright's power loom sped up the weaving process by mechanizing the process of weaving textiles. The increased production of textiles led to fewer people creating their own textiles and clothes, and more people buying clothing from outside sources rather than making their own. By the end of the Industrial Revolution, most household goods, including clothing, furniture, and transportation, were produced in factories.

Transportation also played a huge role in the Industrial Revolution. The steam engine was used to power not only heavy machinery used in factories, it was also used to power trains and ships. Having enhanced transportation enabled people to move from the country to major cities. It also enabled raw materials needed to create things such as clothing, machinery, and buildings, to be transported from other states and countries.

The Industrial Revolution allowed the middle- and upper-classes to thrive, because they were able to invest their money in new industries and own businesses. Sadly, the Industrial Revolution had the opposite effect on the lower classes. Lower-class citizens became low-paid factory employees.

Labor laws did not exist at the time, and people were often paid small wages for long hours and hard work. Factory conditions were unsafe and unsanitary. People often died due to machinery malfunctions or diseases they caught while working in the factories. In order to sustain family life in this new economy, many children from the lower class dropped out of elementary school to go to work. Children as young as seven years old would work more than 30 hours per week, performing manual labor for very little money. Despite working long hours, many lower class families did not make enough money to have a decent life. These families lived in overcrowded, rat-infested apartments and were often malnourished.

Share the list you have been working on with your teacher or parent. Which of the inventions on your list do you think is the most interesting?

You will have an opportunity to learn more about these inventions and other inventions of the Industrial Revolution during the next lesson in this series, The Industrial Revolution, found in the right-hand sidebar under Related Lessons. For now, move on to the Got It? section to continue learning about how the Industrial Revolution was started, and the effects it had on American life.

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