The Second Industrial Revolution

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The Second Industrial Revolution


Tariffs and New Markets. By 1815 industrialization in Great Britain had made it a world economic power and given it political predominance in Europe. Yet, its vast financial, commercial, and industrial resources were far out of proportion to its population, supply of raw materials, or scientific prowess. With the end of the distractions of the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars in 1815, industrialization accelerated in Great Britain. Innovative products were developed, and new markets were exploited to their fullest potential. Limited by high tariff walls erected by many of its traditional trade partners on the Continent, nineteenth-century British economic expansion focused on the British Empire and on markets such as Latin America, China, and Africa. Despite a slowdown in the rate of productivity after 1870, at the dawn of the twentieth century, the British remained the wealthiest society on the planet, with economic power still far out of proportion to its population and resources.

French Response. The French reaction to British Industrial supremacy was to erect tariff walls to protect domestic industries in areas dominated by Great Britain and to focus on manufacturing those products in which it had advantages, such as luxury items. In addition to creating incentives that lured British entrepreneurs and artisans to France, the French government promoted scientific advances and technological improvement by founding educational institutions, including some specifically for the study of science and technology. This effort began during the revolutionary decade (1789-1799) and escalated under the scientifically minded Bonapartist regime. It took twenty years for local technological institutions to train a generation imbued with mechanical knowledge and scientific principles and prepared to bring about industrial innovation. In the late 1820s French industrial development surged. In fact, French economic growth per capita between 1750 and 1914 was roughly comparable to that of Great Britain. French efforts also focused on spreading scientific knowledge deeply in the population. The Guizot Law (1833) mandated the creation of an elementary school, with a teacher paid from local tax revenues, in every canton, and in 1881 the French pioneered free, state-funded, universal primary education. Soon adopted in most European nations (but much more slowly in the Anglo-Saxon world), universal primary education furnished the burgeoning industrial economy of Continental Europe with workers who had learned mechanical principies

as well as reading and writing and were capable of operating increasingly complex machinery and, in some cases, supervising other workers.

Central Europe. Following the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815, Austria and Prussia inaugurated explicit pro-industrialization policies that resembled those of France. Most German-speaking states erected tariffs against British imports, while Prussia and several other states took tariff policy to the next level by establishing a free-trade union called the Zollverein in 1834, thus encouraging trade among themselves to the disadvantage of non-Germanic states. While Germanic states emulated and extended an educational model developed in France, in economic planning they imitated the industrial system established by Great Britain. Facilitated by unification in 1871 and the subsequent formation of useful institutions such as a national bank, German industrial production grew rapidly. As in Britain, machine-made textiles were woven on precision machinery made from iron and powered by coal. During the years 1871-1900 industrial growth rates for Germany were double those of Great Britain. Interaction among government, educators, and successful industrialists led to further expansion of technical colleges and universities, which in turn helped more and more members of the fast-growing population to develop scientific and technological expertise, thereby laying the foundations for the Second Industrial Revolution.

Military Technology. The scientific and technological prowess of the European nations permitted them to expand their political and economic power on a global scale. By 1914 Western powers ruled 84 percent of the land masses in the world. Railroads had played a key role in making remote areas part of a global economy. Thanks to improved Western technology, access to such areas also ensured the subordination of local populations. Western powers used their military superiority to build enormous empires at minimal economic cost. The flat-bottomed steamship, developed in 1823 by the British Royal Navy, played a key role in the extension of British power in Southeast Asia. The power of new Western military technology was displayed in the crushing defeats of China during the Opium Wars of the 1840s. Constantly improved steel-hulled ships, armed with breech-loading rifled artillery with a range of up to twenty miles, could assert Western power in coastal areas. High-powered explosives rendered the wooden naval vessel obsolete, ensuring that only steel-producing countries could build competitive navies. Innovations in firearms permitted relatively small numbers of Western trained-and-equipped troops to defeat huge numbers of less-well-armed native opponents. Following the development of percussion caps by Scottish clergyman Alexander Forsyth (1769-1843) in 1807, a musket could be fired in almost any weather. Spiraling grooves inside the barrel (rifling) improved the range and accuracy of firearms, but not until the shift from muzzle-loading to breech-loading weapons during the 1860s were rifled weapons practical for widespread military use. As rifles became more accurate and capable of firing projectiles over longer distances, the technology of bullets developed as well. In 1848 French army captain Claude-Etienne Minie (1804-1879) combined earlier innovations to fashion a bullet with a hollow base (allowing it totravel more swiftly) and an oblong shape (allowing it to spin inside the barrel). These new bullets then were packaged in a cartridge with the proper charge of gunpowder. Reloading speed, accuracy, and distance were complemented again in the 1860s by repeating rifles, which could fire six rounds a minute. The appearance of the bolt-action rifle at the end of the century permitted even more-rapid fire. Gunpowder was improved after 1885, when French engineer Paul Vieille (1854-1934) discovered nitrocellulose, which, along with its relative nitroglycerine, burned without smoke or ash. Smokeless gunpowder reduced the need to clean the barrel, provided more energy, and was not as moisture permeable as earlier powder. By the 1890s a European infantryman, lying prone and concealed, could fire fifteen smokeless rounds in fifteen seconds in any weather at targets up to a half mile away.

Machine Guns. Smokeless explosives made possible the single-barrel, rapid-fire machine gun. In 1884 British inventor Hiram Stevens Maxim (1840-1916), who was born in the United States, patented such a weapon, which fired eleven bullets per second. Light enough to be carried by an infantryman, the Maxim gun and similar weapons gave Europeans an extraordinary firepower advantage against native cultures. In “The Modern Traveller,” a poem published just before the dawn of the twentieth century, British author Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) summed up the Western technological advantage:

I shall never forget the way
That Blood stood upon this awful day
Preserved us all from death,
He stood upon a little mound
Cast his lethargic eyes around,
And said beneath his breath:
“Whatever happens, we have got
The Maxim Gun, and they have not.”

During World War I Europeans turned against each other the killing power they had tested in their acquisition of vast colonial empires in Africa and Asia during the nineteenth century. At the same time they introduced new military weapons and technologies, including tanks, poison gas, and submarines.

Steel and Chemicals. Just as iron was the basis for the First Industrial Revolution, the material foundation of the Second Industrial Revolution was steel. Steel is a form of iron that includes 1 to 2 percent carbon. It is stronger than wrought iron, which has less than 1 percent carbon, and more malleable than cast, or pig, iron, which has 2to 4 percent carbon. The knowledge of how to make steel had existed for centuries, but the process was too expensive for widespread use. During the 1850s Englishman Henry Bessemer (1813-1898) and American William Kelly (1811-1888) built on earlier technical improvements to develop almost simultaneously an economic means of producing steel. Each man used hot-air blasts to reduce the carbon content of iron. In 1877 two Englishmen, Sidney Gilchrist Thomas (1850-1885) and his cousin Percy Gilchrist (1831-1935), improved this method by introducing limestone slag to the converter to neutralize phosphorus, which makes steel brittle. In the 1860s two German immigrants to England, brothers Friedrich Siemens (1826-1904) and William Siemens (1823-1883), and in France Pierre Martin (1824-1915) used heated coal gas to perform the same work in a large “open-hearth furnace.” During the 1880s the Siemens-Martin “open-hearth” process was improved by incorporating it with the Gilchrist-Thomas technique. These refinements allowed large quantities of iron to be transformed into steel and reduced the price of steel to approximately that of iron. Cheap steel permitted the development of the new machines and technologies that became the basis for twentieth-century industrial economy.

German Steel and Chemicals. By combining the Siemens-Martin and Gilchrist-Thomas processes, Germany acquired a major advantage over its European competitors. By 1914 Germany produced almost as much steel as England, France, Italy, and Russia combined. While inexpensive steel was the basis for a new industrial era, the chemical industry was largely responsible for its expansion. Subsidized by the profitable production of textile dyes and dominated by powerful cartels, the chemical industry formulated many of the substances and products that shaped twentieth-century life in the Western world. “Spin-offs” from the chemical industry include medicines, effective fertilizers, improved glass, photographic film, synthetic fibers, plastics, and powerful explosives. These refinements came not only from company labs but from university scientists whose work was subsidized by the chemical industry. Among them was German chemist Fritz Haber (1868-1934), whose research was funded by BASF (Badenese Aniline & Soda Factory). Haber produced synthetic ammonia in 1909, thereby perfecting the vital “contact process” of separating compounds into their various elements, as well as making possible the large-scale production of synthetic fertilizer.

The Internal-Combustion Engine. By the 1880s the steam engine had reached its full technological potential. Factory managers were frustrated by the large size of these engines and the dirt they produced. From the search for a more efficient and cleaner alternative, the internal-combustion engine was created. The first workable prototype was invented by Etienne Lenoir (1822-1900) of Belgium in 1859. In his two-stroke engine, a mixture of coal gas and air exploded to depress a piston much more forcefully than steam. Several engineers worked on making this model more effective. In 1876 Nikolaus A. Otto (1832-1891) of Germany made a four-stroke engine that compressed the gas before combustion to increase the force exerted on the piston. Another German, Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler (1834-1900), introduced the first high-speed model in 1885, using gasoline fuel derived from petroleum for rapid vaporization. He also invented the carburetor, which vaporized the fuel while mixing it with air for combustion. Use of the internal-combustion engine, which was cheaper and cleaner than the steam engine, spread rapidly. These new engines also required less labor to operate, ran at different

speeds, and could be stopped and started more easily than steam engines.

The Automobile. Another German engineer, Karl Friedrich Benz (1844-1929), developed the first practical internal-combustion automobile in 1885-1886. The pneumatic tire, created for bicycles, was easily adapted for use on the motor car. A host of other improvements followed around 1900, including the radiator, the differential, the crank starter, the steering wheel, and pedal brakes. France quickly emerged as the largest producer of self-propelled “horseless carriages.” In France a host of small companies produced small numbers of high-quality automobiles as luxury goods, but U.S. manufacturers, notably Henry Ford (1863-1947), saw the potential in marketing less-expensive cars to a wide range of consumers. By 1906 the United States surpassed France in automobile production, and by 1910 the Americans made more automobiles than the rest of the world combined. U.S. predominance in automobile production was based on factors such as high European taxes that favored the use of horses and the emergence of a highly effective manufacturing system, the assembly line, usually associated with production of the Model T by the Ford Motor Company, which built a standardized, inexpensive car with interchangeable parts made from sheet steel. European automobile manufacturers adopted these methods after World War I.

Powered Flight. Manned flight began in France in 1783 with hot-air and hydrogen balloons. With an internal-combustion engine driving a propeller, the dirigible (basically a steerable balloon), was created in 1884. Gliders provided a model for heavier-than-air flight, but the airplane could not be developed until the emergence of more efficient and lighter engines. After the American brothers Orville Wright (1871-1948) and Wilbur Wright (1867-1912) succeeded in making their first powered airplane flight in 1903, improvements in engine design and overall construction soon permitted controlled turns and flights lasting hours. France was responsible for many developments in this field, in large part because of their leadership in the production and use of aluminum. By the start of World War I, airplanes had crossed the English Channel; the seaplane had been developed; and pilots had the ability to take off and land on ships. Wartime demands for reconnaissance prompted rapid development of the airplane industry, preparing for further expansion in the boom era that followed the war.

The Assembly Line. The United States was a major beneficiary of the economic climate that surrounded the Second Industrial Revolution. In the period from 1870 to 1913—thanks to major improvements in output per manhour—the United States caught and surpassed the total industrial output (if not always the technological prowess) of Europe in almost every domain, including steel, aluminum, electricity, and automobiles. Despite U.S. economic predominance by the eve of World War I, with only a few exceptions, nearly all key technological and scientific breakthroughs came from Europe. The Americans, however, developed an important new approach to industrial production, known as the “American system,” with federal financial support in the arms-making industry. Its goal was to produce weapons with interchangeable parts, a concept based on employing a sequential series of operations utilizing specially designed, single-purpose machines. Once developed, this system was used to manufacture consumer goods such as sewing machines, bicycles, and then automobiles. A century-long process allowed a genuine system of mass production to emerge. Europeans had developed versions of interchangeable parts and specialized machinery at least a century earlier, but they did not use them in an industrial assembly-line system until after World War I.

Relativity. Pure science also made dramatic strides during the late nineteenth century, culminating in significant revisions of the Newtonian understanding of the universe. Radioactivity was discovered by French physicist Antoine-Henri Becquerel (1852-1908) in 1896 and named by Polish-born French scientist Marie Curie (1867-1934) in 1898. In that same year she and her husband, Pierre (1859-1906), isolated the radioactive elements radium and polonium. Between 1900 and 1914 German scientists Max Planck (1858-1947) and Albert Einstein (1879-1955) and Danish scientist Nils Bohr (1885-1962) transformed the study of physics. In their wake, the concept of a universe based on absolute and fixed principles was replaced by the fundamentals of modern physics—relativity and uncertainty. In 1900 Planck explained that energy was “quantum” in nature; that is, energy is emitted and absorbed in minute, discrete amounts. Five years later Einstein published his special theory of relativity to explain the relationship of space and time. He stated that space and time are not absolute and vary according to motion; thus, for example, a clock in a moving system will tick off the minutes more slowly than a clock in a stationary system. In that same year, Einstein devised his famous formula E=mc2that is, energy (E) equals mass (m) times the speed of light (c) squared. The implications of this formula are that all mass is congealed energy, and all energy is liberated matter. Since the speed of light is approximately 186,000 miles per second, a tiny amount of mass equals an enormous amount of energy. Because it explains why splitting an atom releases vast amounts of energy, this relationship became the theoretical basis for atomic weapons and nuclear power. In 1913 Bohr applied quantum theory to subatomic physics, and between the World Wars, he and Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976) turned these crucial observations into a whole new explanation of subatomic movement (quantum mechanics). Since it is impossible to predict the movement of an electron, Bohr and Heisenberg said, all calculations are based on a statistical probability, not an absolute certainty. The revolution in physics that climaxed with this “uncertainty principle” completed the shift from the fixed absolutes of a Newtonian universe to a more ambiguous and bewildering conception of it.


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The Second Industrial Revolution

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