The peak of British cotton cloth production came in 1913, when the combined output of the British industry reached 7,075,000,000 (7 billion) yards of cloth. But within a few short years, the world would be a very different place, and the British cotton industry would begin its rapid decline. World War I (1914-18), the first 'industrial war', brought new and horrific weapons such as mustard gas and mechanised weapons on land, at sea and in the air. The industrial processes which had revolutionised manufacturing were now applied to warfare, and the consequences were devastating.
The high levels of material progress and prosperity achieved by the early years of the 20th Century in the Western European nations led trades unions to secure and better their working conditions and wages. To limit foreign competition, trade became more nationalistic, with many tariffs (duties imposed by a government on imported or exported goods) against foreign competitors which ultimately generated trade barriers and heightened existing political tensions between the European powers. The 1920s would see ever greater foreign competition for the British cotton industry (particularly from Japan), beginning a decline from which it would never recover. The economic depression in the 1920s caused further agitation, which culminated in the General Strike of May 1926. The British cotton industry did not fare well in this period. In the 1920s, India had already imposed tariffs on British cotton goods, and by 1933 Japan had introduced 24 hour cotton production, and in the same year became the world's largest cotton manufacturer. With a decade of economic depression, and the onset of World War II in 1939, the cotton industry entered a new and troubled phase of its history.
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