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By industrialization we mean the increasing use of machines to replace human skills in the production of goods and services. Human and animal energy were increasingly replaced by inanimate sources of power first in northern Europe and later in North America and Japan. Workers left their agrarian communities to work in centers where these machines were located, establishing new communities which greatly accelerated urbanization and also altered community and family patterns. The division of labor also greatly changed work roles, and new structures were created to coordinate and control workers which led to increased bureaucratization.

The expansion of science and technology increased the need for better trained workers, specialized scientists, and technologists so that more advanced educational systems were required. These increasingly involved the state. Work and labor institutions grew in size and with this growth came an increase in these institutions' power over individuals, so that in the 20th century, multinational corporations were on the rise. For industrialized nations the standard of living and health services have been raised, and it has freed many from spending most of their time eking out a life of subsistence. However, it has also greatly differentiated the income, education and occupations of the population so that social class and socio-economic status now vary enormously. There is now less dependence upon the changes of nature because nature can be controlled more, but this has also made humans more dependent upon the production system. Proponents and opponents of industrialization argue as to which of the two dependencies (nature or machines) contributes more to the advance of humanity.

While industrialization increased in western Europe and North America, the capitalist system of economics emerged with its laissez-faire (a French phrase meaning "let people do as they choose") emphases on free enterprise, individual initiative, competition, the profit motive, and inheritance which encouraged the accumulation of capital which was again invested in more machines and industry. The capitalist system encourages higher levels of consumption so that maintaining production and jobs often becomes a more important goal than meeting the needs of people. Regulation of production is a problem when periods of rapid economic growth alternate with periods of economic depression. Times of profit-taking and economic depression put laborers in disadvantageous situations of losing their jobs and means of livelihood. Stratification increases where the rich become richer and the poor poorer, so that governmental welfare organization increasingly becomes a necessity. While raw materials and resources seemed endless in newfound lands, we now see that the toll upon the natural environment is growing as resources become depleted, as water and air pollution rise, and as farmers try to get more out of their land by increased use of fertilizers and chemicals.

These imbalances and problems of the industrial revolution became increasingly evident in the 19th century so that sociologists such as Karl Marx and Max Weber began to probe the contradiction inherent in industrial capitalism. The aftermath of the French Revolution and the discontent of workers prompted Marx to investigate the causes of problems related to the factory system, breakdown of traditional family patterns, and the suffering of a transient population. Workers seemed to be alienated from their work as they spent long hours in tedious repetitious work behind machines where their movement and freedom were greatly restricted. Marx concluded that workers were not getting a sufficient return for their labor, and that the arrangements of power must be reordered. Masters monopolized economic power too much and often reneged on their social responsibilities in the interests of profit.

Max Weber, like Marx, was also concerned with the industrialization process but thought Marx oversimplified the polarity between bourgeoisie (those who have capital) and proletariat (the workers) and based his understanding of the dialectical process of history too much on materialistic grounds. Weber thought that industrialization has to do with rational processes working toward efficient and effective means of attaining economic goals and that these means became ends in themselves. He believed also that ideology (especially Calvinist doctrine) was an important factor. He spent much of his life trying to show that there were religious or ideological reasons for the capitalist system and he expounded on these in The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. The possibility of connections between the rise of industrialization and religious beliefs has implications for Mennonites as well.

Anabaptists emerged in the 16th century in Europe, in a commercial, but not yet industrialized society. The old rural feudal structures had begun to give way to leadership from an urban merchant class. Some new technologies, e.g., the the printing press, were emerging and led to reformulations of beliefs and religion as more began to read and write for themselves. Anabaptists were heavily involved in this commercial culture. Especially in The Netherlands many were involved in trades and artisan crafts, e.g., baking, weaving, brewing, carpentry, shipbuilding, butchering and other crafts to make a living. In Switzerland and Germany many Anabaptists were likewise from artisan circles. However, soon after their beginnings, most Mennonites outside The Netherlands retreated into agricultural areas because of severe persecution.

In the late 20th century although the majority of Mennonites still live in the most industrialized countries of the world (the United States, Canada, Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union), they have only recently moved from agriculture into various urban professions and industrial jobs.

In the late 20th century Mennonites live in at least 60 countries on all continents of the world. Thus they are located in industrially developed, developing, and undeveloped areas. In 1999 under half of all Mennonites (477,864 or 45.1 percent) lived in 15 industrialized countries in North America and Europe; 9.7 percent lived in 24 countries of Latin America, many which were considered developing countries; and the remaining 45.2 percent lived in 21 countries of Asia and Africa, most of which are industrially undeveloped.

Industrialization has greatly influenced rural Mennonites who engage in agriculture, especially those living in the industrially developed areas of North America and Europe. John B. Toews and others have shown that farm industry developed greatly in Russia between 1861 and 1934, a process which also changed the work of Mennonite craftsmen, factory working conditions, salaries, and job security. Blacksmith shops developed into wagon factories, cleaning mills, farm machinery factories, and the like. The milling industry mushroomed so that when the elder Niebuhr died he had 20 mills in 16 villages and one city. Surprisingly, little research has been done on agricultural industry in North America, but we know that there are many large Mennonite farms using the latest machinery and conveniences. Agriculture has become a highly technical enterprise.

As Mennonites move to cities, they also enter all the jobs and vocations which industrialized societies have to offer. Melvin Gingerich reports that a 1950 Mennonite Church Family Census in North America showed that out of a sample of 14,253 income earners, fewer than half (44.1 percent) were occupationally engaged in farming or related businesses. Interestingly Gingerich found that of the hundreds of church statements made over 25 years, very few addressed issues related to technology. Mennonites have usually been drawn to the opportunities of the entrepreneurial enterprise as Carl Kreider's volume The Christian entrepreneur with its emphasis on land, labor, and capital, illustrates. Kauffman and Harder, in a 1972 study published in 1975, found that most Mennonites also favor joining labor unions so laborers can pressure management to offer better ways and working conditions. The periodical Marketplace, published by the Mennonite Economic Development Associates, illustrates the extent to which Mennonites have entered business and the professions.

In his lecture The promise of work, Calvin Redekop illustrates how industrial technology is changing human work and the workplace, showing that job satisfaction tends to decline and machines increasingly enter the scene. As work is spatially separated from the family, work satisfaction declines and status and security become greatly dependent on "the job" where labor is sold to the highest bidder, rather than enjoyed as a way of life. Multinational corporations tend to focus on profit so that the integration of work with the family, neighborhood, and community are neglected.

Technology and industrialization tend to differentiate work into extremes. Professionals gain more and more control and status in their work, while blue-collar workers become more tied to technology sacrificing much of their flexibility and control over work. Thus, physicians, professors and other professionals identify themselves with their work, while machinists and laborers are often left with meaningless jobs. Donald Kraybill and Phyllis Pellman Good warn against the perils of professionals who acquire much power by gaining respect and a monopoly over supervising and controlling occupations; who set their own fees and rules, and titles; who enjoy special and secure incomes. Mennonites have entered the service professions of teaching and medicine extensively in industrialized countries.

Very little has been written on the leisure pat terns of Mennonites (recreation; amusements). With the rise of technology, the need to get away from it all also increases, indicating yet another result of industrialization. Melvin Gingerich surveyed changes in leisure patterns among Mennonites in 1945, and found many changes, first centering around the family and church, followed later by more participation in spectator sports and travel and greater interest in the entertainment and information media. Thus, Mennonites in urban industrial places also follow the trends, because relief from machines and industry are needed by all humans, while farming in the past included more integration of both work and play.


Smucker, Joseph. Industrialization in Canada. Scarborough, Ontario: Prentice-Hall, 1980: 1-41.

Toews, John B. "The Emergence of German Industry in the South Russian Colonies." Mennonite Quarterly Review 55 (1981): 289-371.

Redekop, Calvin. The Promise of Work, Eby Lecture, Conrad Grebel College. Waterloo, ON: Conrad Grebel College, 1983: 1-19.

Kraybill, Donald B. and Phyllis Pellman Good. Perils of Professionalism. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1982.

Kreider, Carl. The Christian Entrepreneur. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1980: 4.

Gingerich, Melvin. "Mennonite Attitudes to Wealth: Past and Present." Proceedings of the Conference on Educational and Cultural Problems. (1953): 89-98.

Kauffman, J. Howard and Leland Harder, eds. Anabaptists Four Centuries Later: a Profile of Five Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Denominations. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1975.

Author(s) Leo Driedger
Date Published 1989

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Driedger, Leo. "Industrialization." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 4 Aug 2021.

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Driedger, Leo. (1989). Industrialization. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 4 August 2021, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 438-439. All rights reserved.

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