A Conservative Approach to the Industrial Revolution

A Conservative Approach to the Industrial Revolution

Laissez faire (from the French, meaning to leave alone or to allow to do) is an economic and political doctrine that holds that economies function most efficiently when unencumbered by government regulation. Laissez faire advocates favor individual self-interest and competition, and oppose the taxation and regulation of commerce.This position was put forth by the following:

  • The Physiocrats, early economists in mid-18th century France, who responded to the plight of the merchant class that was chafing under the myriad dictates of French Mercantilism. They argued against navigation laws, tariffs, business taxes and special monopolies.
  • Adam Smith, father of classical economics, maintained in Wealth of Nations (1776) that Britain`s goal should have been the promotion of the welfare of individuals, rather than centering on national power and prestige. Freely functioning economies were capable of bestowing benefits to all levels of society.
  • John Stuart Mill laid out the cases for and against government interference in the economy in Principles of Political Economy (1848).

Laissez faire economic principles were not always enthusiastically accepted in the United States:

  • Alexander Hamilton paid lip service to freedom from economic constraints, but was an effective advocate of protectionism in order to nurture the nation`s "infant industries."
  • Antebellum Southern planters strove for years to remove the heavy hand of the federal government from their efforts to export their produce. High tariffs in the United States often meant retaliatory duties elsewhere.
  • Laissez faire reached its apex in the 1870s during the age of industrialization as American factories operated with a free hand. A contradiction developed, however, as competing businesses began to merge, resulting in a shrinkage of competition.
  • During the administrations of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, public opinion shifted to support antitrust legislation and curb the abuses of unrestrained business—child labor, long factory hours and unsafe working conditions.
  • Laissez faire attitudes made a comeback of sorts during the boom times of the Roaring 20s, but the depression of the 1930s brought the New Deal and the return of government intervention in the economy.

The philosophy of governmental noninvolvement in business is not always applied symmetrically, as Franklin D. Roosevelt pointed out in his speech to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco in 1932:

The same man who tells you that he does not want to see the government interfere in business-and he means it, and has plenty of good reasons for saying so-is the first to go to Washington and ask the government for a prohibitory tariff on his product. When things get just bad enough-as they did two years ago-he will go with equal speed to the United States government and ask for a loan; and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation is the outcome of it. Each group has sought protection from the government for its own special interest, without realizing that the function of government must be to favor no small group at the expense of its duty to protect the rights of personal freedom and of private property of all its citizens.

The Industrial Revolution

The Renaissance and its ideals came to England, a backwater power at the time, during the reign of the Tudors (1485–1603).

an Anglo-Italian member of Queen Elizabeth’s court.

The emergence of British power would spawn the third major advance in management, the Industrial Revolution . As the British Empire’s power grew, so did opportunities for trade. The 18th century saw the emergence of various international corporations, such as the Hudson’s Bay Company

which conducted business globally. The Hudson’s Bay Company orchestrated fur trade in Canada where pelts were produced and then shipped to England for trade in any part of the globe.

This further development of trade led to the establishment of the marketplace as a dominant means of organizing the exchange of goods. The market would coordinate the actions and activities of various participants, thus allowing resources to flow to their most efficient uses. One of the major intellectual leaders of this period was the economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith .

Smith proposed the idea of specialization and coordination within corporations as a source of economic growth. Specialization and division of labor were Smith’s major contributions to management thought. The division of labor meant that a worker specialized in performing one task that was part of a larger series of tasks, at the end of which a product would be produced. The idea of specialization of labor had several important outcomes. Firstly, specialization drastically reduced the cost of goods. Secondly, it drastically reduced the need for training. Instead of learning every aspect of a task, workers needed to learn one portion of it. Thirdly, the need to coordinate all these different tasks required a greater emphasis on management.

Another significant part of the Industrial Revolution involved the development of the steam engine, which played a major role in improving the transportation of goods and raw materials. The steam engine lowered production and transportation costs, thus lowering prices and allowing products to reach more distant markets.

The Industrial Revolution saw the emergence of the modern corporation, in which work, usually in a factory setting, was specialized and coordinated by managers.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, goods and services lacked standardization and were produced at home in small batches.

The Industrial Revolution saw work shift from family-led home production to factory production. These factories could employ hundreds and even thousands of workers who produced mass batches of standardized goods more cheaply than they could be produced in homes.

Factory sizes ranged from sections of cities and towns to whole cities, such as Lowell, Massachusetts, which consisted primarily of textile mills. As the Industrial Revolution progressed, small factories transformed into larger ones. In 1849, Harvester in Chicago employed 123 workers and was the largest factory in the United States. McCormick plant by the mid-1850s had 250 workers who made 2,500 reapers per year. After the Great Chicago Fire, McCormick built a new plant with 800 workers and sales well above $1 million. In 1913, Henry Ford’s plant in Dearborn employed up to 12,000 workers.

The Industrial Revolution shifted from England across the globe and eventually found its way into the United States. The United States starting seeing several notable industrial revolutions from the 1820s until the 1860s. The transportation revolution included the construction of canals and, later, railroads that connected the different parts of the continent. The emergence of a telegraph system allowed for faster communication between various parts of the United States. Previously, it would take weeks to get information from New York to Boston with the telegraph, it took minutes.

After the period of the American Civil War, which ended in 1865, society witnessed the emergence of gigantic corporations that spanned the continent and factories that were like small cities.

Yet in the factory, it was possible for workers to avoid work or even destroy machines if they disliked management’s ideas. Each worker did the job in a different fashion, workers seemed to be selected without regard to whether they were suited for a particular job, management seemed to be whimsical, and there was little standardization of equipment.

Because production quantity remained an unknown to both management and the worker, management did not explain how they determined what should be produced. Workers believed that management determined what should be produced in haphazard ways.

  1. Why was Adam Smith’s specialization of labor so important?
  2. What was the economic and managerial legacy of the Industrial Revolution? What were the challenges?

The Industrial Revolution was a product of a combination of factors, including the spread of learning from the Italian Renaissance, the improvement of transportation, the Market Revolution, and technology. In addition, scholars such as Adam Smith provided support for the ideas of division of labor, specialization, and coordination within a corporation, allowing for the development of factories. This economic shifted created the need for managers.

1st Industrial Revolution

The First Industrial Revolution began in the 18th century through the use of steam power and mechanisation of production. What before produced threads on simple spinning wheels, the mechanised version achieved eight times the volume in the same time. Steam power was already known. The use of it for industrial purposes was the greatest breakthrough for increasing human productivity. Instead of weaving looms powered by muscle, steam-engines could be used for power. Developments such as the steamship or (some 100 years later) the steam-powered locomotive brought about further massive changes because humans and goods could move great distances in fewer hours.

A Conservative Approach to the Industrial Revolution - History

The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850�,
Created and maintained by the Library of Congress.
Reviewed May-June 2009.

This astonishingly rich web-based archive captures some of the central issues shaping the American conservation movement from the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries. Expansive, like its subject, the Web site draws on the voluminous records at the Library of Congress (LOC), linking readers to 󈬮 books and pamphlets, 140 Federal statutes and Congressional resolutions, 34 additional legislative documents, excerpts from the Congressional Globe and the Congressional Record, 360 Presidential proclamations, 170 prints and photographs, 2 historic manuscripts, and 2 motion pictures.” This multimedia array of primary sources and the accompanying “critical thinking” exercises provide a wide-angle perspective on the federal government’s commitment to conservation and what the site editor Jurretta Jordan Heckscher calls the “generative cultural milieu” that nurtured the conservationist ethos.

First, some caveats: for all of its range, The Evolution of the Conservation Movement does not include key data in the LOC archives. As Heckscher notes, missing are President Theodore Roosevelt’s executive orders that established so many national forests, parks, and refuges. Also absent are relevant newspaper accounts and periodical literature as well as the library’s illuminating “corpus of political cartoons on conservation.” There are also some technical concerns. Although the site is relatively easy to navigate, it is not always easy to read with small text running the full width of the screen, users will strain their eyes to see the words and absorb their meaning. The site’s individual page layouts are not as user-friendly or graphically compelling as contemporary Web designs can (and should) be.

Still, the site is a “storehouse of plenty” and will amply reward those students, teachers, and scholars who dig into it in search of documentary evidence for why, in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, Americans from all walks of life began to argue for the conservation of natural resources, preservation of scenic landscapes, and protection of wildlife habitats.

One of those vital figures is George Perkins Marsh, whose 1847 address to the Rutland County (Vermont) Agriculture Society is the site’s first text. In it, Marsh laid down a central idea, which, twenty years later, would animate his Man and Nature (1864) and is often credited as the intellectual basis for conservationism: “social man repays to the earth all that he reaps from her bosom.”

Also cultivating the more harmonious relationship with nature that Marsh thought essential was a host of painters and lithographers who fanned out across the continent to depict the nation’s majestic form and moral import. Other contributors were writers such as Mabel Osgood Wright (Citizen Bird, 1897), Mary Austin (Land of Little Rain, 1903), and John Muir (“Let Everyone Help to Save the Famous Hetch Hetchy Valley,” 1909). The interplay of these cultural agents and arguments (and subsequent political activism) are reflected in the long train of legislative initiatives and presidential proclamations, culminating with the enactment of the 1920 Federal Water Power Act, the site’s last document. Conservation, this fascinating repository reveals, was a driving force behind the creation of the modern, regulatory nation-state.

4.8/5.0 on Apple Podcasts

“This is a fantastic history podcast to learn about the industrial revolution era and many of the fascinating historical topics surround it as well as the people, places, inventions, and communities. The host is terrific, easy to listen to and this podcast is well researched and a great resource to learn about an important time period.”


A great series!

“This podcast takes a topic-oriented approach to an endlessly detailed and fascinating period in history. The causes and repercussions of the Industrial Revolution have determined, to a very large degree, the day-to-day reality that we live today. These forces are examined in detail as are the developing ideologies that shaped conflict in more recent history. A superb podcast which I look forward to enjoying in the future.”


The best history podcast!

“My boyfriend and I love this podcast. We listen to a few episodes at a time on long drives and it never fails to entertain and inform us. Well researched and well spoken, we can’t recommend this podcast enough to all our friends…”

How Did the Industrial Revolution Affect Education?

The Industrial Revolution brought several important changes to the field of education by making education accessible for children of all socioeconomic backgrounds and setting laws making education a requirement. Prior to the 1800s, the accessibility of education to children was spotty. Children born into wealthy families often had access to education, while children from impoverished families did not.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, education was not free. Wealthy families could afford to send their children to school for a basic education while the education poor children received was limited to the tutorials offered in Dame schools and church schools at Sunday services. However, in 1833, education received a helping hand from the British government. The government, for the first time in history, allocated funds to promote education in schools. It gave money to charities for the purposes of helping to make education accessible to children of all socioeconomic divisions. In the same year, the British government established laws requiring children working in factories to attend school for no less than two hours every day. In 1844, the government-established Ragged Schools Union focused on educating poor children, while the Public Schools Act, created in 1868, brought reform to the public school system in Britain by establishing basic requirements for educational standards.

A Century of Big Government

The Biden agenda both imitates and fails to learn the lessons of past ambitious presidencies.

The epic nature of the political struggle unleashed by the ambitious Biden agenda is perhaps best understood through its historical context, as illuminated by the records of four presidents—Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan. Together they personify most sharply the great American contention of the past 90 years between those who favor ever greater federal power and economic redistribution, on the one hand, and those who have been resisting this liberal agenda, on the other.

What becomes clear from this historical approach is not just how relentless and expansive the American left has been in pushing its vision but also how much resistance it has encountered from voters at crucial times through the decades. The Biden forces now plan to end the struggle once and for all with an ultimate political conquest—a liberal ascendancy so complete and so divorced from consensus that voter resistance will become meaningless for years or decades. They want America to enter its last great definitional epoch and embrace the kind of democratic socialism that has been the European model for much of the past eight decades.

The political drama begins with FDR. In creating his New Deal in the 1930s, he harked back to the governmental activism of his distant cousin Theodore Roosevelt and the subsequent presidency of Woodrow Wilson. But those presidents, though fervent governmental activists, never achieved the expansion of federal power that Roosevelt brought to America during a crisis surpassed in U.S. history only by the Civil War. Real per capita GDP had contracted by nearly a third. Foreign trade had collapsed. Some 83 percent of the stock market’s shareholder value had vanished. Unemployment hit nearly 25 percent. Crop prices dropped below subsistence levels for most farmers. Many lost their land to banks that were themselves facing insolvency. The nation’s social fabric began to unravel.

In addressing this crisis, FDR presided over annual GDP growth rates of around 7 percent through his first term, while manufacturing production increased by 50 percent and unemployment, though still punishingly high, dropped to below 17 percent. It isn’t surprising that the American people responded with widespread appreciation and even some veneration. They comfortably accepted the balance-of-power shift that favored federal intervention over federal forbearance.

All this was reflected in Roosevelt’s audacious legislative activity: the National Industrial Recovery Act, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the Glass-Steagall Act creating the Federal Deposit Insurance administration and curtailing financial activity deemed too risky, the Public Works Administration, the Tennessee Valley Authority, rural electrification, the Securities and Exchange Act, Social Security, and the Wagner Act establishing new roles in collective bargaining. This represented a stunning augmentation of entrenched federal power through the creation of a new political class of governmental officials (part of the “Managerial Revolution” explored by James Burnham shortly afterward) and the emergence of new national constituency groups beholden to Roosevelt’s party and intensely devoted to it.

The voters rewarded FDR with a stunning reelection triumph. When the dust settled, his Democratic Party controlled 75 Senate seats to just 21 for the opposition, while the House was Democratic to the tune of 331 seats to just 89 for Republicans. It was an electoral mandate nearly unmatched in American political history. Then Roosevelt squandered the mandate with his effort to “pack” the Supreme Court and alter its power balance in favor of his efforts to protect and expand his New Deal.

Much has been written lately—in the wake of Democratic calls for a similar action to favor their party today—about FDR’s humiliating failure to get congressional approval for his initiative, clearly an unsavory power grab. Less noted is the impact on his plans for New Deal expansion: The power grab and the political capital FDR expended on it, combined with a 1937 slip back into recession, essentially froze the New Deal in place. No more expansion. In the 1938 midterm elections, Democrats lost 71 House seats and six in the Senate. With war on the horizon in Europe and Asia, Roosevelt wisely turned his attention to foreign affairs, with his domestic plans pretty much completed. Regarding the New Deal revolution, the voters said in 1936 and after: “Thank you. That’s enough for now.”

Note that Roosevelt didn’t opt for the nationalization of industries that some liberals advocated during the Depression. He chose regulation instead, even involving the banks that were failing in ominous numbers as he entered the White House. And, in creating his big Social Security system, he pointedly refused to make it a transfer-payment program, paid for with income taxes, and opted instead for a safety-net approach, supported with payroll taxes tied to the benefits. That rankled, and still rankles, liberals. Jill Lepore, who divides her time between Harvard and the New Yorker (take a guess on her political views), has expressed disdain for this approach because it doesn’t sufficiently satisfy her yen for income redistribution through tax policies. What she misses, but what was well understood by the brilliantly political Roosevelt, is that he never could have achieved enactment of Social Security if he had fashioned it as an income-redistribution initiative. The American people wouldn’t have gone for that.

In any event, that’s pretty much where the country stood on the axis of governmental intervention vs. governmental curtailment when the Republican Eisenhower became president in 1953, amid calls from some top party figures that he dismantle key parts of the New Deal. Eisenhower said no. He understood that FDR’s handiwork was too popular and well entrenched for such an initiative. Besides, that would have insulted the American people. Voters don’t like to be called idiots by their elected officials for how they vote. But Eisenhower also never sought to build on the New Deal. His biggest domestic initiative was the Interstate Highway System, a highly beneficial infrastructure program that didn’t significantly enhance federal power vis-a-vis the states and the people. A new equilibrium in the balance-of-power struggle regarding governmental prerogative had been struck.

Until Lyndon Johnson, who sought to leverage the Kennedy assassination to transform America through governmental expansion. It began, though, with the Kennedy tax cuts, which were not of the redistributionist kind favored by Lepore but rather across-the-board reductions that didn’t increase the progressive nature of the tax system. The result was salutary: 4.3 percent GDP growth in the year of enactment (1964) and 5 percent the following year. Next he turned to the overdue imperatives of citizen equality with the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act. Then came the Equal Opportunity Act, linchpin of his “Great Society” vision of combating poverty.

Taken together, write academic Alan J. Lichtman and journalist Ken DeCell, these initiatives represented “the most significant domestic-policy initiative since the New Deal.” Then came big second-term initiatives such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Medicare and Medicaid, and a host of direct-benefit programs in housing, education, nutrition, and the like. Altogether, according to the Bill of Rights Institute, LBJ submitted 87 bills to Congress, and it passed 84 of them. It was a frenzy of domestic legislation that inserted the federal government more and more into the lives of citizens.

Leaving aside the civil rights legislation, which the country embraced as overdue and necessary, much of the Johnson legacy ultimately lacked the staying power of FDR’s New Deal. On poverty, the reality of dashed expectations contributed to race riots in major industrial cities that killed dozens and unnerved the American people. According to one study, the government spent $22 trillion on antipoverty programs between 1967 and 2014, and yet the poverty rate remained generally the same at around 14 percent during that time (though it had come down substantially between 1950 and 1967, without any targeted federal initiatives). Further, Johnson’s resolve to spend huge sums on domestic initiatives while also waging his expensive Vietnam war ultimately strained the economy so severely that it unleashed a wave of intractable inflation, then something worse called “stagflation,” simultaneous high inflation and low or negative growth. That led ultimately to the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

Reagan assumed office amid dire economic circumstances. The week of his inauguration, Newsweek announced from its cover: “The Economy in Crisis.” Inside, the magazine said the new president faced “the most dangerous economic crisis since Franklin D. Roosevelt.” The numbers were bad. Unemployment: 7.4 percent. GDP: declined by 1.5 percent in the previous year. Prime interest rate: a commerce-crunching 21 percent. Inflation: running at 13 percent. Economist Walter Heller declared, “What the Great Depression was to the 1930s, the Great Inflation is to the 1980s.”

Reagan entered the White House on the wing of an entirely unconventional concept for that time: This was a crisis foisted upon the people by big government. It couldn’t provide the solution to the country’s problems, he said, because it was the problem. He sought severe curtailments in federal spending—and succeeded for a time before liberal opponents mobilized a counterforce against further spending cuts. Consciously sidestepping the New Deal, he went after as much of Johnson’s Great Society as he could get his hands on. He slashed tax rates, which had been rising inexorably and ensnaring more and more people in higher tax brackets through inflationary “bracket creep.” He embraced the Kennedy concept of across-the-board reductions to avoid redistribution.

In general terms, it all worked. Once Reagan got beyond the severe recession induced by Fed Chairman Paul Volcker to crush inflation (initiated with Reagan’s blessing), he gave the country consistently robust GDP growth rates, including 6.2 percent in his reelection campaign year of 1984 and an annual average rate of 3.4 percent during his second term. The American people embraced the Reagan narrative and his policies in huge numbers, as reflected in his 58.8 percent reelection triumph and his Electoral College victories everywhere save Minnesota and the District of Columbia.

Reagan’s staying power was reflected in the early actions of Bill Clinton, elected president four years after Reagan left office (following George Herbert Walker Bush’s middling one-term performance). Clinton declared upon taking office that he intended to “repeal Reaganism,” thus succumbing to the mistake avoided by Eisenhower: insulting the voters by telling them that their previous electoral decisions had reflected a certain ignorance. By 1994, after sputtering through his first two years in office and having his head handed to him in that year’s midterm elections, he reversed course and declared: “The era of big government is over.” He governed creditably from there and turned in a solid presidential performance overall.

Of course, nothing is ever over in politics, but the kind of FDR-LBJ activism of the 1930s and 1960s was not to be seen again for a considerable time. Barack Obama managed to pass his Affordable Care Act and sustain it through subsequent GOP efforts to gut it or kill it. But Obama failed in his effort to address the energy issue through substantial augmentations in federal power. Donald Trump talked a good game in the antigovernment vein but proved himself incapable of sustained action on anything.

And so now we have Joe Biden. Enjoying no mandate of the kind that buoyed Roosevelt and Reagan and making no effort to place his initiatives into a broad context of historical necessity, he sets about to accomplish what the American people have thwarted for nearly a century—namely, establishing the federal government as a true leviathan, with unchallenged tentacles stretching into nearly all aspects of American life, fueled by a redistributionist ethos that FDR himself foreswore.

The president projects some $6 trillion of new spending atop an annual budget of only around $4 trillion. Among the spending targets are clean-energy subsidies, electronic-vehicle charging stations, free child care, free pre-kindergarten education, free community college education, free family and medical leave, and the underwriting of incomes in a host of ways, most of which don’t require any work. Biden also would employ the regulatory state to thwart banks from investing in old energy projects and toward greater diversity. As the Wall Street Journal puts it, Biden “seeks to insinuate government cash and the rules that go with it into all the major decisions of family life.” He wants to “make Americans rely on government and the political class for everything they don’t already provide.”

Note the words “the political class.” This is essentially an elitist agenda, bolstering the power and influence of the country’s meritocratic elite, which will administer all this and derive ever greater power and wealth in the process. And, because Biden enjoys no mandate of the kind that fueled the FDR and Reagan programs, he’s fixing to attack fundamental institutions in ways designed—like Roosevelt’s court-packing scheme—to tilt the playing field in favor of the elite agenda. That’s the significance of the budding initiatives to kill the Senate filibuster, pack the court, and give statehood to Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

The history of America since Roosevelt’s first term provides little evidence that the American people have hungered for this kind of grand governmental aggrandizement and intrusiveness. Indeed, that history suggests the American people have always been wary of going that far. And nothing in the country’s recent political expression indicates anything approaching a serious groundswell now for the Biden vision. The president was elected leader of a nation roiled by passionate discord and disruption, reaching almost frightening intensity. He has unleashed upon his constituency a program that can only make it worse.

Robert W. Merry, longtime Washington journalist and publishing executive, is the author of five books on American history, including Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians (Simon & Schuster).

Russian industrialisation

The Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917 were, in many respects, a consequence of Russian industrialisation. During the 1800s, Russia’s economy remained focused on agriculture and natural resources. A period of reform in the late 1800s, led by the policies of Sergei Witte, produced rapid industrialisation across Russia. With this growth and transformation came some noticeable problems.

The agricultural empire

Most Europeans were aware that the Russian Empire was rich in land, natural resources and economic opportunities. In the early 1800s, Russian leaders developed trading relationships with other European nations, exporting large amounts of grain and timber. Most of the revenue that flowed into the country lined the pockets of aristocrats and landowners and was not invested in industrialisation.

Industrial projects and incentives were often proposed in Russia – but they were rarely embraced, often because they threatened the financial interests of conservative landowners. Russia did have some heavy industry – mining, steel production and oil drilling – but its industrial sector was small compared to its rivals, Britain, France and Germany.

Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War (1853-56) exposed the empire’s underdevelopment and the urgent need for industrialisation. Russian factories could not produce weapons, munitions or machinery to match her enemies. There was very little technical innovation in Russia: most of its industrial technologies were imported from the West. The war exposed the empire’s railway system as woefully inadequate, with insufficient lines and rolling stock to move men or equipment in large amounts.

Alexander II’s reforms

The reforms embraced by Tsar Alexander II in the early 1860s were designed, in part, to stimulate changes in the Russian economy.

Emancipating the serfs (1861) was not just a social reform – it was also intended to release them from the land and the control of conservative land-owners. The Tsar and his advisors anticipated that many freed serfs would become a mobile labour force and relocate to areas where industrial workers were needed.

Emancipation was also intended to stimulate more efficient farming methods and higher agricultural productivity. One anticipated outcome was the formation of the kulaks, a wealthier peasant class. The kulak would essentially be a ‘peasant capitalist. He would own larger tracts of land and more livestock or machinery he would hire landless peasants as labourers he would adopt more efficient farming techniques and sell his surplus grain for profit.

While the 1861 emancipation did release millions of peasants from their land, the strength of peasant communes prevented the widespread development of a kulak class. Ultimately, the emancipation of 1861 failed to contribute much to Russia’s economic development.

The reforms of Sergei Witte

In the 1870s, Alexander II’s government initiated several large infrastructure projects, particularly the construction of railways. These programs were boosted with the emergence of Sergei Witte in the 1880s. A qualified mathematician, Witte had a track record of achievement, both in the tsarist bureaucracy and the private sector.

In 1889, Witte was placed in charge of the Russian railway system, where he oversaw the planning and construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway. By 1892, Witte was minister for transport, communication and finance.

Identifying a need for capital investment, Witte made it easier for foreigners to invest in Russian industrial ventures. Existing barriers were removed while foreign individuals and companies were offered incentives for investing in Russia’s industrial and manufacturing sectors.

Witte also undertook currency reform. In 1897, he moved the Russian rouble to the gold standard, strengthening and stabilising it and improving foreign exchange. He also borrowed to fund public works and infrastructure programs including new railways, telegraph lines and electrical plants.

The ‘Great Spurt’

By the late 1890s, Witte’s reforms had visibly transformed the Russian economy. Large amounts of foreign capital, chiefly from France and Britain, had funded new plants and factories in St Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev and other cities. By 1900, around half of Russia’s heavy industries were foreign-owned – but the Russian empire was the world’s fourth-largest producer of steel and its second-largest source of petroleum.

New railways allowed transport into distant parts of the empire, facilitating the construction and operation of factories, mines, dams and other projects. The Trans-Siberian Railway opened up the remote east, allowing investment in projects like the Lena River gold mines.

Russia’s industrial economy had progressed more in one decade than it had in the previous century. Its development was so rapid that the economic historian Alexander Gerschenkron later dubbed it “the great spurt”.

Problems in the cities

While it delivered great advances, Russian industrialisation also had unforeseen consequences. Some of these consequences would become problematic for the tsarist regime.

The construction of new factories drew thousands of landless peasants into the cities in search of work. Russia’s cities were not equipped for the rapid urban growth brought about by this new industrial boom. This breakneck urbanisation created social problems and led to the formation of a potentially revolutionary class: the industrial proletariat.

In the early 1800s, only two Russian cities (St Petersburg and Moscow) contained more than 100,000 residents. By 1910 there were twelve cities of this size. In the decade between 1890 and 1900, St Petersburg swelled by around 250,000 people.

Workers’ conditions

This growth was not matched by the construction of new housing, so industrial employers had to house workers in ramshackle dormitories and tenements.

Most Russian industrial workers lived in unhygienic and often freezing conditions. They ate meals of stale bread and buckwheat gruel (porridge) in crowded meal-houses. Things were even worse in the factories, where hours were long and the work was monotonous and dangerous.

Witte’s economic reforms and rapid Russian industrialisation had met, and in some cases exceeded national goals – but they gave rise to a new working class that was exploited, poorly treated, clustered together in large numbers and therefore susceptible to revolutionary ideas.

A historian’s view:
“The state participated directly in the nation’s economy to an extent unequalled in any Western country. In 1899 the state bought almost two-thirds of all Russia’s metallurgical production. By the early 20th century it controlled some 70 per cent of the railways and owned vast tracts of land, numerous mines and oil fields, and extensive forests. The national budgets from 1903 to 1913 indicated that the government received more than 25 per cent of its income from various holdings. Russia’s economic progress in the eleven years of Witte’s tenure as minister of finance was, by every standard, remarkable. Railway trackage virtually doubled, coal output in southern Russia jumped from 183 million poods in 1890 to 671 million in 1900.”
Abraham Ascher, historian

1. For much of the 1800s, Russia was a comparatively backward economy in comparison to Western Europe. It remained dominated by agrarian production.

2. Russia’s Crimean War defeat created the impetus for reform. They began with the 1861 abolition of serfdom, a move designed to modernise Russia’s economy.

3. In the late 1800s, the main instigator of economic reform was Sergei Witte, who worked to attract foreign investment in Russian industries.

4. Witte’s changes triggered a marked growth in industrial production, the movement of workers into the cities and spending on infrastructure projects.

5. In economic terms, the policy reforms were successful and helped Russia belatedly industrialise – but they also created an industrial working class prone to grievances and revolutionary ideas.

The Invented History of 'The Factory Model of Education'

“What do I mean when I talk about transformational productivity reforms that can also boost student outcomes? Our K󈝸 system largely still adheres to the century-old, industrial-age factory model of education. A century ago, maybe it made sense to adopt seat-time requirements for graduation and pay teachers based on their educational credentials and seniority. Educators were right to fear the large class sizes that prevailed in many schools. But the factory model of education is the wrong model for the 21st century.” – US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (2010)

One of the most common ways to criticize our current system of education is to suggest that it’s based on a “factory model.” An alternative condemnation: “industrial era.” The implication is the same: schools are woefully outmoded.

As edX CEO Anant Agarwal puts it, “It is pathetic that the education system has not changed in hundreds of years.” The Clayton Christensen Institute’s Michael Horn and Meg Evan argue something similar: “a factory model for schools no longer works.” “How to Break Free of Our 19th-Century Factory-Model Education System,” advises Joel Rose, the co-founder of the New Classrooms Innovation Partners. Education Next’s Joanne Jacobs points us “Beyond the Factory Model.” “The single best idea for reforming K󈝸 education,” writes Forbes contributor Steve Denning, ending the “factory model of management.” “There’s Nothing Especially Educational About Factory-Style Management,” according to the American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess.

I’d like to add: there’s nothing especially historical about these diagnoses either.

Blame the Prussians

The “factory model of education” is invoked as shorthand for the flaws in today’s schools – flaws that can be addressed by new technologies or by new policies, depending on who’s telling the story. The “factory model” is also shorthand for the history of public education itself – the development of and change in the school system (or – purportedly – the lack thereof).

Here’s one version of events offered by Khan Academy’s Sal Khan along with Forbes’ writer Michael Noer – “the history of education”:

Khan’s story bears many of the markers of the invented history of the “factory model of education” – buckets, assembly lines, age-based cohorts, whole class instruction, standardization, Prussia, Horace Mann, and a system that has not changed in 120 years.

There are several errors and omissions in Khan’s history. (In his defense, it’s only eleven and a half minutes long.) There were laws on the books in Colonial America, for example, demanding children be educated (although not that schools be established). There was free public education in the US too prior to Horace Mann’s introduction of the “Prussian model” – the so-called “charity schools.” There were other, competing models for arranging classrooms and instruction as well, notably the “monitorial system” (more on that below). Textbook companies were already thriving before Horace Mann or the Committee of Ten came along to decide what should be part of the curriculum. One of the side-effects of the efforts of Mann and others to create a public education system, unmentioned by Khan, was the establishment of “normal schools” where teachers were trained. Another was the requirement that, in order to demonstrate accountability, schools maintain records on attendance, salaries, and other expenditures. Despite Khan’s assertions about the triumph of standardization, control of public schools in the US have, unlike in Prussia, remained largely decentralized – in the hands of states and local districts rather than the federal government.

The standardization of public education into a “factory model” – hell, the whole history of education itself – was nowhere as smooth or coherent as Khan’s simple timeline would suggest. There were vast differences between public education in Mann’s home state of Massachusetts and in the rest of the country – in the South before and after the Civil War no doubt, as in the expanding West. And there have always been objections from multiple quarters, particularly from religious groups, to the shape that schooling has taken.

Arguments over what public education should look like and what purpose public education should serve – God, country, community, the economy, the self – are not new. These battles have persisted – frequently with handwringing about education’s ongoing failures – and as such, they have shaped and yes changed, what happens in schools.

The Industrial Era School

Sal Khan is hardly the only one who tells a story of “the factory of model of education” that posits the United States adopted Prussia’s school system in order to create a compliant populace. It’s a story cited by homeschoolers and by libertarians. It's a story featured in one of Sir Ken Robinson's TED Talks. It’s a story told by John Taylor Gatto in his 2009 book Weapons of Mass Instruction. It’s a story echoed by The New York Times’ David Brooks. Here he is in 2012: “The American education model…was actually copied from the 18th-century Prussian model designed to create docile subjects and factory workers.”

For what it’s worth, Prussia was not highly industrialized when Frederick the Great formalized its education system in the late 1700s. (Very few places in the world were back then.) Training future factory workers, docile or not, was not really the point.

Nevertheless industrialization is often touted as both the model and the rationale for the public education system past and present. And by extension, it’s part of a narrative that now contends that schools are no longer equipped to address the needs of a post-industrial world.

Perhaps the best known and most influential example of this argument comes from Alvin Toffler who decried the “Industrial Era School” in his 1970 book Future Shock:

Mass education was the ingenious machine constructed by industrialism to produce the kind of adults it needed. The problem was inordinately complex. How to pre-adapt children for a new world – a world of repetitive indoor toil, smoke, noise, machines, crowded living conditions, collective discipline, a world in which time was to be regulated not by the cycle of sun and moon, but by the factory whistle and the clock.

The solution was an educational system that, in its very structure, simulated this new world. This system did not emerge instantly. Even today it retains throw-back elements from pre-industrial society. Yet the whole idea of assembling masses of students (raw material) to be processed by teachers (workers) in a centrally located school (factory) was a stroke of industrial genius. The whole administrative hierarchy of education, as it grew up, followed the model of industrial bureaucracy. The very organization of knowledge into permanent disciplines was grounded on industrial assumptions. Children marched from place to place and sat in assigned stations. Bells rang to announce changes of time.

The inner life of the school thus became an anticipatory mirror, a perfect introduction to industrial society. The most criticized features of education today – the regimentation, lack of individualization, the rigid systems of seating, grouping, grading and marking, the authoritarian role of the teacher – are precisely those that made mass public education so effective an instrument of adaptation for its place and time.

Despite these accounts offered by Toffler, Brooks, Khan, Gatto, and others, the history of schools doesn’t map so neatly onto the history of factories (and visa versa). As education historian Sherman Dorn has argued, “it makes no sense to talk about either ‘the industrial era’ or the development of public school systems as a single, coherent phase of national history.”

If you think industrialization is the shift of large portions of working people to wage-labor, or the division of labor (away from master-craft production), then the early nineteenth century is your era of early industrialization, associated closely with extensive urbanization (in both towns and large cities) and such high-expectations transportation projects as the Erie Canal or the Cumberland Road project (as well as other more mundane and local transportation improvements). That is the era of tremendous experimentation in the forms of schools, from legacy one-room village schools in the hinterlands to giant monitorial schools in cities to academies and normal schools and colleges and the earliest high schools in various places. It is the era of charity schools in cities and the earliest (and incomplete) state subsidies to education, a period when many states had subsidies to what we would call private or parochial schools. It is also the start of the common-school reform era, the era when both workers and common-school reformers began to talk about schooling as a right attached to citizenship, and the era when primary schooling in the North became coeducational almost everywhere. It was an era of mass-produced textbooks. It was an era when rote learning was highly valued in school, despite arguments against the same. And, yes, the first compulsory-school law was passed before the Civil War… but it was not enforced.

Maybe you think industrialization is the development of railroads, monopolies, national general strikes, metastasizing metropolises, and mechanized production. Then you mean the second half of the nineteenth century, and that is the era where the structural dreams of common-school reformers largely came to pass with tuition-free schooling spreading in the North, the slow victory of high schools over academies, more (unenforced) compulsory school laws, a pan-Protestant flavor to schooling without official religious education, the initial development of a parallel Catholic parochial school system when Catholic leaders became convinced the public schools were hostile to their interests, the first research-oriented universities, a broad diversity of languages of instruction through the Midwest and south to Texas, the development of extensive age-graded self-contained elementary classrooms in urban school systems, the bureaucratization of many such systems, the (contentious) development of public schooling in the South, and the era when segregation laws were written at the tail end of the 19th century. It was also an era of mass-produced textbooks, and an era when rote learning was highly valued in school, despite arguments against the same.

Or maybe you think industrialization was assembly-line factories, private-worker unionization supported by federal law, the maturation of marketing techniques and the growth of a consumer economy, major economic crises, the introduction of cars and trucks, the mechanization of agriculture, and brutal, mechanized wars. Then you’re talking about the first half of the twentieth century. That was an era of rural-school consolidation forced by states, continued racial segregation, efforts to Americanize immigrant children and force them to speak English only in schools, the first legal successes in undermining segregation, the growth of (mostly small) high schools across the U.S. and tracking within those schools, the growth of standardized testing for local administrative purposes (including tracking), the evolution of normal schools into teachers colleges, and the slow separation of higher education into secondary and tertiary levels. It was the era when several regions of the country first experienced a majority of teenagers graduating from high school. It was also an era of mass-produced textbooks, and an era when rote learning was highly valued in school, despite arguments against the same. It was an era when compulsory school laws were finally enforced at selective ages, when child-labor opponents first failed and then succeeded at efforts to limit child labor by legislation… aided significantly by the Great Depression and the mechanization of agriculture, as teenagers found fewer opportunities for full-time work.

As Dorn notes, phrases like “the industrial model of education,” “the factory model of education,” and “the Prussian model of education” are used as a “rhetorical foil” in order make a particular political point – not so much to explain the history of education, as to try to shape its future.

What Do Factories Look Like?

It’s tempting to say that those who argue that today’s schools are fashioned on nineteenth century factories have never read much about the Industrial Revolution. (Frederick Engels’ The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844 is in the public domain and available via Project Gutenberg, for what it’s worth.) Schools might feel highly de-personalized institutions they might routinely demand compliance and frequently squelch creativity. But they don’t really look like and they really don’t work like factories.

In fact, the “Prussian model” superseded an education system that actually did look like a factory. The monitorial system and its variants the Lancaster, the Bell, and the Madras systems, involved schools that were housed in large warehouses – larger often than many of the nascent factories at the time – with hundreds of students in one massive classroom with one teacher. Students were grouped (30 or so together) not by age but by reading proficiency, with more advanced students – “monitors” – assigned to tutor and train the others.

Khan argues in his “History of Education” video that the Prussian model was the only way to provide a free public education, but as the widespread popularity of the monitorial system in the same period demonstrates, it was really just one way. Due to labor costs alone, the monitorial system was actually far cheaper. (After all, the major innovation of the Prussian model was in levying a tax to fund compulsory schooling, not in establishing a method for instruction.)

In his book A Voyage to India (1820), James Cordiner explains the functioning of the Madras system following his visit to the Military Male Orphan Asylum in India where this model originated:

From the perpetual agency of this system, idleness cannot exist. On entering the school, you can discover no individual unemployed, no boy looking vacantly round him: the whole is a beautiful picture of the most animated industry, and resembles the various machinery of a cloth or thread manufactory, completely executing their different offices, and all set in motion by one active engine.

In other words, the monitorial system expressly operated like a factory. “Industry” here isn’t simply a reference to manufacturing or production “industry” is the opposite of “idleness.” To counter idleness, students must be taught to work – and the functioning of the classroom should be like a machine.

As Mike Caulfield points out, the monitorial system quite arguably provided a certain amount of “personalization” – at least as that word is often used today – insofar as students could move at their own pace, one of the shortcomings so often indentified in the “factory model of education.” Caulfield cites Andrew Bell’s guide to the monitorial system Mutual Tuition and Moral Discipline (1823):

The Madras System consists in conducting a school, by a single Master, THROUGH THE MEDIUM OF THE SCHOLARS THEMSELVES, by an uniform and almost insensibly progressive course of study, whereby the mind of the child is often exercised in anticipating and dictating for himself his successive lessons, by which the memory is improved, the understanding cultivated, and knowledge uniformly increased – a course in which reading and writing are carried on in the same act, with a law of classification by which every scholar finds his level, is happily, busily, and profitably employed every moment, is necessarily made perfectly acquainted with every lesson as he goes along, and without the use or the need of corporeal infliction, acquires habits of method, order, and good conduct, and is advanced in his learning, according to the full measure of his capacity.

But as Frederick John Gladman’s manual on education School Work (1886) suggests, despite its widespread adoption throughout the UK and US, the Lancaster system fell out of favor, in part because this “personalized” model of education did not stimulate sufficient intellectual curiosity in its students:

Failure occurred, as it always will, when masters were slaves to “the system,” when they were satisfied with mechanical arrangements and routine work or when they did not study their pupils, and get down to the Principles of Education.

According to Gladman, the Lancaster system was replaced by the Glasgow system, developed by David Stow, which emphasized the training of teachers so as to “cultivate the whole nature of the child, instead of the mere head – the affections and habits, as well as the intellect.” Training of teachers was necessary, Gladman contended, as “it is useless to have the machinery without the skilled workman, or the well-trained workman without the suitable premises.”

Similarly, the Prussian model was based on the training of teachers. As Victor Cousin wrote in his Report on the State of Education in Prussia (1837) – a report commissioned by the French government but, once translated into English, with great influence in the US:

Our principal aim, in each kind of instruction, is to induce the young men to think and judge for themselves. We are opposed to all mechanical study and servile transcripts. The masters of our primary schools must possess intelligence themselves, in order to be able to awaken it in their pupils otherwise, the state would doubtless prefer the less expensive schools of Bell and Lancaster.

Caulfield concludes, “That is those nasty sounding Prussians agreeing with the somewhat less nasty sounding Glasweegians that education must be reformed because it works too much like a factory. And the way to make it less like a factory is to bring in the expertise of a craftsman, in this case, the trained teachers that were the heart of the Mannian, Glasgow, and Prussian systems.”

The Coming [Industrial] Revolution in Education

Many education reformers today denounce the “factory model of education” with an appeal to new machinery and new practices that will supposedly modernize the system. That argument is now and has been for a century the rationale for education technology. As Sidney Pressey, one of the inventors of the earliest “teaching machines” wrote in 1932 predicting "The Coming Industrial Revolution in Education,"

Education is the one major activity in this country which is still in a crude handicraft stage. But the economic depression may here work beneficially, in that it may force the consideration of efficiency and the need for laborsaving devices in education. Education is a large-scale industry it should use quantity production methods. This does not mean, in any unfortunate sense, the mechanization of education. It does mean freeing the teacher from the drudgeries of her work so that she may do more real teaching, giving the pupil more adequate guidance in his learning. There may well be an “industrial revolution” in education. The ultimate results should be highly beneficial. Perhaps only by such means can universal education be made effective.

Pressey, much like Sal Khan and other education technologists today, believed that teaching machines could personalize and “revolutionize” education by allowing students to move at their own pace through the curriculum. The automation of the menial tasks of instruction would enable education to scale, Pressey – presaging MOOC proponents – asserted.

We tend to not see automation today as mechanization as much as algorithmization – the promise and potential in artificial intelligence and virtualization, as if this magically makes these new systems of standardization and control lighter and liberatory.

And so too we’ve invented a history of “the factory model of education” in order to justify an “upgrade” – to new software and hardware that will do much of the same thing schools have done for generations now, just (supposedly) more efficiently, with control moved out of the hands of labor (teachers) and into the hands of a new class of engineers, out of the realm of the government and into the realm of the market.

Was the Industrial Revolution created out of the Enlightenment period?

Marked change in the prosperity of many during the 17th century was born out of Britain’s control of the high seas and the trade routes. There were those who had a surplus of money in their pockets and a desire to differentiate themselves from others by means of possessions. Clothes, jewels, books, furniture became a means to ‘show off’ their wealth. Fashion was born and everyone, from the apprentice to the lord wanted to show that they had a sense of it. The desire for clothes made from fabrics other than home spun wool was creating an engine for industrial change, the textile industries were the early adopters of the changes that would roll out the Industrial Revolution, so yes in one very real sense, the exploring adventures of the Enlightenment period created a society in which demand for goods existed and once the ball was rolling it quickly gathered momentum.

New foods, drinks and tobacco replaced what had gone before and the people enjoyed them but they needed to be paid for and so changes in working patterns in society started to emerge. People worked longer hours, woman went out to work more than they had previously, there was more mobility in the work force and one factor often overlooked was the literacy of the English people. They were some of the most literate people in the world, they had laws and a government to keep order, was this the canvas readied for creating the Industrial Revolution?

They are still no answers and as many questions as ever, was the Industrial Revolution a domestic affair or was it the result of foreign trade. Did the money from slavery fuel the furnaces, could the Industrial Revolution indeed have happened without the slave trade?


Its importance lies in the creation of new machinery and tools to facilitate production, make it more abundant and cheaper. The social changes were of great importance for the world and society, and we continue observing these changes to this day. Socio-economic change was of great importance because it consolidated the social division between those who produced and those who had the work force. Technology was increased, machines were created which, although positive, also had many negative aspects. Industrial production and the growth of cities were increased.

Watch the video: The Anti-Industrial Revolution by Ayn Rand