¿Empezó la Revolución Industrial en Holanda incluso antes que en Inglaterra?

Me recordaba hoy un colega que le mencioné que Holanda se había adelantado por pocas décadas a Inglaterra en su despegue industrial (es decir, la aplicación de máquinas+energía a la producción ampliada). Sin embargo al tratar de verificar ese hecho, encontró un autor que negaba tal cosa. Ahora bien, el despegue industrial de Inglaterra tanto por su escala (un país e imperio más grande) como por el tipo de energía utilizada (para alcanzar productividades desconocidas previamente) es sin duda el más publicitado por los historiadores. En efecto, toda la mitología anti-industrial (generalizar los abusos focalizados contra ciertos mineros y niños en las minas, métodos poco éticos para “empujar” a la gente del campo a la ciudad, los ‘ludditas’ como héroes populares, etc) se centra en Inglaterra (ver “Capitalism and the historians” de F.A. Hayek).

Sin embargo, Holanda utilizó mucho antes la energía del viento para generar un sistema de molinos y producir masivamente lo que antes era por definición, artesanal. Veamos el caso de uno de sus distritos industriales más famosos.

The Zaan district

One of the most spectacular developments of industrial wind power technology occurred in the Zaan district, a region situated just above Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Although the area is surrounded by water, the potential of water power was limited because the land is as flat as it can be and so the flow of the rivers is low. The wind, on the other hand, is strong. Many of the applications of windmills described above appeared first (and sometimes only) in the Zaan district.

Windmills zaan districtIt is said that the region was the world’s first industrialized area. From 1600 to 1750, when the Netherlands became an important economical power, around 1,000 windmills were built and operated here (see the map on the left). Mills were given names, just like ships.

A vital element of the wind powered industry in the Zaan district was the saw mill. Wood was required to construct houses, sluices, ships and of course more windmills. Hand sawing was a very laborious task and windmills greatly reduced the time needed for the process. With hand sawing, 60 beams or trunks would take 120 working days, with wind power this only took 4 to 5 days (see picture below, more here).

The first sawmill (“Het juffertje” or “The missy”) was built in the town of Zaandam by Cornelis Corneliszoon in 1596. By 1630, there were 83 sawmills north of Amsterdam, of which 53 were located in the Zaan district. The peak was reached in 1731 when there were 450 sawmills in the Netherlands, 256 of them in the Zaan district. Eventually even the crane of these mills, to haul up the timber, was driven by the sails.

Another early industrial application of wind power in the Zaan district was the production of paper – this was, after all, the era in which the printing press appeared. The first papermaking windmill (“De Gans” or “The Goose”) dates from 1605 and by 1740 there were 40 of them. In the middle of the 17th century, the Dutch paper mill was substantially improved, which enabled it to make whiter paper and make it faster.

Fuente: Low-tech Magazine (link).

Como podemos notar, Holanda tuvo en efecto un despegue industrial antes de que la estelaridad le sea disputada por Inglaterra y el carbón (y por ende, el vapor). De hecho, la propia definición de “pueblo industrioso” recae históricamente sobre los holandeses y los alemanes, por merecida asociación.

Salvo que consideremos la-industria-movida-por-carbón como una industria más propiamente industrial que la-industria-movida-por-viento, debemos reconocer que sí, en efecto, el despegue también -e incluso antes- fue holandés. Si algo volvió lo de Inglaterra un hito mundial fue que el carbón es movilizable mientras que el viento se genera in situ y no en todo lugar.

Artículos recomendados: “The windmill: a medieval steam engine?“, John Langdon (pdf)
The windmill as prime mover“, Alfred R. Wolff, 1885

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