AP European History
Key Concept 3.1: The Industrial Revolution spread from Great Britain to the continent, where the state played a greater role in promoting industry.


The transition from an agricultural to an industrial economy began in Britain in the 18th century, spread to France and Germany between 1850 and 1870, and finally to Russia in the 1890s. The governments of those countries actively supported industrialization. In southern and eastern Europe some pockets of industry developed, surrounded by traditional agrarian economies. Though continental nations sought to borrow from and in some instances imitate the British model — the success of which was represented by the Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851 — each nation’s experience of industrialization was shaped by its own matrix of geographic, social, and political factors. e legacy of the revolution in France, for example, led to a more gradual adoption of mechanization in production, ensuring a more incremental industrialization than was the case in Britain. Despite the creation of a customs union in the 1830s, Germany’s lack of political unity hindered its industrial development. However, following uni cation in 1871, the German Empire quickly came to challenge British dominance in key industries, such as steel, coal, and chemicals.

Beginning in the 1870s, the European economy fluctuated widely because of the vagaries of financial markets. Continental states responded by assisting and protecting the development of national industry in a variety of ways, the most important being protective tariffs, military procurements, and colonial conquests. Key economic stakeholders, such as corporations and industrialists, expected governments to promote economic development by subsidizing ports, transportation, and new inventions; by registering patents and sponsoring education; by encouraging investments and enforcing contracts; and by maintaining order and preventing labor strikes. State intervention reached its culmination in the 20th century, when some governments took over direction of the entire process of industrial development under the pressure of war and depression and/or from ideological commitments.

Supporting Concepts and Examples

Great Britain established its industrial dominance through the mechanization of textile production, iron and steel production, and new transportation systems.
Britain’s ready supplies of coal, iron ore, and other essential raw materials promoted industrial growth.

Economic institutions and human capital such as engineers, inventors, and capitalists helped Britain lead the process of industrialization, largely through private initiative.

Examples of Britain's leadership:

Britain’s parliamentary government promoted commercial and industrial interests, because those interests were represented in Parliament.

Following the British example, industrialization took root in continental Europe, sometimes with state sponsorship.
France moved toward industrialization at a more gradual pace than Great Britain, with government support and with less dislocation of traditional methods of production.

Examples of government support of industrialization

Industrialization in Prussia allowed that state to become the leader of a unified Germany, which subsequently underwent rapid industrialization under government sponsorship.

Examples of industrialization in Prussia

A combination of factors, including geography, lack of resources, the dominance of traditional landed elites, the persistence of serfdom in some areas, and inadequate government sponsorship accounted for eastern and southern Europe’s lag in industrial development.

Examples of geographic factors in eastern and southern Europe

During the Second Industrial Revolution (c. 1870–1914), more areas of Europe experienced industrial activity, and industrial processes increased in scale and complexity.
Mechanization and the factory system became the predominant modes of production by 1914.

New technologies and means of communication and transportation — including railroads — resulted in more fully integrated national economies, a higher level of urbanization, and a truly global economic network.

Examples of new technologies:

Examples of developments in communication and transportation:

Volatile business cycles in the last quarter of the 19th century led corporations and governments to try to manage the market through monopolies, banking practices, and tariffs.

Reading Assignments

Reading 1: Pages 596-599

The Industrial Revolution in Great Britain:

Reading 2: Pages 599-604

The Industrial Revolution in Great Britain:
     Technological Changes & New Forms of Organization
     Britain’s Great Exhibition of 1851

Reading 3: Pages 604-609

The Spread of Industrialization:
     Industrialization on the Continent
     The Industrial Revolution in the United States
     Limiting the Spread of Idustrialization

Reading 4: Pages 609-613

The Social Impact of the Industrial Revolution:
     Population Growth
     The Growth of Cities

Reading 5: Pages 613-619

The Social Impact of the Industrial Revolution:
     New Social Classes: The Industrial Middle Class
     New Social Classes: Workers in the Industrial Age

Reading 6: Pages 619-621

The Social Impact of the Industrial Revolution:
     Efforts at Change: The Workers
     Efforts at Change: Reformers and Government

Chapter 20 Glossary
Chapter 20 Study Guide
Chapter 20 Outline
Chapter 20 Scan