By 1850, Britain was producing two thirds of the world’s coal and over half of its iron and cotton cloth. Most of the ships on the world’s oceans were British. They carried British goods to all parts of the world. They brought home the raw materials that kept British factories humming.
At first, the British tried to keep the new machines to themselves. Until 1825, it was against the law for engineers, mechanics, and toolmakers to leave the country. Until 1843, it was against the law for anyone in Britain to sell the new machines to people in other countries.
In spite of such laws, the ideas of the Industrial Revolution spread to other countries. In 1789, a young mill worker named Samuel Slater boarded a ship headed for the United States. There he built the new machines from memory. With an American merchant, he opened the first factory in the United States.
A British carpenter named William Cockerill did much the same thing in Belgium, a country in Europe. Later his sons opened even more factories there. These factories turned out machines, steam engines, and railroad locomotives. The knowledge to build such machines came from British workers who left England illegally.
Before long, the British gave up trying to keep their inventions a secret. Instead, they sold ideas and machines to countries around the world. British engineers built railroads in Germany, Argentina, and Russia. They sold steam engines in the United States, France, and Italy.
Soon many of these countries were challenging Britain’s lead. By 1870, the United States was second only to Britain in industry and manufacturing. Germany and Belgium were not far behind.
Far to the east, the Japanese were also building factories in the late 1800’s. They did so with amazing speed. In only 35 years, Japan became one of the most industrialized countries in the world.
As more and more countries built factories, people in other places began to improve British inventions. They also came up with ideas of their own. One invention seemed to lead to another. Often it was hard to decide who had been responsible for a new idea.
In the 1850’s, for example, an American and an Englishman came up with a better way of making steel. They did not work together on it. In fact, they never even met. Instead, both came up with the same idea at about the same time.
Some inventions were made possible by sharing the work people did in different countries. For example, in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, scientists in several countries were studying electricity.
In time, many inventions grew out of the work of these scientists. The first was the telegraph, one of which was invented by Samuel F. B. Morse during the 1840’s. Later came the telephone, invented by Alexander Graham Bell around 1876. At about the same time, people began to use electricity to light homes and businesses. Soon they were using it to power machines.