Beginning in the late 18th century, textile producers began creating technologies that automated textile production. These innovations were spurred by changes in agriculture, increases in population and demand for cloth. In the early 1800s, textile producers were hoping to create a better product that they could deliver to more consumers. Some, however, opposed the industrialization of the industry and preferred older methods instead.
Meeting Demand for Cloth
By the 19th century, textile producers working out of their homes were unable to meet the growing demand for cloth. This was because agricultural transformations had increased Europe's food supply and grown the continent's population significantly. In Britain in particular, merchants who sold cloth were increasingly frustrated by the slow pace of homemade textile producers. These "cottage industries" -- so-called because spinners worked out of their own cottages -- involved a person hand-making little cloth. As such, textile producers wanted to produce more textiles to satisfy society's demand. This led to the invention of tools like the spinning jenny and the cotton gin, which increased both the harvesting of cotton and its production into textiles.
The Industrial Revolution in textiles also offered society the opportunity to produce more textiles faster and with less human effort. In the past, human hands produced most textiles. By 1800, however, inventions like the spinning jenny and the flying shuttle had automated production, so it required less human effort. As the century progressed, textile production became even less dependent on human energy. Factories were built that used nearby rivers as water mills to replace human energy. The factories meant that a single person who could previously produce little cloth with lots of effort could monitor a loom that was powered by a water wheel. This innovation had an exponential impact on textile production, allowing more to be created faster and with less effort.
Producing Consistent Products
In addition to producing more cloth faster than ever with fewer people, textile producers also wanted to produce a more consistent product. Before the 1800s, cloth production was subject to the individual skill of a person's hands, and each piece of cloth varied significantly in quality. The introduction of factories and power looms, however, meant that all cloth produced could be virtually identical. No longer would consumers know who produced their cloth, or with what skill it was produced. Instead, skilled and unskilled workers alike could produce cloth that looked exactly the same.
Resisting Industrialization: The Luddites
While most textile producers were happy with the increased productivity brought by industrialization, some lamented the loss of the cottage industry. By the early 1800s, a group of anti-factory protesters emerged throughout Britain. Known as the Luddites for their leader Ned Ludd, the group protested the loss of their livelihoods that industrialization had caused. In the past, the cottage industry had provided reliable employment to hand knitters. Factories, however, could employ fewer people but produce significantly more cloth, which left many traditional knitters unemployed. Luddites were further infuriated that unskilled workers could earn as much as someone who had cultivated the knitting skill for decades. This group of textile producers, therefore, wanted to turn back the clock on industrialization in the 1800s, and return society to the older ways of homespun cloth.
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