[Click the back button on your web browser to return to the section of “Signs of the Times” for which the following serves as an annotation.]

Birmingham Fire-king: At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in England, Birmingham was a city outside of London that served as a power house for technological advancement and development of new products. It was known as the “workshop of the world&lrquo; or the city of a thousand trades&lrquo; because it became not only the national hub for commercial trade of goods to and from England but also a prominent political sphere in the campaign for reform in the early nineteenth century. The major innovation of the Industrial Revolution was the change from water power to steam powered machinery. With the introduction of burning coal to create steam, new forms of transport as well as new trade lines were utilized in Birmingham. The most massive of transport machines was the steam ship or, as Carlyle refers to it, the Birmingham Fire-king. The invention of the steam ship allowed massive transport of goods to far-away lands, thus revolutionizing trade around the world through mechanization.

In Carlyle’s “Signs of the Times&lrquo; he makes reference to the Birmingham Fire-king as not only a force that actively mechanizes society but also as a medium for exposing the rest of the world to British mechanized culture. Carlyle saw Birmingham at the time as the center for mechanized industry as well as mechanized culture. Carlyle stresses that the industrialization of society has introduced a mechanized way of thinking that will inevitably destroy the human morality. Furthermore, by mentioning that the Birmingham Fire-king travels east, he introduces his fear of the mechanized culture spreading to other nations that still are unindustrialized and therefore morally uncorrupt.


“Birmingham.” Wikipedia. 21 March 2010. 23 March 2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birmingham.

Hopkins, Eric. The Rise of the Manufacturing Town: Birmingham and the Industrial Revolution. London: Sutton Publishing, 1998. N. pag. Print.

Last modified 24 March 2010