Could you imagine working for as long as 18 hours a day, six days a week? How about in 80 degree weather, doing tedious and often dangerous work? To make matters worse, what would it be like to be constantly hungry and tired, knowing that you would face harsh and hurtful punishments if you didn’t meet the demands? During much of the Industrial revolution, this scenario was the norm for men, women, and children of the working class. The pay was barely enough to live on, and the workers returned home to crowded and unsanitary apartments, overflowing with disease. Although various government reform programs later made work and life a little bit nicer for the people, it still wasn’t paradise. In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens wrote, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” During the early part of the Industrial Revolution, workers only saw the worst. However, later on they began to see better.
The Industrial Revolution began during the 18th century, and refers to the change from “work in the home to work in the factory” (‘Industrial Revolution Notes’). “In 1750, 8 out of 10 people lived in the country. In 1850, 5 out of 10 people lived in the country (http://www.asis.com/sfhs/women/sophie.html).” With the introduction of machinery, the working class could make a better living in factories than at home (on farms). Thus many moved to areas surrounding factories/coal mines and acquired jobs manning machinery or mining. They didn’t make enough money to afford decent housing, and thus the tenements and slums where they lived were “cramped and poorly maintained, had no running water, poor lighting, and often a single lavatory to be shared by the entire terrace. Up to twelve people shared a room. Garbage was dumped on the street. (‘Living Conditions in the Cities’ fact sheet).”
The contamination of water was a big problem. Factories often dumped their wastes in rivers and streams that people got their water to drink from, and human waste from outhouses often overflowed in the rain into the gutter, and thus mixed with their drinking source. Because of the unsanitary living conditions, diseases were a fact of life and spread rapidly among the lower classes. Cholera, Typhoid, and Yellow Fever were common ailments, so common that “one in six children died before age 1, and one in three children died before age 5 (‘Living Conditions Fact Sheet’).” On the up side, scientists made many medical advancements during these times, making recommendations to the lower class on how to improve hygiene and decrease their chance of disease. When sanitary conditions were improved during the 1800s through the Public Health Acts and Artisans Dwellings Act, the frequency of disease decreased.
“The Public Health Act of 1848 provided water pipes in houses for a small charge. The Public Health Act of 1875 provided drains, toilets, underground sewage systems, and public baths. The Artisans Dwellings Act cleared slums, thickened walls on houses, and provided sewage systems (‘Living Conditions in the Cities’ fact sheet).” Living conditions were still fairly poor after these acts were passed, but at least most of the lower class had jobs and a place to live. After all, housing before the Industrial Revolution for the lower class wasn’t much better. Thus although life was painful for the workers during the early Revolution, it got better with time.
Working in the factories during the Industrial Revolution was long, hard, and dangerous. Today, if someone was made to work on a assembly line, they would probably file a lawsuit due to carpal tunnel. During the Industrial Revolution, this was unheard of, even for ailments far greater than carpal tunnel. People commonly worked anywhere from twelve to eighteen hours, with few or no breaks. Thus, they hardly had time to eat at work, and when they got home were too tired to eat, so hunger was almost constant. The factories were dirty, hot, and poorly lighted, and usually had low ceilings. The jobs that the workers were made to carry out were dangerous, even deadly, especially in the coal mines. Workers were beaten if they dozed off on the job or weren’t meeting the demands, and in some cases the beatings were fatal. Could you imagine going to work and wondering if you’d survive the day?
During the Industrial Revolution, an “increase in manufacturing provided more jobs. This boasted the economy, and production and job opportunity increased (‘Living Conditions’ fact sheet).” This was better than before the Revolution, when not everyone had jobs, making the increase in manufacturing a good thing. Still, pay was horrible. On the average, men got 15 to 20 shillings a week, women got 5, and children got one. This pay was hardly enough to live on, and as a result families often starved and lived in dirty, overcrowded slums. That was a bad part.
Child labor was a big problem during the Industrial Revolution. Children were sent to work at as young as 5 years old and worked fourteen-hour days. The average life span for a worker during this time was about thirty years old, so children were made to ‘grow up’ earlier than they had to. Children were underpaid and overworked, and received punishments just as hard as their elders. Young children were sometimes assistants to older workers, and were physically and verbally abused. Women also had it tough, and were sexually abused. People began to realize that women and children were being taken advantage of, and during the 1800s the government passed as number of ‘Factory Acts.’ The Factory Act of 1819 limited the hours worked by children to a maximum of 12 hours per day.
The Factory Act of 1833 banned children under 9 years old from working in the textile industry, and limited 10-13 year olds to a 48 hour week. The Factory Act of 1844 established a maximum work day of 12 hours for women. The Factory Act of 1847 established a maximum of 10 hours per work day for women and children. The Factory Act of 1850 increased hours worked by women and children to ten and a half hours per day, but they weren’t able to work before 6am or after 6 pm. The Factory Act of 1874 allowed no worker to work more than 56.5 hours per week. While at first factories opposed these reforms, they realized that workers are more productive if they are allowed to rest and thus not much money is lost. I still think that while these reforms made working easier on women and children, it was a curse to have to perform these terrible jobs in the first place.
In conclusion, the Industrial Revolution was both a blessing and a curse for the workers of the time. More job opportunities were available, which was a good thing, so that uneducated people could work. However, the poor housing, vast amount of diseases, dangerous and tedious working conditions, and low pay made life a terror for these people. Although the Industrial Revolution was a major bridge in technology and production, it was hard times for the people.