War, Potatoes, and Revolution

To preface this post, a youtube video

First off, I have never seen individuals so excited about a potato. Honestly, I have never even given these plants a second thought.  When they mentioned that these plants were the plants that allowed the industrial revolution to happen, this peaked my interest and I decided to do a bit of research on that.

As individuals moved from agricultural jobs to manufacturing jobs during the industrial revolution, this could have created a huge shortage of food. Luckily, the industrializing nations had a trick up their sleeve.  The Potato. And although this plant is argubly the staple in most developing countries, it was not received very well. According to this article “Throughout Europe, potatoes were regarded with suspicion, distaste and fear.” Especially among the lower class, the Potato was simply seen as food that would keep them from starving and not as luxury good. In fact, it wasn’t until the food shortages brought about by the Revolutionary War  that potatoes received wide acceptance and use. Because the potato had such nutritional value per acre, it created less of a need for farmers to support large populations.  This critical paradigm shift in the amount of farmer needed per capita allowed the industrial revolution to happen.

The industrial revolution itself created a huge paradigm shift that affected virtually every aspect of daily life. Overall, the change was due to a shift from an agricultural economy to a manufacturing economy. People moved away from the countryside and towards cities where jobs were available. It first stared with the textile industry. As cloth began to be produced by machines, it made clothes cheaper for the masses. It required less labor for each article of clothing produced. The prevalence of the laissez-faire economy (as proposed by Adam Smith in “The Wealth of Nations”) allowed this manufacturing economy to grow.

Unfortunately, not all of the consequences of the revolution were positive.  Because of the large amounts of workers moving from the country to the city, there was huge supply of workers. The demand for labor could not keep up with this huge surge of workers.  This drove wages down, and created a huge amount of underpaid workers.  In addition, families could no longer live off of one income and it forced women and children to enter the workforce (which is another way that the Industrial Revolution effected every day life).  According to this article, “Children also had smaller hands, which were often needed to reach in among the parts of a machine. Furthermore, employers found that children were more malleable, and adapted to the new methods much better than adults did.” Children, Women and Men in the workforce also caused a shift in the social structure of the family. No longer were families working together in the fields, but rather they were working separate jobs for the entire day. This left little time for families to sit down and interact with each other.

The Industrial Revolution was a revolution that caused a huge shift in the way that individuals live. Just like most other revolutions, there were a number of factors that lead to the revolution (such as the advent of the potato), and there were a large number of consequences.  Some of them positive, others negative. While it is arguable as to whether or not the Industrial Revolution was good for us, it is clear that it caused a tremendous paradigm shift on society.

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One thought on “War, Potatoes, and Revolution

  1. Pingback: 42 « Hakuna Matata

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