In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, life in Great Britain rapidly changed as the Industrial Revolution got under way. Britain led the world in industrializing for a variety of reasons, including the availability of natural resources such as coal. In addition, social changes, such as an increase in food production and a growing colonial empire, also positioned Britain well for industrialization.
Before the Industrial Revolution, Britain's primary source of energy was wood. But as population grew, timber resources were exhausted and became prohibitively expensive. Britain turned to a resource it had in greater abundance -- coal. Other geographic advantages further strengthened coal's role in industrialization. For example, many of Britain's coal reserves were located near the sea, which meant that they could be easily and cheaply transported elsewhere by boat. Thomas Newcomen's steam-driven piston engine made coal extraction cheap and easy, and by 1800 as many as 2,000 of these engines were extracting coal across Britain.
In the 18th century, new technologies allowed Britain to produce more agriculture than ever before. Other advances, like more efficient rotating of crops, helped spur production. A greater percentage of land was also used for production. In 1700, about 20 percent of England's arable land was fallow, but this fell to just 4 percent by 1871. Cereal yields were also increased by the discovery of nitrogen, which was a critical fertilizer. All of this production fueled a growing population, with England's rising from 5.7 million in 1750 to 16.6 million a century later. Many people moved to cities, fueled urbanization and contributed needed labor for the Industrial Revolution.
Britain's political environment, characterized by unprecedented stability, also helped industrialization. After the Glorious Revolution, Parliament exercised more freedom from the monarch, and the country was free from unrest. Unlike other absolute monarchies, such as France, Britain's Parliament placed few restraints on the country's economy. This allowed for factories and other entrepreneurs to invest and grow, as they could not elsewhere. In Britain, industrialists were free from the worries of a revolution and were also lightly regulated.
The Industrial Revolution also began in Britain partly because of the resources of the country's large colonial empire. By the early 19th century, Britain's Royal Navy was the strongest in the world, and it dominated oceanic trade. This was a huge advantage for British factory owners, because it meant that their exports abroad could be safely transported. Colonies abroad also provided British industrialists with opportunities to trade Indian teas, Chinese silks and West Indian sugar. These goods could be exchanged for industrial products produced in Britain.
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