Skip to main content

Our ticketing system at the museum is currently affected by the global ICT outage. We recommend booking your tickets online before your visit.
Open daily, book your free museum admission tickets now. Schools and groups can book tickets here.
Find out about our ongoing restoration project.

The world's first industrial city

Manchester was the world's first industrial city. From its towering mills, bustling warehouses and crowded streets came new ways to live, work and think, which transformed lives in Manchester and across the world.

In the early 19th century, the rapid growth of Manchester's cotton industry drove the town's expansion, putting it at the heart of new, global networks of manufacturing and trade. Makers and profit-seekers developed powered machines and multistorey mills to produce fashionable, valuable cotton cloth to sell across the globe. Science and industry interacted and overlapped to create an inventive, experimental town.

But innovation and profits went hand in hand with inequality and exploitation, in Manchester's mills, where thousands of workers toiled in time with machines, and on plantations in the Caribbean, South America and the United States, where millions of enslaved people were forced to grow the cotton that supplied them.

Overcrowded and polluted, industrial Manchester was like nothing ever seen before. The consequences of Manchester's growth were dramatic and sometimes dreadful, prompting people in Manchester to innovate and campaign for solutions to the challenges facing the first industrial city.

Today we still feel the impact of Manchester's revolutionary transformation, in the ways we live and work and in the global challenges we face. Explore objects and stories from our collection to discover how Manchester's industrial transformation helped shape life as we know it.

Stories from our collection