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The Industrious Revolution is the title given to a period of time, usually given as between 1600 and 1800[1] that led up to the Industrial Revolution. It is a term coined fairly recently by historians to help further explain the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Much of this theory deals with the spending behaviours of families in the period. It also deals with the production and consumption of goods. In fact, Industrious Revolutions are often characterized by a rise in demands for "market-supplied goods",[2] which will minimize the value of domestic goods, before the ultimate consumption. Industrious Revolutions often occur during a period where labour wages have stagnated or decreased.[2] The theory of a pre-industrial Industrious Revolution is contested within the history community.


Industrious vs. Industrial Revolution

This proposed Industrious Revolution does not aim to replace the Industrial Revolution in history; rather it is designed to supplement it. By revamping the history of the period directly preceding the Industrial Revolution, some historians hope to ensure that people get a better understanding of a particular aspect of the Early Modern Period.

The basic picture painted of the pre-Industrial Revolution is that the Industrial Revolution was the result of a surplus of money and crops, which led to the development of new technology. This new technology eventually developed into factories. The Industrious Revolution addresses this belief, saying instead, that the overwhelming desire for more goods directly preceded the Industrial Revolution. The theory states that during the Industrious Revolution there was an increase in demand for goods, but that supply did not rise as quickly.[3]

Eventually some achievements of industry and agriculture, as well as the decisions made by households, helped to increase the supply, as well as the demand for goods. These behaviours, when combined constitute an Industrious Revolution.[3] A quick summation of the differences between the Industrious Revolution and the Industrial Revolution is that the former is demand based, and the latter is concerned with supply.[4]

Basically, the theory of an Industrious Revolution, as put forward by historian Jan de Vries, claims that there were two parts to the Industrious Revolution. The first being a reduction of leisure time, as the utility of monetary income rose, and the second being that the focus of labour shifted from goods and services, and towards marketable goods.[5] So, if this theory is proved, the image painted by some historians of the pre-industrial peasant being less than industrious[6] would be disproved. Especially since these hallmarks of Industrious Revolution are involved with more work. For the most part, this Industrious Revolution was run by the households.


One of the suggested hallmarks of an Industrious Revolution is that of increased work days. However, according to historians Gregory Clark and Ysbrand Van Der Werf, there has been no information found to suggest an increase in work days, in the time period between the Medieval Period and the nineteenth century.[7] These records even indicate that before 1750, some people were working three hundred days per year.[8] Even in the period preceding the Industrial Revolution people were working at least two hundred and ninety days in a year.[9] So, this information would demonstrate that there was very little increase in days worked. Since increase in work loads is one of the suggested hallmarks of an Industrious Revolution, this would work against the theory.

Clark and Van Der Werf have also examined the output of a couple of English industries. For one, they looked at records of the saw mills in England. Between 1300 and 1800, the period directly preceding and following the proposed Industrious Revolution, the estimated number of feet of lumber sawed increased about eighty percent.[10] However, this increase in feet sawed can be attributed to new technologies, and not in fact the influence of an Industrious Revolution. In contrast, they mention the threshing industry. Unlike the lumber sawing business, this industry shows “clear downward movement”[11] in threshing rates, after which there are no longer any trends.[11] This information would help to disprove the idea of an Industrious Revolution, since, as it has been put forth, there is no universal trend displaying an increase of work habits.

Production of Foods

Prior the proposed era of the Industrious Revolution most goods were produced either by household or by guilds.[12] There were many households involved in the production of marketable goods. Most of what was produced by these households were things that involved cloth- textiles, clothing, as well as art,[12] and tapestries.[13] These would be produced by the households, or by their respective guilds. It was even possible for guilds and merchants to outsource into more rural areas, to get some of the work done. These merchants would bring the raw materials to the workers, who would then, using the supplied materials, make the goods.[14] For example, young girls would be hired to make silk, because they were the only people believed to have hands dexterous enough to make the silk properly.[15] Other occupations such as knitting, a job that was never organized into guilds, could easily be done within the household.[16]

Guild work could be done within the households, do, as evidenced before, both women and children, as well as the men would be involved with production of goods. The income of the household became dependent upon the quality and the quantity of everyone's work.[17] Even if people were not working for an individual guild they could still supply and make items not controlled by the guilds. These would be small, but necessary items like wooden dishes, or soaps.[18] So, basically, much of production was done by, or for, guilds. This would indicate that much of what was done was not done for one individual household, but for a larger group or organization.

Prior to the Industrious Revolution, the household was the major site of production, and could be comparable to a factory. However, things were to change a bit during the Industrious Revolution. If the theory is to be believed, then there was a shift in the running of the household. The everyday goods and products used by the household would slowly shift from mostly homemade, to mostly "commercially produced goods".[19] At the same time, the women would be more than likely to be able to attain jobs outside of the household.[20] This is also seen within the context of the Industrial Revolution, where women would often find small jobs to help supplement their husband's wages.[21] This would demonstrate the gradual movement away from the household as a centre of production.

Patterns of Consumption

The patterns of consumption present in England at this time period were similar to what one might find in Europe, as well as in some of the Ottoman territories. This is unsurprising, however, since most of Europe and the Ottoman Empire were all connected through trade.[22] Through these trade connections, people were able to buy many of the luxury goods that they desired. Very common amongst the nobility was the idea of Conspicuous consumption. This can be traced back, even into the Middle Ages. People, the nobility especially, had trade connections throughout Europe, and many of them would use these connections to buy the works of art, etc. that they desired.[23] This does not extend only to the rich, however, even Medieval peasants enjoyed imported luxury items: there is evidence to suggest that some English peasants drank imported French wine.[24]

People were consuming products well before the Industrious Revolution. There were stock exchanges all over Europe, even London.[16] People were also clearly making products for consumption, as the large number of guilds existing within Europe at that point would suggest. What would cause the period between 1600 and 1800 to be labeled an Industrious Revolution, by looking at the patterns of consumption, is the rise in demand for these products.[3] So, what would set this period in time apart would be more demands for luxury items. Especially those items that could not be produced in the homes or by the guilds. During the proposed Industrious Revolution, this demand for luxury items would be greater than the supply could accommodate.[17] A rise in the rate at which people were consuming goods, especially when combined with other factors of the times, could have potentially heralded the Industrious Revolution.


  1. ^ Clark & Van Der Werf (1998), p. 841.
  2. ^ a b De Vries (1994), p. 265.
  3. ^ a b c De Vries (1994), p. 255.
  4. ^ De Vries (1994), p. 256.
  5. ^ De Vries (1994), p. 257.
  6. ^ De Vries (1994), p. 260.
  7. ^ Clark & Van Der Werf (1998), p. 839.
  8. ^ Clark & Van Der Werf (1998), p. 836.
  9. ^ Clark & Van Der Werf (1998), p. 837.
  10. ^ Clark & Van Der Werf (1998), p. 835.
  11. ^ a b Clark & Van Der Werf (1998), p. 834.
  12. ^ a b Wiesner-Hanks (2006), p. 202.
  13. ^ Jardine (1996), p. 399.
  14. ^ Wiesner-Hanks (2006), p. 419.
  15. ^ Wiesner-Hanks (2006), p. 418.
  16. ^ a b Wiesner-Hanks (2006).
  17. ^ a b De Vries (1994).
  18. ^ Wiesner-Hanks (2006), p. 205.
  19. ^ De Vries (1994), p. 262.
  20. ^ De Vries (1994), pp. 261–262.
  21. ^ Ross (1993).
  22. ^ De Vries (1994), p. 252.
  23. ^ Jardine (1996).
  24. ^ Jones, Terry; Ereira, Alan (2005). "Peasant". Medieval Lives. London: BBC Press. p. 23. ISBN 0563487933. 

Further reading

  • Clark, Gregory; Van Der Werf, Ysbrand (1998). "Work in Progress? The Industrious Revolution". Journal of Economic History 58 (3): 830–843. doi:10.2307/2566627. 
  • De Vries, Jan (1994). "The Industrial Revolution and the Industrious Revolution". Journal of Economic History 54 (2): 249–270. doi:10.2307/2123912. 
  • Faroqhi, Suraiya N. (2006). "Guildsmen and Handicraft Producers". The Cambridge History of Turkey, Vol. 3. The Later Ottoman Empire 1603-1839. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 379–424. ISBN 0521620953. 
  • Jardine, Lisa (1996). "Conspicuous Consumption". Worldly Goods: A New History of the Renaissance. New York: Nan A. Talese. pp. 379–424. ISBN 0385476841. 
  • Ross, Ellen (1993). Love and Toil. Motherhood in Outcast London, 1870-1918. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195039572. 
  • Wiesner-Hanks, Merry E. (2006). Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521808944. 


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