The Making of a Global World 1 The Pre-modern World When we talk of ‘globalisation’ we often refer to an economic system that has emerged since the last 50 years or so. But as you will see in this chapter, the making of the global world has a long history – of trade, of migration, of people in search of work, the movement of capital, and much else. As we think about the dramatic and visible signs of global interconnectedness in our lives today, we need to understand the phases through which this world in which we live has emerged. All through history, human societies have become steadily more interlinked. From ancient times, travellers, traders, priests and pilgrims travelled vast distances for knowledge, opportunity and spiritual fulfilment, or to escape persecution. They carried goods, money, values, skills, ideas, inventions, and even germs and diseases. As early as 3000 BCE an active coastal trade linked the Indus valley civilisations with present-day West Asia. For more than a millennia, cowries (the Hindi cowdi or seashells, used as a form of currency) from the Maldives found their way to China and East Africa. The long-distance spread of disease-carrying germs may be traced as far back as the seventh century. By the thirteenth century it had become an unmistakable link. Fig. 1 – Image of a ship on a memorial stone, Goa Museum, tenth century CE. From the ninth century, images of ships appear regularly in memorial stones found in the western coast, indicating the significance of oceanic trade. The Making of a Global World Chapter IV 1.1 Silk Routes Link the World The silk routes are a good example of vibrant pre-modern trade and cultural links between distant parts of the world. The name ‘silk routes’ points to the importance of West-bound Chinese silk cargoes along this route. Historians have identified several silk routes, over land and by sea, knitting together vast regions of Asia, and linking Asia with Europe and northern Africa. They are known to have existed since before the Christian Era and thrived almost till the fifteenth century. But Chinese pottery also travelled the same route, as did textiles and spices from India and Southeast Asia. In return, precious metals – gold and silver – flowed from Europe to Asia. Trade and cultural exchange always went hand in hand. Early Christian missionaries almost certainly travelled this route to Asia, as did early Muslim preachers a few centuries later. Much before all this, Buddhism emerged from eastern India and spread in several directions through intersecting points on the silk routes. 1.2 Food Travels: Spaghetti and Potato Food offers many examples of long-distance cultural exchange. Traders and travellers introduced new crops to the lands they travelled. Even ‘ready’ foodstuff in distant parts of the world might share common origins. Take spaghetti and noodles. It is believed that noodles travelled west from China to become spaghetti. Or, perhaps Arab traders took pasta to fifth-century Sicily, an island now in Italy. Similar foods were also known in India and Japan, so the truth about their origins may never be known. Yet such guesswork suggests the possibilities of long-distance cultural contact even in the pre-modern world. Many of our common foods such as potatoes, soya, groundnuts, maize, tomatoes, chillies, sweet potatoes, and so on were not known to our ancestors until about five centuries ago. These foods were only introduced in Europe and Asia after Christopher Columbus accidentally discovered the vast continent that would later become known as the Americas. (Here we will use ‘America’ to describe North America, South America and the Caribbean.) In fact, many of our common foods came from America’s original inhabitants – the American Indians. Sometimes the new crops could make the difference between life and death. Europe’s poor began to eat better and live longer with the introduction of the humble potato. Ireland’s poorest peasants became so dependent on potatoes that when disease destroyed the potato crop in the mid-1840s, hundreds of thousands died of starvation. 1.3 Conquest, Disease and Trade The pre-modern world shrank greatly in the sixteenth century after European sailors found a sea route to Asia and also successfully crossed the western ocean to America. For centuries before, the Indian Ocean had known a bustling trade, with goods, people, knowledge, customs, etc. criss-crossing its waters. The Indian subcontinent was central to these flows and a crucial point in their networks. The entry of the Europeans helped expand or redirect some of these flows towards Europe. Before its ‘discovery’, America had been cut off from regular contact with the rest of the world for millions of years. But from the sixteenth century, its vast lands and abundant crops and minerals began to transform trade and lives everywhere. Precious metals, particularly silver, from mines located in present-day Peru and Mexico also enhanced Europe’s wealth and financed its trade with Asia. Legends spread in seventeenth-century Europe about South America’s fabled wealth. Many expeditions set off in search of El Dorado, the fabled city of gold. The Portuguese and Spanish conquest and colonisation of America was decisively under way by the mid-sixteenth century. European conquest was not just a result of superior firepower. In fact, the most powerful weapon of the Spanish conquerors was not a conventional military weapon at all. It was the germs such as those of smallpox that they carried on their person. Because of their long isolation, America’s original inhabitants had no immunity against these diseases that came from Europe. Smallpox in particular proved a deadly killer. Once introduced, it spread deep into the continent, ahead even of any Europeans reaching there. It killed and decimated whole communities, paving the way for conquest. Fig. 4 – The Irish Potato Famine, Illustrated London News, 1849. Hungry children digging for potatoes in a field that has already been harvested, hoping to discover some leftovers. During the Great Irish Potato Famine (1845 to 1849), around 1,000,000 people died of starvation in Ireland, and double the number emigrated in search of work. Box 1 ‘Biological’ warfare? John Winthorp, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay colony in New England, wrote in May 1634 that smallpox signalled God’s blessing for the colonists: ‘… the natives … were neere (near) all dead of small Poxe (pox), so as the Lord hathe (had) cleared our title to what we possess’. Alfred Crosby, Ecological Imperialism. Guns could be bought or captured and turned against the invaders. But not diseases such as smallpox to which the conquerors were mostly immune. Until the nineteenth century, poverty and hunger were common in Europe. Cities were crowded and deadly diseases were widespread. Religious conflicts were common, and religious dissenters were persecuted. Thousands therefore fled Europe for America. Here, by the eighteenth century, plantations worked by slaves captured in Africa were growing cotton and sugar for European markets. Until well into the eighteenth century, China and India were among the world’s richest countries. They were also pre-eminent in Asian trade. However, from the fifteenth century, China is said to have restricted overseas contacts and retreated into isolation. China’s reduced role and the rising importance of the Americas gradually moved the centre of world trade westwards. Europe now emerged as the centre of world trade. New words Dissenter – One who refuses to accept established beliefs and practices Explain what we mean when we say that the world ‘shrank’ in the 1500s. 2 The Nineteenth Century (1815-1914) The world changed profoundly in the nineteenth century. Economic, political, social, cultural and technological factors interacted in complex ways to transform societies and reshape external relations. Economists identify three types of movement or ‘flows’ within international economic exchanges. The first is the flow of trade which in the nineteenth century referred largely to trade in goods (e.g., cloth or wheat). The second is the flow of labour – the migration of people in search of employment. The third is the movement of capital for short-term or long-term investments over long distances. All three flows were closely interwoven and affected peoples’ lives more deeply now than ever before. The interconnections could sometimes be broken – for example, labour migration was often more restricted than goods or capital flows. Yet it helps us understand the nineteenth-century world economy better if we look at the three flows together. 2.1 A World Economy Takes Shape A good place to start is the changing pattern of food production and consumption in industrial Europe. Traditionally, countries liked to be self-sufficient in food. But in nineteenth-century Britain, self-sufficiency in food meant lower living standards and social conflict. Why was this so? Population growth from the late eighteenth century had increased the demand for food grains in Britain. As urban centres expanded and industry grew, the demand for agricultural products went up, pushing up food grain prices. Under pressure from landed groups, the government also restricted the import of corn. The laws allowing the government to do this were commonly known as the ‘Corn Laws’. Unhappy with high food prices, industrialists and urban dwellers forced the abolition of the Corn Laws. After the Corn Laws were scrapped, food could be imported into Britain more cheaply than it could be produced within the country. British agriculture was unable to compete with imports. Vast areas of land were now left uncultivated, and thousands of men and women were thrown out of work. They flocked to the cities or migrated overseas. As food prices fell, consumption in Britain rose. From the mid-nineteenth century, faster industrial growth in Britain also led to higher incomes, and therefore more food imports. Around the world – in Eastern Europe, Russia, America and Australia – lands were cleared and food production expanded to meet the British demand. It was not enough merely to clear lands for agriculture. Railways were needed to link the agricultural regions to the ports. New harbours had to be built and old ones expanded to ship the new cargoes. People had to settle on the lands to bring them under cultivation. This meant building homes and settlements. All these activities in turn required capital and labour. Capital flowed from financial centres such as London. The demand for labour in places where labour was in short supply – as in America and Australia – led to more migration. Nearly 50 million people emigrated from Europe to America and Australia in the nineteenth century. All over the world some 150 million are estimated to have left their homes, crossed oceans and vast distances over land in search of a better future. Thus by 1890, a global agricultural economy had taken shape, accompanied by complex changes in labour movement patterns, capital flows, ecologies and technology. Food no longer came from a nearby village or town, but from thousands of miles away. It was not grown by a peasant tilling his own land, but by an agricultural worker, perhaps recently arrived, who was now working on a large farm that only a generation ago had most likely been a forest. It was transported by railway, built for that very purpose, and by ships which were increasingly manned in these decades by low-paid workers from southern Europe, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. Activity Prepare a flow chart to show how Britain’s decision to import food led to increased migration to America and Australia. Activity Imagine that you are an agricultural worker who has arrived in America from Ireland. Write a paragraph on why you chose to come and how you are earning your living. Some of this dramatic change, though on a smaller scale, occurred closer home in west Punjab. Here the British Indian government built a network of irrigation canals to transform semi-desert wastes into fertile agricultural lands that could grow wheat and cotton for export. The Canal Colonies, as the areas irrigated by the new canals were called, were settled by peasants from other parts of Punjab. Of course, food is merely an example. A similar story can be told for cotton, the cultivation of which expanded worldwide to feed British textile mills. Or rubber. Indeed, so rapidly did regional specialisation in the production of commodities develop, that between 1820 and 1914 world trade is estimated to have multiplied 25 to 40 times. Nearly 60 per cent of this trade comprised ‘primary products’ – that is, agricultural products such as wheat and cotton, and minerals such as coal. 2.2 Role of Technology What was the role of technology in all this? The railways, steamships, the telegraph, for example, were important inventions without which we cannot imagine the transformed nineteenth-century world. But technological advances were often the result of larger social, political and economic factors. For example, colonisation stimulated new investments and improvements in transport: faster railways, lighter wagons and larger ships helped move food more cheaply and quickly from faraway farms to final markets. Fig. 8 — The Smithfield Club Cattle Show, Illustrated London News, 1851. Cattle were traded at fairs, brought by farmers for sale. One of the oldest livestock markets in London was at Smithfield. In the mid-nineteenth century a huge poultry and meat market was established near the railway line connecting Smithfield to all the meat-supplying centres of the country. The trade in meat offers a good example of this connected process. Till the 1870s, animals were shipped live from America to Europe and then slaughtered when they arrived there. But live animals took up a lot of ship space. Many also died in voyage, fell ill, lost weight, or became unfit to eat. Meat was hence an expensive luxury beyond the reach of the European poor. High prices in turn kept demand and production down until the development of a new technology, namely, refrigerated ships, which enabled the transport of perishable foods over long distances. Now animals were slaughtered for food at the starting point – in America, Australia or New Zealand – and then transported to Europe as frozen meat. This reduced shipping costs and lowered meat prices in Europe. The poor in Europe could now consume a more varied diet. To the earlier monotony of bread and potatoes many, though not all, could now add meat (and butter and eggs) to their diet. Better living conditions promoted social peace within the country and support for imperialism abroad. 2.3 Late nineteenth-century Colonialism Trade flourished and markets expanded in the late nineteenth century. But this was not only a period of expanding trade and increased prosperity. It is important to realise that there was a darker side to this process. In many parts of the world, the expansion of trade and a closer relationship with the world economy also meant a loss of freedoms and livelihoods. Late-nineteenth-century European conquests produced many painful economic, social and ecological changes through which the colonised societies were brought into the world economy. Look at a map of Africa (Fig. 10). You will see some countries’ borders run straight, as if they were drawn using a ruler. Well, in fact this was almost how rival European powers in Africa drew up the borders demarcating their respective territories. In 1885 the big European powers met in Berlin to complete the carving up of Africa between them. Britain and France made vast additions to their overseas territories in the late nineteenth century. Belgium and Germany became new colonial powers. The US also became a colonial power in the late 1890s by taking over some colonies earlier held by Spain. Let us look at one example of the destructive impact of colonialism on the economy and livelihoods of colonised people. Box 2 Sir Henry Morton Stanley in Central Africa Stanley was a journalist and explorer sent by the New York Herald to find Livingston, a missionary and explorer who had been in Africa for several years. Like other European and American explorers of the time, Stanley went with arms, mobilised local hunters, warriors and labourers to help him, fought with local tribes, investigated African terrains, and mapped different regions. These explorations helped the conquest of Africa. Geographical explorations were not driven by an innocent search for scientific information. They were directly linked to imperial projects. 2.4 Rinderpest, or the Cattle Plague In Africa, in the 1890s, a fast-spreading disease of cattle plague or rinderpest had a terrifying impact on people’s livelihoods and the local economy. This is a good example of the widespread European imperial impact on colonised societies. It shows how in this era of conquest even a disease affecting cattle reshaped the lives and fortunes of thousands of people and their relations with the rest of the world. Historically, Africa had abundant land and a relatively small population. For centuries, land and livestock sustained African Fig. 12 – Transport to the Transvaal gold mines, The Graphic, 1887.livelihoods and people rarely worked for a wage. In late-Crossing the Wilge river was the quickest method ofnineteenth-century Africa there were few consumer goods that transport to the gold fields of Transvaal. After the discovery of gold in Witwatersrand, Europeanswages could buy. If you had been an African possessing land rushed to the region despite their fear of disease andand livestock – and there was plenty of both – you too would death, and the difficulties of the journey. By the 1890s, South Africa contributed over 20 per cent ofhave seen little reason to work for a wage. the world gold production. In the late nineteenth century, Europeans were attracted to Africa due to its vast resources of land and minerals. Europeans came to Africa hoping to establish plantations and mines to produce crops and minerals for export to Europe. But there was an unexpected problem – a shortage of labour willing to work for wages. Employers used many methods to recruit and retain labour. Heavy taxes were imposed which could be paid only by working for wages on plantations and mines. Inheritance laws were changed so that peasants were displaced from land: only one member of a family was allowed to inherit land, as a result of which the others were pushed into the labour market. Mineworkers were also confined in compounds and not allowed to move about freely. Then came rinderpest, a devastating cattle disease. Rinderpest arrived in Africa in the late 1880s. It was carried by infected cattle imported from British Asia to feed the Italian soldiers invading Eritrea in East Africa. Entering Africa in the east, rinderpest moved west ‘like forest fire’, reaching Africa’s Atlantic coast in 1892. It reached the Cape (Africa’s southernmost tip) five years later. Along the way rinderpest killed 90 per cent of the cattle. The loss of cattle destroyed African livelihoods. Planters, mine owners and colonial governments now successfully monopolised what scarce cattle resources remained, to strengthen their power and to force Africans into the labour market. Control over the scarce resource of cattle enabled European colonisers to conquer and subdue Africa. Similar stories can be told about the impact of Western conquest on other parts of the nineteenth-century world. 2.4 Indentured Labour Migration from India The example of indentured labour migration from India also illustrates the two-sided nature of the nineteenth-century world. It was a world of faster economic growth as well as great misery, higher incomes for some and poverty for others, technological advances in some areas and new forms of coercion in others. In the nineteenth century, hundreds of thousands of Indian and Chinese labourers went to work on plantations, in mines, and in road and railway construction projects around the world. In India, indentured labourers were hired under contracts which promised return travel to India after they had worked five years on their employer’s plantation. Most Indian indentured workers came from the present-day regions of eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, central India and the dry districts of Tamil Nadu. In the mid-nineteenth century these regions experienced many changes – cottage industries declined, land rents rose, lands were cleared for mines and plantations. All this affected the lives of the poor: they failed to pay their rents, became deeply indebted and were forced to migrate in search of work. New words Indentured labour – A bonded labourer under contract to work for an employer for a specific amount of time, to pay off his passage to a new country or home The main destinations of Indian indentured migrants were the Caribbean islands (mainly Trinidad, Guyana and Surinam), Mauritius and Fiji. Closer home, Tamil migrants went to Ceylon and Malaya. Indentured workers were also recruited for tea plantations in Assam. Recruitment was done by agents engaged by employers and paid a small commission. Many migrants agreed to take up work hoping to escape poverty or oppression in their home villages. Agents also tempted the prospective migrants by providing false information about final destinations, modes of travel, the nature of the work, and living and working conditions. Often migrants were not even told that they were to embark on a long sea voyage. Sometimes agents even forcibly abducted less willing migrants. Nineteenth-century indenture has been described as a ‘new system of slavery’. On arrival at the plantations, labourers found conditions to be different from what they had imagined. Living and working conditions were harsh, and there were few legal rights. But workers discovered their own ways of surviving. Many of them escaped into the wilds, though if caught they faced severe punishment. Others developed new forms of individual and collective self-expression, blending different cultural forms, old and new. In Trinidad the annual Muharram procession was transformed into a riotous carnival called ‘Hosay’ (for Imam Hussain) in which workers of all races and religions joined. Similarly, the protest religion of Rastafarianism (made famous by the Jamaican reggae star Bob Marley) is also said to reflect social and cultural links with Indian migrants to the Caribbean. ‘Chutney music’, popular in Trinidad and Guyana, is another creative contemporary expression of the post-indenture experience. These forms of cultural fusion are part of the making of the global world, where things from different places get mixed, lose their original characteristics and become something entirely new. Most indentured workers stayed on after their contracts ended, or returned to their new homes after a short spell in India. Consequently, there are large communities of people of Indian descent in these countries. Have you heard of the Nobel Prize-winning writer Discuss Discuss the importance of language and popular traditions in the creation of national identity. V.S. Naipaul? Some of you may have followed the exploits of West Indies cricketers Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan. If you have wondered why their names sound vaguely Indian, the answer is that they are descended from indentured labour migrants from India. From the 1900s India’s nationalist leaders began opposing the system of indentured labour migration as abusive and cruel. It was abolished in 1921. Yet for a number of decades afterwards, descendants of Indian indentured workers, often thought of as ‘coolies’, remained an uneasy minority in the Caribbean islands. Some of Naipaul’s early novels capture their sense of loss and alienation. 2.5 Indian Entrepreneurs Abroad Growing food and other crops for the world market required capital. Large plantations could borrow it from banks and markets. But what about the humble peasant? Enter the Indian banker. Do you know of the Shikaripuri shroffs and Nattukottai Chettiars? They were amongst the many groups of bankers and traders who financed export agriculture in Central and Southeast Asia, using either their own funds or those borrowed from European banks. They had a sophisticated system to transfer money over large distances, and even developed indigenous forms of corporate organisation. Indian traders and moneylenders also followed European colonisers into Africa. Hyderabadi Sindhi traders, however, ventured beyond European colonies. From the 1860s they established flourishing emporia at busy ports worldwide, selling local and imported curios to tourists whose numbers were beginning to swell, thanks to the development of safe and comfortable passenger vessels. 2.6 Indian Trade, Colonialism and the Global System Historically, fine cottons produced in India were exported to Europe. With industrialisation, British cotton manufacture began to expand, and industrialists pressurised the government to restrict cotton imports and protect local industries. Tariffs were imposed on cloth imports into Britain. Consequently, the inflow of fine Indian cotton began to decline. From the early nineteenth century, British manufacturers also began to seek overseas markets for their cloth. Excluded from the British Source A The testimony of an indentured labourer Extract from the testimony of Ram Narain Tewary, an indentured labourer who spent ten years on Demerara in the early twentieth century. ‘… in spite of my best efforts, I could not properly do the works that were allotted to me ... In a few days I got my hands bruised all over and I could not go to work for a week for which I was prosecuted and sent to jail for 14 days. ... new emigrants find the tasks allotted to them extremely heavy and cannot complete them in a day. ... Deductions are also made from wages if the work is considered to have been done unsatisfactorily. Many people cannot therefore earn their full wages and are punished in various ways. In fact, the labourers have to spend their period of indenture in great trouble …’ Source: Department of Commerce and Industry, Emigration Branch. 1916 Source market by tariff barriers, Indian textiles now faced stiff competition in other international markets. If we look at the figures of exports from India, we see a steady decline of the share of cotton textiles: from some 30 per cent around 1800 to 15 per cent by 1815. By the 1870s this proportion had dropped to below 3 per cent. What, then, did India export? The figures again tell a dramatic story. While exports of manufactures declined rapidly, export of raw materials increased equally fast. Between 1812 and 1871, the share of raw cotton exports rose from 5 per cent to 35 per cent. Indigo used for dyeing cloth was another important export for All through the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, Surat remained the main centre of overseas trade in the western Indian Ocean. many decades. And, as you have read last year, opium shipments to China grew rapidly from the 1820s to become for a while India’s single largest export. Britain grew opium in India and exported it to China and, with the money earned through this sale, it financed its tea and other imports from China. Over the nineteenth century, British manufactures flooded the Indian market. Food grain and raw material exports from India to Britain and the rest of the world increased. But the value of British exports to India was much higher than the value of British imports from India. Thus Britain had a ‘trade surplus’ with India. Britain used this surplus to balance its trade deficits with other countries – that is, with countries from which Britain was importing more than it was selling to. This is how a multilateral settlement system works – it allows one country’s deficit with another country to be settled by its surplus with a third country. By helping Britain balance its deficits, India played a crucial role in the late-nineteenth-century world economy. Britain’s trade surplus in India also helped pay the so-called ‘home charges’ that included private remittances home by British officials and traders, interest payments on India’s external debt, and pensions of British officials in India. 3 The Inter-war Economy The First World War (1914-18) was mainly fought in Europe. But its impact was felt around the world. Notably for our concerns in this chapter, it plunged the first half of the twentieth century into a crisis that took over three decades to overcome. During this period the world experienced widespread economic and political instability, and another catastrophic war. 3.1 Wartime Transformations The First World War, as you know, was fought between two power blocs. On the one side were the Allies – Britain, France and Russia (later joined by the US); and on the opposite side were the Central Powers – Germany, Austria-Hungary and Ottoman Turkey. When the war began in August 1914, many governments thought it would be over by Christmas. It lasted more than four years. The First World War was a war like no other before. The fighting involved the world’s leading industrial nations which now harnessed the vast powers of modern industry to inflict the greatest possible destruction on their enemies. This war was thus the first modern industrial war. It saw the use of machine guns, tanks, aircraft, chemical weapons, etc. on a massive scale. These were all increasingly products of modern large-scale industry. To fight the war, millions of soldiers had to be recruited from around the world and moved to the frontlines on large ships and trains. The scale of death and destruction – 9 million dead and 20 million injured – was unthinkable before the industrial age, without the use of industrial arms. Most of the killed and maimed were men of working age. These deaths and injuries reduced the able-bodied workforce in Europe. With fewer numbers within the family, household incomes declined after the war. During the war, industries were restructured to produce war-related goods. Entire societies were also reorganised for war – as men went to battle, women stepped in to undertake jobs that earlier only men were expected to do. The war led to the snapping of economic links between some of the world’s largest economic powers which were now fighting each other to pay for them. So Britain borrowed large sums of money from US banks as well as the US public. Thus the war transformed the US from being an international debtor to an international creditor. In other words, at the war’s end, the US and its citizens owned more overseas assets than foreign governments and citizens owned in the US. 3.2 Post-war Recovery Post-war economic recovery proved difficult. Britain, which was the world’s leading economy in the pre-war period, in particular faced a prolonged crisis. While Britain was preoccupied with war, industries had developed in India and Japan. After the war Britain found it difficult to recapture its earlier position of dominance in the Indian market, and to compete with Japan internationally. Moreover, to finance war expenditures Britain had borrowed liberally from the US. This meant that at the end of the war Britain was burdened with huge external debts. The war had led to an economic boom, that is, to a large increase in demand, production and employment. When the war boom ended, production contracted and unemployment increased. At the same time the government reduced bloated war expenditures to bring them into line with peacetime revenues. These developments led to huge job losses – in 1921 one in every five British workers was out of work. Indeed, anxiety and uncertainty about work became an enduring part of the post-war scenario. Many agricultural economies were also in crisis. Consider the case of wheat producers. Before the war, eastern Europe was a major supplier of wheat in the world market. When this supply was disrupted during the war, wheat production in Canada, America and Australia expanded dramatically. But once the war was over, production in eastern Europe revived and created a glut in wheat output. Grain prices fell, rural incomes declined, and farmers fell deeper into debt. 3.3 Rise of Mass Production and Consumption In the US, recovery was quicker. We have already seen how the war helped boost the US economy. After a short period of economic trouble in the years after the war, the US economy resumed its strong growth in the early 1920s. One important feature of the US economy of the 1920s was mass production. The move towards mass production had begun in the late nineteenth century, but in the 1920s it became a characteristic feature of industrial production in the US. A well-known pioneer of mass production was the car manufacturer Henry Ford. He adapted the assembly line of a Chicago slaughterhouse (in which slaughtered animals were picked apart by butchers as they came down a conveyor belt) to his new car plant in Detroit. He realised that the ‘assembly line’ method would allow a faster and cheaper way of producing vehicles. The assembly line forced workers to repeat a single task mechanically and continuously – such as fitting a particular part to the car – at a pace dictated by the conveyor belt. This was a way of increasing the output per worker by speeding up the pace of work. Standing in front of a conveyor belt no worker could afford to delay the motions, take a break, or even have a friendly word with a workmate. As a result, Henry Ford’s cars came off the assembly line at three-minute intervals, a speed much faster than that achieved by previous methods. The T-Model Ford was the world’s first mass-produced car. At first workers at the Ford factory were unable to cope with the stress of working on assembly lines in which they could not control the pace of work. So they quit in large numbers. In desperation Ford doubled the daily wage to $5 in January 1914. At the same time he banned trade unions from operating in his plants. Henry Ford recovered the high wage by repeatedly speeding up the production line and forcing workers to work ever harder. So much so, he would soon describe his decision to double the daily wage as the ‘best cost-cutting decision’ he had ever made. Fordist industrial practices soon spread in the US. They were also widely copied in Europe in the 1920s. Mass production lowered costs and prices of engineered goods. Thanks to higher wages, more workers could now afford to purchase durable consumer goods such as cars. Car production in the US rose from 2 million in 1919 to more than 5 million in 1929. Similarly, there was a spurt in the purchase of refrigerators, washing machines, radios, gramophone players, all through a system of ‘hire purchase’ (i.e., on credit repaid in weekly or monthly instalments). The demand for refrigerators, washing machines, etc. was also fuelled by a boom in house construction and home ownership, financed once again by loans. The housing and consumer boom of the 1920s created the basis of prosperity in the US. Large investments in housing and household goods seemed to create a cycle of higher employment and incomes, rising consumption demand, more investment, and yet more employment and incomes. In 1923, the US resumed exporting capital to the rest of the world and became the largest overseas lender. US imports and capital exports also boosted European recovery and world trade and income growth over the next six years. All this, however, proved too good to last. By 1929 the world would be plunged into a depression such as it had never experienced before. 3.4 The Great Depression The Great Depression began around 1929 and lasted till the mid1930s. During this period most parts of the world experienced catastrophic declines in production, employment, incomes and trade. The exact timing and impact of the depression varied across countries. But in general, agricultural regions and communities were the worst affected. This was because the fall in agricultural prices was greater and more prolonged than that in the prices of industrial goods. The depression was caused by a combination of several factors. We have already seen how fragile the post-war world economy was. First: agricultural overproduction remained a problem. This was made worse by falling agricultural prices. As prices slumped and agricultural incomes declined, farmers tried to expand production and bring a larger volume of produce to the market to maintain their overall income. This worsened the glut in the market, pushing down prices even further. Farm produce rotted for a lack of buyers. Second: in the mid-1920s, many countries financed their investments through loans from the US. While it was often extremely easy to raise loans in the US when the going was good, US overseas lenders panicked at the first sign of trouble. In the first half of 1928, US Box 3 Many years later, Dorothea Lange, the photographer who shot this picture, recollected the moment of her encounter with the hungry mother: ‘I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet … I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they (i.e., she and her seven children) had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed … There she sat … with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me …’ From: Popular Photography, February 1960. overseas loans amounted to over $ 1 billion. A year later it was one quarter of that amount. Countries that depended crucially on US loans now faced an acute crisis. The withdrawal of US loans affected much of the rest of the world, though in different ways. In Europe it led to the failure of some major banks and the collapse of currencies such as the British pound sterling. In Latin America and elsewhere it intensified the slump in agricultural and raw material prices. The US attempt to protect its economy in the depression by doubling import duties also dealt another severe blow to world trade. The US was also the industrial country most severely affected by the depression. With the fall in prices and the prospect of a depression, US banks had also slashed domestic lending and called back loans. Farms could not sell their harvests, households were ruined, and businesses collapsed. Faced with falling incomes, many households in the US could not repay what they had borrowed, and were forced to give up their homes, cars and other consumer durables. The consumerist prosperity of the 1920s now disappeared in a puff of dust. As unemployment soared, people trudged long distances looking for any work they could find. Ultimately, the US banking system itself collapsed. Unable to recover investments, collect loans and repay depositors, thousands of banks went bankrupt and were forced to close. The numbers are phenomenal: by 1933 over 4,000 banks had closed and between 1929 and 1932 about 110, 000 companies had collapsed. By 1935, a modest economic recovery was under way in most industrial countries. But the Great Depression’s wider effects on society, politics and international relations, and on peoples’ minds, proved more enduring. 3.5 India and the Great Depression If we look at the impact of the depression on India we realise how integrated the global economy had become by the early twentieth century. The tremors of a crisis in one part of the world were quickly relayed to other parts, affecting lives, economies and societies worldwide. In the nineteenth century, as you have seen, colonial India had become an exporter of agricultural goods and importer of manufactures. The depression immediately affected Indian trade. India’s exports Fig. 23 – People lining up for unemployment benefits, US, photograph by Dorothea Lange, 1938. Courtesy: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. When an unemployment census showed 10 million people out of work, the local government in many US states began making small allowances to the unemployed. These long queues came to symbolise the poverty and unemployment of the depression years. and imports nearly halved between 1928 and 1934. As international prices crashed, prices in India also plunged. Between 1928 and 1934, wheat prices in India fell by 50 per cent. Peasants and farmers suffered more than urban dwellers. Though agricultural prices fell sharply, the colonial government refused to reduce revenue demands. Peasants producing for the world market were the worst hit. Consider the jute producers of Bengal. They grew raw jute that was processed in factories for export in the form of gunny bags. But as gunny exports collapsed, the price of raw jute crashed more than 60 per cent. Peasants who borrowed in the hope of better times or to increase output in the hope of higher incomes faced ever lower prices, and fell deeper and deeper into debt. Thus the Bengal jute growers’ lament: grow more jute, brothers, with the hope of greater cash. Costs and debts of jute will make your hopes get dashed. When you have spent all your money and got the crop off the ground, … traders, sitting at home, will pay only Rs 5 a maund. Across India, peasants’ indebtedness increased. They used up their savings, mortgaged lands, and sold whatever jewellery and precious metals they had to meet their expenses. In these depression years, India became an exporter of precious metals, notably gold. The famous economist John Maynard Keynes thought that Indian gold exports promoted global economic recovery. They certainly helped speed up Britain’s recovery, but did little for the Indian peasant. Rural India was thus seething with unrest when Mahatma Gandhi launched the civil disobedience movement at the height of the depression in 1931. The depression proved less grim for urban India. Because of falling prices, those with fixed incomes – say town-dwelling landowners who received rents and middle-class salaried employees – now found themselves better off. Everything cost less. Industrial investment also grew as the government extended tariff protection to industries, under the pressure of nationalist opinion. Discuss Who profits from jute cultivation according to the jute growers’ lament? Explain. 4 Rebuilding a World Economy: The Post-war Era The Second World War broke out a mere two decades after the end of the First World War. It was fought between the Axis powers (mainly Nazi Germany, Japan and Italy) and the Allies (Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the US). It was a war waged for six years on many fronts, in many places, over land, on sea, in the air. Once again death and destruction was enormous. At least 60 million people, or about 3 per cent of the world’s 1939 population, are believed to have been killed, directly or indirectly, as a result of the war. Millions more were injured. Unlike in earlier wars, most of these deaths took place outside the battlefields. Many more civilians than soldiers died from war-related causes. Vast parts of Europe and Asia were devastated, and several cities were destroyed by aerial bombardment or relentless artillery attacks. The war caused an immense amount of economic devastation and social disruption. Reconstruction promised to be long and difficult. Two crucial influences shaped post-war reconstruction. The first was the US’s emergence as the dominant economic, political and military power in the Western world. The second was the dominance of the Soviet Union. It had made huge sacrifices to defeat Nazi Germany, and transformed itself from a backward agricultural country into a world power during the very years when the capitalist world was trapped in the Great Depression. 4.1 Post-war Settlement and the Bretton Woods Institutions Economists and politicians drew two key lessons from inter-war economic experiences. First, an industrial society based on mass production cannot be sustained without mass consumption. But to ensure mass consumption, there was a need for high and stable incomes. Incomes could not be stable if employment was unstable. Thus stable incomes also required steady, full employment. But markets alone could not guarantee full employment. Therefore governments would have to step in to minimise fluctuations of price, output and employment. Economic stability could be ensured only through the intervention of the government. The second lesson related to a country’s economic links with the outside world. The goal of full employment could only be achieved if governments had power to control flows of goods, capital and labour. Thus in brief, the main aim of the post-war international economic system was to preserve economic stability and full employment in the industrial world. Its framework was agreed upon at the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference held in July 1944 at Bretton Woods in New Hampshire, USA. The Bretton Woods conference established the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to deal with external surpluses and deficits of its member nations. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (popularly known as the World Bank) was set up to finance postwar reconstruction. The IMF and the World Bank are referred to as the Bretton Woods institutions or sometimes the Bretton Woods twins. The post-war international economic system is also often described as the Bretton Woods system. The IMF and the World Bank commenced financial operations in 1947. Decision-making in these institutions is controlled by the Western industrial powers. The US has an effective right of veto over key IMF and World Bank decisions. The international monetary system is the system linking national currencies and monetary system. The Bretton Woods system was based on fixed exchange rates. In this system, national currencies, for example the Indian rupee, were pegged to the dollar at a fixed exchange rate. The dollar itself was anchored to gold at a fixed price of $35 per ounce of gold. 4.2 The Early Post-war Years The Bretton Woods system inaugurated an era of unprecedented growth of trade and incomes for the Western industrial nations and Japan. World trade grew annually at over 8 per cent between 1950 and 1970 and incomes at nearly 5 per cent. The growth was also mostly stable, without large fluctuations. For much of this period the unemployment rate, for example, averaged less than 5 per cent in most industrial countries. Discuss Briefly summarise the two lessons learnt by economists and politicians from the inter-war economic experience? These decades also saw the worldwide spread of technology and enterprise. Developing countries were in a hurry to catch up with the advanced industrial countries. Therefore, they invested vast amounts of capital, importing industrial plant and equipment featuring modern technology. 4.3 Decolonisation and Independence When the Second World War ended, large parts of the world were still under European colonial rule. Over the next two decades most colonies in Asia and Africa emerged as free, independent nations. They were, however, overburdened by poverty and a lack of resources, and their economies and societies were handicapped by long periods of colonial rule. The IMF and the World Bank were designed to meet the financial needs of the industrial countries. They were not equipped to cope with the challenge of poverty and lack of development in the former colonies. But as Europe and Japan rapidly rebuilt their economies, they grew less dependent on the IMF and the World Bank. Thus from the late 1950s the Bretton Woods institutions began to shift their attention more towards developing countries. As colonies, many of the less developed regions of the world had been part of Western empires. Now, ironically, as newly independent countries facing urgent pressures to lift their populations out of poverty, they came under the guidance of international agencies dominated by the former colonial powers. Even after many years of decolonisation, the former colonial powers still controlled vital resources such as minerals and land in many of their former colonies. Large corporations of other powerful countries, for example the US, also often managed to secure rights to exploit developing countries’ natural resources very cheaply. At the same time, most developing countries did not benefit from the fast growth the Western economies experienced in the 1950s and 1960s. Therefore they organised themselves as a group – the Group of 77 (or G-77) – to demand a new international economic order (NIEO). By the NIEO they meant a system that would give them real control over their natural resources, more development assistance, fairer prices for raw materials, and better access for their manufactured goods in developed countries’ markets. Box 4 What are MNCs? Multinational corporations (MNCs) are large companies that operate in several countries at the same time. The first MNCs were established in the 1920s. Many more came up in the 1950s and 1960s as US businesses expanded worldwide and Western Europe and Japan also recovered to become powerful industrial economies. The worldwide spread of MNCs was a notable feature of the 1950s and 1960s. This was partly because high import tariffs imposed by different governments forced MNCs to locate their manufacturing operations and become ‘domestic producers’ in as many countries as possible. New words Tariff – Tax imposed on a country’s imports from the rest of the world. Tariffs are levied at the point of entry, i.e., at the border or the airport. 4.4 End of Bretton Woods and the Beginning of ‘Globalisation’ Despite years of stable and rapid growth, not all was well in this post-war world. From the 1960s the rising costs of its overseas involvements weakened the US’s finances and competitive strength. The US dollar now no longer commanded confidence as the world’s principal currency. It could not maintain its value in relation to gold. This eventually led to the collapse of the system of fixed exchange rates and the introduction of a system of floating exchange rates. From the mid-1970s the international financial system also changed in important ways. Earlier, developing countries could turn to international institutions for loans and development assistance. But now they were forced to borrow from Western commercial banks and private lending institutions. This led to periodic debt crises in the developing world, and lower incomes and increased poverty, especially in Africa and Latin America. The industrial world was also hit by unemployment that began rising from the mid-1970s and remained high until the early 1990s. From the late 1970s MNCs also began to shift production operations to low-wage Asian countries. China had been cut off from the post-war world economy since its revolution in 1949. But new economic policies in China and the collapse of the Soviet Union and Soviet-style communism in Eastern Europe brought many countries back into the fold of the world economy. Wages were relatively low in countries like China. Thus they became attractive destinations for investment by foreign MNCs competing to capture world markets. Have you noticed that most of the TVs, mobile phones, and toys we see in the shops seem to be made in China? This is because of the low-cost structure of the Chinese economy, most importantly its low wages. The relocation of industry to low-wage countries stimulated world trade and capital flows. In the last two decades the world’s economic geography has been transformed as countries such as India, China and Brazil have undergone rapid economic transformation. New words Exchange rates – They link national currencies for purposes of international trade. There are broadly two kinds of exchange rates: fixed exchange rate and floating exchange rate Fixed exchange rates – When exchange rates are fixed and governments intervene to prevent movements in them Flexible or floating exchange rates – These rates fluctuate depending on demand and supply of currencies in foreign exchange markets, in principle without interference by governments Write in brief Discuss Project Find out more about gold and diamond mining in South Africa in the nineteenth century. Who controlled the gold and diamond companies? Who were the miners and what were their lives like? Project


The Rise of Nationalism in Europe

Fig. 1 – Dawn of the Century, published by E.T. Paull Music Co., New York, England, 1900.

In 1900, a popular music publisher E.T. Paull produced a music book that had a picture on the cover page announcing the ‘Dawn of the Century’ (Fig. 1). As you can see from the illustration, at the centre of the picture is a goddess-like figure, the angel of progress, bearing the flag of the new century. She is gently perched on a wheel with wings, symbolising time. Her flight is taking her into the future. Floating about, behind her, are the signs of progress: railway, camera, machines, printing press and factory. 

New words

Orient – The countries to the east of the Mediterranean, usually referring to Asia. The term arises out of a western viewpoint that sees this region as pre-modern, traditional and mysterious

This glorification of machines and technology is even more marked in a picture which appeared on the pages of a trade magazine over a hundred years ago (Fig. 2). It shows two magicians. The one at the top is Aladdin from the Orient who built a beautiful palace with his magic lamp. The one at the bottom is the modern mechanic, who with his modern tools weaves a new magic: builds bridges, ships, towers and high-rise buildings. Aladdin is shown as representing the East and the past, the mechanic stands for the West and modernity.

These images offer us a triumphant account of the modern world. Within this account the modern world is associated with rapid technological change and innovations, machines and factories, railways and steamships. The history of industrialisation thus becomes simply a story of development, and the modern age appears as a wonderful time of technological progress.

Fig. 2 – Two Magicians, published in Inland Printers, 26 January 1901.

These images and associations have now become part of popular imagination. Do you not see rapid industrialisation as a time of progress and modernity? Do you not think that the spread of railways and factories, and construction of high-rise buildings and bridges is a sign of society’s development?

How have these images developed? And how do we relate to these ideas? Is industrialisation always based on rapid technological development? Can we today continue to glorify continuous mechanisation of all work? What has industrialisation meant to people’s lives? To answer such questions we need to turn to the history of industrialisation.


Give two examples where modern development that is associated with progress has led to problems. You may like to think of areas related to environmental issues, nuclear weapons or disease.

In this chapter we will look at this history by focusing first on Britain, the first industrial nation, and then India, where the pattern of industrial change was conditioned by colonial rule.

Chapter IV

1. Before the Industrial Revolution

All too often we associate industrialisation with the growth of factory industry. When we talk of industrial production we refer to factory production. When we talk of industrial workers we mean factory workers. Histories of industrialisation very often begin with the setting up of the first factories.

There is a problem with such ideas. Even before factories began to dot the landscape in England and Europe, there was large-scale industrial production for an international market. This was not based on factories. Many historians now refer to this phase of industrialisation as proto-industrialisation.

New words

Proto – Indicating the first or early form of something

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, merchants from the towns in Europe began moving to the countryside, supplying money to peasants and artisans, persuading them to produce for an international market. With the expansion of world trade and the acquisition of colonies in different parts of the world, the demand for goods began growing. But merchants could not expand production within towns. This was because here urban crafts and trade guilds were powerful. These were associations of producers that trained craftspeople, maintained control over production, regulated competition and prices, and restricted the entry of new people into the trade. Rulers granted different guilds the monopoly right to produce and trade in specific products. It was therefore difficult for new merchants to set up business in towns. So they turned to the countryside.

Fig. 3 – Spinning in the eighteenth century.

You can see each member of the family involved in the production of yarn. Notice that one wheel is moving only one spindle.

In the countryside poor peasants and artisans began working for merchants. As you have seen in the textbook last year, this was a time when open fields were disappearing and commons were being enclosed. Cottagers and poor peasants who had earlier depended on common lands for their survival, gathering their firewood, berries, vegetables, hay and straw, had to now look for alternative sources of income. Many had tiny plots of land which could not provide work for all members of the household. So when merchants came around and offered advances to produce goods for them, peasant households eagerly agreed. By working for the merchants, they could remain in the countryside and continue to cultivate their small plots. Income from proto-industrial production supplemented their shrinking income from cultivation. It also allowed them a fuller use of their family labour resources.

Within this system a close relationship developed between the town and the countryside. Merchants were based in towns but the work was done mostly in the countryside. A merchant clothier in England purchased wool from a wool stapler, and carried it to the spinners; the yarn (thread) that was spun was taken in subsequent stages of production to weavers, fullers, and then to dyers. The finishing was done in London before the export merchant sold the cloth in the international market. London in fact came to be known as a finishing centre.

New words

Stapler – A person who ‘staples’ or sorts wool according to its fibre

Fuller – A person who ‘fulls’ – that is, gathers – cloth by pleating

Carding – The process in which fibres, such as cotton or wool, are prepared prior to spinning

This proto-industrial system was thus part of a network of commercial exchanges. It was controlled by merchants and the goods were produced by a vast number of producers working within their family farms, not in factories. At each stage of production 20 to 25 workers were employed by each merchant. This meant that each clothier was controlling hundreds of workers.

Fig. 4 – A Lancashire cotton mill, painted by
C.E. Turner,
The Illustrated London News, 1925.

The artist said: ‘Seen through the humid atmosphere that makes Lancashire the best cotton-spinning locality in the world, a huge cotton-mill aglow with electricity in the twilight, is a most impressive sight.’

1.1 The Coming Up of the Factory

The earliest factories in England came up by the 1730s. But it was only in the late eighteenth century that the number of factories multiplied.

The first symbol of the new era was cotton. Its production boomed in the late nineteenth century. In 1760 Britain was importing 2.5 million pounds of raw cotton to feed its cotton industry. By 1787 this import soared to 22 million pounds. This increase was linked to a number of changes within the process of production. Let us look briefly at some of these.

A series of inventions in the eighteenth century increased the efficacy of each step of the production process (carding, twisting and spinning, and rolling). They enhanced the output per worker, enabling each worker to produce more, and they made possible the production of stronger threads and yarn. Then Richard Arkwright created the cotton mill. Till this time, as you have seen, cloth production was spread all over the countryside and carried out within village households. But now, the costly new machines could be purchased, set up and maintained in the mill. Within the mill all the processes were brought together under one roof and management. This allowed a more careful supervision over the production process, a watch over quality, and the regulation of labour, all of which had been difficult to do when production was in the countryside.

Fig. 5 – Industrial Manchester by M. Jackson, The Illustrated London News, 1857.

Chimneys billowing smoke came to characterise the industrial landscape.

In the early nineteenth century, factories increasingly became an intimate part of the English landscape. So visible were the imposing new mills, so magical seemed to be the power of new technology, that contemporaries were dazzled. They concentrated their attention on the mills, almost forgetting the bylanes and the workshops where production still continued.


The way in which historians focus on industrialisation rather than on small workshops is a good example of how what we believe today about the past is influenced by what historians choose to notice and what they ignore. Note down one event or aspect of your own life which adults such as your parents or teachers may think is unimportant, but which you believe to be important.

1.2 The Pace of Industrial Change

How rapid was the process of industrialisation? Does industrialisation mean only the growth of factory industries?

First: The most dynamic industries in Britain were clearly cotton and metals. Growing at a rapid pace, cotton was the leading sector in the first phase of industrialisation up to the 1840s. After that the iron and steel industry led the way. With the expansion of railways, in England from the 1840s and in the colonies from the 1860s, the demand for iron and steel increased rapidly. By 1873 Britain was exporting iron and steel worth about £ 77 million, double the value of its cotton export.


Look at Figs. 4 and 5. Can you see any difference in the way the two images show industrialisation? Explain your view briefly.

Fig. 6 – A fitting shop at a railway works in England, The Illustrated London News, 1849.

In the fitting shop new locomotive engines were completed and old ones repaired.

Second: the new industries could not easily displace traditional industries. Even at the end of the nineteenth century, less than 20 per cent of the total workforce was employed in technologically advanced industrial sectors. Textiles was a dynamic sector, but a large portion of the output was produced not within factories, but outside, within domestic units.

Third: the pace of change in the ‘traditional’ industries was not set by steam-powered cotton or metal industries, but they did not remain entirely stagnant either. Seemingly ordinary and small innovations were the basis of growth in many non-mechanised sectors such as food processing, building, pottery, glass work, tanning, furniture making, and production of implements.

Fourth: technological changes occurred slowly. They did not spread dramatically across the industrial landscape. New technology was expensive and merchants and industrialists were cautious about using it. The machines often broke down and repair was costly. They were not as effective as their inventors and manufacturers claimed.

Consider the case of the steam engine. James Watt improved the steam engine produced by Newcomen and patented the new engine in 1781. His industrialist friend Mathew Boulton manufactured the new model. But for years he could find no buyers. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, there were no more than 321 steam engines all over England. Of these, 80 were in cotton industries, nine in wool industries, and the rest in mining, canal works and iron works. Steam engines were not used in any of the other industries till much later in the century. So even the most powerful new technology that enhanced the productivity of labour manifold was slow to be accepted by industrialists.

Historians now have come to increasingly recognise that the typical worker in the mid-nineteenth century was not a machine operator but the traditional craftsperson and labourer.

Fig. 7 – A spinning factory in 1830.

You can see how giant wheels moved by steam power could set in motion hundreds of spindles to manufacture thread.

2. Hand Labour and Steam Power

In Victorian Britain there was no shortage of human labour. Poor peasants and vagrants moved to the cities in large numbers in search of jobs, waiting for work. As you will know, when there is plenty of labour, wages are low. So industrialists had no problem of labour shortage or high wage costs. They did not want to introduce machines that got rid of human labour and required large capital investment.

Source A________________________________________________________________________

Will Thorne is one of those who went in search of seasonal work, loading bricks and doing odd jobs. He describes how job-seekers walked to London in search of work:

‘I had always wanted to go to London, and my desire … was stimulated by letters from an old workmate … who was now working at the Old Kent Road Gas Works … I finally decided to go … in November, 1881. With two friends I started out to walk the journey, filled with the hope that we would be able to obtain employment, when we get there, with the kind assistance of my friend … we had little money when we started, not enough to pay for our food and lodgings each night until we arrived in London. Some days we walked as much as twenty miles, and other days less. Our money was gone at the end of the third day … For two nights we slept out – once under a haystack, and once in an old farm shed … On arrival in London we tried to find … my friend … but … were unsuccessful. Our money was gone, so there was nothing for us to do but to walk around until late at night, and then try to find some place to sleep. We found an old building and slept in it that night. The next day, Sunday, late in the afternoon, we got to the Old Kent Gas Works, and applied for work. To my great surprise, the man we had been looking for was working at the time. He spoke to the foreman and I was given a job.’

Quoted in Raphael Samuel, ‘Comers and Goers’, in H.J. Dyos and Michael Wolff, eds, The Victorian City: Images and Realities, 1973.

In many industries the demand for labour was seasonal. Gas works and breweries were especially busy through the cold months. So they needed more workers to meet their peak demand. Book-binders and printers, catering to Christmas demand, too needed extra hands before December. At the waterfront, winter was the time that ships were repaired and spruced up. In all such industries where production fluctuated with the season, industrialists usually preferred hand labour, employing workers for the season.

Fig. 8 – People on the move in search of work, The Illustrated London News, 1879.

Some people were always on the move selling small goods and looking for temporary work.


Imagine that you are a merchant writing back to a salesman who has been trying to persuade you to buy a new machine. Explain in your letter what you have heard and why you do not wish to invest in the new technology.

A range of products could be produced only with hand labour. Machines were oriented to producing uniforms, standardised goods for a mass market. But the demand in the market was often for goods with intricate designs and specific shapes. In mid-nineteenth-century Britain, for instance, 500 varieties of hammers were produced and 45 kinds of axes. These required human skill, not mechanical technology.

Fig. 9 – Workers in an iron works, north-east England, painting by William Bell Scott, 1861.

Many artists from the late nineteenth century began idealising workers: they were shown suffering hardship and pain for the cause of the nation.

In Victorian Britain, the upper classes – the aristocrats and the bourgeoisie – preferred things produced by hand. Handmade products came to symbolise refinement and class. They were better finished, individually produced, and carefully designed. Machine-made goods were for export to the colonies.

In countries with labour shortage, industrialists were keen on using mechanical power so that the need for human labour can be minimised. This was the case in nineteenth-century America. Britain, however, had no problem hiring human hands.

2.1 Life of the Workers

The abundance of labour in the market affected the lives of workers. As news of possible jobs travelled to the countryside, hundreds tramped to the cities. The actual possibility of getting a job depended on existing networks of friendship and kin relations. If you had a relative or a friend in a factory, you were more likely to get a job quickly. But not everyone had social connections. Many job-seekers had to wait weeks, spending nights under bridges or in night shelters. Some stayed in Night Refuges that were set up by private individuals; others went to the Casual Wards maintained by the Poor Law authorities.

Fig. 10 – Houseless and Hungry, painting by Samuel Luke Fildes, 1874.

This painting shows the homeless in London applying for tickets to stay overnight in a workhouse. These shelters were maintained under the supervision of the Poor Law Commissioners for the ‘destitute, wayfarers, wanderers and foundling’. Staying in these workhouses was a humiliating experience: everyone was subjected to a medical examination to see whether they were carrying disease, their bodies were cleansed, and their clothes purified. They had to also do hard labour.

Fig. 11 – A Spinning Jenny, a drawing by
T.E. Nicholson, 1835.

Notice the number of spindles that could be operated with one wheel.

Seasonality of work in many industries meant prolonged periods without work. After the busy season was over, the poor were on the streets again. Some returned to the countryside after the winter, when the demand for labour in the rural areas opened up in places. But most looked for odd jobs, which till the mid-nineteenth century were difficult to find.

Wages increased somewhat in the early nineteenth century. But they tell us little about the welfare of the workers. The average figures hide the variations between trades and the fluctuations from year to year. For instance, when prices rose sharply during the prolonged Napoleonic War, the real value of what the workers earned fell significantly, since the same wages could now buy fewer things. Moreover, the income of workers depended not on the wage rate alone. What was also critical was the period of employment: the number of days of work determined the average daily income of the workers. At the best of times till the mid-nineteenth century, about 10 per cent of the urban population were extremely poor. In periods of economic slump, like the 1830s, the proportion of unemployed went up to anything between 35 and 75 per cent in different regions.

New words

Spinning Jenny – Devised by James Hargreaves in 1764, this machine speeded up the spinning process and reduced labour demand. By turning one single wheel a worker could set in motion a number of spindles and spin several threads at the same time.


Look at Figs. 3, 7 and 11, then reread source B. Explain why many workers were opposed to the use of the Spinning Jenny.

Source B______________________________________________________________________

A magistrate reported in 1790 about an incident when he was called in to protect a manufacturer’s property from being attacked by workers:

‘From the depredations of a lawless Banditti of colliers and their wives, for the wives had lost their work to spinning engines … they advanced at first with much insolence, avowing their intention of cutting to pieces the machine lately introduced in the woollen manufacture; which they suppose, if generally adopted, will lessen the demand for manual labour. The women became clamorous. The men were more open to conviction and after some expostulation were induced to desist from their purpose and return peaceably home.’

J.L. Hammond and B. Hammond, The Skilled Labourer 1760-1832, quoted in Maxine Berg, The Age of Manufactures.

Fig. 12 – A shallow underground railway being constructed in central London, Illustrated Times, 1868.

From the 1850s railway stations began coming up all over London. This meant a demand for large numbers of workers to dig tunnels, erect timber scaffolding, do the brick and iron works. Job-seekers moved from one construction site to another.

The fear of unemployment made workers hostile to the introduction of new technology. When the Spinning Jenny was introduced in the woollen industry, women who survived on hand spinning began attacking the new machines. This conflict over the introduction of the jenny continued for a long time.

After the 1840s, building activity intensified in the cities, opening up greater opportunities of employment. Roads were widened, new railway stations came up, railway lines were extended, tunnels dug, drainage and sewers laid, rivers embanked. The number of workers employed in the transport industry doubled in the 1840s, and doubled again in the subsequent 30 years.

3. Industrialisation in the Colonies

Let us now move to India to see how a colony industrialises. Once again we will look not only at factory industries but also at the non-mechanised sector. We will limit our discussion primarily to textile industries.

3.1 The Age of Indian Textiles

Before the age of machine industries, silk and cotton goods from India dominated the international market in textiles. Coarser cottons were produced in many countries, but the finer varieties often came from India. Armenian and Persian merchants took the goods from Punjab to Afghanistan, eastern Persia and Central Asia. Bales of fine textiles were carried on camel back via the north-west frontier, through mountain passes and across deserts. A vibrant sea trade operated through the main pre-colonial ports. Surat on the Gujarat coast connected India to the Gulf and Red Sea Ports; Masulipatam on the Coromandel coast and Hoogly in Bengal had trade links with Southeast Asian ports.


On a map of Asia, find and draw the sea and land links of the textile trade from India to Central Asia, West Asia and Southeast Asia.

A variety of Indian merchants and bankers were involved in this network of export trade – financing production, carrying goods and supplying exporters. Supply merchants linked the port towns to the inland regions. They gave advances to weavers, procured the woven cloth from weaving villages, and carried the supply to the ports. At the port, the big shippers and export merchants had brokers who negotiated the price and bought goods from the supply merchants operating inland.

By the 1750s this network, controlled by Indian merchants, was breaking down.

The European companies gradually gained power – first securing a variety of concessions from local courts, then the monopoly rights to trade. This resulted in a decline of the old ports of Surat and Hoogly through which local merchants had operated. Exports from these ports fell dramatically, the credit that had financed the earlier trade began drying up, and the local bankers slowly went bankrupt. In the last years of the seventeenth century, the gross value of trade that passed through Surat had been Rs 16 million. By the 1740s it had slumped to Rs 3 million.

While Surat and Hoogly decayed, Bombay and Calcutta grew. This shift from the old ports to the new ones was an indicator of the growth of colonial power. Trade through the new ports came to be controlled by European companies, and was carried in European ships. While many of the old trading houses collapsed, those that wanted to survive had to now operate within a network shaped by European trading companies.

Fig. 13 – The English factory at Surat, a seventeenth-century drawing.

How did these changes affect the life of weavers and other artisans?

3.2 What Happened to Weavers?

The consolidation of East India Company power after the 1760s did not initially lead to a decline in textile exports from India. British cotton industries had not yet expanded and Indian fine textiles were in great demand in Europe. So the company was keen on expanding textile exports from India.

Before establishing political power in Bengal and Carnatic in the 1760s and 1770s, the East India Company had found it difficult to ensure a regular supply of goods for export. The French, Dutch, Portuguese as well as the local traders competed in the market to secure woven cloth. So the weaver and supply merchants could bargain and try selling the produce to the best buyer. In their letters back to London, Company officials continuously complained of difficulties of supply and the high prices.

Fig. 14 – A weaver at work, Gujarat.

However, once the East India Company established political power, it could assert a monopoly right to trade. It proceeded to develop a system of management and control that would eliminate competition, control costs, and ensure regular supplies of cotton and silk goods. This it did through a series of steps.

First: the Company tried to eliminate the existing traders and brokers connected with the cloth trade, and establish a more direct control over the weaver. It appointed a paid servant called the gomastha to supervise weavers, collect supplies, and examine the quality of cloth.

Second: it prevented Company weavers from dealing with other buyers. One way of doing this was through the system of advances. Once an order was placed, the weavers were given loans to purchase the raw material for their production. Those who took loans had to hand over the cloth they produced to the gomastha. They could not take it to any other trader.

As loans flowed in and the demand for fine textiles expanded, weavers eagerly took the advances, hoping to earn more. Many weavers had small plots of land which they had earlier cultivated along with weaving, and the produce from this took care of their family needs. Now they had to lease out the land and devote all their time to weaving. Weaving, in fact, required the labour of the entire family, with children and women all engaged in different stages of the process.

New words

Sepoy – This is how the British pronounced the word sipahi, meaning an Indian soldier in the service of the British

Soon, however, in many weaving villages there were reports of clashes between weavers and gomasthas. Earlier supply merchants had very often lived within the weaving villages, and had a close relationship with the weavers, looking after their needs and helping them in times of crisis. The new gomasthas were outsiders, with no long-term social link with the village. They acted arrogantly, marched into villages with sepoys and peons, and punished weavers for delays in supply – often beating and flogging them. The weavers lost the space to bargain for prices and sell to different buyers: the price they received from the Company was miserably low and the loans they had accepted tied them to the Company.

In many places in Carnatic and Bengal, weavers deserted villages and migrated, setting up looms in other villages where they had some family relation. Elsewhere, weavers along with the village traders revolted, opposing the Company and its officials. Over time many weavers began refusing loans, closing down their workshops and taking to agricultural labour.

By the turn of the nineteenth century, cotton weavers faced a new set of problems.

3.3 Manchester Comes to India

In 1772, Henry Patullo, a Company official, had ventured to say that the demand for Indian textiles could never reduce, since no other nation produced goods of the same quality. Yet by the beginning of the nineteenth century we see the beginning of a long decline of textile exports from India. In 1811-12 
piece-goods accounted for 33 per cent of India’s exports; by 1850-51 it was no more than 3 per cent. 

Why did this happen? What were its implications? 

As cotton industries developed in England, industrial groups began worrying about imports from other countries. They pressurised the government to impose import duties on cotton textiles so that Manchester goods could sell in Britain without facing any competition from outside. At the same time industrialists persuaded the East India Company to sell British manufactures in Indian markets as well. Exports of British cotton goods increased dramatically in the early nineteenth century. At the end of the eighteenth century there had been virtually no import of cotton piece-goods into India. But by 1850 cotton piece-goods constituted over 31 per cent of the value of Indian imports; and by the 1870s this figure was over 50 per cent.

Source C___________________________________________________________________

The Commissioner of Patna wrote:

‘It appears that twenty yeas ago, a brisk trade was carried on in the manufacture of cloth at Jahanabad, and Behar, which has in the former place entirely ceased, while in the latter the amount of manufacture is very limited, in consequence of the cheap and durable goods from Manchester with which the Native manufactures are unable to compete.’

Quoted in J. Krishnamurty, ‘Deindustrialisation in Gangetic Bihar during the nineteenth century’, The Indian Economic and Social History Review, 1985.

Source D_______________________________________________________________________

Reporting on the Koshtis, a community of weavers, the Census Report of Central Provinces stated:

‘The Koshtis, like the weavers of the finer kinds of cloth in other parts of India, have fallen upon evil times. They are unable to compete with the showy goods which Manchester sends in such profusion, and they have of late years emigrated in great numbers, chiefly to Berar, where as day labourers they are able to obtain wages …’

Census Report of Central Provinces, 1872, quoted in Sumit Guha, ‘The handloom industry in Central India, 1825-1950’, The Indian Economic and Social History Review.

Fig. 15 – Bombay harbour, a late-eighteenth-century drawing.

Bombay and Calcutta grew as trading ports from the 1780s. This marked the decline of the old trading order 
and the growth of the colonial economy.

Cotton weavers in India thus faced two problems at the same time: their export market collapsed, and the local market shrank, being glutted with Manchester imports. Produced by machines at lower costs, the imported cotton goods were so cheap that weavers could not easily compete with them. By the 1850s, reports from most weaving regions of India narrated stories of decline and desolation.

By the 1860s, weavers faced a new problem. They could not get sufficient supply of raw cotton of good quality. When the American Civil War broke out and cotton supplies from the US were cut off, Britain turned to India. As raw cotton exports from India increased, the price of raw cotton shot up. Weavers in India were starved of supplies and forced to buy raw cotton at exorbitant prices. In this, situation weaving could not pay.

Then, by the end of the nineteenth century, weavers and other craftspeople faced yet another problem. Factories in India began production, flooding the market with machine-goods. How could weaving industries possibly survive?

4. Factories Come Up

The first cotton mill in Bombay came up in 1854 and it went into production two years later. By 1862 four mills were at work with 94,000 spindles and 2,150 looms. Around the same time jute mills came up in Bengal, the first being set up in 1855 and another one seven years later, in 1862. In north India, the Elgin Mill was started in Kanpur in the 1860s, and a year later the first cotton mill of Ahmedabad was set up. By 1874, the first spinning and weaving mill of Madras began production.

Who set up the industries? Where did the capital come from? Who came to work in the mills?

Fig. 16 – Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy.

Jeejeebhoy was the son of a Parsi weaver. Like many others of his time, he was involved in the China trade and shipping. He owned a large fleet of ships, but competition from English and American shippers forced him to sell his ships by the 1850s.

4.1 The Early Entrepreneurs

Industries were set up in different regions by varying sorts of people. Let us see who they were.

The history of many business groups goes back to trade with China. From the late eighteenth century, as you have read in your book last year, the British in India began exporting opium to China and took tea from China to England. Many Indians became junior players in this trade, providing finance, procuring supplies, and shipping consignments. Having earned through trade, some of these businessmen had visions of developing industrial enterprises in India. In Bengal, Dwarkanath Tagore made his fortune in the China trade before he turned to industrial investment, setting up six joint-stock companies in the 1830s and 1840s. Tagore’s enterprises sank along with those of others in the wider business crises of the 1840s, but later in the nineteenth century many of the China traders became successful industrialists. In Bombay, Parsis like Dinshaw Petit and Jamsetjee Nusserwanjee Tata who built huge industrial empires in India, accumulated their initial wealth partly from exports to China, and partly from raw cotton shipments to England. Seth Hukumchand, a Marwari businessman who set up the first Indian jute mill in Calcutta in 1917, also traded with China. So did the father as well as grandfather of the famous industrialist G.D. Birla.

Fig. 17 – Dwarkanath Tagore.

Dwarkanath Tagore believed that India would develop through westernisation and industrialisation. He invested in shipping, shipbuilding, mining, banking, plantations
and insurance.

Capital was accumulated through other trade networks. Some merchants from Madras traded with Burma while others had links with the Middle East and East Africa. There were yet other commercial groups, but they were not directly involved in external trade. They operated within India, carrying goods from one place to another, banking money, transferring funds between cities, and financing traders. When opportunities of investment in industries opened up, many of them set up factories.

Fig. 18 – Partners in enterprise – J.N. Tata,
R.D. Tata, Sir R.J. Tata, and Sir D.J. Tata.

In 1912, J.N. Tata set up the first iron and steel works in India at Jamshedpur. Iron and steel industries in India started much later than textiles. In colonial India industrial machinery, railways and locomotives were mostly imported. So capital goods industries could not really develop in any significant way till Independence.

Fig. 19 – Young workers of a Bombay mill, early twentieth century.

When workers went back to their village homes, they liked dressing up.

As colonial control over Indian trade tightened, the space within which Indian merchants could function became increasingly limited. They were barred from trading with Europe in manufactured goods, and had to export mostly raw materials and food grains – raw cotton, opium, wheat and indigo – required by the British. They were also gradually edged out of the shipping business.

Till the First World War, European Managing Agencies in fact controlled a large sector of Indian industries. Three of the biggest ones were Bird Heiglers & Co., Andrew Yule, and Jardine Skinner & Co. These Agencies mobilised capital, set up joint-stock companies and managed them. In most instances Indian financiers provided the capital while the European Agencies made all investment and business decisions. The European merchant-industrialists had their own chambers of commerce which Indian businessmen were not allowed to join.

4.2 Where Did the Workers Come From?

Factories needed workers. With the expansion of factories, this demand increased. In 1901, there were 584,000 workers in Indian factories. By 1946 the number was over 2,436, 000. Where did the workers come from?

In most industrial regions workers came from the districts around. Peasants and artisans who found no work in the village went to the industrial centres in search of work. Over 50 per cent workers in the Bombay cotton industries in 1911 came from the neighbouring district of Ratnagiri, while the mills of Kanpur got most of their textile hands from the villages within the district of Kanpur. Most often millworkers moved between the village and the city, returning to their village homes during harvests and festivals.

Over time, as news of employment spread, workers travelled great distances in the hope of work in the mills. From the United Provinces, for instance, they went to work in the textile mills of Bombay and in the jute mills of Calcutta.

Fig. 20 – A head jobber.

Notice how the posture and clothes emphasise the jobber’s position of authority.

Source E______________________________________________________________

Vasant Parkar, who was once a millworker in Bombay, said:

‘The workers would pay the jobbers money to get their sons work in the mill … The mill worker was closely associated with his village, physically and emotionally. He would go home to cut the harvest and for sowing. The Konkani would go home to cut the paddy and the Ghati, the sugarcane. It was an accepted practice for which the mills granted leave.’

Meena Menon and Neera Adarkar, One Hundred Years: One Hundred Voices, 2004.

Getting jobs was always difficult, even when mills multiplied and the demand for workers increased. The numbers seeking work were always more than the jobs available. Entry into the mills was also restricted. Industrialists usually employed a jobber to get new recruits. Very often the jobber was an old and trusted worker. He got people from his village, ensured them jobs, helped them settle in the city and provided them money in times of crisis. The jobber therefore became a person with some authority and power. He began demanding money and gifts for his favour and controlling the lives of workers.

The number of factory workers increased over time. However, as you will see, they were a small proportion of the total industrial workforce.

Fig. 21 – Spinners at work in an Ahmedabad mill.

Women worked mostly in the spinning departments.

Source F____________________________________________________________________

Bhai Bhosle, a trade unionist of Bombay, recollected his childhood in the 1930s and 1940s:

‘In those days, the shift was 10 hours – from 
5 pm to 3 am – terrible working hours. My father worked for 35 years; he got the asthma like disease and could not work any more…Then my father went back to village.’

Meena Menon and Neera Adarkar, One Hundred Years: One Hundred Voices.

5. The Peculiarities of Industrial Growth

European Managing Agencies, which dominated industrial production in India, were interested in certain kinds of products. They established tea and coffee plantations, acquiring land at cheap rates from the colonial government; and they invested in mining, indigo and jute. Most of these were products required primarily for export trade and not for sale in India.

When Indian businessmen began setting up industries in the late nineteenth century, they avoided competing with Manchester goods in the Indian market. Since yarn was not an important part of British imports into India, the early cotton mills in India produced coarse cotton yarn (thread) rather than fabric. When yarn was imported it was only of the superior variety. The yarn produced in Indian spinning mills was used by handloom weavers in India or exported to China.

By the first decade of the twentieth century a series of changes affected the pattern of industrialisation. As the swadeshi movement gathered momentum, nationalists mobilised people to boycott foreign cloth. Industrial groups organised themselves to protect their collective interests, pressurising the government to increase tariff protection and grant other concessions. From 1906, moreover, the export of Indian yarn to China declined since produce from Chinese and Japanese mills flooded the Chinese market. So industrialists in India began shifting from yarn to cloth production. Cotton piece-goods production in India doubled between 1900 and 1912.

Fig. 22 – The first office of the Madras Chamber of Commerce.

By the late nineteenth century merchants in different regions began meeting and forming Chambers of Commerce to regulate business and decide on issues of collective concern.

Yet, till the First World War, industrial growth was slow. The war created a dramatically new situation. With British mills busy with war production to meet the needs of the army, Manchester imports into India declined. Suddenly, Indian mills had a vast home market to supply. As the war prolonged, Indian factories were called upon to supply war needs: jute bags, cloth for army uniforms, tents and leather boots, horse and mule saddles and a host of other
items. New factories were set up and old ones ran multiple shifts. Many new workers were employed and everyone was made to work longer hours. Over the war years industrial production boomed.

After the war, Manchester could never recapture its old position in the Indian market. Unable to modernise and compete with the US, Germany and Japan, the economy of Britain crumbled after the war. Cotton production collapsed and exports of cotton cloth from Britain fell dramatically. Within the colonies, local industrialists gradually consolidated their position, substituting foreign manufactures and capturing the home market.

5.1 Small-scale Industries Predominate

While factory industries grew steadily after the war, large industries formed only a small segment of the economy. Most of them – about 67 per cent in 1911 – were located in Bengal and Bombay. Over the rest of the country, small-scale production continued to predominate. Only a small proportion of the total industrial labour force worked in registered factories: 5 per cent in 1911 and 10 per cent in 1931. The rest worked in small workshops and household units, often located in alleys and bylanes, invisible to the passer-by.

In fact, in some instances, handicrafts production actually expanded in the twentieth century. This is true even in the case of the handloom sector that we have discussed. While cheap machine-made thread wiped out the spinning industry in the nineteenth century, the weavers survived, despite problems. In the twentieth century, handloom
cloth production expanded steadily: almost trebling between 1900 and 1940.

Fig. 23 – A Hand-woven Cloth.

The intricate designs of hand-woven cloth could not be easily copied by the mills.

How did this happen?

This was partly because of technological changes. Handicrafts people adopt new technology if that helps them improve production without excessively pushing up costs. So, by the second decade of the twentieth century we find weavers using looms with a fly shuttle. This increased productivity per worker, speeded up production and reduced labour demand. By 1941, over 35 per cent of handlooms in India were fitted with fly shuttles: in regions like Travancore, Madras, Mysore, Cochin, Bengal the proportion was 70 to 80 per cent. There were several other small innovations that helped weavers improve their productivity and compete with the mill sector.

New words

Fly shuttle – It is a mechanical device used for weaving, moved by means of ropes and pullies. It places the horizontal threads ( called the weft) into the verticle threads (called the warp). The invention of the fly shuttle made it possible for weavers to operate large looms and weave wide pieces of cloth.

Certain groups of weavers were in a better position than others to survive the competition with mill industries. Amongst weavers some produced coarse cloth while others wove finer varieties. The coarser cloth was bought by the poor and its demand fluctuated violently. In times of bad harvests and famines, when the rural poor had little to eat, and their cash income disappeared, they could not possibly buy cloth. The demand for the finer varieties bought by the 

well-to-do was more stable. The rich could buy these even when the poor starved. Famines did not affect the sale of Banarasi or Baluchari saris. Moreover, as you have seen, mills could not imitate specialised weaves. Saris with woven borders, or the famous lungis and handkerchiefs of Madras, could not be easily displaced by mill production.


Fig. 24 – Location of large-scale industries in India, 1931.

The circles indicate the size of industries in the different regions.

Weavers and other craftspeople who continued to expand production through the twentieth century, did not necessarily prosper. They lived hard lives and worked long hours. Very often the entire household – including all the women and children – had to work at various stages of the production process. But they were not simply remnants of past times in the age of factories. Their life and labour was integral to the process of industrialisation.

6. Market for Goods

We have seen how British manufacturers attempted to take over the Indian market, and how Indian weavers and craftsmen, traders and industrialists resisted colonial controls, demanded tariff protection, created their own spaces, and tried to extend the market for their produce.

Fig. 25 – Gripe Water calendar of 1928 by M.V. Dhurandhar.

The image of baby Krishna was most commonly used to popularise baby products.

But when new products are produced people have to be persuaded to buy them. They have to feel like using the product. How was this done?

One way in which new consumers are created is through advertisements. As you know, advertisements make products appear desirable and necessary. They try to shape the minds of people and create new needs. Today we live in a world where advertisements surround us. They appear in newspapers, magazines, hoardings, street walls, television screens. But if we look back into history we find that from the very beginning of the industrial age, advertisements have played a part in expanding the markets for products, and in shaping a new consumer culture.

Fig. 26(a) – Manchester labels, early twentieth century.

Images of numerous Indian gods and goddesses – Kartika, Lakshmi, Saraswati – are shown in imported cloth labels approving the quality of the product being marketed.

Fig. 26(b) – Maharaja Ranjit Singh on a Manchester label.

Historic figures are used to create respect for the product.

Fig. 26(a) Fig. 26(b)

When Manchester industrialists began selling cloth in India, they put labels on the cloth bundles. The label was needed to make the place of manufacture and the name of the company familiar to the buyer. The label was also to be a mark of quality. When buyers saw ‘MADE IN MANCHESTER’ written in bold on the label, they were expected to feel confident about buying the cloth.

But labels did not only carry words and texts. They also carried images and were very often beautifully illustrated. If we look at these old labels, we can have some idea of the mind of the manufacturers, their calculations, and the way they appealed to the people.

Fig. 27 – Sunlight soap calendar of 1934.

Here God Vishnu is shown bringing sunlight from across the skies.

Images of Indian gods and goddesses regularly appeared on these labels. It was as if the association with gods gave divine approval to the goods being sold. The imprinted image of Krishna or Saraswati was also intended to make the manufacture from a foreign land appear somewhat familiar to Indian people.

By the late nineteenth century, manufacturers were printing calendars to popularise their products. Unlike newspapers and magazines, calendars were used even by people who could not read. They were hung in tea shops and in poor people’s homes just as much as in offices and middle-class apartments. And those who hung the calendars had to see the advertisements, day after day, through the year. In these calendars, once again, we see the figures of gods being used to sell new products.

Like the images of gods, figures of important personages, of emperors and nawabs, adorned advertisement and calendars. The message very often seemed to say: if you respect the royal figure, then respect this product; when the product was being used by
kings, or produced under royal command, its quality could not
be questioned.

Fig. 28 – An Indian mill cloth label.

The goddess is shown offering cloth produced in an Ahmedabad mill, and asking people to use things made in India.

When Indian manufacturers advertised the nationalist message was clear and loud. If you care for the nation then buy products that Indians produce. Advertisements became a vehicle of the nationalist message of swadeshi.


Clearly, the age of industries has meant major technological changes, growth of factories, and the making of a new industrial labour force. However, as you have seen, hand technology and small-scale production remained an important part of the industrial landscape.

Write in brief

1. Explain the following:

a) Women workers in Britain attacked the Spinning Jenny.

b) In the seventeenth century merchants from towns in Europe began employing peasants and artisans within the villages. 

c) The port of Surat declined by the end of the eighteenth century.

d) The East India Company appointed gomasthas to supervise weavers in India.

2. Write True or False against each statement:

a) At the end of the nineteenth century, 80 per cent of the total workforce in Europe was employed in the technologically advanced industrial                    sector.

b) The international market for fine textiles was dominated by India till the eighteenth century.

c) The American Civil War resulted in the reduction of cotton exports from India. 

d) The introduction of the fly shuttle enabled handloom workers to improve their productivity. 

3. Explain what is meant by proto-industrialisation.


1. Why did some industrialists in nineteenth-century Europe prefer hand labour over machines? 

2. How did the East India Company procure regular supplies of cotton and silk textiles from 
Indian weavers?

3. Imagine that you have been asked to write an article for an encyclopaedia on Britain and the history of cotton. Write your piece using information from the entire chapter. 

4. Why did industrial production in India increase during the First World War?


Select any one industry in your region and find out its history. How has the technology changed? Where do the workers come from? How are the products advertised and marketed? Try and talk to the employers and some workers to get their views about the industry’s history.

RELOAD if chapter isn't visible.