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Chapter 24 - Industrial Activity and Geographic Location


The Industrial Revolution was essentially a revolution in power and transportation. Goods, ideas, and humanity were transported across the Earth in a manner that would forever change our planet and its human occupants. Modern industry increased and intensified regional inequality while mushrooming demand for resources created new global patterns of movement. In the industrial-oriented world of the late l990s suc­cess depended on the possession or control of resources. At a time when cultural differences should be reduced with benefits and technical capabilities shared for the good of all, our own innovations and abili­ties may work to hinder this end.


Economic activities can be categorized according to their purpose, their relationship to the natural resources on which they are based, and their complexity. Economic geographers investigate the reasons behind the location of economic activity. Today, the world is a vast panorama of primary activity within which there are clusters of secondary industries symbolized by the great manufacturing belts of Japan, the United States, Europe, and Russia. What geographic factors created this arrangement and what will hap­pen next? Answers to such questions come from the field of location theory, which attempts to explain the locational pattern of an economic activity in terms of the factors that influence this pattern. Location theory helps explain the spatial positioning of industries and their success or failure. The Industrial Revolution transformed the worlds economic map, dramatically impacting certain areas while totally bypassing others. Understanding the forces and factors that shaped the worlds industrial layout is a prime objective of economic geographers.

Location Decision

industrial activity takes place in certain locations and not others. For primary industries, the location of resources is the determining factor. Secondary industries are less dependent on resource location because raw materials can be transported to distant locations if the resulting profits outweigh the costs. Any attempt to establish a model for the location of secondary industry, however, runs into complications because the location of secondary industries depends to a large extent on human behavior and decision making—cultural and political as well as economic factors, even on intuition or whim. In 1909, the Ger­man economist Alfred Weber developed a model for the location of manufacturing establishments, Weber’s least cost theory accounted for the location of a manufacturing plant in terms of transportation (the most important), labor, and agglomeration (shared talents, services, and facilities). Despite numerous criticisms of the model, Alfred Weber set in motion a debate over the spatial aspects of economic activity that continues today.


As Weber noted, transportation facilities and costs are crucial in industrial location. A huge market may exist for a given product, but if that market is not served by an effective transportation system, much of the advantage is lost. The maps in chapter 26 underscore the fact that highly developed industrial areas are also the places that are served most efficiently by transportation facilities, Industrialization and the development of modern transport systems go hand-in-hand.

In a sense, the Industrial Revolution was a transportation revolution—a revolution that is still going on. Transport costs played a key role in the location of heavy industries but raw-material acquisition and finished-product distribution determined the options. One of the first decisions faced by the capitalists who built the great iron works of Europe, for example, was whether to move either coal to iron ores sites or, iron ore to the coal fields. The iron smelters were built near the coal fields (it generally takes more coal than iron ore to make a ton of finished product). The same decision was made when the American iron industry located near Appalachian coal and hauled iron ore from the Great Lakes Mesabi Range.

Additional Factors of Location

Other factors influencing the location of industries also include labor costs, energy availability, and infra­structure. The availability of cheap semiskilled labor has had an immense impact on regional industrial development. Even in an era of automated assembly lines and computerized processing, the prospect of a large, low-wage, trainable labor force continues to attract manufacturers. Japans postwar success was based in large measure on the skills and the low wages of its labor force. Taiwan and South Korea have successfully competed with Japan for the same reason. In the 1980s, China entered the Pacific Rim picture with its huge labor force and will, in turn, feel the impact of cheap labor when Vietnam enters the picture. The cost of labor still looms large lathe location of industry.

The availability of an energy supply is another factor in the location of industry, but the factor used to be much more important than it is today. The early British textile mills were site-tied” because they depended on falling water to drive the looms. Today, power comes from different sources and can be transmitted or transported over long distances. Exceptions occur when an industry needs very large amounts of energy, for example, certain metallurgical and chemical industries.

When Weber considered the role of agglomeration in location decisions, he could not foresee the dimensions of urban areas or industrial complexes a century hence. One of the most difficult problems that today’s industrializing countries or regions face is providing adequate infrastructure—transportation and communication networks, banks, postal service, administrative assistance, energy distribution systems, social services, roads and highways. China has tried to slow industrialization in some regions because of a inadequate infrastructure. Thus many factors of industrial location are not accounted for by models. Even the growth of secondary industries is influenced by factors that are not accounted for in the models, such as political changes and even environmental fluctuations.



1. In 1721, British textile makers rioted to protest the importation of foreign-made textiles from:

a.        India

b.        Egypt

c.        Japan

d.        Hong Kong

2. Before the Industrial Revolution, European industrial products suffered from:

a.      a lack of raw material

b.      depressed prices

c.      tariffs

d.      poor quality

3.        The first steps in the Industrial Revolution involved:

a.    improved food supplies

b.    the use of electricity

c.    better machines

d. importing foreign laborers

4.        Weber’s least cost theory to account for the location of a manufacturing plant considered which of

the following to be the most important.

a.    power

b.    transportation

c.    raw material

d.    labor

5.        The current economic boom on the Pacific Rim is based largely on:

a.    transportation advantages

b. power supplies

c. market proximity

d. labor costs

6.        The term Black Towns was applied to early industrial towns in the:

a. British Midlands

b. Ruhr in Germany

c. Po Valley in Italy

d. San region

7.        The location of steel plants in which part of the United States was influenced by the need to import

iron ore from overseas sources.

a. the Ohio River Valley

b. the Southern Appalachians

c. the northeastern seaboard

d. the Pacific Northwest

8.     Which of the following Asian counties, by using the example of Britain’s control of the sources of industrial raw material through colonization, followed a similar path of colonial expansion.

a.     China

b.     Japan

c.     India

d.     Thailand

9.     In a sense, the Industrial Revolution was a revolution in:

a.     power sources

b.     technological application

c.     labor utilization

d.     transportation

10.     For most industrial goods, which method of transport is cheapest over short distances.

a. truck

b. railroad

c. barge

d. ships


1.        Hong Kong could have developed a superior economy based on primary industry. (TF)

2.        No industries of any kind existed before the Industrial Revolution. (TF)

3.           Transportation, not location, is the determining factor for primary industries. (TF)

4.        In Weber’s least cost theory, transportation and labor availability play a large role. (TF)

5. In the United States, steel mills are located along the northeastern seaboard because they use imported iron ore. (TF)

6. Colonization did not give the controlling countries access to many raw materials. (TF)

7.        When labor in Japan began to cost more, Taiwan and South Korea surged ahead in the production and export of low cost products. (TF)

8.        Certain industries will generally shift from country to country as long as low cost labor is available. (TF)

9.            China has tried to slow the rate of industrialization on the Pacific Rim because of a lack of available raw materials. (TF)

10.      A close source of energy is necessary for industrial development. (TF)


1. Why are secondary industries less dependent on resource location? What factors are taken into account in site location?

2. Why is it accurate to describe the world today as being in the modern age of industrial intensification? Did the Industrial Revolution affect all regions in Europe? Why or why not?

3. Describe Weber’s least cost theory.

4. List and describe the factors that are considered in industrial site location. Why is Japan a prime example of the role of transportation with relationship to industrialization?

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