The History of the Factory

The invention of the factory changed society in many ways. Before factories came into being, goods such as clothing and furniture were made by individuals. Not surprisingly, it took a relatively long time for an individual to make several of these items. Whether it was a chair or a shirt, no two items made by an individual were ever exactly alike in quality or design. The following takes a closer look at how people made things before the introduction of the factory system and how the factory came to be. Also, learn about some of the benefits along with the drawbacks of this system of creating goods.


In the pre-manufacturing era, there were no sophisticated machines to help people accomplish the basic tasks necessary to their daily lives. For instance, before the invention of tractors, farmers would use oxen or horses to pull a plow through their fields in preparation for planting crops. In addition, since there were no sewing machines, a woman would have to sew a dress by hand with the help of a pattern. Before the existence of factories, goods were not made in large quantities (mass-produced) and sold to the public. At this time, individuals had to find ways to create many of their own goods and handle the farm work without the help of machines.

The "Cottage Industry"

When a person, or several family members work together to create goods in their own home using their own tools this is referred to as a cottage industry. One example is a group of women in a family who make dresses. The mother in a family may create the sleeves of a dress while a couple daughters work on sewing the buttons on the dress. An aunt may sew the main part of the dress. Each of the women in the family has a sewing specialty that they are in charge of. Plus, they have their own thread, needles, patterns, and other materials necessary to perform the work at home. The women may sell the dresses to neighbors or keep them to wear themselves.

Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution occurred over a span of time starting in the late 1700's and running through the 1800's. There was a big change in the way goods were produced during the Industrial Revolution. Instead of individuals making a few goods at a time in their homes, goods were made in factories by workers on assembly lines. Each worker would be in charge of a specific task involved in creating a product. For instance, in a chair factory, one person would be in charge of attaching the legs of the chair to the seat. Another person on the assembly line would be in charge of putting the back on the chair. Further down the line, a person would ensure that each chair was sturdy and ready to be sold. The factory system allowed for the fast assembly of goods.

Factory Reform

The factory system created a way to make a large quantity of goods in a short amount of time, but there were problems with the system. For one, some factories employed young children who were made to work for very little money in dangerous or unhealthy environments. They would also work very long hours. Some people referred to these factories as 'sweatshops' because of their hot, unventilated environments. The treatment of children in some factories prompted the need for laws to prevent the abusive child labor practices during the Industrial Revolution.

Benefits of the Factory System

The creation of goods for households and farms via the factory system allowed people to accomplish tasks faster. In addition, people could purchase basic products from the store instead of having to make them. The factory system also gave people employment to help them support their families. The money created by these factories helped in the development of towns and cities.

Problems with the Factory System

One of the main problems with the factory system was the abuse of child labor. Also, many of the early factories created air and water pollution that affected the overall environment of a town or city. Some factories did not pay workers enough for the number of hours they worked. Plus, many workers were injured by the machines and other hazardous conditions within a factory.

Famous and Important Factories as well as Inventions

One important figure in the history of the factory is a man named Samuel Slater. He is known as the father of the American factory system. He opened a textile mill in Rhode Island that employed families who lived near the factory where they worked. His factory operated in an organized, streamlined fashion that many other innovators admired and tried to mimic. Another famous invention that helped the progress of the factory system was the Watt steam engine.

Effects of the Factory System on the Economies of Developing and Developed Countries

The introduction of the factory system helped other countries with varying economic conditions to create more of their own goods and not have to depend on other countries for them. With the help of this new manufacturing system, some countries were able to create goods to sell to people in other countries. Innovators in various places came up with new techniques and methods to contribute to the overall success of the factory system. The successes in America spread to other countries in need of economic help.