Will Benefit the Future

We have a strange tendency of rewriting history, and then we repeat the revision many times. Overtime, if we have repeated the rewriting enough, we will buy into it as if it is history and the truth. Case in point: we have a very nice view of the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution had some birth pangs in Britain around the time of the American Revolution, but it was delivered into much of the Western world in the first half of the 19th century. The Second Industrial Revolution continued where the first had ended around 1850 and persisted on for a couple more decades. It was a time of steam power, factories, and mills, which revolutionized the means of production. Inventions and machinery created a great expansion of the economic base of Europe and North America.

However, this great expansion did not come without a great cost. There was great cost to the workers of the Industrial Revolution who sweated and slaved as they created the economic achievement of that time. Britain went from a cottage industry of weaving textiles to automated mass production of textiles and clothing in the very early part of the 19th century.

As this transition took place from small villages to big cities, not all members of the society were happy with the changes. The Luddites disliked the changes brought to their society by the Industrial Revolution, which put weavers out of business all of whom worked in their cottages or homes. As a symbol of their outrage, they called themselves the Luddites.


Ned Ludd

The name selection was in honor of Ned Ludd. Ludd had destroyed some mechanical knitting frames a couple decades before in 1779. Therefore, they called Ludd either King or General Ludd. Interestingly, Ludd was supposedly from the area of Sherwood Forest. The Luddites saw him as an 18th century Robin Hood. Many years later, these words were written about Ned Ludd in a poem and a song:

They said Ned Ludd was an idiot boy
That all he could do was wreck and destroy, and
He turned to his workmates and said: Death to Machines
They tread on our future and they stamp on our dreams.

Luddites smashing a loom

Luddites smashing a loom

The Luddites feared the future and saw the Industrial Revolution as the death of their happier days of hearth and home. There were various acts of protest and industrial sabotage that swept over Britain at that time. The explanation of this phenomenon was that "Ned Ludd did it." As a consequence, the British government responded with arrests, trials, and even hangings to quell the protests of the Luddites.

Finally, Britain had to respond to the changes brought about with the Industrial Revolution beyond dissing the Luddites. Parliament passed 10-bills over the entire 19th century to create national standards for workers in the factories. The legislation was called the Factory Acts, Factory and Workshop Acts, and Cotton Mills Acts, which included stipulations that children who were less than nine years old could not work in factories, children could not work the night shifts, and teenagers less that 18 could not work more than 12 hours a day.

 Mill children working in Georgia in 1909

Mill children working in Georgia in 1909

By 1842, parliament also passed the Mines and Collieries Act, which kept women out of the mines and any boys who were less than 10 couldn't be miners. Therefore, nearly 2-centuries ago, Britain banned women and boys less than 10 from working in the mines.

Working conditions in mines

Working conditions in mines

While these various acts might have seemed cutting-edge a century and a half ago to owners of these factory and mines, no one would use the term, cutting-edge, today. In addition, with all the factories emerging in Britain and the US, enforcement of the laws in both countries was a major problem.

People began to migrate into cities where the new technology and factories were located. This created overpopulation, problems with sanitation, lack of clean water, and diseases. Tuberculosis was responsible for the deaths of 40% of all Londoners at that time.

Trade unions were the natural response to these problems with working conditions in both Britain and the US. However, in both countries, various laws were passed to prohibit strikes and union activity.

As Charles Dickens wrote in 1859,

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil...

Cottonopolis aka Manchester, England

Cottonopolis aka Manchester, England

This is an engraving done in 1840 of Manchester, England by Edward Goodall. The official name was Manchester, from Kersal Moor but it got the nickname, Cottonopolis. It was the best and worst of times...

In addition to the trade unions, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were invited to join a group of German workers living and working in London, England. They both worked in London and observed the working conditions in the mid-19th century. The German workers called their group, the League of the Just. While there, Marx renamed the group calling it the Communist League. This was the naissance of communism. Marx and Engel wanted to incorporate the Communist League with other German workers in the rest of Europe. Marx edited what Engels wrote and presented it to the Communist League in London on January 1848, which they ratified. The next month, the Communist Manifesto was printed for the first time. Note the date of the Manifesto, place of publication, and the German language in which it was written.

Communist Manifesto published in London in1848

Communist Manifesto published in London in1848

The next wave of the Industrial Revolution came at the behest of the robber barons in America. Some of these robber barons will be known by name to many of my readers: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Frick, Jay Gould, Andrew Mellon, J. P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, and Cornelius Vanderbilt. These robber barons are seen generally by most Americans today as stellar, hardworking, and energetic industrial leaders. They were such hard working industrialists that they all made millions upon millions of dollars.

Nonetheless, seeing the robber barons as great leaders is at best a questionable redaction of history, and it isn't true. It is true that they all made millions but much of the money made was at the cost of underpaid laborers and lack of competition both of which the robber barons controlled. Hence the term developed robber (meaning crooks) and baron (meaning aristocrats)...aristocratic crooks. The robber barons were the rulers of the Gilded Age.

Now, some don't like the dissing of the robber barons and the Gilded Age. They will say that while many of these industrialists did things that were not necessarily ethical, their hard work and dedication made America a great world leader. That is much like saying that slavery in the South had some problematic issues, but it developed America into a rising economic star in the community of nations.

President Theodore Roosevelt President Theodore Roosevelt
One notable person stood out against the robber barons, and it was Teddy Roosevelt. In spite of the fact that he came from great wealth and knew firsthand many of the robber barons personally, he recoiled at their ethical haughtiness calling them the "malefactors of great wealth." Roosevelt attempted to break up the monopolies and developed federal antitrust legislation to control their greed and conduct.
George Santayana George Santayana
George Santayana, the Spanish American philosopher reminded those that listened, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Santayana told us that we have to learn first the correct events of history, or we will be doomed to repeat the same mistakes.
Interestingly, during the past presidential election, there is another case in point. We have a new robber baron who spoke and acted like his predecessors. Fortunately, he wasn't elected...but many voted for him.

A Trustworthy Beast
A Trustworthy Beast

Weber State University
The Helping Hand, 1911, A reproduction of a famous painting
of the same name, this satirical cartoon shows banker J.P.
Morgan as helping Uncle Sam steer the boat, a representation of America.

Forrest Gump Film Poster

Forrest Gump, "Stupid is as stupid does."

Visit the Stupid is As Stupid Does page to read more about this topic.