“Until August 1914 the sensible law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state… ”
A.J.P. Taylor, British Historian
Pre 1900 most people on the globe made their living and survived by producing food. But in Britain in 1900, less than half the population was employed in agriculture and was the only country in the world with such a high statistic.
The only real world power at this time was Britain. German industry was at the beginning of a growth spurt and was thus becoming a rival to Britain’s planetary dominance. But the colonies of the British Empire were such a rich source of resources, that Britain remained at the top of world economy.
Pre 1900 the Industrial Revolution had transformed the manufacturing and mining sectors. Technical developments in spinning and weaving allowed for more metres of cloth to be produced with less human involvement. This meant that cheaper clothing was produced and the mechanisation of the clothing market began.
As the 19th century was left behind, a ‘second’ industrial revolution began. Technological changes happened in especially heavy industry and the electricity supply. In the railway and shipping sectors steam turbines replaced piston engines in generating power. Very quickly electricity became the main source of energy for industry and for railway traction. Electricity was produced cheaply and dependably, and this too aided the process of urbanisation.
Inventions such as the telegraph and telephone, revolutionised communications. Marconi’s invention of the radio in 1901, the first air flight by the Wright brothers in 1903 and the mass production of the motor car in 1909, all contributed to this revolution.
With the changing industrial landscape, society too began to change. The labour movement was in its infancy and governments did not intervene to protect labour from poor living or working conditions, or the consequences of unemployment.
Wars, up until now had been intermittent, and their impact was limited. Consider the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, the American Civil War of 1866 and the Crimean War of 1856 – although they were all very costly wars – human costs and of course financially – the devastation of the wars were confined to the region where the war took place and to the antagonists.
Britain, and most of the globe, could be said to have had liberal economies until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, when this all changed dramatically.