The era of citizens and steam engines is mainly known thanks to the industrial revolution. There were a huge number of inventions made in this century and these had led to major changes in society. Until the end of the 18th century, most people were still working in agriculture.
The industrial revolution began in England. Here many small pieces of farmland were transformed into a few large pieces of land. This allowed them to increase the yield of the soil, making more food available. The population grew sharply. But fewer and fewer people were needed in agriculture. They had found ways to obtain a higher yield with less time and less labour. Many people left the countryside and went to the city in search of work.
In the city, the factories popped out like mushrooms. This was due to an invention of James Watt. He had adapted the existing design of the steam engine so that it could serve as an engine for many different machines. This made it easier, for example, to power a boat with a steam engine. But the steam engine was also used in production. And thanks to this invention, it became easier to transport raw materials. This happened, for example, by train. In 1839 the first railway line was built in the Netherlands. This one ran between Amsterdam and Haarlem.
In some industrial cities, the population had tripled between 1800 and 1850. Never before in history had the cities been so big. All these new city dwellers were looking for work in the factories. Houses were built for these new workers at a rapid pace. But there wasn't enough money or time to build decent houses. So the houses were mostly shacks. Not only were the living conditions poor, but also the work was unhealthy. They made very long days and got little pay. The first workers had no rights either. The factory owners could decide for themselves how many hours a day had to be worked and how much money he wanted to give for it. There were also a lot of children working in the factories in the beginning.
There were many people who opposed child labour. The government did not intervene until 1874 by banning child labour. It was now forbidden for factory owners to employ children under the age of 12. Rules were also drawn up to protect the workers. A labour law was passed stating that women and boys up to the age of 16 were not allowed to work more than 11 hours a day. This was an important step in history.
It seems like women with this law were better off than the men. But this was generally not the case. They had very few rights. In the Netherlands, Aletta Jacobs was one of the first feminists. They demanded the right to vote for the women. Aletta was the first female doctor and had a good wage.
During this period, a wage limit applied to the right to vote. That meant that everyone made enough money to vote. Aletta made enough money, but wasn't allowed to vote because she was a woman. She felt this was unfair, and so she, and many women with her, fought for women's suffrage. However, this was only introduced at the end of her life.