The Role of Transportation in the Industrial Revolution: A Comparison of England and France

By Rick Szostak | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR

The French Iron Industry

Historians in general, and economic historians no less, tend to pay more attention to history's success stories than to her failures. In part, this is because it is generally easier to answer the question, "Why?" than the question, "Why not?" The French iron industry during the eighteenth century was relatively stagnant compared to that of England. My task, then, is to show that the poor quality of the French transport system prevented the French iron industry from developing as the English industry did. I argue that if France, like England, had possessed an early modern transport system, her iron industry could have developed in the same ways. This does not necessarily mean that it would have done so - I claim only that transport was a necessary, not a sufficient, condition.

Clearly, the backward French transport system described in chapter 2 did have a negative effect on the French iron industry. Rioux (1971, 58‐ 9) felt that there were many partial explanations of English success, "but it is the enlargement of the English market which played the determining role." While he overemphasizes the importance of higher per‐ capita incomes in creating this larger market, he does capture the great importance of large market size in economic development. "It is necessary then to furnish standardized quality products; a division of labour occurs, along with concentration of work to better supervise the regularity and continuity of production of each worker." Almost two centuries earlier, Guiraudet (1802) had puzzled over ways to improve the state of the French iron manufacture. His first suggestion involved improvements to transport facilities to expose French producers to a larger market. To recover lost foreign markets, "it is necessary to open canals if one wishes to return life to the manufacture and commerce of iron" (Guiraudet, 26). Internally, he questioned the recent decision to impose tolls on roads. "Tolls, this false imitation of the English, are

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