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What accounts for the fact that Britain was the richest country in Europe in the 1870 - 1914 period?

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Introduction

What Accounts for the fact that Britain was the richest country in Europe in the 1870 - 1914 period? "In the half century or so before the 1914 war . . . if any nation had truly made a bid for world power, it was Great Britain. In fact, it had more than made a bid for it. It had achieved it."1. By 1914, Britain was considered as the world's greatest power; it controlled the world's largest empire, a fifth of the world's land surface and a quarter of the world's population. The British navy was the worlds finest; it was even more powerful and larger than the next two navies combined. In its zenith, Britain was the manufacturing workshop of the world, with one third of all manufactured goods coming from her shores; it produced "two thirds of the worlds coal and half of the world's cotton, cloth and iron"2. From this position, it conducted over one quarter of the worlds trade and in 1914; the registered shipping tonnage was more than the whole world combined. Not only was Britain considered economically rich but also politically and socially, she had one of the world's highest living standards, healthiest population and most progressive governments. ...read more.

Middle

There was little competition from abroad and therefore European countries were, just as British colonies were, important buyers of British manufacturers. For the early part of the 1870-1914 period, Britain kept at the forefront of technological fields. New processes in the metal industry such as Bessemer's converter system, which could produce steel at much lower prices and Siemen's open-hearth process, which could produce a stronger type of steel, encouraged growth in engineering industries. This combined with the increase in population caused the demand for manufactured goods at home to increase dramatically. Noticeably the railway industry saw enormous injections of investment; the 'railway boom' resulting in a total of 14,510 miles of track in 1880. This not only created extra jobs but also created a large market for the iron industry; coal industry and most importantly enabled the transportation of manufactured goods of all kinds to ports much more quickly. This coupled Britain's strangle hold on the seas in merchant shipping played a vital role in the increase of British exports. The great spurt of industrialisation meant Britain not only longer dominated the world economy through its navy and its extensive colonies, but now more importantly through its productivity of its leading industries. The years preceding 1870 saw the volume of British goods manufactured and exported increase, however their share in world exports declined; from 18.9% in 1870 to 13.9% in 1913. ...read more.

Conclusion

However, in absolute and per capita terms Britain was still ahead of leading European economies, undoubtedly they were catching up with Britain but they had not overtaken her and by 1914 Britain was still the richest country in the whole of Europe. 1914 saw all European powers on the verge of a catastrophic war, Britain which in 1870 had was the unanimously unchallenged country in Europe was now confronted by its nearest economic rival Germany. Hitler commented "We can safely make one prophecy: whatever the outcome of this war the British Empire is at an end it has been mortally wounded."13 At the beginning of the 1870 -1914 period Britain was at the technical frontier of all industries, it ruled one fifth of the whole world, had an unequalled naval force and was the richest country in Europe. In 1914, Britain retained much of this, the basis of which came from political and economic policy followed for the previous century. Britain still enjoyed the fruits of being the first country to industrialise, the abandonment of protectionist tariffs for the adoption of total laissez faire economic policy and the vast resource of its empire. Although economic growth in Britain had slowed, it was still growth; Britain's share of world trade had also fallen; yet, it was still the largest single share. "The roots of world power were withering even if the visible foliage seemed more impressive than ever". ...read more.

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