Economic history of Birmingham facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts

Birmingham in England has developed economically since Mediaeval times.

Early metalwork

John Leland visited Birmingham in about 1538, and found many smiths manufacturing knives and nails among other products. By 1683, there were 202 forges in the town (mainly in the Digbeth and Deritend areas), and guns and brass goods were also being made. Metal was not made to any great extent in the town itself at this stage, but was mainly imported from Staffordshire and elsewhere in the West Midlands. Immigration to the city from the surrounding counties brought expansion of these industries. The population of the city increased from 5-7,000 in 1700 to nearly 24,000 in 1750, and by 1775 the population was about 40,000, making Birmingham the third largest town in the UK after London and Bristol. In 1791, Arthur Young described Birmingham as "the first manufacturing town in the world".

Birmingham Canal

Galton Bridge and tunnel
Galton Bridge and the modern Galton Tunnel

The first cargo was transported on the Birmingham Canal in 1770, and the canal greatly reduced the price of goods such as coal which had previously been transported by road. The canal system was extended throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Water power

Sarehole Mill
Sarehole Mill

As early as 1755, Sarehole Mill was leased by Matthew Boulton, one of the pioneers of the Industrial Revolution and leading figure of the Lunar Society, for scientific experimentation. It is believed he converted the machinery for use in metal working. As well as milling grain it has been used for grinding bones for fertiliser, sheet metal rolling (Matthew Boulton) and wire drawing.

Steam power

The long-established industrial processes in the city meant that it was actually quite late in adopting the methods of the Industrial Revolution - manufacturing was so efficient and workshops so small that the steam engine, developed in Birmingham by Boulton and James Watt around 1770, did not find widespread use in the city for another sixty years (in 1815, there were only about forty steam engines in the town, many very small). However, steam power and improvements in iron manufacturing processes were important in the development of the nearby Black Country, which by the end of the 18th century supplied much of the metal needed by Birmingham's manufacturing industries.


Numerous inventors emerged during Birmingham's past, and the city's skilled workforce and infrastructure encouraged other inventors and businessmen from across the world to set up shop in the city.

Economic history of Birmingham Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.