DBQ: The Industrial Revolution – a positive or negative effect on the quality of life for humans?

Historical Question: The Industrial Revolution – does rapid economic growth, due to industrialization, have a positive or negative effect on the quality of life for humans?

Introduction: This DBQ, will have students analyze the effects of industrialization culturally, politically, and economically in the western world. They will compare sources from a variety of viewpoints and infer on the overall impact industrialization can have on human life. Students can use that they’ve learned from this DBQ and also apply it to industrialization in other countries throughout the world. This DBQ supports the profile of the South Carolina Graduate (see resource section) because students will be using critical thinking skills to analyze and compare sources, collaborate and discuss with their peers, and communicate their findings in a democratic way.

Standards | VocabularyContext | QuestionsDoc #1 , #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8

Time Required:  The estimated time frame for this DBQ is four 45 minute class periods.

Click here to download the full DBQ with attached handouts: The Industrial Revolution/ Does rapid economic growth, due to industrialization, have a positive or negative effect on the quality of life for humans?, Standard 4,  and Sources with Questions, and Quality of Life Chart

South Carolina Standards (2020)

Targeted Standard: Standard 4: Demonstrate an understanding of how increased global exchanges promoted revolution from 1760 to the beginning of the 20th Century.

6.4.P Summarize the local and global impacts of the Industrial Revolution.

6.4.CX Contextualize the environmental impact of the Industrial Revolution.

6.4.E Analyze multiple perspectives on increased global interactions and revolutions through a variety of primary and secondary sources.


  • Industrialization
  • Economy
  • Child Labor
  • Reform
  • Agriculture


Historical Context and Background Information:

The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain in the late 1700s following the Agricultural Revolution and early advancements in technology and machinery. The enclosure movement, crop rotation, and the agricultural technology increased agricultural yields, which led to increased population and forced small farmers to become tenant farmers or move to the cities. Great Britain had the factors of production needed for industrialization, including natural resources, rivers and harbors, experience entrepreneurs, rising population, political stability, increasing world trade, and economic prosperity and progress. Following it start in Great Britain, the Industrial Revolution spread to the United States and those countries of continental Europe and which factors of production were available such as Belgium and Germany. Later, in Japan, industrialization began as a response to growing imperialistic threats against the nation. The Industrial Revolution caused major economic, cultural, and political changes around the world.

The Industrial Revolution was an economic revolution, and therefore economic changes were widespread and still continue to impact our world today. These economic changes lead to cultural and political changes. Economic changes began with the invention of machines. New textile machines for spinning and weaving, chores that had previously been done by hand increased the production of cloth goods. The modernization of textile technology revolutionized industrialization. The flying shuttle advanced textile production by doubling the amount of weaving a worker could do in one day. This machine was soon joined by the more advanced spinning jenny, which allowed one spinner to spin eight threads at a time. At first operated by hand, these machines were soon powered by the water frame. In 1779, the spinning wheel was invented as a combination of the spinning jenny and water frame. The mule produced a stronger product than its predecessors. And 1787, the water-powered power loom increase the speed of weaving yet again. The cotton gin significantly increased cotton production following its invention in 1793. As reliance on large, expensive machines increased, factories were built to house the machines, rather than the “cottage industries” of handwork previously done at home in earlier times. Due to the increasing demand for waterpower to drive machines, factories were built near rivers or streams. Therefore, jobs that had previously been done by individuals in the home were moved to factories. These factories were built in existing cities or established towns near water sources. After the development of the steam engine by James Watt, factories begin being built away from water sources because the steam engine became the new power source for machines. Coal and iron were the main resources used to power and build these engines in machines, and later, and the second wave of the Industrial Revolution that began in the 1870s, electricity, chemicals, and steel were the main sources for industrial business.

Transportation improved with the development of the steam engine as well. The steam engine was soon used to power steamboats and locomotives, leading to the building of canals and railways for trade and transportation. The railroad boom created new jobs for railroad workers and miners were needed to obtain cold to power the new engines. With less expensive means of trade and transport of goods, industries developed and trade over long distance is grew and travel for humans was easier. With the development of the

factory system came the division of labor as individuals were assigned specific task, which led to increased worker productivity and increased output of manufactured goods. Through the development of interchangeable parts, where many identical parts were produced rather than the previous process of creating unique items by hand, it became possible to mass produce and repair many goods with the aid of machines and refined them by hand. Mass production allowed goods to be produced for a cheaper price, making them more accessible to the increasing portion of the population. Worker spent long hours in the factories, often 14 hours a day, six days a week. The working conditions were dangerous and often resulted in injury, but there was no recourse for such injuries. Individuals could earn more in factories than on farms, leading to a large rural-to-urban migration.

Rural-to-urban migration lead to many social changes. Unfortunately, the division of labor also made clear the division between the worker and owner classes. Many European cities doubled in population during this period of history. Because of the low pay for workers and because of the living conditions in cities were unregulated, housing conditions were often very poor. The working class lived in crowded areas often without basic utilities such as running water. Conditions were often unsanitary due to these circumstances along with increase pollution from the factories. Crime increased due to poverty, however there was often inadequate police protection. The middle and upper classes, usually business owners or other professionals, typically moved to nicer homes in the suburbs, which was a tangible reflection of the growing class divisions.

Because working conditions were so dangerous and because of the growing class divisions, further economic changes began along with political changes. Laissez-faire capitalism was the foundation of the Industrial Revolution, as this was the economic system in which all factors of production were privately owned and there was no government interference. But capitalism based on laws of competition, supply and demand, and self-interest, also allowed for great disparity in wealth. Supporters of capitalism opposed the creation of minimum wage laws and better working conditions, believing that it would upset the free-market system and weaken the production of wealth. The working class was increasingly oppressed by the middle and upper classes. This lead to rising support of socialism, because of the belief that such a system would provide for the greater welfare of the masses of working class people and allow the government to plan the economy in order to promote equality and end poverty. Socialism at that time offered workers more protection than capitalism and it also promised that it would better distribute wealth according to need. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, writing in The Communist Manifesto, proposed a radical socialism, stating that society was dividing into warring classes. It was proposed that the proletariat, the “have nots” or the workers, who were oppressed in their current conditions, would overthrow the bourgeoisie, the “haves”, or the owners, and create a “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Although this proletariat revolution did not occur during the Industrial Revolution, Marx provided the fuel for future reforms and revolutions.

In addition to the rise of socialism, labor unions and reform laws came about in the 1800s as a means to correct the disparities between social classes. Unions negotiated for better working conditions, higher pay, and shorter hours, and they would strike if demands were not met. These unions were restricted at first, but overtime achieved nominal success. In the 1830s, the British Parliament begin regulating mine and factory conditions for women and children, bringing much needed reform. Well individual gaps and wealth were problematic at this time, a global wealth gap also was occurring. As industrialized nations gained power over non-industrialized nations, these industrial powers begin looking to exploit the weaker nations for resources and markets. Thus imperialism was born out of the industrial era (South Carolina Department of Education, 2011).

Guiding Questions and Sources

Document 1: Fredrikke Palmer illustration in the Women’s Journal, 1916.


      Guiding Questions:

  1. What do you notice about the outside of the web? What is going on in the center?
  2. What labels or main words do you see?
  3. Who is represented in the cartoon?
  4. How would people of the time period feel if they saw this cartoon?
Citation: Simkin, J. (n.d.). Retrieved July 30, 2018, from http://spartacus-educational.com/USAWpalmer.htm





Document 2: Lewis Hine Photograph of Child Labor in Textile Factory

    Guiding Questions:

  1. What is going on in the source? What is the child making?
  2. Who do you think is being represented in this source? Who is not represented?
  3. How would this image be different in modern times?
  4. Is this image meant to persuade or inform the viewer?
Citation: The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. (1905). Sadie Pfeifer, 48 inches tall…, November 1908 Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-4d2c-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99


Document 3: “Child Labor in the Canning Industry of Maryland”, Lewis Hine 1909

    Guiding Questions:

  1. What is being described in the source?
  2. What is the tone? Is the author happy? Angry?
  3. What do you think is the author’s goal?
  4. Based on the author’s findings and what you learned from the image in Document B, what are the effects of hard labor on children?
Citation: Hine, Lewis. (1909, July 10). “Child Labor in the Canning Industry of Maryland.” [Manuscript]. From Library of Congress, Manuscripts Division.National Child Labor Committee Collection. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/static/data/nclc/resources/images/canneries3.pdf


Document 4: William Blake poem The Chimney Sweeper

    Guiding Questions:

  1. What is the daily life of a chimney sweep?
  2. What does this poem say about the family life during this time period?
  3. What do you think is the author’s opinion on children working in these conditions?
  4. What feelings do you think would come up when someone of the time period were to read this? How could this poem persuade the public?
  5. How would Andrew Ure (Document E) respond to this poem?
  6. Based on when this poem was written, what do you think will happen to the health of children in the workforce as the Industrial Revolution continues?
Citation: Blake, W. (n.d.). Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Songs of Innocence: The Chimney Sweeper. Retrieved July 26, 2018, from http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/sie/sie09.htm



Document 5: Skilled and Unskilled Labor Wages Chart, 1897 and 1899

    Guiding Questions:

  1. What do you notice about the value of wages from 1897 to 1899 for both unskilled and skilled workers?
  2. Why would the author publish this data? What is its purpose?
  3. What detail, group, or category is missing from this data that should be included? How would the missing information help determine the factors that led to wage increases?
Citation: Wright, C. D. (1900) Labor and capital. Carroll D. Wright, Commissioner of labor, shows how labor fares under large industrial corporations. Chicago, Ill. Allied printing. Chicago. [Pdf] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/rbpe.01804500/




Document 6: Something New Starts Every Day, Song Sheet

    1. Guiding Questions:

    2. What are some new things or inventions that have been created based on the song?
    3. What do you think is the tone of the song?
    4. What connections can you make between your background knowledge and the new things in this song?
    Citation: Something new starts every day. Sold wholesale and retail, by Leonard Deming … No. 61 Hanover Street, Boston. Monographic. [Online Text] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/amss.as112730/


    Document 7: Photographs made by reform photographers, Jacob Riis and Jesse Tarbox Beals

      Guiding Questions:

    1. Look at the four corners/sections of each photo. What do you see? What are two notices and two wonders?
    2. What are the similarities and differences between the two images?
    3. Who is missing? Why do you think they were not included?
    4. Why do you think both photographers chose to take these pictures? What was the purpose?
    5. What can you infer was the reason that lead to these living conditions
    Citation: Stamp, J. (2014, May 27). Pioneering Social Reformer Jacob Riis Revealed “How The Other Half Lives” in America. Retrieved July 29, 2018, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/pioneering-social-reformer-jacob-riis-revealed-how-other-half-lives-america-180951546/
    Tenement life in turn of the century New York. (2009, May 09). Retrieved from https://ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com/2009/05/09/tenement-life-in-turn-of-the-century-new-york/
  1. Document 8: Life  Expectancy  Chart

      Guiding Questions:

    1. What is a trends or patterns do you see with the data?
    2. What do you think is the reason for this trend or pattern? What could be going on in the cities that would lead to these results?
    3. How trustworthy is this source?
    4. What details did this chart leave out that may help you answer the historical question? What groups of people are left out?
    Citation: Szreter, S., & Mooney, G. (1998). Urbanization, Mortality, and the Standard of Living Debate: New Estimates of the Expectation of Life at Birth in Nineteenth-Century British Cities. The Economic History Review, 51(1), new series, 84-112. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2599693


    Digital Collections Information                    

    This DBQ is based on images and/or documents from several institutions including the University of South Carolina Libraries, The National Archives, and The Library of Congress. See individual images for institution information.

    To see other collections that may be helpful to your search, visit the Digital Collections homepage or visit SCDL’s collection.

  2. DBQ Prepared by Courtney Garrison, 2018

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