27 Industrial Revolution Inventions that Changed the World
The period between the mid-1700s and mid-1800s was one of great technological and social change. Here are some of the inventions of the industrial revolution that changed the world forever.
The Industrial Revolution was a period of rapid social and technological change that has shaped the world we live in today. It was a period of great innovation and many of the items we see today were inventions of the Industrial Revolution.
The following 27 inventions are a hand-picked selection of some of the most important inventions of the period as well as some of the lesser-known ones.
INVENTIONS AND MACHINES
The innovations that changed the world range from innovations within the textile industry to the iron industry and consumer goods of the later Industrial Revolution.
We have limited our time period between the mid-1700s and 1840 which is commonly agreed to be the time for the Industrial Revolution.
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1. Flying shuttle or weaving made easy
This great example was widely used throughout Lancashire after 1760 and was one of the key developments of the period. It was patented in 1733 by John Kay, and its implementation effectively doubled the output a weaver could make, thereby allowing the workforce to effectively be halved.
Prior to this invention, a weaver was required on each side of a broad-cloth loom; now one weaver alone could do the job of two. Several subsequent improvements were made to it over the years with an important one in 1747.
Its impact was incredibly significant, effectively allowing the production of textiles beyond the capacity of the rest of the industry. It arguably prompted further industrialization throughout the textile and other industries to keep up.
Flying Shuttle Loom, Weaver’s Cottage Museum Source: Betty Longbottom/Wikimedia Commons
2. The Spinning Jenny increased wool mills productivity
The Spinning Jenny was another example of great inventions of the Industrial Revolution. It was developed by James Hargreaves who patented his idea in 1764.
The Spinning Jenny was groundbreaking during its time and one that would help change the world forever. It allowed workers to spin more wool at any one time.
This vastly increased mills productivity and along with the Flying Shuttle, helped force further industrialization of the textile industry in the United Kingdom.
It allowed for a massive reduction in the work needed to produce a piece of cloth and allowed for a worker to work eight or more spools at a time. With further refinement, this increased to 120 spools over time.
It has long been credited as the main driver for the development of a modern factory system. By the time of Hargreaves’s death in 1778, there were around 20,000 Spinning Jennys across the UK.
Model Spinning Jenny, Museum of Early Industrialisation, Wuppertal, Germany Source: Markus Schweiß/Wikimedia Commons
3. The Watt Steam Engine, the engine that changed the world
When James Watt created the first reliable steam engine in 1775 his invention literally changed the world. His innovation blew the older less efficient models, like the Newcomen engine, out of the water.
James’ innovation of adding a separate condenser significantly improved steam engine efficiency, especially latent heat losses. His new engine proved to be very popular and was installed in mines and factories across the world.
It was hands down, one of the greatest inventions of the Industrial Revolution.
His version also integrated a crankshaft and gears and it became the prototype for all modern steam engines. It would eventually lead to incredible improvements in almost all industries, including the textile industry, across the world.
Steam engines would also lead to the development of locomotives and massive leaps forward in ship propulsion.
4. The Cotton Gin: the engine that made cotton production boom
Eli Whitney is another name synonymous with inventions of the Industrial Revolution. He invented the cotton engine, gin for short, in 1794.
Prior to its introduction into the textile industry, cotton seeds needed to be removed from fibers by hand. This was laborious and time-consuming, to say the least. This machine vastly improved the profitability of cotton for farmers.
The Cotton Gin enabled many more farmers to consider cotton as their main crop. This was especially important for farmers and plantation owners in the Americas.
With the seeds and fibers separated more efficiently, it became much easier for farmers to use the fibers to make cotton goods like linen. They could also simultaneously separate seeds for more crop growth or the production of cottonseed oil.
Cotton Gin at Eli Whitney Museum. Source: Brighterorange/Wikimedia Commons
5. Telegraph communications, a pillar of the Industrial Revolution
Coming in at the tail end of the Industrial Revolution, the Telegraph was one of the other greatest inventions of the Industrial Revolution. Created in the early 1800s, it would change communication forever.
Thanks to this technology, near-instant communication became possible initially across the country and eventually across the globe. This enabled people to stay in contact and become aware of wider geopolitical events much more easily.
The first true electrical telegraphs finally superseded optical semaphore telegraph systems to become the world’s first electrical form of telecommunications. In only a matter of decades, the electrical telegraph became the de facto means of communication for businesses and private citizens over a long distance.
Hasler Electrical Telegraph Source: Hp.Baumeler/Wikimedia Commons
6. Portland Cement and the invention of concrete
Joseph Aspdin was a bricklayer turned builder who, in 1824, devised and patented a chemical process for making Portland Cement. This one invention from the Industrial Revolution has been one of the most important of all time for the construction industry.
His process involved sintering a mixture of clay and limestone to around 1,400-degree centigrade. This then needed to be ground into a fine powder only to be later mixed with sand and gravel to make concrete.
Years later, Brunel would use Portland Cement to help construct the Thames Tunnel. It was also used on a large scale in the construction of the London Sewage system and many other construction projects around the world.
It was also one of the great inventions of the Industrial Revolution.
Interior of the Thames Foot Tunnel, mid-19th century. Source: Nichtbesserwisser/Wikimedia Commons
7. The modern roads by John McAdam
Before the Industrial Revolution, the quality of Britain’s roads was less than great. At the time France was known to have the best quality ones in the world.
Many British roads were poorly maintained and had poor quality. During the 1700s, turnpike trusts were set up to charge tolls in an attempt to improve maintenance and the general quality of the country’s transport system.
By 1750 almost every main road in England and Wales had the responsibility of a turnpike trust.
John McAdam would eventually develop a new road-building technique that would revolutionize road construction forever. His ‘macadamised’ roads would prove to be the biggest advancement in road building since the Roman Empire, thousands of years before.
Example of Macadam Road in around 1850. Source: Sutter County Library/Wikimedia Commons
8. The Bessemer process that changed steel
The Bessemer Process was the world’s first inexpensive process for mass production of steel from molten pig iron. This would also prove to be one of the greatest inventions of the Industrial Revolution.
It is noted for its removal of impurities from the iron via oxidation as air is blown through the molten metal. Oxidation also helps raise the temperature of the iron mass to keep it molten for longer. The process is named after its inventor Henry Bessemer who patented the technique in 1856.
The ability to mass-produce high-quality steel and iron allowed a literal boom in the use of them in many other aspects of the revolution. Iron and steel suddenly became essential materials and would be used to make almost everything from appliances to tools, machines, ships, buildings, and infrastructure.
Bessemer converter at former ironworks, Hogbo, Sweden. Source: Calle Eklund/V-wolf/Wikimedia Commons
9. The first modern Battery by Volta
Although there is evidence of early batteries from the Parthian Empire around2,000 years ago, the first true modern electric battery was invented in 1800. This world-first was the brainchild of one Alessandro Volta with the development of his voltaic pile.
Mass production of the world’s first battery began in 1802 by William Cruickshank.
The first rechargeable battery was invented in 1859 by the French physician Gaston Plante. Later advancements would lead to the Nickel-Cadmium battery being developed in 1899 by Waldemar Junger.
Volta’s initial invention literally sparked a great amount of scientific excitement around the world which would lead to the eventual development of the field of electrochemistry.
Volta’s electric battery in Como, Italy. Source: GuidoB/Wikimedia Commons
10. The Locomotive revolution
The invention of the steam engine would eventually lead to a revolution in transportation around the globe. Locomotives allowed large-scale movement of resources and people over long distances.
Previously, the industry relied on man- and-animal-powered wagons and carts. These were common all over Europe and were especially commonly associated with mining and agriculture.
After the pioneering work, Richard Trevithick in 1804 and of George Stephenson and his “Rocket” train networks would begin to spring up all over the United Kingdom and eventually the world.
The first public railway opened in 1825 between Stockton and Darlington in England, UK. This would be the first of many railways and locomotives that would revolutionize the way businesses and private citizens transport their goods and themselves around.
Replica of the “Rocket”, Nuremberg Museum, Germany. Source: Urmelbeauftragter/Wikimedia Commons
11. The first factory opened by Lombe
One of, if not the first, documented factories was opened by John Lombe in Derby around 1721. Lombe’s factory used water power to help the factory mass-produce silk products.
The factory was built on an island on the River Derwent in the English county of Derby. The idea for the factory came to Lombe after he had toured Italy looking at silk throwing machines.
On his return to the UK, he employed the services of the architect George Sorocold to design and build his new “Factory”. Once completed the mill, at its height, employed around 300 people.
On its completion, it was the first successful silk throwing mill in England and, it is believed, the first fully mechanized factory in the world. Lombe was granted a 14-year patent for his throwing machines only to die mysteriously in 1722. His death has been attributed to the King of Sardinia, who reacted badly to the commercialization of silk production in the UK.
Lombe’s Manufactory/Mill, Derby circa 1770. Source: ClemRutter/Wikimedia Commons
12. The Power Loom, overtaking all UK factories
The invention of the Power Loom effectively increased the output of a worker by over a factor of 40. It was one of the most important inventions of the Industrial Revolution.
It was introduced in 1874 by Edmund Cartwright who built the very first working machine in 1785. Over the next 47 years, the Power Loom was refined until it was made completely automated by Kenworthy and Bullough.
By 1850, there were around 260,000 Power Looms installed in factories all over the United Kingdom.
Cartwright’s power loom was first licensed by Grimshaw of Manchester who built a small steam-powered weaving factory in 1790. Sadly this soon burnt down. Initially, his looms were not a commercial success as they needed to be stopped to dress the warp.
This was soon addressed over the next few decades as he modified the design into a more reliable automated machine.
13. Arkwright’s Water Frame spinning machine
Richard Arkwright was a barber and wig maker who managed to devise a machine that could spin cotton fibers into yarn or thread very quickly and easily. In 1760 he and John Kay managed to produce a working machine. This prototype could spin four strands of cotton at the same time.
He would later patent his design in 1769. Further refinement of his design would ultimately allow the machine to spin 100’s of strands at one time.
The spinning machine would go on to be installed in mills around Derbyshire and Lancashire where they were powered by waterwheels hence they were called water frames. Arkwright’s machines alleviated the need for highly skills operators adding significant cost savings to mills that installed them.
A working example of Arkwright’s water frame, Helmshore Mills Textile Museum. Source: ClemRutter/Wikimedia Commons
14. The Spinning Mule: the yarn game-changer
The Spinning Mule combines features of two earlier Industrial Revolution inventions: the Spinning Jenny and the above-mentioned Water Frame. The Mule managed to produce a strong, fine and soft yarn that could be used in many kinds of textiles.
It was, however, best suited for the production of muslins. The Mule was devised by Samuel Crompton in 1775 who was too poor to actually patent his invention and so sold it to a Bolton manufacturer. The very first Mules were hand-operated, but by the 1790s, larger versions were driven by steam engines. Thes larger machines had as many as 400 spindles.
The Spinning Mule would become a very popular machine indeed and was installed in a large number of factories, but as he had relinquished his rights to the machine, Crompton would see none of the proceeds from the sales.
Spinning Mule at Quarry Bank Mill. Source: Black Stripe/Wikimedia Commons
15. Henry Cort’s puddling process
In 1784, Henry Cort succeeded in developing a method of converting pig iron into wrought iron by heating it and frequently stirring it in the presence of oxidizing substances. It was, at the time, the first method that allowed wrought iron to be produced on a large scale.
Henry had managed to save a large amount of capital during his 10-year service in the Royal Navy. With this money, he had bought an ironworks near Portsmouth in 1775.
By 1783 he managed to obtain a patent for grooved rollers that would allow him to produce iron bars more quickly than the old method of hammering.
His puddling process would take the iron industry by storm and over the following 20-years, British iron production quadrupled!
16. Gaslighting, lighting the streets of the modern world
Commercial gas lighting was first developed and introduced in 1792 by William Murdoch. These early gas lights used coal gas which was installed as the lighting in his house in Redruth, Cornwall.
Over a decade later, German inventor Freidrich Winzer became the first person to patent the use of coal gas for lighting in 1804. A thermo-lamp was also developed in 1799 using gas distilled from wood and David Melville received the first patent in the U.S. for gas lighting in 1810.
After its development, gas lighting became the method of street lighting across the United States and Europe. These would eventually be replaced with low-pressure sodium or high-pressure mercury lighting in the 1930s.
17. 2,000 cells to create the first Arc Lamp
Sir Humphrey Davy was able to build the world’s first arc lamp in 1807. His device used a battery of 2,000 cells to create a 100mm arc between two charcoal sticks.
As impressive as his initial success, as it was not a practical piece of equipment until the development of electrical generators in the 1870s. Arc lamps are still in use today in applications like searchlights, large film projectors, and floodlights.
The term is usually limited to lamps with an air gap between consumable carbon electrodes. but fluorescent and other electric discharge lamps generate light from arcs in gas-filled tubes. Some ultraviolet lamps are of the arc type.
Davy’s Arc Lamp and battery Source: Chetvorno/Wikimedia Commons
18. The Tin Can, jumping to new production heights
The humble tin can was patented by a British merchant Peter Durand in 1810. It would have an incalculable impact on food preservation and transportation right up to the present day.
John Hall and Bryan Dorkin would open the very first commercial canning factory in England in 1813. In 1846, Henry Evans invented the machine that can manufacture tin cans at a rate of sixty per hour.
This was a significant increase over the previous rate of only six per hour.
The very first tin cans had very thick walls and needed to be opened using a hammer. Over time they became thinner enabling the later invention of a dedicated can opener in 1858.
It took the American Civil War to inspire the creation of tin cans with a key can opener as can still be found on sardine cans.
Source: Chris Potter/Wikimedia Commons
19. Spectrometer, or how we studied glowing objects
In 1814, a German inventor, Joseph von Fraunhofer invented the spectrometer. His early device was devised to enable the chemical analysis of glowing objects.
Little did Joseph knew the full impact his invention would have on the scientific world. We can owe the fact that we know what the Sun is made of thanks to Fraunhofer.
Thanks to Fraunhofer’s contributions, Bavaria overtook England as the leader in optics research. He invented the spectroscope in 1814.
In fact, his discoveries earned him a knighthood in 1824, two years before his death. Like all glassmakers of the time, he died early because of heavy metal poisoning.
Joseph von Fraunhofer demonstrating the spectroscope. Source: Richard Wimmer/Wikimedia Commons
20. Camera Obscura: The first photograph
Beginning in 1814, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce started a journey of discovery that would eventually lead him to become the first person to ever take a photograph. He would eventually do this using his new-fangled camera obscura that was set up in the windows of his home in France.
The entire exposure took around 8 hours to capture the image.
Joseph constructed his first camera in around 1816 which allowed him to create an image on white paper. But he was unable to fix it.
He would continue his experimentation using different cameras and chemical combinations for the next 10 years or so.
In 1827, he successfully produced the first, long-lasting image using a plate coated with bitumen. This was then washed in a solvent and placed over a box of iodine to produce a plate with light and dark qualities.
World’s first photograph by Joseph Niepce Source: Joanjoc~commonswiki/Wikimedia Commons
21. The first Electromagnet findings
The electromagnet was the culmination of a series of developments from Hans Christian Oersted, Andre-Marie Ampere, and Dominique Francois Jean Arago made their critical discoveries on electromagnetism.
One man, William Sturgeon, would take the findings of these great scientists and build on them to build the world’s first electromagnet.
He found that leaving some iron inside a coil of wire would vastly increase the magnetic field created. He also realized that by bending the iron into a u-shape allowed the poles to come closer together, thereby concentrating the field lines.
His design was improved upon by Joseph Henry who built, in 1832, a very strong electromagnet that was able to lift 1630 kgs.
Sturgeon’s electromagnet. Source: Chetvorno/Wikimedia Commons
22. The Mackintosh Raincoat
Perhaps one of the most useful of all inventions during the Industrial Revolution was when, in 1823, Charles Mackintosh devised the Mackintosh. Prior to his invention, clothing was waterproofed by using a coating of rubber.
But rubber would become sticky and tacky during hot weather and extremely stiff during winter months. Charles, a Scottish Chemist, successfully cured this problem and patented a new method of using rubber to waterproof clothing.
Initially, he created his new waterproof clothing at his family’s textile factory. By 1843, Mackintosh had begun mass production of their clothes and merged with a larger clothing manufacturing company.
His method of waterproofing is known to us today as vulcanization. This process allowed the rubber to maintain its shape and not become sticky during hot weather like natural rubber.
Mackintosh’s design also placed the rubber covering inside two pieces of fabric rather than covering one.
The Mackintosh, Circa 1893. Source: Cbaile19 /Wikimedia Commons
23. Modern Friction Matches made possible with wood
In 1826, John Walker gave the world the first modern matches. Early attempts were made to make a match that produced ignition through friction by Francois Derosne in 1816.
These were; however, crude and used sulfur tipped match to scrape inside a tube coated with phosphorus. This was both inconvenient and unsafe. Waker was a Chemist and druggist from Stockton-on-Tees who developed a keen interest in trying to make fire as easily as possible.
Chemical combinations were known that provided sudden ignition, but what had not been finalized was a means of transmitting the flame to a slow-burning material like wood.
When, quite by accident, a prepared match ignited by accident from friction on the hearth, he at once knew he had found the answer. He immediately set about producing wooden splints or sticks of cardboard and coating them with sulfur.
He then added a tip with a mixture of a sulfide of antimony, chlorate of potash and gum. Camphor was added later to mask the smell of the sulfur once ignited.
Source: Jef-Infojef/Wikimedia Commons
24. Every great writer’s companion, the Typewriter
It is widely accepted that in 1829, William Austin Burt patented the “first typewriter” which he termed a “Typographer”. There were earlier machines similar in purpose, a notable example being Henry Mill’s 1714 patent, but it appears to have never been capitalized upon.
The Science Museum in London describes Burt’s the machine as the “the first writing mechanism whose invention was documented”. Despite its apparent breaking of new ground, contemporary sources indicated that even when used by Burt, the machine was slower than handwriting.
This was because the typographer needed to use a dial rather than keys to select each character.
This lack of efficiency improvement over handwriting ultimately sealed Burt’s machine’s doom. Both he and its promoter John D. Sheldon never found a buyer for the patent.
The modern typewriter would ultimately be invented in 1867 by Christopher Sholes.
Burt’s Typographer. Source: Flickr/Wikimedia Commons
25. The Dynamo powered by the Faraday principle
Here is another great invention of the Industrial Revolution. The basic principles of electromagnetic generators were discovered in the early 1830s by Michael Faraday.
Faraday noted that the electromotive force is generated when an electrical conductor encircles a varying magnetic flux. This would later become known as Faraday’s Law.
Michael also built the first electromagnetic generator, the Faraday Disk. This was a type of homopolar generator that used a copper disc that rotated between the poles of a horseshoe magnet.
The first true dynamo, based on Faraday’s principle, was built in 1832 by Hippolyte Pixii, a French instrument maker. His device used a permanent magnet that was rotated using a crank.
Hippolyte Pixii’s Dynamo. Source: DMahalko/Wikimedia Commons
26. Blueprints from Herschel and Poitevin
John Herschel, a British scientist and inventor, succeeded in developing the process that was the direct precursor to what we now know as blueprints. John made improvements in photographic processes, particularly in inventing the cyanotype process and variations (such as the chrysotype), the precursors of the modern blueprint process in around 1839.
This process enabled the production of a photograph on glass, he also experimented with some color reproduction. It is also believed that he coined the term photography.
It wasn’t until 1861 that ‘true’ blueprints were developed by Alphonse Louis Poitevin, A French Chemist. He found that Ferro-gallate in gum is actually light-sensitive.
When exposed to light, it turns into an insoluble permanent blue. He successfully postulated that a coating of this on paper or other material could be used to copy an image from another translucent document.
Who would have thought that this was one of the inventions of the Industrial Revolution?
Source: Adrian Michael/Wikimedia Commons
27. The Hydrogen Fuel Cell
Last but by no means least on our list of inventions of the Industrial Revolution is the one you might not expect. The Hydrogen Fuel Cell was first documented in 1838 in a letter published in the December edition of The London and Edinburgh Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science.
The piece was written by a Welsh physicist and barrister William Grove. In it, he described his development of a crude fuel cell that combined sheet iron, copper and porcelain plates, and a solution of sulfate of copper and dilutes acid.
In the same publication published a year later, a German physicist -Christain Freidrich Schonbein- also discussed his crude fuel cell that he believed he had invented. His letter described how current was generated using hydrogen and oxygen dissolved in water.
Grove sketched his design later in 1842, once again, for the same journal. Both of these used similar materials: phosphoric acid fuel cells.
Grove’s 1842 sketch of a Fuel
Those 27 inventions are either still in use today or paved the way for considerable advances in industries around the world. Have we missed any critical inventions? Feel free to add your suggestions below in the comments section.