If These Mill Owners Desire to Cripple a
Man’s Enterprise & His Energy & Intelligence,
They Must Contract to That Effect
By 1860, industrialization had transformed England and was making serious headway in the United States. The transformation was both material and cultural. The Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851 showed the British public, and the many visitors and exhibitors from America, the marvels of modern technology that would affect every aspect of modern life, but especially work. The displays featured not only the genius of great inventors but also the accomplishments of firms. It offered the public a way to associate innovation with companies rather than just with individual inventors. And the complexity of the technology exhibited drove home the idea that many modern inventions could not have been the work of one person alone. The contrast between the displays of painting, sculpture, and the other fine arts and the displays of steam engines and other mechanical marvels also served as a striking illustration of the difference between individual and collective invention. It began to be imaginable that technological development involved collective invention, whereas cultural creations still seemed to emanate from individual genius.
As the economy industrialized, more people—including inventors and authors—worked as employees of others. Once the small factories and workshops turned from war production to other enterprises, the question of who would own technological advances became quite pressing. Consequently, the 1860s and 1870s were a watershed for legal doctrines concerning workplace knowledge about technology. Courts decided major cases having to do with