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The industrial revolutions at a glance

Surely you have heard something about the Industrial Revolutions. Perhaps you’re thinking of:

  • the invention of the steam locomotive
  • Henry Ford and the first mass production of cars
  • the first PCs
  • the networking of robots

These are all essential innovations that have taken place in the various industrial revolutions. But let us first look at what distinguishes an Industrial Revolution:

Change is normal and natural in a society, as is progress. From the late 18th century onwards, phases in which there were groundbreaking advances in production, such as the introduction of steam-driven spinning wheels or assembly line work, are known as industrial revolutions.

A characteristic of the industrial revolutions are changes in the living conditions of the people. New production technologies such as the steam engine or the PC had a profound impact on the economy and society. Both employers and employees had to adapt to the new conditions.


industrial revolution

…describes major advances in production that lead to changes in economic and social conditions.

A distinction is made between four industrial revolutions, which are classified according to industry 1.0 to 4.0. Currently we are in the Fourth Industrial Revolution:

The First Industrial Revolution – Industry 1.0

  • Mechanisation
  • from 1784

The steam engine was introduced into the factories, looms or spinning wheels were now no longer driven by muscle power but mechanically by steam power. This meant that much more could be produced in less time and with less effort, and new jobs were created in the factories for the people.

In 1802 the British Richard Trevithick built the first steam locomotive. However, this was not functional, as the cast-iron rails of the horse-drawn tram were not strong enough. Only a few years later the first steam locomotive went into operation – on suitable rails. A few years before that, the first steam ship had already been developed.


The most important innovations of the First Industrial Revolution are mechanical production plants that were powered by water and steam (e.g. looms and spinning wheels), the steam locomotive and the steam ship.

The Second Industrial Revolution – Industry 2.0

  • Electrification
  • from 1870

Electricity was discovered and introduced as a driving force and the first assembly lines were introduced in factories: The American Henry Ford took the idea of the assembly line from a slaughterhouse and introduced it in 1913 for the production of his cars: The car parts were manufactured on the assembly line, several workers shared the work steps.

Production became faster and cheaper and more and more people could afford a car. As the car went from being a luxury good to a mass product and more and more cars were produced, there were also more and more jobs in the factories.

In addition, the telephone was invented, the manufacture of clothing became increasingly automated and the American Thomas Alva Edison invented the light bulb in 1879.


The most important innovations of the Second Industrial Revolution are mass production through electricity, assembly line work, the telephone and the light bulb.                                    


The Third Industrial Revolution – Industry 3.0

  • Production control
  • from 1969

The first programmable controllers were invented, which led to individual work steps being automated and being able to be performed without human “help”. A good example of this are robots that vacuum independently. The factories urgently needed programmers who could operate these controllers.

One of the first robots was invented in California in 1972. It was already able to sense and feel its surroundings and move around. Because it was still quite wobbly on its legs, it was called “Shakey“.

The first computers were huge and unwieldy calculating machines, but were quickly refined. In 1982 the PC (Personal Computer) became attractive for private households when the legendary Commodore C64 was launched.


The most important innovations of the Third Industrial Revolution are the further automation and control of production using electronics and IT and the first robot. In addition, the PC finds its way into private households.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution – Industry 4.0

  • Networking
  • from approx. 2010

Industrial production is becoming increasingly digitalised and modern information and communication technologies are being used. These are networked with each other in order to automate not only individual working steps, but entire processes.

In automotive plants, robots capable of solving problems independently are already being used for assembly. In the new digital factories, plants are networked with each other; production systems, components and people communicate with each other.

Computers are able to learn from experience by this time, for instance nowadays there are self-driving cars that learn from the driver and can make decisions such as braking or accelerating independently after a few days. They can also network with mobile phones and other devices.


The most important innovations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are the increasing digitalisation of production, the networking of intelligent systems and the interaction between man and machine. Computers can now learn from experience (e.g. self-driving cars).


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