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The Second Industrial Revolution was a phase of the Industrial Revolution; sometimes labeled as the separate Technical Revolution. From a technological and a social point of view there is no clean break between the two.

Major innovations during the period occurred in the chemical, electrical, petroleum, and steel industries. Specific advancements included the introduction of oil fired steam turbine and internal combustion driven steel ships, the development of the airplane, the practical commercialization of the automobile, mass production of consumer goods, the perfection of canning, mechanical refrigeration and other food preservation techniques, and the invention of the telephone.

It might be argued that the Second Industrial Revolution began in the middle of the nineteenth century with the growth of railways and steam ships. Crucial steel making inventions such as the Bessemer and Siemens open hearth furnace occurred in the decades preceding 1871, producing cheaper steel which allowed cheaper, quicker steam transport. Like the first industrial revolution, the second supported population growth and was government-protected by trade barriers. But while the first was centered on improvement in coal, iron, and steam technologies, the second revolved around steel, electricity, and chemicals.

Major Developments

Steel, Electricity, and Chemicals

Between 1850 and 1870, the mass-scale production of steel was made possible largely by Englishman Henry Bessemer, the German Sieman brothers, and the French engineer Pierre Martin. Britain quickly took advantage of steel in shipbuilding, while Germany used it to improve national and industrial infrastructure. "…the second Industrial revolution launched a century of rapid development of new manufacturing technologies based on electricity. This increase in the pace of technical change led eventually to a new economy, characterized by faster growth in manufacturing productivity, as measured by output per hour." The various uses of electricity by conversion into heat, light, and other types of energy were employed commercially and gradually came into domestic use. These innovations changed the traditional way of life, in part due to Thomas Edison's improvements to the incandescent-filament lamp in 1879, and also due to the advancements made by Nikola Tesla, a croatian immigrant who initiated the use of Alternating Current in the 1890s and 1900s. It was efficient in lighting up homes from a distance without power loss. Tesla also made improvements to the radio, in the communications section of the second industrial revolution. Advances in electricity were made throughout the 19th century, as Alessandro Volta invented the chemical battery in 1800, Michael Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction with the first electromagnetic generator’s introduction in 1866 and high voltage alternators and transformers emerging in the 1880s. It also eventually revolutionized transportation through electric powered subways and trams. The production of alkali and sulfuric acid lead to the mass production and distribution of consumer goods such as paper, soaps, textiles, and fertilizer. Britain saw a rise in concerns for personal hygiene, creating a market for hand soap and household cleaners. Germany came to control 90% of the world’s chemical market, applying chemical technology developments to industrial uses, creating synthetic dyes and refining petroleum.


One of the most crucial inventions for the communication of technical ideas in this period was the steam-powered rotary printing press from the previous decades of the revolution. This in turn had been developed as the result of the invention of the endless-web paper-making machine at the beginning of the nineteen century. The second industrial revolution also saw the introduction of mechanical typesetting with the Linotype and the Monotype, and of wood pulp processes to free papermaking from the limited supply of cotton and linen. This diffusion of knowledge in Britain, at least, was also the result of the repeal in the 1870s of taxes on paper which encouraged the growth of technical journalism and periodicals by cheapening production costs. Inventions and their applications were much more diffuse in this Revolution (or phase of a revolution) than earlier. This period saw the growth of machine tools in America capable of making precision parts for use in other machines. It also saw the introduction of the assembly line for the production of consumer goods.


The steam engine was developed and applied in Britain during the 18th century and only slowly exported to Europe and the rest of the world during the 19th century, along with the industrial revolution. The steam engine ran on coal for fuel. In contrast, in the second industrial revolution practical developments of the internal-combustion engine appeared in several industrialized countries and the exchange of ideas was much faster. To give but one example, the first practical internal-combustion engine ran on coal gas and was developed in France by Etienne Lenoir, where it had a certain limited success as a stationary engine in light industry. Oil-powered machinery, made possible by the internal combustion engine, led to the development of automobile and airplane engines in the twentieth century, but in the nineteenth century, it changed the nature of industrial production by allowing factories to function in areas away from rivers and coal mines. It was also more efficient than the steam engine and did not require the stoking needed by steam engines.

The internal combustion engine was tried out as a motive force for primitive automobiles in France in the 1870s, but it never was produced in quantity. It was Gottlieb Daimler of Germany who effectively exploited the breakthrough of using petroleum instead of coal gas as a fuel, for the automobile a few years later. Then it was Henry Ford of the United States who, still later, made the internal combustion engine a mass market phenomenon with a tremendous effect on society. The two stroke petrol engine was initially invented by the British engineer Joseph Day of Bath, who later licensed it to American entrepreneurs whereupon it quickly became the 'poor man's power source', driving smaller machines like motor cycles, motor boats and pumps, and becoming a cheap and reliable driver of small workshops before the days of widespread electrification.

Changes to society

As a result of the economic impact of the second industrial revolution, merchandising and advertising became more important because distributors had to compete for consumers’ attention. This is evident in advertising posters of the era. Department stores introduced credit to attract working class patrons, allowing them to make purchases instantly. This was originally an urban phenomenon; peasants continued traditional methods of keeping money in the home and passing down furniture and re-using articles of clothing, mending them when necessary, rather than buying new goods. University education became more important than apprenticeships in the fields of chemistry and engineering, which shifted traditional forms of family business management, also bringing about the emergence of the white collar class.Capitalist institutions consolidated during this era through vertical integration and horizontal integration. Stock markets were also strengthened as members of the middle class were able to protect their investments through limited liability laws. This period, like the First Industrial Revolution, was marked by a significant migration of impoverished rural workers, to urban areas in search of industrial labour at low wages. Lack of employment opportunities commonly resulted in unemployment and crime. This period is also notable for an expanding number of white-collar workers and increasing enrollment in trade unions.

Germany and the United States

The German Empiremarker came to rival or replace the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Irelandmarker as Europe's primary industrial nation during this period. This occurred as a result of several factors. Germany, having industrialized after Britain, was able to model its factories after those of Britain thus saving a substantial amount of capital, effort, and time. While Germany made use of the latest technological concepts, the British continued to use expensive and outdated technology and therefore were unable (or unwilling) to afford the fruits of their own scientific progress. In the development of science and pure research, the Germans invested more heavily than the British, especially in the chemical industry. The German cartel system (known as Konzerne), being significantly concentrated, was able to make more efficient use of fluid capital. Some believe the reparation payments exacted from France after that country's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71 had provided the needed capital to allow massive public investments in infrastructure like railways. This provided a large market for innovative steel products and facilitated transportation once installed. Following Germany's annexation of Alsace-Lorrainemarker, a number of large factories were also taken over. In the United States of Americamarker the Second Industrial Revolution is commonly associated with electrification as pioneered by Nikola Tesla, Thomas Alva Edison and George Westinghouse and by scientific management as applied by Frederick Winslow Taylor.

Alternative uses

There have been other times that have been called "second industrial revolution". Industrial revolutions may be renumbered by taking earlier developments, such as the rise of medieval technology in the 12th century, or of ancient Chinese technology during the Tang Dynasty, or of ancient Roman technology, as first. "Second industrial revolution" has been used in the popular press and by technologists or industrialists to refer to the changes following the spread of new technology after World War I. Excitement and debate over the dangers and benefits of the Atomic Age were more intense and lasting than those over the Space age but both were perceived (separately or together) to lead to another industrial revolution. At the start of the 21st century the term "second industrial revolution" has been used to describe the anticipated effects of hypothetical molecular nanotechnology systems upon society. In this more recent scenario, the nanofactory would render the majority of today's modern manufacturing processes obsolete, transforming all facets of the modern economy.

See also


  1. Western Civilization, page 679
  2. (Atkenson and Kehoe)
  3. [1]


  • Beaudreau, Bernard C. The Economic Consequences of Mr. Keynes: How the Second Industrial Revolution Passed Great Britain By, (New York, NY:iUniverse, 2006)
  • Judith G. Coffin and Robert C. Stacey. Western Civilization (volume two). London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008.

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