Government and New Technologies

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Government and New Technologies


Rights to Advanced Technologies. During the Industrial age, governments wanted to preserve their national advantages in machinery, worker expertise, and scientific knowledge. Individuals or groups who developed new techniques and new, or more-efficient, machines wanted to maintain their exclusive rights to their inventions while also profiting from them. Because the scientific community was international in scope, however, researchers in different parts of the world sometimes reached similar conclusions at almost the same time. Because interests of governments, inventors, and scientists were often in conflict and because of differences among nations and regions in resources and infrastructures, some scientific advances or technological innovations spread more rapidly and more widely than others, affecting not only a nation’s economy but also its military preparedness.

Patents. Throughout the industrialized world, legal protections known as patents for inventors encouraged technological innovation. The first recorded patent was granted in Florence in 1421, and the practice spread throughout Europe. The first government regulations of patents (systemizing an existing practice) were part of a 1624 English law on monopolies. France passed its first patent law in 1791, and other nations adopted similar laws during the nineteenth century. The number of patents issued by various governments grew steadily during the eighteenth century and accelerated rapidly in the early nineteenth century.

National Advantages. Other significant incentives for inventors included state-sponsored prizes for important discoveries, awards for successful inventions, and jobs that allowed innovators to support themselves, providing significant material incentives and thus encouraging tinkering and the application of “pure” science to practical problems. Governments naturally sought to develop scientific and technological advantages over other nations. Maintaining such advantages required more than preventing knowledge from spreading, particularly during the initial stages of the Industrial Revolution; it also included keeping at home men possessed of special craft skills and banning the exportation of the machines they made or used. The British government helped to establish and maintain its dominance of the early Industrial Revolution by legally prohibiting the export of many important machines until 1843 and banning the emigration of certain key categories of workers between 1719 and 1825. Legal restrictions, however, could impede, but not stop, the flow of workers, machines, and ideas across national borders. Many countries—most notably France, Spain, England, and Sweden—employed large numbers of industrial spies to gather information about new technologies and scientific advances and to entice workers with needed craft skills away from industrial competitors. During the eighteenth century, hopes for personal gain, religious impulses, and a desire to travel led more than one thousand British subjects to overcome legal constraints and taketheir skills and knowledge to France. Others went to the British colonies, the Netherlands, Russia, British-controlled territories in German central Europe, and many other places. Despite similar legal prohibitions, French workers immigrated to Italy, Spain, Russia, and the Netherlands, spreading advanced techniques and machines that could permit productive manufacturing.

Education. Governments also spurred industrialization by founding or encouraging the creation of institutions designed to inculcate scientific knowledge needed for innovation. During the early industrial period, scientific Knowledge was disseminated more widely in Britain than elsewhere in Europe, in part through lectures and books for the highly literate British public. Furthermore, unlike its Continental counterparts, British scientific teaching focused a great deal on how things such as machinery moved (mechanics), a subject that had many practical applications. In 1818 the first of hundreds of Mechanics Institutes were established in Britain. Aimed at providing rudimentary scientific principles to potential tinkerers, especially artisans and middle-class amateurs, Mechanics Institutes spread throughout Britain and North America. At the height of their popularity, more than one hundred thousand students were enrolled. As literacy rates rose dramatically

all over Europe in the eighteenth century, scientific or technological training during the early industrial era lagged behind on the Continent and was limited in both availability and quality. While established universities played a role teaching mathematics and advancing medical knowledge, organized religion limited what could be taught there. In most of western Europe the best training in scientific matters came from private institutions, particularly the dissenting academies in England. In fact, the importance of these academies and the Mechanics Institutes in the spread of scientific knowledge were symptoms of the deficiencies in the British educational system that caused Britain to fall behind other European countries during the second half of the nineteenth century.

British Learned Societies. The British state was always less active in the direct promotion of scientific achievement and technological advances than France or, later, Germany, but the British government did facilitate the interaction of scientists, technicians, and entrepreneurs in official institutions such as the Royal Society of Arts, established in London in 1754. The existence of such state-sponsored groups also encouraged the formation of new, unofficial learned societies devoted to specific disciplines, where specialists and amateurs mixed freely, sharing scientific knowledge. In England many state and private institutions focused on the application of science to manufacturing. The Royal Society of Arts had a decidedly practical orientation, as did other groups throughout the country, including the Lunar Society in Birmingham (founded circa 1765), the Linnaean Society (established in 1788), the Geological Society (1807), and the Royal Astronomical Society (1831). As was common with other such groups, members of the Lunar Society included not only important scientists such as chemist Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) but also inventors such as James Watt (1736-1819) and industrial entrepreneurs including Matthew Boulton (1728-1809), who manufactured and marketed Watt’s steam engine. Such close interaction between laboratory and workshop was uncommon on the Continent. The British societies often published journals in which discoveries, theories, and experimentswere described not only to members but also to national and even worldwide audiences.

Continental Universities. On the Continent, however, states encouraged theoretical advances in “pure” science and their application to the needs of the industrial economy through the creation of polytechnic schools. Many states founded organizations to oversee all intellectual activity, in particular, science and technology. The prototypes for these establishments, the Ecole polytechnique and the National Institute, were created in Paris in 1794 and were staffed by leading scientists. Although such efforts bore remarkably little fruit in the eighteenth century, they flourished in the nineteenth century as scientific advances began to have practical application in industry. Other states mimicked the British Mechanics Institutes by adapting their institutions to provide a similar sort of education. Technological training in German-speaking states was broader than anywhere else—the various German polytechnic schools instructed about five thousand students a year by 1850. After 1850 these schools expanded into full-scale technische Hochshulen (technical colleges), which facilitated the emergence of a large, influential, scientific elite with close ties to business and government. The most influential educational change with the greatest long-term significance, however, was the French and Prussian governments’ thorough reform of their university systems during the first decade of the nineteenth century to give the natural sciences, and scientific research in general, a far more prominent position in the curriculum. The percentage of university graduates in France and Prussia who were trained as physicians, teachers, bureaucrats, and professionals was much higher than in Britain. German universities became centers of scientific and technological research, following the methods of chemist Justus von Liebig (1803-1873), who established the model for the modern research laboratory at Giessen in 1825. The university curriculum reforms contributed greatly to the industrialization of France and especially German-speaking central Europe. Indeed, over the course of the nineteenth century, the Germanic nations eventually surpassed the British in scientific and technological prowess. The Second Industrial Revolution was born in German universities. By the time British universities copied the German educational model in the last decades of the nineteenth century, Great Britain had lost its technological advantage in Europe.


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Government and New Technologies

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Government and New Technologies