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A Dictionary of World History
Edmund WrightEdmund Wright


The process of change from a basic agrarian economy to an industrialized one. It was first experienced by Britain in the Industrial Revolution and at much the same time in the New England states of the USA, from which it spread along the eastern seaboard and, after the American Civil War, across the continent. Belgium was the first continental European country to experience industrialization, which then spread to north-east France and, particularly after 1870, to Germany, where its growth was so rapid that by 1900 German industrial production had surpassed that of Britain. During those 30 years all industrialized nations saw rapid development and expansion in such heavy industries as iron and steel, chemicals, engineering, and shipbuilding. Japan was the first non-European power to become industrialized, which it had done by the end of the 19th century. The former Soviet Union saw industrialization on a massive scale under Stalin.

In many less developed countries, industrialization is equated with development, that is modernization, progress, and economic growth, a viewpoint often, though not always, justified by the circumstances of the individual countries. In recent decades there has been rapid industrialization in many developing countries, in particular those known as the newly industrializing countries; economic growth in these countries has generally exceeded that in those benefiting from ample natural resources, excepting certain oil-rich countries. Development plans favouring industrialization via import substitution have been superseded in many countries by policies of export promotion. Industrialization has been welcomed as providing employment for growing populations whom the land could no longer support; but since much industry is located in cities, there have been associated problems of massive urbanization and, often, pollution of the environment. The relationship between industrialization and development continues, therefore, to be debated. Since the latter decades of the 20th century, the phenomenon of deindustrialization has been witnessed in industrialized countries. This means that in these countries manufacturing employment accounts for a shrinking proportion of total employment, as a result of the growth both of manufacturing productivity and of tertiary employment.