In the second half of the nineteenth century, the world’s industrialized nations—Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, and the United States—entered the Second Industrial Revolution. They manufactured machines as well as other items to be used for industry, such as steel, rubber, and chemicals. The Second Industrial Revolution was indebted to new sources of power such as electricity and the internal combustion engine; new methods of travel and communication were also developed. As the industrialized nations grew wealthier and more powerful, other nations such as Canada, Italy, Russia, and Japan began to industrialize as well. Some areas that also possessed industrial potential did not, however. India, Egypt, the countries of Latin America, and China instead became export economies that provided raw materials and markets for the industrialized world.
The desire of industrialized nations for inexpensive raw materials led them to Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, where they took control of lands and established colonies that existed solely to provide resources, markets, and harbors for fleets of commercial steamships. Many tried to justify their overseas empires by claiming they benefited the people in conquered lands, despite clear evidence that harm was done. The quest for colonies was greatly aided by developments in medicine, transportation, and weapons technology.
In the second half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, the world’s industrialized nations claimed colonies in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. The “Scramble for Africa” resulted in nearly the entire continent falling under European control. France built an empire in Indochina while Japan did so in Korea. At times, the contest for colonies led the industrial powers to fight one another, as Japan and Russia did, and Britain and Russia nearly came to blows over central Asia. These nations also claimed spheres of influence in China, as did the United States. The islands of the Pacific were also quickly seized as imperial possessions, and it was there that the United States acquired the bulk of its empire by taking possession of Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines.
Colonization had a devastating effect on residents of African, Asian, and Pacific lands seized by imperial powers. People were exploited for their labor, made to grow cash crops, collect rubber and ivory, and transport European goods through difficult terrain. They received low wages if any, and failure to meet quotas was met with harsh punishment. Colonizers brought infectious diseases with them, causing people and livestock to sicken and die. People in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific Islands fought back in ways that cost the lives of many. In India, resistance took the form of political organization.