Great Britain in 1850: How rich was it?

Briton was at the pinnacle of its power in the year 1850. But how rich was it? WorldGDPperPersonYear1850 Well according to the Madison data project, it was richer than other countries but certainly not wealthy by today’s standards about $2,300 per capita using 1990 money. Belgium the only other industrial country and the US both came in at $1,800. Germany, France around $1,500. [1] Poor countries would have between $500 to $1,000 per capita. Briton in the year 1280 had about $700 per capita while in the year 2010 it was $23,700. This advantage in wealth does not fully describe the advantages and power of Great Britain in 1850. “It controlled ninety per cent of Europe’s steam shipping along with half of the world’s iron and two-thirds of its coal production.”[2] Most people know Briton ruled the waves and was the first country to experience the blessing and ills of the industrial revolution. By 1850, fully half of it’s citizens lived in cities. Experiencing the grandeur of Queen Victoria and the crown jewels to poor street children in London, the largest and richest city the world had known. Victorians spearheaded cultural evolution brought on by wealth and free time to the masses. Distractions like football and sea side get aways to name but two. Technological innovation included the most advanced factories, ships, and transportation at this time. WorldGDPperPersonYear2000 BE1850

The empire, while not as large as in the 20th century, was more suitable to a small navel power, other than India, holding only relatively loyal colonist and controlling small islands, coastal cities, and depots throughout the world (like the US today with her string of 700+ military bases). Rivals that would surpass Briton had not yet hit their stride. The US was still agrarian except for a few cities with the American South still a slave based economy that was worth more in capital than all the factories and railroads combined. This would spark a war that would nearly rip the country in two. Japan was closed off from the world until forced to open up by US war ships in 1854. Russia positively medieval with over 20,000 million serfs and an absolute monarch back by a powerful clergy. Germany while culturally and intellectually on the rise was still divided politically and relatively undeveloped economically until after the Franco-Prussian war 1870-1871. By 1900 the US and Germany were a match for Great Britain economically and technological. While Japan’s rise the the USSR would pose challenges by the 1930s particular during and after WWII. The burden of class system, low grow rate between 1910 and 1950, empire maintenance, small size, and two World Wars would see Britain’s industrial advantage and empire disappear and influence greatly limited by the 1960s. BE1914   [1] http://www.ggdc.net/maddison/maddison-project/abstract.htm?id=4 [2] http://www.flowofhistory.com/units/eme/17/FC116

About Matthew Mulbrandon

I really like maps, as I am a geographer, and with the help of my more artistic partner I make cool maps. My focus in work and education has been centred on urban problems particularly housing and transportation. I have built and am working on several agent-based housing models. I am also interested in developing innovative ways to combat urban congestion using buses and electric kick scooters. Also it has led me to more theoretical pursuits such as how we determine if a model or methodology is sound (epistemology). How individuals relate to their social and built environment and their resulting interactions (social theory). Cities and really all our institutions are made of people with all their issues, virtues, and dreams and cannot be discounted when examining policy or predicting behaviours.

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