Famines & Small-scale Industrial Production in 19th Century Europe

Famines & Small-scale Industrial Production in 19th Century Europe


The text discusses famines and shortages of food in nineteenth-century Europe, with a focus on the experiences in Spain and Russia, and small-scale industrial production on the continent, in contrast to large-scale factory production in Britain. The text reveals how countries handled famines, and the industrial revolution’s impact on work conditions, the predominance of female workers, and child labor in cotton mills.

Table of Contents

  • Famines in Nineteenth-Century Europe
  • Small-Scale Industrial Production in 19th Century Europe
  • The Voortman Factory: A Case Study
  • Industrial Revolution’s Impact on Work Conditions
  • Predominance of Female Workers And Child Labor in Cotton Mills


Q1: What was the Spanish government’s response to the regional famine in 1897?

The Spanish government responded to the regional famine in 1897 by rushing food supplies to the area, and this prevented total disaster. This move was crucial, as the affected area had no means of importing food, and there were no other domestic supplies due to drought. The Spanish government acted quickly and averted what could have been an enormous human catastrophe.

Q2: What factors led to the famine in Russia in the late 19th century?

The famine in Russia was due to poor communication, fiscal reforms, and over-intensive farming, making it difficult to provide relief measures. The starving peasants were spread across the countryside, and it took a long time for the Russian government to release sufficient money for relief efforts. Additionally, lack of cohesive government reforms and strategies contributed to the recurring famines in Russia.

Q3: How did cotton become a mass-consumed product in the textile industry?

The late eighteenth century marked cotton’s entry into the textile industry as a mass-consumed product. England mass-produced cloth from raw cotton grown with cheap labor in India and exported the finished products back to the subcontinent. Furthermore, the American south also farmed cotton using cheap slave labor, making it even cheaper. The mechanization of cotton production in Britain drastically lowered prices while producing a better-quality, finer, and more even yarn.

Q4: Which country’s textile industry was transformed by the French Jacquard loom?

The French Jacquard loom revolutionized silk weaving and transformed the textile industry in France. Britain exported machinery to the Continent, which saw the industry finally pick up in Poland and slowly grow in Italy. Russia imported British machinery, and domestic firms catered to the wants of the textile industry.

Q5: Which country’s cotton mills had over 40% female employees in 1829?

Ghent cotton mills had over 40% of female employees in 1829, and this increased to 48% in the highly mechanized Voortman mill. The predominance of female workers was due to their cheap labor and the belief that they were dexterous. Additionally, child labor was also prevalent in cotton mills.

Q6: What were some of the dangers that workers faced in early industrial cotton mills?

Early industrial cotton mills were dangerous workplaces where workers suffered from various respiratory diseases, such as bronchitis, indigestion, varicose veins, and deafness caused by fluff and dust. Workers were often caught in machinery, leading to fatalities and amputations.

Q7: Why did male workers strike in 1832?

Male workers went on strike in 1832 in a bid to prevent a further increase in female employment since the influx of women drove down wages and created more competition. This move was unsuccessful, and female employment in cotton mills continued to increase.


In conclusion, the text highlights the experiences of famines and small-scale industrial production in 19th-century Europe, which were significant events massively impacting societies. The case study of the Voortman factory demonstrates the negative impact of the industrial revolution on work conditions, the predominance of female workers, and child labor in cotton mills. Despite these adverse conditions, the industrial revolution transformed Europe’s economies, making it more productive, innovative and enabled the delivery of better services.

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