Burke on the “first industrial revolution”

The first industrial revolution, centered in Flanders, happened almost entirely because of the arrival from the Arab world of a new, horizontal loom, equipped with foot pedals to lift the warps. This innovation left the weaver’s hands free to throw the shuttle back and forth, which made weaving much faster and more profitable and, above all, made possible the production of long pieces of cloth. Because of their centuries of experience in working wool, the Flemish were the best weavers in thirteenth-century Europe. Flemish cloth was sold everywhere in the known world, and its manufacturers went from the East Indies to the Baltic to obtain their dyes, and to the mines of the Middle East for the alum which was used to fix the dye so as to make their colors fast.

Burke, James. The Pinball Effect: How Renaissance Water Gardens Made the Carburetor Possible. 1996. p.80 (paperback)

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

4 thoughts on “Burke on the “first industrial revolution””

  1. Note the many modern features of this story: the international diffusion of technology, the importance of intellectual property, economies of scale, global supply chains, automation…

  2. 200 years ago, it took 479 hours worth of labor to make a shirt (spinning, weaving, sewing), or $3,472.75 at $7.25/hour.

    It’s one thing to heart that the automatic loom brought about a huge economic boom, it’s another thing to contemplate just how difficult material objects were to produce before industrialisation. As we contemplate a future where all the dividends of automation accrue to investors, rather than being divided with laborers (instead of higher wages for increased productivity, workers are laid off, deskilled and made increasingly interchangeable as the productivity gains are diverted to dividends), it’s worth pondering which of today’s labor-intensive goods will be “too cheap to meter” by technological change, and what will happen to our wealth distribution as a result.

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