TECHNICAL CHANGE, 1830-2004

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TECHNICAL CHANGE, 1830-2004

AFTER the coming of the steam-engine technical progress entered, broadly speaking, on a new phase.

There is a clearer and clearer division to be found, from the 1830's on, between the inventor and the manufacturer; in the eighteenth century they were usually one and the same person, manufacturers turned inventor as the economic problems of their trade forced them to it.

The Darbys of Coalbrookdale, Crompton, Huntsman, were men of this sort; Watt and Arkwright mark an intermediate type, inventors turned manufacturer to exploit their own processes.

Later we find the actual manufacturers content to adapt, improve and modify; the big fundamental discoveries are made by scientific specialists, trained to abstract - investigation and experiment and working no longer by rule of thumb.

Technical progress along the old lines does not, of course, come to an end, and apart from actual technical change economic progress continues with the spread of the new methods from firm to firm and from industry to industry.

But this process is hardly one which can be described in detail.

We must simply remember that it has been going on, with results small perhaps in each individual case but cumulatively all-important, all through the nineteenth century and up to our own time.

It spread from cotton and wool to hemp, flax, and jute, hosiery and carpet-making, from metal-working to wood-working; it invaded boot-making, pottery, cutlery; it developed wholly new commodities - bicycles, typewriters, sewing machines and hundreds more; finally, we even find it beginning to revolutionize that most conservative of occupations, women's domestic work.

Its effects in agriculture need separate treatment.

The power-to-weight ratio of engines has been increased, the gearing of machinery improved, jigs and machine tools of every kind have grown more and more ingenious, and above all the scale of every sort of equipment has increased enormously.

And this change has been largely, though not wholly, the work of men in the tradition of the old eighteenth-century inventors; working engineers and industrialists experimenting as need arose with the materials provided by their own works.

Perhaps Whitworth, a Manchester engineer who for nearly fifty years, from 1830 on, was manufacturing tools, dies and gauges and preaching the need for accuracy and standardization, is the best single representative of this movement.

The Rise of the Scientist.

Roughly from the beginning of the nineteenth century, however, and increasingly as we approach our own times, we find a new contributor to industrial progress making his influence directly felt - the specialized man of science; and his rise coincides with a shift of our interest from mechanics to chemistry and physics, from the factory to the laboratory.

Already, even before steam had come into its own, the first few tentative experiments were being made with the power which is to-day its most formidable competitor - electricity.


Next - Agricultural Depression.

The Sanitary Act of 1866

The next step forward was taken in 1866, under the stimulus of yet another cholera epidemic.

The Sanitary Act of that year made it compulsory for local authorities to provide sanitary inspection and suppress nuisances in their areas, and provided machinery by which the central Government could keep them up to the mark.

This attack on the sacred principle of local autonomy was flanked by another on individual liberty; for the Act made offences against quarantine in cases of infectious disease punishable.

Standards did move up; there was no return of the cholera, and other" filth diseases"... see: The Sanitary Act of 1866


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