The Economic History of Steelmaking, 1867-1939: A Study in Competition

By Duncan Burn | Go to book overview

Chapter I
CRITICS AND APOLOGISTS 1867

The Paris Exhibition of 1867 brought for the first time before "the public mind" a controversy concerning the state of the iron and steel industries. At the Exhibition the English manufacturers were completely outclassed. The French industry, allotted a much larger area, was paraded "with all that showman's art which the French ironmasters, like the shopkeepers of Paris, have in their bones". There was no serious English effort to make a representative show. Some English producers, unlike their foreign rivals, had learnt that "exhibitions don't pay"; others were discouraged by meagre space; and some irresponsibly "intruded slovenly heaps of raw material mingled with pieces of rusty iron".1 The iron industry was not the only important English industry to be challenged at Paris, if not surpassed. So the official reporters came back to England to shock the public with the news that England's industrialists, and especially the ironmasters, were vegetating while their competitors forged ahead.2 With surprising readiness the Paris show was accepted widely as a reflection of the state of British industry. According to the Edinburgh Review it was no longer a matter of conjecture that England had lost first place and was fast retrogressing. The Exhibition "afforded evidence of our decline upon the largest possible scale".3 It was not a wholly unwelcome story to those who diagnosed a want of scientific education or a surfeit of

____________________
1
Samson Jordan, Revue de l'Industrie du Fer en 1867 (which forms the main part of the Revue de l'Exposition de 1867, published in six parts, 1867-73), III, pp. 1, 112; Correspondence in The Times, May 30, 1867; I. L. Bell, Communication published in Annual Report of British Association, 1867 (pp. 34-42), pp. 34-6.
2
Letter of Dr Lyon Playfair published by Lord Granville in The Times, May 29, 1867; Reports on the Paris Exhibition, P.P. 1867-8, XXX, pp. 699-700, 702, 725.
3
Edinburgh Review, April 1868, pp. 435-7. Also Quarterly Review, Oct. 1867, pp. 486-7.

-3-

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