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What The Industrial Revolution Did For Us - Programme 2 - Working Wonders

Updated Thursday 1st December 2005

Find out more about the Working Wonders programme, part of the BBC/OU's 'What the Industrial Revolution Did for Us' TV series.

Dan Cruickshank looms Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team

Whether we think it’s a good thing or not, our experiences of working life in the 21st century - crowded cities, machine-driven factories, the office 9 to 5, the crush of the rush-hour - have their roots firmly set in the innovations and monumental changes of the Industrial Revolution, when the rhythm of the seasons was replaced by the piercing ring of the factory bell, and the rat race began.

Some of the stories are familiar - James Watt’s obsession with his aunt’s boiling kettle gave him the idea for the Steam Engine, which harnessed power in a machine for the first time in history. But how many people know he also created the world’s first copying machine? Richard Arkwright’s water-frame for spinning machines gave birth to the first factory and the idea of going ‘out’ to work - production lines appeared, the division of labour was born and row upon row of terraced homes were hurriedly built to accommodate the new working classes. Health and Safety regulations weren’t even dreamed of before Humphry Davy created his safety lamp - replacing the phosphorescence of rotting fish flesh - and none of us would be enjoying our annual holiday without men like Robert Owen, philanthropic master industrialist, creator of New Lanark Mills with its enlightened structures of housing, and the reforms pushed forward by the Industrial labour movement.

Vast wealth and a growing labour force led to the creation of banks, and offices.

In 1804, when the Frenchman J. M. Jacquard created his self-portrait with a series of holed cards he had no idea he’d just laid the basis for our modern-day computer programmes. An obscure Scottish shepherd created the world’s first fax machine over 30 years before the telephone was invented and over a century before the fax became a permanent feature of the modern office. And how many people know that the bizarre arrangement of letters of our computer keyboard is the result of a finger-typing ‘duel’ fought over 150 years ago?

From nuclear power stations to the office photocopier, from the stock exchange to our daily lunch-break, Dan guides us through the fascinating and often surprising discoveries that gave birth to our 21st century working world.

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