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Chapter 5 - Three versions of successful industrialization

from Part II - Successful industrial transformation of the West


Long-surviving proto-industry

Although Western Europe shared several socio-political and cultural characteristics with the Northwest, it took some time before socio-political reforms, state-sponsored infrastructure building, and an agricultural revolution would lay the groundwork for its own industrial transformation. The Industrial Revolution did not generate immediate economic change even in Britain, where most industrial branches remained in a pre-industrial revolutionary state until the mid-nineteenth century. After the landmark invention of the steam engine, it would take between one-half and three-quarters of a century before new energy sources would begin to proliferate in that pioneering country. As late as 1870, 29 percent of steam-power capacity was still concentrated in the textile industry. Traditional handicrafts continued to predominate in most other sectors until the mid-nineteenth century. “The typical British worker in the mid-nineteenth century was not a machine operator in a factory, but still a traditional craftsman or labourer” (quoted in Crafts, 1985, from Musson, 1978, 252–3, 141). In 1841, when the major portion of the British workforce was for the first time in industrial employment, the “revolutionized” industries employed only 19 percent of the country's workers.

Continental Western Europe lagged far behind. Traditional French iron, gun, and tapestry manufacturing remained non-mechanized. The putting-out system, based on France's traditional cottage industry, predominated in the countryside, including the famous Alsace textile and Lyon silk industries. Only 10 percent of Alsace's spindles were modern self-actor spindles in 1856, and the 110,000 hand-weaving machines of Lyon's silk industry were twice the number of its modern mechanized weaving machines until the third quarter of the nineteenth century. The proto-industrial complex in the Languedoc area, the largest concentration of textile production in pre-industrial France and most likely in all of continental Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, was based on the Kauf and Verlag systems. In addition, hundreds of independent artisans were also working for urban merchants. The Industrial Revolution in Britain, however, ended this prominence; French proto-industry turned out to be a cul-de-sac. “Languedoc's situation of primacy in France's textile industry had been lost decisively by the turn of the century, and by 1810, Languedoc…[had] begun a permanent decline” (Thomson, 1983, 88–9). Moreover, the former textile center began supplying wine to Paris in the nineteenth century. A significant part of proto-industry was not transformed into mechanized modern industry, but died out during the years of the Industrial Revolution.