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The Second Industrial Revolution occurred from the early 19th to early 20th centuries. The First Industrial Revolution saw steam-powered machines replace human labour in industry. The Second Industrial Revolution saw electricity replace steam as the main power source in industry.

Major innovations were made in the use of new energy sources such as gas and electricity. Electricity was applied to transportation and communications. The use of electricity promoted growth on a large scale. Consumer goods were produced in bulk. The Second Industrial Revolution was an electric revolution.

Although general health care and standards of living were improved, many social problems of the First Industrial Revolution were not solved. Unemployment remained a problem. The gap between rich and poor continued to grow.

Britain led the world through the First Industrial Revolution. While the British continued to play a major role in the Second Industrial Revolution, Britain's position as world economic leader was lost to Germany and the United States of America.

New sources of energy

A number of scientific developments were made during the Second Industrial Revolution. Scientists searched for other energy sources to use instead of steam.

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Gas was the first new fuel source. 'Coal gas' was produced when manufacturing coke. Coal gas was used to produce bright lights. Coal gas lights allowed factories to operate longer hours, some factories opening for 24 hours a day.

The discovery of the electrical current proved to be the catalyst for the Second Industrial Revolution. In 1831, British scientist Michael Faraday proved that an electrical current could pass between a coil of wire and a magnet. Depending on the size of the wire and distance of the magnet, the electrical current changed strength.

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The power of electricity was harnessed in the following years. In 1832, the first electrical generator was built. The driving force of electricity was in lighting. The light bulb was a common fixture by mid-century. Electrical lighting was, however, too dim for practical use. Electricity had very little impact on British industry. The development of electricity and its application was explored by scientists in Germany and the United States.

By the 1870s, an electric motor was built. Electricity was beginning to be used in industry, slowly replacing steam. Electricity would come to influence the development of communications and transport.


The First Industrial Revolution had made few improvements in communications. With the discovery of electricity in the Second Industrial Revolution, great advances in communication technology were made.

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In 1837, British scientist Sir Charles Wheatstone invented the first electric telegraph. Messages were sent using needles and wires to a remote receiver.

In 1838, communications were changed forever when American Samuel Morse invented a code of dots and dashes that could be transmitted with the telegraph. Morse code was an effective tool for communication. Telegraph lines were laid in Britain, Europe and the United States. It became possible to communicate quickly and clearly across vast distances.

The next advance in communications occurred when Alexander Bell invented the telephone in 1876. The telephone was used to transmit and receive sounds across long distances. The telephone quickly grew in popularity quickly. Copper wires were used to transmit signals over long distances.

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Another innovation in communications was the discovery of electromagnetic waves, also known as radio waves. In 1887, German Heinrich Hertz demonstrated that electricity flowing through one circuit could produce electricity in a second, unconnected circuit.

Hertz's discovery was extended by Italian inventor Guiglielmo Marconi who used radio waves to transmit signals. The experiments were a success and Marconi developed wireless telegraphs, the basis of the modern radio.


During the First Industrial Revolution, the fastest mode of transportation was the railway. While railways were effective for long-distance travel, short-distance travel was limited to horse and carriage. During the Second Industrial Revolution, great advances were made in transportation. Horses were replaced by oil- and electric-powered vehicles.

Electricity replaced steam-power. Industrial cities which had grown during the First Industrial Revolution were in dire need of effective transportation networks.

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In 1860, the first internal combustion engine was built by Belgian engineer J. Lenoi. Gas was used as fuel. Power was produced when gas entered the cylinder and was ignited by a spark. The spark made gases expand within the cylinder. The expanding gases moved the cylinder, which in turn moved the engine.

In 1862, the internal combustion engine was fitted to a vehicle. The first petrol fuelled motor vehicle was built by Karl Benz in 1885. Benz's vehicle had three wheels.

Around this time, electricity was applied to trams. Trams had been built to move people around cities. The first trams were horse and steam drawn. In 1863, electricity was applied to the underground railway systems in Britain. By the end of the century, the majority of trains in Britain were run on electricity.

In 1886, the first four-wheeled vehicle was built by Daimler. The first 'car' was called a horseless carriage. Over time the design of the first car was improved. In 1891, the engine was moved to the front of the vehicle to distribute weight more efficiently. In 1895, E and A Michelin developed the first pneumatic air tyres. By 1908, Henry Ford from the United States planned to mass produce the car on a production line. The modern manufacturing and car industries were born.

The Second Industrial Revolution brought advances in new energy sources, communication and transport. In each of these developments, electricity played a major role.