In the first years of the nineteenth century, a series of mechanical inventions changed the course of human culture instantly and permanently. James Watt's created a new form of steam engine, powering factories and launching international travel with more efficient steam ships. Eli Whitney's cotton gin and Edmund Cartwright's power loom created a massive textile boom, with exponentially faster production leading to a commoditization of a previously craft culture. Benjamin Huntsman's crucible steel and James Neilson's Hot blast furnace would make iron and steel the building materials of choice, ushing in the era of the skyscraper.
Production, mass production, product, by products, these words come to us from the ability to make things faster and cheaper. With industrialization, factories, smokestacks, towers, cranes, and trains became the icons of the landscape. Terms like “a work week” and “time off” describe the shift from self sufficiency on a plot of land to working for an entity that produced goods. The Industrial Age shifted culture from agrarian to one of industry and output.
But as the factories filled, artists' practice was radically and permanently changed by a very simple invention. In 1843, John Goffe Rand invented the tin paint tube. Where before paint was mixed in the studio and dried out quickly, preserving the paint in a tube allowed artists mobility for the first time. So, paradoxically, while the Industrial Revolution drew millions into cities and urban centers, it sent artists outside. Art of the Industrial Revolution tends to be pastoral, plein-aire, more often a reaction against the speed and metal of the industrial age. We see the birth of Romanticism, Impressionism, and the Hudson River School dedicated to the majesty of nature. With travel more affordable via steamship, artists travel around the globe, leading to the first blendings of cultural style and influence, but it would take nearly a hundred years and a world war to teach artists to embrace industrialization.