Working Knowledge: Employee Innovation and the Rise of Corporate Intellectual Property, 1800-1930

By Catherine L. Fisk | Go to book overview

PART II
FREE LABOR, FREE ENTERPRISE,
AND THE FREEDOM TO CONTRACT
OVER INNOVATION, 1860–1895

In the years bracketing the Civil War, much changed in American law and society. The agrarian republic imagined by Jefferson disappeared with early industrialization and the rise of commerce in the North. The “market revolution” that began in the Jacksonian era—the growth of commerce within the settled East and the expansion of commerce into the fast-growing West—opened up new opportunities for entre preneurship through inventing, manufacturing, and selling. Factory production developed, first in textiles and armaments in New England, and then in clocks and other goods. The construction of roads, canals, and railroads opened up new possibilities for commerce and the extraction and processing of raw materials, including iron, lumber, and all sorts of minerals. In 1860, the United States trailed Great Britain, France, and Germany in industrial output, but by 1900 American industrial production exceeded that of these three countries combined. In those four decades, freedom in the economic sense shifted from the freedom of the yeoman farmers to work their lands to the freedom of white men to use their energy, ingenuity, and knowledge to make their way, and maybe their fortune, in the expanding markets.1

As the early stages of industrialization transformed the landscape and lifestyle of the eastern United States on the eve of the Civil War, leading thinkers contemplated the social significance of invention and what it portended for the future of the American people. One of the most widely quoted of such assessments is Abraham Lincoln’s. In a pair of speeches delivered in 1858 and 1859, Lincoln, himself a patentee,2

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