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Modern history

The world 1850–1914

Wilhelm I is proclaimed German emperor.Wilhelm I is proclaimed German emperor.During the second half of the 19th century, nationalism (loyalty and pride that people felt for their own nation) became an important movement, especially in Europe. Italy and Germany, both once made up of self-governing states, united to become single countries. The nations of southeast Europe gained independence from the Ottoman Empire. Britain and France built up worldwide empires, but as the 19th century wore on, their power came under challenge. Having grown rapidly, with 30 million Europeans migrating to live there between 1836 and 1914, the USA became a major economic power after its civil war ended. 

A busy street scene in New York, c.1900A busy street scene in New York, c.1900
Workers in an iron foundry, 1855–60Workers in an iron foundry, 1855–60


Although Britain had been the first to experience the Industrial Revolution, other nations were quick to catch up. During the 19th century, industrialization spread across Europe from England, soon reaching Belgium, France and Germany. It arrived in the United States in the mid-1800s, and countries such as Japan later in the century. In the second half of the 19th and early part of the 20th century, Germany, Russia and the United States began to challenge British dominance in areas such as steel and textile production, and shipbuilding.

The Suez Canal opened in 1869. The Suez Canal opened in 1869. As production increased in Europe and America, the industrialized countries looked abroad for sources of cheap raw materials, and for new markets in which to sell their manufactured goods. The wealthy nations exploited their old colonies, but also looked for opportunities to acquire new colonies.

Trade with China

During most of the 19th century, the world’s largest city was London, which grew from 1 million inhabitants in 1800 to 6.5 million in 1900. By 1925, New York had overtaken London as the world’s largest metropolis, with 7.7 million people.

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