The Rise and Fall of American Technology

By Lynn G. Gref | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8. TECHNOLOGY’S GOLDEN

“You will never know when you’re living in a golden age.”—Alexander Payne

After World War I and until the end of the Cold War, technology flourished in America. For most of this period, conditions were very conducive to technological innovation. Heroes included Ford, Edison, Bell, and Einstein. The general perception was that one could find a technological solution to almost any problem. Funding for technology development was ample. Companies prided themselves in their research laboratories. In addition, the Federal Government turned to research laboratories for all manners of things. Researchers enjoyed relatively good salaries and oftentimes the freedom to pursue their dreams. As a result, new products entered the market at almost torrential rates. American made products flooded the world. This was indeed the Golden Age of technology in America.

Defining the conditions under which technology flourishes is a somewhat daunting endeavor. Certainly adequate funding for research is essential. An ample supply of very capable and well-trained technology developers is required. This implies the need for outstanding educational institutions. There needs to be significant rewards to those successful in developing technology. This certainly includes monetary, personal satisfaction, esteem of peers and others, and a sense of contribution to society. These certainly abounded during technology’s Golden Age. There also needs to be a significant return on investment for those investing in technology development, whether they are private investors, corporations, or government. This was certainly the case during the twentieth century. Examples abound. GE’s investment in the lamp business including the development of the tungsten filament yielded a 30% return on investment during the 1920s. The entire electronics industry or computer software industries testify to the rich returns on investments in research and development. Government’s returns have been equally great from the winning of wars (e.g.,, the atomic bomb to end World War II and the engagement of the Soviets in a technologi-

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