Science, Technology and the Industrial Revolution a focus on Chemistry

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Science, Technology and the Industrial Revolution

  • A Focus on Chemistry

Two Questions

  • Musson and Robinson address these two questions

    • “What were the connections between Science and the Industrial Revolution?”
    • “And how was technological knowledge developed and diffused?”

An Approach

  • Their premise is that science and technology (applied science, empiricism) were fundamentally and necessarily interrelated during the Industrial Revolution.

  • Neither science alone nor technology alone drove the IR.

Scientific Discoveries and Technological Inventions Fueled the Industrial Revolution

  • Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries  principles and laws of physics (heat, work, energy, thermodynamics, motion) and chemistry (elements, reactions, thermochemistry)

  • 1660 Establishment of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge


  • Science - from the Latin word, scientia, for knowledge

  • An intellectual enterprise whose goal is to explain the natural world. This means the development of principles and laws that are tested and that can predict outcomes.

  • The main areas of science are physics, chemistry, geology, biology, astronomy.

Natural Philosophy

  • This term was used widely in the 18th century to mean the study of the natural world.

  • Musson argues that this study encompasses what we call science and technology. ( pp. 3-4)

Scientific Method

  • Identify a question

  • Propose a hypothesis

  • Construct and carry out experiment to test hypothesis

  • Observe and record results

  • Refine hypothesis

  • Test refined hypothesis with more expts (repeat as needed)

  • Develop theory that is consistent with observations and accepted laws of nature and predicts future exptal outcomes

Technological Inventions and Scientific Discoveries Fueled the Industrial Revolution

  • Industrial Revolution of the 18th-19th centuries represented practical application of science to increase agricultural and industrial production, to create new materials, processes and manufacturing methods, to improve health, to create new sources of power; in fact, a collaboration of science and technology.


  • Technology: from the Greek word technologia for the study of craft.

  • Application of scientific discoveries to practical problems with the goal of increasing the quality of life, productivity, improved health and sanitation, etc.

  • The success of a new technology is reflected in goals above, adoption and adaptation rates, minimalization of deleterious outcomes and optimizing economic benefit.

English Patents of Invention Issued 1660-1890

  • From Clow and Clow pp 2-3

  • Note 1760 in particular

Science and Technology

  • “The eighteenth century witnesses a closer rapprochement between science and technology. On the one hand, men of science took a more active interest in practical problems; on the other hand, practical craftsmen or technicians showed a new interest in the scientific aspects of their work” (A. Wolf, History of Science, Technology, and Philosophy, XVIIIth Century, p 499; from Clow and Clow p 4)

The Distinction Fades

  • In fact, science and technology are collaborators and complementary.

    • Science informs technological advances through theories and principles (what is possible).
    • Technology provides vast experimentation and results (what happened).
  • See Musson and Robinson, pp. 3-4

Boundaries of Time and Space

  • Scientific and technological advances are based on prior discoveries and accepted theories. They do not emerge without historical context.

  • In addition, these advances are made across national and continental borders. Knowledge is disseminated, supported or rejected, refined and revised through additional experimentation.

Synergy of Disciplines and Industries

  • We will note the synergy (impact and progress is greater than sum of the parts).

  • The synergy between the iron and coal industries is a good example.

  • Also the synergy between physics and engineering in the invention of the steam engine.

Skill Transfer

  • The skills of a clockmaker were fundamental to the making gear wheels for the textile machines.

  • The millwright working on windmills brought essential skills to the steam engine.

  • Carpenters honed their skill on cart wheels and then applied them to mill wheels.

Chemical Transformations

  • “Among the useful arts, it is difficult to select one that is not very immediately dependent upon chemical principles … bleaching, dyeing, calico-printing, and tanning; in the arts of pottery, of glass, and porcelain, or in the apparently more remote operations of the brewer and distiller…oil of vitriol, of preparing vinegar form wood, of extracting pure acid from the lemon … propagation and effects of heat…” (Quarterly Journal, 1819, 7, 205; from Clow and Clow, p xi)

Other Dimensions

  • This course is focused on science and technology during the IR, and, in particular, those with chemical basis.

  • Obviously, this is not the whole picture.

  • Economics

  • Social changes

  • Government

Government Actions

  • Actions of government bodies played a critical role in industrialization. They

    • passed Acts giving privileges to investors in industry (capitalists),
    • provided awards for inventions,
    • granted patents
    • passed Acts of Enclosure
    • lowered interest rates making cheap capital available


  • Clow, A; Clow; N. L. The Chemical Revolution: A Contribution to Social Technology; The Batchworth Press: London,1952.

  • Musson A. E.; Robinson, E. Science and Technology in the Industrial Revolution; University of Toronto, 1969.

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