Inventors During the Industrial Revolution

2 May 2011 at 12:08 pm 2 comments

| Peter Klein |

Following up an earlier post on apprenticeship: Ralf Meisenzahl and Joel Mokyr discuss the role of apprenticeship in the diffusion of innovation among skilled craftsmen during the British Industrial Revolution. “Using a sample of 759 of these mechanics and engineers, we study the incentives and institutions that facilitated the high rate of inventive activity during the Industrial Revolution. First, apprenticeship was the dominant form of skill formation. Formal education played only a minor role. Second, many skilled workmen relied on secrecy and first-mover advantages to reap the benefits of their innovations. Over 40 percent of the sample here never took out a patent. Third, skilled workmen in Britain often published their work and engaged in debates over contemporary technological and social questions. In short, they were affected by the Enlightenment culture.”

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Business/Economic History, Innovation, Recommended Reading. Tags: .

“Entrepreneurship and the Economic Theory of the Firm” Higher-Ed Bubble, MBA Edition

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rafe Champion  |  2 May 2011 at 8:22 pm

    This fits with the thesis that Terence Kealey spelled out in “The Economics of Scientific Research” – essentially the driver of innovation in science and technology is PRACTICE rather than pure research.

    For a short and long summary

    http://www.the-rathouse.com/2010/Kealey-EconomicsofScience.html

    His comparison of France and laissez fair Britain of the 18th century is very illuminating.

  • 2. Rafe Champion  |  2 May 2011 at 8:27 pm

    Kealey, Chapter 6. The Industrial Revolution.

    Between 1780 and 1860 the population of Britain tripled from 7.5M to 23M and the real per capita income double in real terms across all classes.

    The drivers were increased productivity of machines and the movement of labour from the land to the factories. The driver of machine technology was NOT science as predicted by Bacon but the improvement of existing technology by ingenious artisans such as Newcomen, Watt, Trevithic and Stephenson. Amazingly, the scientists were struggling to keep up with the tradesmen! Hooke (the scientist) told Newcomen that his idea would not work while he was developing it (fortunately he persisted) and Carnot’s work on thermodynamics was prompted by Watt’s steam engine which could not work according to the laws of science as they were understood by leading scientists at the time.

    France followed the Bacon model and set up glittering science laboratories and institutions of learning, while the state ran on the basis of taxes extorted by an army of Farmers-General (tax farmers) working on a commission basis with draconian powers of search, detention and confiscation. Hence the Revolution, while the science laboratories produced scientific advances without any impact on technology or the wealth of the French people.

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