Important Inventions of the Industrial Revolution

The inventions themselves were not an immediately profitable investment throughout many parts of Europe during the 18th century.


The Industrial Revolution was a time of great change and development throughout parts of Europe in which society made substantial technological progress. A large amount of this progress was centered in Britain, not only because of its resources, but also due to the economic conditions that were present in Britain during the time. The inventions themselves were not an immediately profitable investment throughout many parts of Europe during the 18th century and, as such, were not a smart venture to participate in in many countries. Inventors in Britain, however, had the resources and economic conditions available to make a profitable product that could be duplicated, improved upon, and, eventually, would spread throughout many parts of Europe. Three of the most influential of these inventions were the coke fueled furnace, steam engine, and spinning jenny; all of which increased production capabilities large amounts in many parts of Europe. This page will work to explore these three inventions and their impact on the lives of those living in Britain during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Coke-Fueled Blast Furnace

Painting of Coalbrookdale by Philip James de Loutherbourg, Retrieved via wikipedia commons

The coke fueled blast furnace, made by Abraham Darby, is one of the many inventions that shaped the modern world. The blast furnace revolutionized the way that pig iron was melted down for the production of steel. It was also a much easier and more efficient way of producing steel. The blast furnace was created in 1709 as a way to use coke instead of charcoal, as a fuel.1 Charcoal was becoming increasingly scarce and as a result it was also becoming increasingly expensive. This increase in price caused the production of steel to slow. This increasingly difficult way to produce steel created a demand for a new, cost efficient way to make steel.

Abraham Darby, the creator of the coke fueled blast furnace, decided to settle his invention in the town of Coalbrookdale in Shropshire, England. Darby settled in Coalbrookdale because of its readily available supply of coal, which was one of the best options for making coke.

Blast furnaces revolutionized the production of steel.2 It allowed for a faster production as well as a better product to be produced. Due to the fact that the coke-fueled blast furnaces allowed for the furnace to maintain a hotter temperature for a longer time, the quality of the steel was finer. The invention of the coke-fueled blast furnace led to many other inventions that the Industrial Revolution is known for. The blast furnace allowed for steel structures to be made faster and cheaper, propelling the Industrial revolution.

First thing to explore is the substance that is called “coke”. What is it and how is it created. One particular source gives a great definition of what the substance is and how it is created. Coke is a solid residue remaining after certain types of bituminous coals are heated to a high temperature out of contact with air until substantially all of the volatile constituents have been driven off.3 The residue is chiefly carbon, with minor amounts of hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur, and oxygen. Also present in coke is the mineral matter in the original coal, chemically altered and decomposed during the coking process.

The success of the blast of the blast furnace would continue to make great strides in creating new jobs.4 Abraham Darby would pass away in 1717, but would his business would be in good hands with his son Abraham Darby II who would discover a way to create better coke by burning coal in the ovens. With this discovery the iron quality was far more superior. The result would only continue to help the industry for many more years.

The thriving blast furnace industry, created a demand for many new jobs. It boosted the local economy by creating more jobs within the coal industry as well as in the steel producing industry. With the use of the blast furnaces, steel became a common good. The lower and middle classes could now afford steel goods, such as cookware and utensils that previously, only the upper classes could afford, due to the cost of the production of steel. The creation of the coke-fueled blast furnace created a bridge between the classes and gave them something in common.

Steam Engine

Newcomen Steam Engine Blueprint. By Newton Henry Black and Harvey Nathaniel Davis, Retrieved via Wikipedia Commons

In the early 18th century, an Englishman named Thomas Newcomen invented the steam engine. Its sole purpose was to help lift water out from mines that were repeatedly waterlogged.5 Later, James Watt reworked the flaws of the Newcomen steam engine and made it more efficient in the process of how the condensation was carried.6 Watt’s partnership with Matthew Boulton, a British manufacturer, helped spread the work of the steam engine by solving problems of other businesses. With the creation of the steam engine, it made industrialization possible in Britain.

The  Newcomen and Watt steam engines had the biggest impact on mining. The Watt steam engine had drastically improved the efficiency of the Newcomen engine. This caused the demand of coal to go up. Due to the introduction of the steam engine and Britain’s coal deposits, the steam engine allowed the industry to flourish as Britain quickly industrialized before anyone else.7 In addition, the steam engine allowed the creation of mills and factories to produce mass amounts of goods faster than the labor of people. The Corliss steam engine had an impact on the textile industry, it allowed the mass production of textiles.8 Not only did the steam engine help produce mass amounts of goods but it also had an impact on boats and railroads.9 Although later in the industrial revolution, the steam engine was applied to locomotion. Application to locomotion would spark the rail era. The steam engine made transportation easier and quicker both on land and water. Along with the easier transportation, the opportunity for making profits increased.

Spinning Jenny

Spinning Jenny Blueprint. By Andrew Ure, Peter Lund Simmonds, and H.G. Bohn, Retrieved via Wikipedia Commons

The spinning jenny, invented by James Hargreaves in the mid-1760s, was one of the first inventions of the Industrial Revolution that got widespread use. The jenny was initially used in Britain and eventually spread to places like France after several improvements were made to its design. The jenny itself was an improvement of the older used spinning wheel, a commodity in many houses in Britain before the Industrial Revolution. The jenny’s job was to spin threads of cotton for widespread use and, unlike the spinning wheel, the jenny could be used in both small homes and industrial factories and varied in size from containing 12 to 120 spindles. The jenny was so convenient that it took substantially less labor than previous techniques and “raised the capital-labor ratio seventy-fold.”10 People were also frequently improving the jenny’s design and size, making it more efficient.

Still, in contrast to its many positives, the spinning jenny had its flaws, some of which were connected to its advantages. For example, since jenny’s were frequently being improved upon and changed, models quickly became outdated, much like modern IPhones and computers. Maintenance was also a factor in the frequently breaking jenny’s convenience and “annual maintenance costs equaled 10% of the purchase price of the machine”11. In many cases, however, the gain outweighed the losses and the spinning jenny was typically a wise investment.

The spinning jenny itself also drastically changed the lives of many women and children living during the Industrial Revolution. Since they had smaller and more agile hands, women and children were popular factory employees and often worked long hours, avoiding domestic duties and proper schooling. This fact brought about many issues on whether or not women and children, specifically girls, should work in factories. The Primary source by an unknown author touches on both the positives and negatives of girls working with spinning jenny’s in factories towards the beginning of the Industrial revolution in 1794. Click the link below and read the source carefully. Then answer the questions below to gain a better understanding on the author’s main points.


  1. “BBC – History – British History In Depth: The Blast Furnace Animation”., date accessed 11 May 2016,
  2. “World Of Coke: Coke Is A High Temperature Fuel”.
  3. “Coke,” Encyclopædia Britannica Online, date accessed 11 May 2016,
  4. “Iron & Steel Manufacture Industrial Revolution Significance.” Industrial Revolution, date accessed 11 May 2016,
  5. Richard Dennis Hoblyn, A Manual of the Steam Engine (London: Scott, Webster and Geary), chap. 2.
  6. Hoblyn, chap. 3.
  7. Alessandro, Bart, and Nick von Tunzelmann, “The early diffusion of the steam engine in Britain, 1700-1800: a reappraisal,” Cliometrica 5:3 (October, 2011): 314.
  8. Corliss Steam Engine Company, The steam engine as it was, and as it is… (Providence: Knowles, Anthony, 1857), chap. 1.
  9. Hoblyn, chap. 9.
  10. Robert C. Allen, “The Industrial Revolution in Miniature: The Spinning Jenny in Britain, France, and India ” working paper, last modified 2007,
  11. Ibid.

Originally published by Foundations of Western Culture, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.