Famous people of the Industrial Revolution

The industrial revolution refers to a period of rapid economic and social change between the end of the Eighteenth Century and the mid-Nineteenth Century. The industrial revolution involved a prolonged evolution in the nature of economic activity. It led to an unprecedented rise in output and total national income. In particular, old traditional methods of hand production were replaced by the use of machines, leading to large-scale factory production. The industrial revolution was helped by technological innovations such as steam power, cheaper iron, specialisation, the growth of modern banking, and new machines which could do the work of several people.

The start of the industrial revolution is often held to begin around 1760-80, with the development of the steam engine, coke produced iron and innovations such as the spinning jenny.

A ‘Second Industrial Revolution’ from around 1840-1870 built on this initial burst of innovation and development. The second industrial revolution saw further economic progress, through the greater use of railways, cheaper steel, and the increased use of steam engines.

Inventors and Entrepreneurs of the Industrial Revolution

edmund-cartwrightEdmund Cartwright (1743-1823) – English inventor, and member of the Anglican clergy. Cartwright invented the power loom which significantly increased the efficiency of textile production. He also developed a wool-combing machine.

robert-owen Robert Owen (1771 – 1858) – Welsh social reformer who attempted to build a utopian socialist and co-operative movement. Owen sought to consider the welfare of his workers, something usually overlooked in the industrial revolution.

humphrey-davySir Humphrey Davy (1778 – 1829) – English chemist and inventor. He invented the Davy lamp used by miners to help detect gas and improve safety. He also discovered several alkaline earth metals and discovered more about the chemical properties of chlorine and iodine.

George Stephenson (1781 – 1848) Mechanical engineer, who developed the steam engine for use in trains. He was a key figure in building the 25 mile Stockton and Darlington railway. Stephenson also built the first intercity railway between Liverpool and Manchester – ushering in the ‘railway age’.

joseph-lockeJoseph Locke (1805 – 1860) English civil engineer. Locke was an important railway pioneer. He built the Grand Junction Railway which connected the Liverpool railway to Crewe and Birmingham. He developed new techniques for laying rails and was considered better at finishing projects than Stephenson.

britishIsambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859) English engineer. Brunel was at the heart of many of the key building projects of the British industrial revolution. He built the Great Western Railway from Bristol to London and also developed powerful steamships. He also built the first tunnel under a navigable river.

henry-bessemerSir Henry Bessemer (1813 – 1898) an English engineer, inventor, and businessman. Bessemer’s greatest contribution was to the mass production of steel, which was a key component of the second wave of the industrial revolution.


Social activists of the industrial revolution

writer Karl Marx (1818 – 1883) Marx saw the industrial revolution as being a stage in the eventual struggle and triumph of the Proletariat. Marx felt it was a historical inevitability that the oppressed workers of industrial states would eventually revolt against the capitalist class.

freidrich-engelsFriedrich Engels (1820 – 1895) German social scientist and political activist. His work, The Condition of the Working Class in England (1844), explained the dire conditions of the workers caught up in the industrial revolution. In 1848, he co-authored the ‘Communist Manifesto’ with Karl Marx.

writer Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870) English writer and social critic. Dickens lived through the industrial revolution and became a harsh critic of its worst excesses.


Political Groups

ludditesThe Luddites were a group of 19th-century English skilled workers who were concerned about losing their skilled jobs in the textile industry. They saw power looms and spinning frames as the death knell for their profession. They began smashing machines in different factories in protest.

tolpuddle-martyrsTolpuddle Martyrs In 1834, a group of Dorset agricultural labourers who were arrested for and convicted of swearing a secret oath as members of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers. Their case attracted considerable sympathy, and eventually, they were released. The event is considered an important milestone in the trade union movement.

chartistsChartists – Chartists were a political reform movement, active between 1838 and 1850. Their main aim was to achieve universal male suffrage. They gained mass petitions and organised mass protests hoping to put pressure on politicians to extend the franchise.


American industrial revolution

Andrew Carnegie (1835 – 1919) Born in Scotland to poor parents, Carnegie moved to America where he became very wealthy through dominating the US steel industry.

rockefellerJohn D. Rockefeller (1839 – 1937) Rockefeller became one of the richest persons in the world through his dominance of the oil and railroad industries. He became a generous philanthropist giving money to his church, education, medical science and public health.


Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Famous people of the Industrial Revolution”, Oxford, UK. www.biographyonline.net, 12th Dec 2013. Last updated 5 March 2018.

Industrial Revolutionaries: The Making of the Modern World 1776-1914

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