The Second Industrial Revolution | 2018-06-08 |


The Second Industrial Revolution

Supad Kumar Ghose     8 June, 2018 12:00 AM printer

The Second Industrial Revolution

Many people, the student of history in particular, are very much familiar with the First Industrial Revolution, which started in England. The most important event of this historical phenomenon was the invention of the Steam Engine which not only revolutionized production systems, but also brought about epochal changes in transportation systems, especially in oceanic voyages by introducing the faster-moving sea-faring steamships. These new ships changed the world that came into being in the first half of the nineteenth century. Similarly, we have been talking about the ongoing Fourth Industrial Revolution, i.e., Artificial Intelligence Revolution, which is fast changing the very nature of the world in which we live. But similar stories are not much heard about the Second Industrial Revolution, which is no less important than the First Industrial Revolution in shaping the destiny of the humankind.

The Second Industrial Revolution whose historical timeline is between 1870 and 1914 revolutionized the application of knowledge and ideas to the mechanical workshops, leading to the growth manufacturing on a mass-scale, ever-increasing competition among manufacturers and an ever-widening world market. To be sure, the Second Industrial Revolution led to the acceleration of the mutual feedbacks between knowledge, i. e, between science and technology. Inventors like Edison and Felex Hoffman relied on some of the findings of formal science while applying them in inventing new technologies which led to the new innovations as well as discoveries, like electricity, gas and oil. As a result, innovations in combustion engines began the new process of developing and using their potentials.

The real effect of electricity was not in transmission, but in communication because electricity was recognized to be a general system of energy transmission. Telegraph also developed and became an example of the technological system. Long distance submarine cables were also laid down. The real Iron Age also began since steel production witnessed a spectacular turn after 1860, especially in the United States of America and Germany.

However, the real revolution took place in chemicals because during the First Industrial Revolution, there had been only chemistry but not much chemicals. These took place during the Second Industrial Revolution. Germany took the lead in this respect. It should be noted here that the impact of chemistry had been so much spectacular on the Second Industrial Revolution that sometimes, it is called “Chemical Revolution” and in this respect, both the United States and Germany fared better than Britain. Despite the German dominance, it turned out to be an Englishman, William Perkin, who luckily made the first discovery in what to become the modern chemical industry (Joel Mokyr, The Lever of Riches, 1990).

The steam engine which is the invention of the First Industrial Revolution became much faster during the Second Industrial Revolution because ships were increasingly being made of steel. The  railroad became much faster, safer and comfortable during this historical period. As noted above, manufacturing got a boost and mass-scale industrial production based on both specialization and rationalization became common during this period. As a result, the USA, one of the co-authors of the Second Industrial Revolution, became the most industrialized and richest country in the world, surpassing not only Britain, the author of the First Industrial Revolution but also the rival Germany, which also witnessed a spectacular growth in national power because of being a co-author of the Second Industrial Revolution, like the USA. Fertilizers and use of other technologies brought about a revolution in food production and processing. Innovation in these technologies had spin-off effects on household technologies and human welfare. A new type of consumerism followed. Elites and mass people started enjoying the fruits of these epochal changes, but not on the equal footing.

Capitalism flourished and the new capital centric human civilization flourished not only in Western Europe but also in North America. No doubt, industry experienced revolutionary changes, but industrial relations, i.e.,  relations between labor, industrialists and government did not remain stagnant any more. A new type of trade unions developed, especially in Britain and other countries in Western Europe. The Hay Market incident took place in Chicago in 1886 in which some workers were killed. Consciousness among working class emerged. As a result, 1st May became International Labor Day and it began being celebrated as the International Labor Day all over the world. 

European dominance of the international system became more pervasive but unprecedented growth in European power not only produced self-confidence but also led to its collective suicidal tendencies. The result is the First World War, which ruined the World and made Europe weak.  

The author teaches at the University of Information Technology and Sciences (UITS).