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Lyle Manion

The Shock Troops of Industrialization
Today, we arrive at work for the time scheduled, perform our specific duty, and
leave when that duty is done. The normal daily flow that dictates most of the people in
our society, and how those people keep food on the table, was a drastic change to those
who participated in the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. Indeed, early factory
workers were thrust into a completely different, and not always friendly, world of work
than the one they knew previously. The major issues that defined the experience of the
early factory worker were a tightly controlled working environment, rough living
conditions outside the work place, and hostility to both women and children.
The Industrial Revolution marked an enormous change in the actual working
environment. No longer in place was the domestic system. In this system, which predated
industrialization, an entrepreneur had families in cottages produce the product. (Levack,
656) With more industry came the consolidation of many workers into factories. Thus,
there is a transition from a craftsmen-to-laborer relationship to a more straightforward
boss-to-worker relationship.
Though this relationship seems quite normal by todays standards, the reality is
that it came with major drawbacks for workers. Some bosses during this time period were
known to lock doors during work hours, trapping workers inside the hot, over-crowded
factory. (Levack, 669) Furthermore, fees often exceeding payment were doled out for
offenses such as opening windows to let out heat, whistling while working, and
spinning yarn with dirty hands. (Levack, 669)

Also new was the lack of, or small amount of, breaks given by a boss. (Levack,
669) This contradicts how work was done in previous centuries. That is, at ones own
Beyond being a slave to the bosss will, the early factory worker was a slave to
the machine. No longer farming their own fields or running their own shops, early factory
workers followed the metronome of whatever machine they occupied. This marked a
significant loss of independence for an individual. In some cases, a worker would become
so delusional and isolated that they would attack the machines.
The second drastic feature early factory worker experienced was a harsh condition
of living, caused by the migration of working class families into urban areas. This
migration created crowded neighborhoods that would eventually be called slums.
An early example of what life was like in slums is in Britain, one of the first states
to industrialize. In Britain, working class housing was both over-crowded and unsanitary,
with poor drainage and raw sewage leading to typhus and cholera. (Levack, 669) To
capitalize on this claim, four epidemics killed 140,000 British factory workers in a period
of 35 years. (Levack, 669)
To add to the harsh living conditions experienced by the early factory workers of
Britain, particularly those of London, factories produced vast amounts of air pollution.
The London Fogs were not fogs at all but actually pollutants that threatened public
health. (Levack, 669)
Women and children had their own unique situation in the early part of
industrialization. Labor from women and children was less expensive, so they were

commonly put to work. Though women and children working was not new, several
accounts from history describe particularly harsh occurrences experienced by both.
One such occurrence was located at a tobacco production facility in St.
Petersburg, Russia in 1914. The document, Working Conditions of Women in Factories,
describes a grueling, 22-hour work day. (Ch. 23) Women at this factory, when asking for
a raise, would be told to practice prostitution (presumably in her two spare hours) to
compensate for the low wages. (Working Conditions of Women in Factories, Ch. 23) The
document also states that prostitution was often encouraged to female workers openly in
many factories. Beyond that, immoral proposals from male supervisors were very
common. (Working Conditions of Women in Factories, Ch. 23)
Another example is that of Adelheid Popp, a working class teenage girl who lived
in Austria. The document, Finding Work: Women Factory Workers, describes her
experiences beginning work at a factory in 1909. Again, there is some degradation of
females. Her boss, who other female workers refer to as handsome traveler, promises
her higher wages and kisses her in a private setting. (Finding Work: Women Factory
Workers, Ch. 23) Consequently, a fellow factory worker becomes angered, creating an
implication that the handsome traveler does this to many of his female workers.
(Finding Work: Women Factory Workers, Ch. 23)
Accounts such as these demonstrate the fact that women made no advancement in
their societal status during the Industrial Revolution. Though the working class was
defined and the vote expanded to them, women were still excluded from this.
A child working was customary for the time, so it was only natural children
would be put to work as factories opened up. This had negative consequences. Because

the nature of factory work was redundant and lacked variety, a childs attention span
didnt fare well on the job. This resulted in many a missing finger.
The larger issue with child factory workers was the poor treatment they were
subject to. The document, Inquiry into Child Labor, points out such mistreatment.
Children would be beaten with billy-spinners by supervisors when they failed to spin
yarn correctly. (Inquiry into Child Labor, Ch. 21) Furthermore, the document states
Children that are not employed in mills are generally more moral and better behaved
than children who are employed in mills because they have no opportunities for
education with such long hours. (Inquiry into Child Labor, Ch. 21)
In todays society, any harshness in the work environment will more than likely
be of no comparison to that of the shock troops of industrialization. The work
environment, living conditions, and treatment of women and children introduced many
rough challenges. Because so many standards and practices were established by the
Industrial Revolution, the negativity can be hard to wrap ones head around. That does
not change the experiences of the male, female, and child workers who were thrust into a
world unknown to them.

Work Cited
Levack, Brian P., Edward Muir, and Meredith Veldman. The West: Encounters and
Transformations. Fourth ed. Vol. 2. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
Inquiry into Child Labor. My History Lab. Pearson. 19 March 2014.
Working Conditions of Women in Factories. My History Lab. Pearson. 19 March 2014.
Finding Work: Women Factory Workers. My History Lab. Pearson. 19 March 2014.