The Industrial Revolution resulted in an unprecedented rise in cheap consumer goods, technological development, urban population and personal wealth in Europe and America. However, such developments came at a cost to the environment and to working class people. The harsh conditions endured by workers are difficult for contemporary Western workers to imagine, but they are nearly identical to what factory workers in newly industrialising countries suffer.
A factory worker in the Industrial Revolution period would wake up very early each morning, most likely in an overcrowded, urban slum. Apartments were cramped, single rooms that were searing hot in the summer, and freezing cold in the winter. Dwellings were often shared with at least one other family. Disease spread easily under such conditions, and outbreaks of tuberculosis and cholera resulted.
Conditions in Factories
The average worker worked 13 to 15 hours a day, six and sometimes seven days a week for little pay in deplorable conditions doing highly monotonous tasks. Untrained workers were frequently put in charge of rudimentary, dangerous new machines. Factories were poorly lit, very noisy and lacked adequate ventilation. Serious injury was common, and those unable to perform their duties were fired. Unfit for any other job, many maimed individuals were forced to beg on the streets.
Workers in American factories were largely either immigrants or people coming from farm areas to escape rural poverty. Women and young children were often employed for their ability to perform fine, dexterous tasks. The ability of children to climb into narrow spaces made them especially valuable for cleaning machines. Women and children also drew less in wages than full-grown men did.
Unions were illegal in the United States until the late 19th Century, and only slowly gained power by striking. Governments were generally slow to act, but laws were eventually passed limiting the amount of hours in a work week and the use of women and child labourers. Some factory owners, such as Robert Owen and Sir Titus Salt, gave their workers higher wages and better conditions in spite of backlash faced from other mill owners.