Second Industrial Revolution (1850 to 1910 CE)

The Second Industrial Revolution (1850 to 1910 CE) is often the Industrial Revolution as many people imagine it: it is an era of heavy industry, increased communication, and the development of modern manufacturing.  Complete the following activities in order to gain a greater understanding of the transformations which occurred during this period.

1.  Comparing Two Industrial Revolutions.

Please begin by reading the following excerpt from “The Second Industrial Revolution, 1870-1914,” published in 1998 by Joel Mokyr, Professor of Economics and History at Northwestern University.

Technology is knowledge. Modern economic growth, Simon Kuznets (1965) argued more than 30 years ago, depends on the growth of useful knowledge. Yet as knowledge, technology differs from the knowledge of nature we think of as science, geography or a more pragmatic knowledge of natural phenomena. With some simplification we may divide all useful knowledge into knowledge which seeks to catalog and explain natural phenomena and regularities, and knowledge which should be thought of as huge compilation of recipes, instructions, blueprints and which constitute the totality of the techniques available to society (see Mokyr, 1998a and 1998b)…. The first Industrial Revolution — and most technological developments preceding it — had little or no scientific base. It created a chemical industry with no chemistry, an iron industry without metallurgy, power machinery without thermodynamics. Engineering, medical technology, and agriculture until 1850 were pragmatic bodies of applied knowledge in which things were know to work, but rarely was it understood why they worked. This meant that often people did not know which things did not work: enormous amounts of energy and ingenuity were wasted on alchemy, perpetuum mobiles, the stones of the wise and fountains of youth. Only when science demonstrated that such pipedreams were impossible, research moved into a different direction. Moreover, even when things were known to work, they tended to be inflexible and slow to improve. It was often difficult to remove bugs, improve quality, and make products and processes more user-friendly without a more profound understanding of the natural processes involved.

It was in this regard that the inventions after 1870 were different from the ones that preceded it. The period 1859-1873 has been characterized as one of the most fruitful and dense in innovations in history (Mowery and Rosenberg, 1989, p. 22). From the point of view of useful knowledge that mapped into new technology, this view is certainly correct. The second Industrial Revolution accelerated the mutual feedbacks between these two forms of knowledge or between science (very broadly defined) and technology. It should be stressed that the difference was one of degree. Even before 1870, some natural processes were sufficiently understood to provide some guidance as to how to make technology more effective. And certainly after 1870 there was still a role to play for luck, serendipity, and try-every-bottle-on-the-shelf type of inventions. Yet degree is everything here, and the persistence and acceleration of technological progress in the last third of the nineteenth century was due increasingly to the steady accumulation of useful knowledge. Some of this knowledge was what we could call today science but a lot was based on less formal forms of experience and information. Inventors like Edison and Felix Hoffman relied on some of the findings of formal science, but a lot more was involved. As a result, the second Industrial Revolution extended the rather limited and localized successes of the first to a much broader range of activities and products. Living standards and the purchasing power of money increased rapidly, as the new technologies reaches like never before into the daily lives of the middle and working classes.

Use the above passage to answer the associated questions in your packet.

2.  Changing Technologies.

Much like the First Industrial Revolution, we can trace the Second Industrial through its innovations.  However, while we saw that most of the changes during the first industrial age were related to textile production and transportation, the developments of the Second Industrial Revolution are considerably more varied.  Again, using your now-expert Googling skills, please research the following inventions, noting their date, inventors, and long-term effects in the chart provided in your packet.

  1. Lenoir gas engine.  Video illustration: 
  2. Motorwagen.  Video illustration: 
  3. Dirigibles.  Video illustration: 
  4. Aeroplane.  Video illustration: 
  5. Paddlewheel steamboat.  Video illustration: 
  6. Ocean-going steamship.  Video illustration:
  7. Photography.  Video illustration: 
  8. Zoetrope.  Video illustration: 
  9. Kinetoscope.  Video illustration: 
  10. Battery. Video illustration: 
  11. Telegraphs. Video illustration: 
  12. Telephone.  Video illustration: Surprisingly difficult to find a video of the first telephone!  If you watch the video here, you’ll find the telephone at about the two minute mark.
  13. Phonograph.  Video illustration: 
  14. Radio.  Video illustration: 

3.  Personal Response.

As you have now done some background research on the major technological innovations which occurred during the Second Industrial Revolution, please respond to the following prompt with a thoughtful comment:

Now, let’s talk about consequences.  You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs, and you can’t have the telephone without radically altering the existing world.  Onward to Task Five: Social Transformations.

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