The industrial revolution

Turn on, 2004, Adrian Paci, Born Albania 1969, active Milan, Single-channel video projection, 3.33 mins. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Peter Kilchmann

The period between the mid-18th century and the end of the 19th century is known as the Industrial Revolution: machines were invented that could replace human beings in manufacturing processes, saving great amounts of time and money and enabling the transportation of merchandise across vast distances. The impact of the industrial revolution, however, went far beyond the economy: it brought about social mobility and shortened geographical distances, with villagers thronging to the city as a result of increased opportunities for employment.

The development of the steam engine in England propelled humankind into the modern age. It was originally invented to solve problems in the coal mines, but in 1774 it became clear that it could be put to a wide variety of uses. Revolutionizing our notions of time and space, the steam engine made it possible to move at unprecedented velocities and across previously unthinkable distances, prompting radical innovations in industry and transportation. The first commercial railway was inaugurated in 1830 — also in England — and it symbolizes perhaps more than anything the industrial revolution, contributing much to its progress. These and other technological advances had a profound influence on the economy, which became increasingly based on industrial mass production, as well as having major demographic and cultural repercussions.

If the steam engine was the hero of the first stage of the industrial revolution, the invention of electricity in the middle of the 19th century is most identified with the second. Liberating us from the ependence on daylight, it revolutionized our lifestyle.