Tag Archives: Technological innovation

Linking the Growth of Globalisation with the Evolution of Transport Technology

The Rise of American Ingenuity: Innovation and Inventors of the Golden Age
By Ufuk Akcigit (University of Chicago), John Grigsby (University of Chicago) and Tom Nicholas (Harvard Business School)

Abstract: We examine the golden age of U.S. innovation by undertaking a major data collection exercise linking historical U.S. patents to state and county-level aggregates and matching inventors to Federal Censuses between 1880 and 1940. We identify a causal relationship between patented inventions and long-run economic growth and outline a basic framework for analyzing key macro and micro-level determinants. We find a positive relationship between innovation and drivers of regional performance including population density, financial development and geographic connectedness. We also explore the impact of social structure measured by slavery and religion. We then profile the characteristics of inventors and their life cycle finding that inventors were highly educated, positively selected through exit early in their careers, made time allocation decisions such as delayed marriage, and tended to migrate to places that were conducive to innovation. Father’s income was positively correlated with becoming an inventor, though not when controlling for the child’s education. We show there were strong financial returns to technological development. Finally, we document an inverted-U shaped relationship between inequality and innovation but also show that innovative places tended to be more socially mobile. Our new data help to address important questions related to innovation and long-run growth dynamics.

URL: http://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23047

Circulated by NEP-HIS on: 2017-01-29

Review by Tom Spain (Bangor University)

In this paper Akcigit, Grisby, and Nicholas highlight the advancement of transportation technology in the United States between 1880 and 1940, while better transport responded to the need to link the more developed and innovative regions of the country. Akcigit, Grisby and Nicholas find that the American transport links were much stronger and of better quality between more developed regions in terms of finance and innovation, which, in turn, Hart and Milstein (2003) point to as key aspects for a successful capitalist society.


Brooklyn Bridge, took 14 years to be constructed (1869-1883). Source: Museum of the City of New York/Getty Images, found in The Guardian, “Brooklyn Bridge under construction – picture of the day,Brooklyn Bridge under construction – picture of the day,” May 24, 2013. 

Research by Akcigit, Grisby and Nicholas is in line with others such as Harris (2015), who highlights that there is a direct link between advancements in technology and the growth of globalisation. The findings by Akcigit, Grisby and Nicholas, therefore, can be seen as the starting point for the globalisation of the American model of capitalism.

Akcigit, Grisby and Nicholas state that during the 1880s emerged a belief that “geographic connectivity” should increase for there to be a rise in innovation: this increase would open up new markets for businesses to sell to. Here Akcigit, Grisby and Nicholas rehearse a well-recognised argument that improvements in geographic connectivity lead to an increase in globalisation, and, therefore, advancements in transport technology are also an important factor for globalisation (Rodriguez 1999).

Another aspect discussed by Akcigit, Grisby and Nicholas is the link between the amount of investment of American states on transport infrastructure and the amount of innovation emerging from said states. Here it is shown that the more a state invested on transport infrastructure the more innovations came from that state. For instance, the authors mention that in the golden era of innovation the Midwest played a big part in US innovation via manufacturing. However, due to the constant value-seeking attitude towards capitalistic globalisation the contemporary Midwest is not as prosperous as it once was (Castle 1995). However, the question as to whether these states developed in terms of overall population is unanswered. As Banister and Berechman (2001) argue, the geographic connectivity aspects of globalisation may see areas lose resources, skills and, in turn, become poorer.

In terms of what could be improved in the paper by Akcigit, Grisby and Nicholas, the first thing to note is that it only highlights the level of innovation in terms of the amount of granted patents. This is unlike works conducted by the likes of Feldman and Florida (1994) who not only seek to see the level of innovation in each state but also what particular sector the innovations were in. The paper by Feldman and Florida (1994) also provides more detail of how many of the innovations were successful in terms of whether they were the technological underpinnings for future developments in a specific sector.

Akcigit, Grisby and Nicholas suggest that all of the American states where transport and innovation increased also saw a reduction in inequality. In fact, in many cases inequality amongst the most innovative of states rose. This concurs with other research which suggests that inequality is a by-product of globalisation (Piketty and Saez, 2003).

A possible venue of research along the lines suggested by the paper is the importance of the advancement in transport technology and the role that it played in being able to create geographic connectivity. This link can be seen in the work of Usselman (2002).


Banister, D. and Berechman, Y., (2001). “Transport Investment and the Promotion of Economic Growth.” Journal of Transport Geography 9(3), pp.209-218.

Castle, E.N., (1995). The Changing American Countryside: Rural People and Places. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.

Feldman, M.P. and Florida, R., (1994). “The Geographic Sources of Innovation: Technological Infrastructure and Product Innovation in the United States.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 84(2), pp.210-229.

Harris, J., (2015). “Globalization, Technology and the Transnational Capitalist Class.” Foresight 17(2), pp.194 – 207.

Hart, S.L. and Milstein, M.B., (2003). “Creating Sustainable Value.” The Academy of Management Executive 17(2), pp.56-67.

Piketty, T. and Saez, E., (2003). “Income Inequality in the United States, 1913–1998.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 118(1), pp.1-41.

Rodriguez, J.P. (1999). “Globalization and the Synchronization of Transport Terminals.” Journal of Transport Geography 7(4), pp.255-261.

Usselman, S.W. (2002). Regulating Railroad Innovation: Business, Technology, and Politics in America, 1840-1920. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Knowledge in Mining does matter. But not any Knowledge.

The Mining Sectors in Chile and Norway, ca. 1870 – 1940: the Development of a Knowledge Gap

By: Kristin Ranestad (University of Oslo)

Abstract: Chile and Norway are two ‘natural resource intensive economies’, which have had different development trajectories, yet are closely similar in industrial structure and geophysical conditions. The questions of how and why Chile and Norway have developed so differently are explored through an analysis of how knowledge accumulation occurred and how it was transformed by learning into technological innovation in mining, a sector which has long traditions in Norway and has been by far the largest export sector in Chile for centuries. Similar types of ‘knowledge organisations’ with the direct aim of developing knowledge for mining were developed in both countries. Formal mining education, scientifically trained professionals, organisations for technology transfer and geological mapping and ore surveys are compared in the search for differences which may explain the underlying reasons for variations in economic growth.

URL: http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/heswpaper/0105.htm

Distributed by NEP-HIS on: 2016-11-13

Review by Miguel A. López-Morell (University of Murcia)

The effect of mining on the economic development of countries with abundant natural resources is a central issue of the history of economics. The question is straightforward: Why does mining have a positive effect on some countries while in others its contributions to the economic development are scant, not to mention the huge environmental problems that mineral extraction and processing generate? The “resource curse” myth does, unfortunately, hold true in most developing economies, but it is hard to take on board when we consider countries with very long mining traditions like Australia, the USA and Canada, to mention but three, and their high levels of income. There is, therefore, a need for studies that do not demonize the sector but rather search out deep causes and well-founded arguments to explain the conditions in which mining has a positive effect, or other, on development.


Mines in Antofagasta (Chile). Source: Tapia, Daniela. “Distrito Minero Centinela: La ambiciosa apuesta de Antofagasta Minerals.” Nueva Minería y Energía, November 17, 2014, link.


Kristin Ranestad approaches the issue from a comparative institutional perspective. The examples she uses, Chile and Norway, are in some ways congruent, in that both have a long mining tradition and they are not dependent countries with development problems; indeed, in terms of development per inhabitant, they are clear leaders in South America and Europe.

Ranestad identifies the similarities and differences in the levels of education of the mining engineers and technicians; the proportional presence of the latter in mining; the deployment of advanced information systems, such as scientific journals or attendance at congresses and exhibitions; the existence of study travels and work abroad; and the intensity of geological mapping and ore surveys.

The conclusions Ranestad draws leave little room for doubt. All the above facets that affect technological knowledge in modern mining are to be found in both countries, yet there are important differences in terms of quality and quantity, with Norway always coming out on top, except in terms of university education. Chile loses out as there is no direct relationship between the size of the mining sector and the level of development of other factors, where it trails Norway by some way.

The reasons, although not explained in depth here, lie to a large extent in the presence of large North American groups like Kennecot or Anaconda in Chile since the First World War. These controlled the huge deposits of Chuquicamata or El Teniente, where they introduced modern mining production technologies that boosted export capacity, although they always acted in isolation. At the same time, there was a large group of small and medium size Chilean mines that was working with minimum technology, almost non-existent externalities and a highly deficient exploitation of the deposits, which were frequently abandoned well before they had been fully exploited with the technology of the time. In contrast, Norway was streets ahead in all aspects and its mines were far more diversified and making far better use of their resources. They were also far more in tune with the economic environment.

The approach seems to be an interesting one since economic historians frequently, and mistakenly, argue in favor of the importance of quickly reaching historical landmarks that affect institutional and technological development, while overlooking the real significance of these for the production system. We tend to give an overwhelming importance to the age of technical schools, professional associations or scientific publications rather than to reflect more on how much influence they have had and how mature they are.

There may be some question marks hanging over Ranestad’s figures for the numbers of active engineers in each country. According to her reasoning and to the sources consulted, the argument stems from the idea that training was an endogenous affair since she draws on the mining schools’ own records to fix the figures of engineers. So we cannot, on the basis of the information provided, know what percentage of engineers had been trained abroad. In Spain, for example, which was a leading mining power at the time, there was a relatively high number of engineers who had studied abroad prior to the Second World War. Indeed, foreigners and Spaniards who had studied abroad accounted for some 250 mining engineers, according to one database constructed using the annuals of mining engineers, even though it did not include man professionals working in large companies in Spain, like Rio Tinto Co, Tharsis, la Asturiana or Peñarroya, which did not even bother to inform about such matters (see Bertilorenzi, Passaqui and Garçon 2016, pp. 143-162). The author herself, when talking about foreign engineers, notes: “However, their dominance was negative in the sense that the lack of collaboration with domestic engineers and leaders prevented knowledge transfer within the sector”. Yet she does not back this up with hard figures.

Nevertheless, her contribution is a valuable one which affords a novel approach that is perfectly applicable to other works of comparative economic history. In the case of Chile, there is no explanation of the differences to the sector following the nationalization of the copper industry between 1853 and 1971. In perspective, though, it is not comparable with the Norwegian situation in the sense of the sector’s capacity to transfer knowledge to other sectors and to the country as a whole. A prime example is Orkla, which is today a huge, widely diversified conglomerate that has little do to with mining, but which in the 1920s produced copper and pyrites more profitably than its competitors, despite its mineral being 10% poorer in quality. It would even sell technology to Rio Tinto, no less. It would also be worthwhile analyzing whether the nationalization of copper mining and the government control of oil in Norway have had similar repercussions for the inhabitants of each country. A starting point would be to ask Chilean pensioners whether they have similar benefits to their Norwegian counterparts, even though the answer does seem foregone.


Bertilorenzi, Marco; Passaqui, Jean-Philippe and Garçon, Anne-Françoise (dirs.) (2016) Entre technique et gestion, une histoire des « ingénieurs civils des mines » (XIXe-XXe siècles).París, Press des mines

Harvey, C. and Press, J. (1989) “Overseas Investment and the Professional Advance of British Metal Mining Engineers, 1851 – 1914”, Economic History Review 1989, 42 (1) pp. 64-86.

Mokyr, Joel (2002) The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Rosenberg, Nathan (1982) Inside the Black Box: Technology and Economics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.