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The Industrial Revolution changed the relationship between humans and their environment. Human development, public health, energy usage and sanitation all felt the effects of the advances made as a result of the Industrial Revolution. Beginning with the replacement of machinery for manual labor in the mid 1700s in Great Britain, fossil fuels replaced natural energy sources such as wind, water, and wood to produce mainly textiles and develop iron. The processes that were developed during this time period remarkably changed not only production capabilities, but also the lifestyles of the people. These changes that occurred as a result of the Industrial Revolution can be seen throughout following eras up to modern day.

Population Change:

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The Industrial Revolution marked the beginning of a significant increase in the worldwide human population. At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the mid 1700's, the world human population grew by about 57% to 700 million. In 1800, the world human population reached one billion. The advances in medicine as well as improvements in living standards that occurred as a result of the Industrial Revolution can be attributed to the population explosion that continued into the 20th and 21st centuries. In the one hundred years after the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the population grew by 100% to two billion people by 1927. The exponential growth of the population led to exponential requirements for resources such as food, energy, land for housing, as well as an exponential increase in waste products.

Environmental Impact:

As more product was being produced as a result of the Industrial Revolution, the natural resources necessary to make the production possible were under great demand. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, these resources had been taken advantage of due to the fact that there had always been more resources than demand. As a result of the growth of production as well as population, the demand had surpassed the availability showing the implications of limited available resources. Population and production growth also spurred a series of changes among the lifestyles of Europeans.


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  • Industrialization produced the mechanization of agriculture which led to a limited amount of work available on farms so workers migrated towards urban settings giving rise to the industrial city.
  • Industrial cities were larger, more densely populated, and more diverse than its preindustrial counterpart.
  • New districts of housing built quickly and cheaply were developed in order to house the growing numbers of factory and foundry workers in the rapidly growing industrial towns.
  • Expansion of small villages near coalfields into new industrial towns.
  • Living conditions were commonly densely packed with little sunlight and few amenities.

Air Pollution:

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  • Dense fog of soot and noxious waste gases covered towns built around iron and steel works.
  • Increased pneumonic diseases.
  • Difficult to maintain cleanliness due to the amount of soot.
  • Beginning in 1873, there were a number of killer fogs in London causing over 1,150 deaths in three days from severe air pollution due to coal burning.
  • Samples of hair from historical figures of the period, such as Isaac Newton and Napoleon Bonaparte, show the presence of antimony and mercury at toxic levels not normally found in human hair.

Water Pollution:

This cartoon shows the Southwark water works drawing water from the Thames river where London's main sewers empty into.
  • Rivers and canals were polluted with sewage and industrial waste
  • Cholera took many lives due to people using water from canals and rivers for cleaning and cooking. 57,000 people died in Great Britain in the cholera epidemic between 1832-1834.
  • Acid rain, first discovered in the 1850's, also occurred as a result of emissions from coal-powered plants.

Railroads & Natural Resources:

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While railroads were crucial to the transportation of natural resources such as coal, they also proved to be a disruption to rural communities due to the noise and smoke produced by the locomotives. Railroads also changed the appearance of the countryside as hundreds of thousands of miles of railway track were laid across Europe. These disruptions only increased as competing lines were built on the same track by different companies.


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  • Coal mining started on a systematic basis during the 17th century, leading to the development of the industrial revolution. In 1900, coal mining reached its peak with some 3,237 coal mines in the United Kingdom alone.
  • Numbers to illustrate the growth of the coal mining industry: In 1700, 2.5 million tons of coal were mined. In 1800, 10 million tons of coal were mined. In 1861, 57 million tons were mined.
  • When Sir Humphry Davy invented the safety lamp in 1815, followed by improvements made as a result of the Industrial Revolution, developed technologies allowed miners to detect the presence of choke damp, carbon monoxide, and coal dust; ventilation of mines was improved; systems of siphoning and continuous pumping were installed to rid the mines of water; and improved methods were introduced for sinking shafts. These improvements greatly reduced the risks of working in the mines and greatly increased productivity.
  • The coal mining process itself caused considerable damage to the surrounding environment due to the fact that tracks had to be laid so that railroads could reach the mining locations. The burning of coal for fuel was one of the main contributing factors to the smog plaguing cities.


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  • Iron was the preferred metal for tools and equipment until displaced by steel after 1860. It was a crucial part to the development of the railroad system and iron production boomed as a result of the increasing need for railroads for transportation of goods and people.
  • By 1830, Britain was producing 700,000 tons of iron a year. That amount quadrupled a quarter century later.
  • The Industrial Revolution enabled more iron to be produced at a faster rate consequently boosting shipping and trading.
  • Coal was a key factor to the production of iron, making the iron making process one of the main sources of pollution in urban areas.

Information Sources:
Atkins, William A., and Phillip Koth. "Industry - Water, Effects, Environmental, Pollutants." Pollution Issues. Advameg, Inc., 2012. Web. 14 Feb. 2012. <http://www.pollutionissues.com/Ho-Li/Industry.html>.

Evans, Chris, and Göran Rydén. The Industrial Revolution in Iron: The Impact of British Coal Technology in Nineteenth-century Europe. Aldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate, 2005. Print.

"Industrial Revolution: 1810 - 1890." Environmental History Timeline: 1830-1890. Web. 14 Feb. 2012. <http://www.radford.edu/~wkovarik/envhist/4industrial.html>.

McLamb, Eric. "Impact of the Industrial Revolution." Ecology Global Network. Ecology Communications Group, Inc., 2011. Web. 14 Feb. 2012. <http://www.ecology.com/2011/09/18/ecological-impact-industrial-revolution/>.

Bulliet, Richard W. The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Print.

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