American and British Technology in the Nineteenth Century: The Search for Labour-Saving Inventions

American and British Technology in the Nineteenth Century: The Search for Labour-Saving Inventions

American and British Technology in the Nineteenth Century: The Search for Labour-Saving Inventions

American and British Technology in the Nineteenth Century: The Search for Labour-Saving Inventions

Excerpt

This essay is a foray into the debatable borderland between history, technology and economics. On the history of technical processes there now exist several works, pre-eminent among them the great five-volumed History of Technology. In recent years there have also been considerable advances in the economic theory dealing with the choice of techniques. But few historians of technology have shown much interest in the models of the economists; and the theorists have so far concentrated on analysis or on problems of contemporary technology. A marriage of history and theory could, I believe, be fruitful, and the present work is an attempt to re-examine some of the more familiar nineteenth-century developments in technology in the light of such limited parts of the relevant theory as I feel I understand. It originated in lectures given at Columbia University in the autumn of 1958, and though the first version of the argument has been greatly expanded under the stimulus of criticism and suggestion, I have not attempted to disguise its speculative character. Nor have I taken account of a number of important books, on both the theory and history of the subject, which have appeared since my manuscript was completed.

Anyone who sets up as a middleman is likely to provoke the traditional mistrust of brokers and bodgers, and as I am neither an expert in American economic history nor an economist I expect I have incurred the penalties of those who venture too far beyond their own field. But if I have misread the facts and made a wrong choice or unskilled use of the economic tools, it is in spite of generous help. I am particularly grateful to Kenneth Berrill, Ian Byatt, Conrad Blyth, Jim Potter, Brian Tew, Donald Whitehead and John Wright who read parts of earlier versions of the essay, contributed many ideas and started several trains of thought. I have also picked the brains of N. F. Laing, Guido di Tella and Goran Ohlin, and I learned a good deal from discussion with members of my graduate class in Harvard in 1954-5. My hosts at Columbia, especially Professor Carter Goodrich, made many helpful comments. I also wish to thank my wife for considerable assistance. Confusions and errors are entirely my own.

H J. HABAKKUK

OXFORD

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