Discussion paper

DP14884 The Mechanics of the Industrial Revolution

For contemporaries, Britain’s success in developing the technologies
of the early Industrial Revolution rested in large part on its abundant
supply of artisan skills, notably in metalworking. In this paper
we outline a simple process where successful industrialization occurs
in regions that start with low wages and high mechanical skills, and
show that these two factors strongly explain the growth of the textile
industry across the 41 counties of England between the 1760s and
1830s. By contrast, literacy and access to capital have no power in predicting
industrialization, nor does proximity to coal. Although unimportant
as a source of power for early textile machinery, Britain’s coal
was vital as a source of cheap heat that allowed it over centuries to develop
a unique range of sophisticated metalworking industries. From
these activities came artisans, fromwatchmakers to iron founders, whose
industrial skillswere in demand not just in Britain but across all of Europe.
Against the view that living standards were stagnant during the
Industrial Revolution, we find that real wages rose sharply in the industrializing
north and collapsed in the previously prosperous south.


Kelly, M, J Mokyr and C Ó Gráda (2020), ‘DP14884 The Mechanics of the Industrial Revolution‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 14884. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp14884