World History 2 131 - 9.1.2 Industrial Frontiers

Until the mid-nineteenth century, industrialization had taken place only in Britain, the United States, France, Germany, and Belgium. By the middle of the century, other countries like Canada, Italy, and Russia had also begun to industrialize.


Industrialization in Canada, then under British rule, began in the 1850s in the population centers of Toronto and Montreal. As in the United States and Britain, early factories produced textiles and metal goods. Brewing and the milling of flour were also industrialized. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Canadian entrepreneurs began the mass production of steel, established meat-packing companies, and invested in the extraction of natural resources such as timber, coal, and oil.

In 1867, to facilitate national defense and build a transcontinental railroad, the British Parliament passed the British North American Act, joining its colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Province of Canada (which included Ontario and Quebec) in the Dominion of Canada. The Dominion had the right to govern itself, but it remained within the British Empire with Queen Victoria as its head of state.

Two years later, the Dominion purchased the territory of Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company for the railroad. Rupert’s Land was inhabited largely by Métis, people of mixed First Nations and French ancestry who were largely French-speaking and Roman Catholic. Fearing the loss of their land and culture under the Dominion’s English-speaking Protestant majority, many Métis united under the leadership of Louis Riel to oppose the Canadian government’s attempts to survey Rupert’s Land. Riel formed a provisional government to negotiate with Canada, demanding protection for Métis rights, especially the right to establish French-language schools for children. After a brief outbreak of violence, Canada’s Parliament granted the Métis 200,000 hectares of land, incorporated into the Dominion as the new province of Manitoba in 1870 (Figure 9.7).

A map of the Arctic Ocean, Canada, Greenland, and the top portion of the United States is shown. A legend is labeled “Provinces of Canada; July 15, 1870–July 20, 1871.” On the legend, the color orange indicates “Provinces,” green indicates “Territories,” and gray indicates “Other countries.” Most of Canada (except for a rectangular portion in the southwest labelled “British Columbia (Great Britain)), is highlighted green and labeled “North-West Territories.” A square section at the bottom middle of Canada labeled “Manitoba” is highlighted orange as well as a long section along the bottom of Canada on the southeastern edge, including places labeled “Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island (GB), and Saint Pierre and Miquelon (France).” All the other lands shown are highlighted gray.
Figure 9.7 In 1870, Canada’s parliament created the province of Manitoba as a home for the Métis. (credit: modification of work “Canada provinces 1870-1871” by “Golbez”/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.5)

The Dominion of Canada reached the Pacific in 1871, when British Columbia agreed to join it if a railroad connecting eastern and western Canada were built within ten years. The Canadian Pacific Railroad, constructed largely by European and Chinese immigrants, was completed in 1885. It enabled the settling of the prairie provinces in the middle of the country and aided Canada’s industrialization.

Industrialization was also assisted by the National Policy, begun in 1878 under Prime Minister John A. Macdonald and lasting until World War II. It imposed taxes on imports, some as high as 20 percent, to shield Canadian industry from competition by U.S. companies. While the policy did help Canadian businesses grow, residents of the west argued that the tariffs generated wealth for industrialized eastern provinces like Quebec and Ontario while maintaining artificially high prices for domestic goods in the prairie provinces.


Italy industrialized after other western and central European nations such as France and Germany. The fragmented political system of the Italian peninsula before its unification as a single nation (which began in 1861) delayed general industrial development. After unification (completed in 1871 with the incorporation of Rome and Veneto), the government was dominated by northern Italians and invested in northern industries. From the 1890s to the 1910s, steelworks, shipyards, rubber plants, and factories producing canned food, machine tools, chemicals, cement, and automobiles were established north of Rome. Agricultural production in northern provinces such as Emilia-Romagna was also modernized and mechanized, freeing peasants from the land to work in the new factories. The Italian government imposed high tariffs on imported goods to protect northern industry.

South of Rome, with the exception of Naples, little industrial development took place. Southern Italy and the island of Sicily remained rural and agricultural. As the north grew wealthier and more urbanized, the south grew poorer and more depopulated as peasants left to seek opportunities abroad.


Russia had begun industrializing in the early nineteenth century, as Russian entrepreneurs imported textile manufacturing equipment from Britain to create cotton cloth. The tsars were eager to use new technology to unite their empire and offered cash incentives to European and American business leaders willing to assist. With their help, Russia established steamship lines, and as early as 1820 steamships were regularly traveling the Volga River, Russia’s main waterway. By 1851, Moscow was joined by rail with St. Petersburg, the nation’s capital and home of the tsar (Figure 9.8).

A drawing of a very primitive train riding on train tacks is shown. The front car of the train is a black semi-circle flat on wood over metal wheels with a smokestack and black smoke projecting from the top. A person is seen climbing on it from the side. The second and third cars have canopied open tops with people sitting on the train. The rest of the cars are brown blocks with squares on them. Two of them hold carriages. Three men in long blue coats and caps holding long sticks stand on either side of the railroad ahead of the train. People stand along the tracks on both sides of the train. On the right side of the drawing along the length of the train tracks many people stand amid piles of wood and in front of a small creek looking at the train. The men wear long coats, pants, and hats, and the women wear long dresses with hats and one holds a parasol. Among them stand men in military uniforms and two ride horses. In the background there are white and orange buildings and open farmlands.
Figure 9.8 A lithograph from the 1840s shows the first train arriving in Tsarkoye Selo, a small town outside St. Petersburg, in 1837. One of the residences of the Russian royal family was located there. (credit: “Tzarskoselskaya Railway – Watercolour” by State Hermitage/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Nevertheless, Russia remained relatively unindustrialized compared to the United States and much of western and central Europe. This became apparent when Russia lost the Crimean War in 1856, despite having a population larger than that of its opponents Britain and France and despite fighting the war in its own backyard while the enemy traveled more than a thousand miles by sea. Britain’s and France’s steamships provided better transportation than Russia’s few roads and railroads did, and their factories produced more and better weapons.

Despite its size and the support of its tsars, Russia lacked many advantages for industrializing that other countries possessed. It did not have many artisans, and mechanization of production means little in a country without crafts to be mechanized. So long as peasant families were available to plant and harvest crops, there was no pressing need to mechanize agriculture either. Russia’s population also consisted of many serfs who, unlike American and British farmers, were bound to the land and could not seek opportunities elsewhere such as in factories. Many Russians found it easier to profit by shipping raw materials such as grain, timber, and hemp to the industrializing nations of western Europe than to build a manufacturing sector of their own.

Finally, Russia’s sheer size made industrialization difficult. Its rich natural resources were widely separated and far from the cities in which factories were located. To allow access, thousands of miles of roads and railroad lines needed to be constructed through the dense tracts of uninhabited forests, over raging rivers, and across the frozen tundra that covered much of the country. The United States, which industrialized relatively early, is also large, but not as large as Russia. The workers who laid railroad lines to connect its Atlantic and Pacific coasts worked across easy terrain of largely flat, treeless prairie and plains. In Russia, the few railroad and steamship lines and the few thousand miles of roads constructed before the end of the nineteenth century were not enough to bring natural resources to factories or manufactured goods to the countryside.

Following its defeat in the Crimean War, Russia increased its efforts to industrialize. In 1861, it abolished serfdom, providing potential workers for factories. In the 1890s, Minister of Finance Sergei Witte successfully lobbied for improvements in Russia’s railway system, which at the end of the Crimean War had had fewer than one thousand miles of track. In 1891, the construction of a rail line across Siberia was begun. By 1900, the country had approximately thirty-six thousand miles of track. Soon it became easier to exploit the interior’s vast reserves of iron, wood, and coal. However, Russia’s late start meant it did not reach the same level of industrialization as western and central Europe and the United States until the twentieth century.

Industrialization conveyed a great advantage. Once a country had begun the process, it was capable of generating even more wealth and building larger, more technologically advanced military forces, which enabled it to gain an advantage over non-industrialized countries. It became nearly impossible for non-industrialized countries to compete with industrialized ones or even to protect themselves from aggression by their industrialized rivals. Japan proved an exception.


In July 1853, U.S. commodore Matthew Perry sailed into Edo (Tokyo) Bay at the head of a fleet of four gunships, charged with negotiating diplomatic relations and trade agreements with Japan. Japan had largely closed itself off in the 1600s to avoid colonization and domination by western countries. The Japanese also wished to protect their cultural integrity, and warding off foreign influences was part of this strategy. Intent upon securing entry, Perry ordered his ship’s guns to turn toward the shore and fire. The guns fired blanks, but the Japanese military did not know this. Talks between Perry and the Japanese government ensued, and on March 31, 1854, Japan signed the Convention of Kanagawa, which opened the ports of Shimoda and Hakotate to American ships, promised assistance for American ships and sailors shipwrecked on Japanese coasts, granted American merchants permission to purchase provisions in Japan, and promised peaceful and friendly relations between the United States and Japan. Lacking the military power to resist Perry’s demands, the Japanese government had no choice but to agree.

Japan was then governed by the Tokugawa shogunate, a system in which a military leader, the shogun, ruled in place of the emperor, whose role had largely been that of a figurehead for hundreds of years. Under the shogunate, aristocratic lords who were subordinate to the shogun, called daimyo, and their retainers, members of a warrior elite called the samurai, governed the country. After Perry’s arrival, modernizers in Japan, remembering the American gunboats and China’s humbling by Britain’s navy in the first of the Opium Wars (1839–1842), believed the best way to protect their country was to adopt the technology and institutions of the west. They saw the shogunate as a barrier to modernization, so they called for the emperor to resume rule. Many samurai were not convinced by these arguments. Not only would industrialization elevate “inferior” craftspeople and merchants, who were far below them in the social hierarchy, but the shogunate’s end would deprive them of power and influence.

In January 1867, Emperor Meiji (Figure 9.9) ascended the throne following the death of his father. In November, the reigning shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu resigned and relinquished his power, and in January 1868 the emperor officially proclaimed the end of the shogunate. The period called the Meiji Restoration was underway. In 1869, the daimyo surrendered their titles and their land to the emperor. Although the daimyo were allowed to remain governors of their former lands, the samurai were no longer their retainers. Instead, they worked for the state. In 1871, the daimyo were removed as governors, and they and the samurai were given yearly stipends.

A portrait of a man with a moustache, long pointy goatee, and black hair in a royal military uniform. There are medals on the front of his coat, a sash, and a belt with tassels. He is sitting on an ornate, cushioned sofa with a feathered hat on a draped table to his right and holding a sword in his left hand. His face shows a serious expression.
Figure 9.9 This highly realistic 1888 conté crayon portrait of Emperor Meiji by the Italian engraver Edoardo Chiossone was drawn covertly from life and was often mistaken for a photograph at the time. (credit: “Conté portrait of the Emperor Meiji” by Eduardo Chiossone in Tenno Yondai No Shozo/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Even further indignities awaited those who had once held power in Japan, however. The government stipends given to daimyo and samurai were made subject to taxation in 1873, and beginning in 1876 they were distributed in the form of government bonds. The Meiji government officially abolished class distinctions, which for the samurai meant the loss of privileges such as the right to wear swords. Although some rebelled, rising up against government forces several times in the 1870s, they were defeated by Japan’s new national army, equipped with modern weapons and trained in western methods of fighting.

Industrialization was a major goal of Japan’s Meiji government, and the state played a greater role in it than in most western countries in the nineteenth century. The first goal was to build railroads to unite the regions of the country and assist in further industrial development. Construction began in 1870; by 1872, a rail line linked the capital of Tokyo with the port of Yokohama. Perhaps remembering that Perry’s demands had been dictated from the deck of a gunboat, the government also invested heavily in shipbuilding.

The Mitsubishi Corporation, a private company founded by samurai Iwasaki Yatori, competed directly with the government and, with its modern ships and efficient management, replaced it as the country’s leading shipbuilder and shipper. Seeking independence from western shipping lines, the government then turned eleven ships over to Mitsubishi with the provision that it establish regular trade with China. In 1887, the company purchased the government-owned shipyard in Nagasaki. Mitsubishi became one of Japan’s first zaibatsu, family-owned business conglomerates with financial and industrial branches influential in Japanese politics.

Mitsubishi also invested heavily in coal mining. The Japanese government did so too and invested in lead, iron, and copper mines, as well as in factories that manufactured weapons and cement. The government’s willingness to fund industries not crucial to military defense or industrial development was variable. The textile industry, for example, relied less heavily on government support. Thus as Japan strove to build battleships and railways and to modernize its army, textile companies continued to purchase mechanized equipment from abroad.

The Japanese government abolished feudalism and gave peasant farmers title to their land, freeing them to sell it and travel to cities for work in factories and shipyards if they wished. Those who remained on the land were helped to increase Japan’s food production by the government’s importation of fertilizers and farm equipment. The abolition of samurai status freed the warrior elite to use their skills as managers of factories. As the samurai built private wealth, they invested in economic sectors that received less government support. Textile production benefited greatly from this trend, as did brewing and the manufacture of glass and chemicals.

Japan established a public school system in 1872. By 1900, attendance was nearly universal for boys, and girls were not far behind. The new system stressed the study of both science and the Confucian classics. Japan also sent students abroad to study technology and institutions in the United States and Europe.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Japan had become capable of competing with larger countries and was eager to do so. It soon got the chance. In 1895, it successfully defeated non-industrialized China in the Sino-Japanese War. In 1905, it defeated Russia and sent a clear message to the United States and Europe that it intended to become a world power.

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax