How Did the Industrial Revolution Encourage Imperialism?

The Industrial Revolution encouraged imperialism in three critical respects. It assured Western economic and military ascendancy, it demanded both suppliers of raw materials and retail markets, and it provided transportation and logistical supports for conquest, colonization and resource exploitation.

Because the Industrial Revolution increased the production capacity of Western states astronomically, there was an enormous hunger for raw materials to satisfy demands. Thus, Western powers sought colonies where raw materials were abundant and where they could be appropriated at little to no cost. Additionally, colonies gave the Western powers a ready-made market for their goods, as the colonized people were left with little to no legal recourse to produce their own finished products. Technological advances in Western arms and transportation commonly made indigenous resistance to imperial incursions futile and short-lived, as Westerners had far superior weapons, ammunition, strategy and tactics.

Additionally, technological advances made former threats to European settlement and survival in equatorial zones less daunting. For example, the development of the steamship eradicated the danger posed by the mouths of many African rivers. The steamship could simply be dissembled, brought inland and then reassembled for river travel, while wooden sailing ships previously could not. Similarly, industrial age advances in medicine brought quinine, a supplement that exponentially increased the survival rate of Western imperialists in malarial areas, acting as a preventative, though not a cure. Thus, Westerners could now worry much less about disease, whereas before quinine, severe fever and even death often came within weeks after arrival.