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Technological discussions in iron and steel, 1871-1885 Peter B. Meyer, Research Economist, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics * Carol Siri Johnson, New Jersey.

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Presentation on theme: "Technological discussions in iron and steel, 1871-1885 Peter B. Meyer, Research Economist, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics * Carol Siri Johnson, New Jersey."— Presentation transcript:

1 Technological discussions in iron and steel, 1871-1885 Peter B. Meyer, Research Economist, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics * Carol Siri Johnson, New Jersey Institute of Technology, USA SSHA conference, Chicago, Nov. 18, 2007 *Views expressed here do not reflect official policies or measurements of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Outline 1.Iron and steel developments 2.The TAIME journal 3.Hypotheses about the text 4.A few findings

2 Source: Historical Statistics of the United States U.S. steel production quantity and price Output grew and costs fell because of technological advance and scale

3 Our questions We analyze the text of an American engineering journal (TAIME, 1871-1885), looking for: Diverse expectations of the future: social uncertainty Evidence that a technological paradigm for the business and technology of mass production steel is being established

4 Transition to mass production From craft: toward industrial machines:

5 With the Bessemer converter, steel-making became less craft-like, more industrial More chemical knowledge would be necessary

6 Transactions of the American Institute of Mining Engineers (TAIME) We have scanned this professional engineering journal from 1871-1885 where iron and steel making was discussed Authors include professors, employees in iron industry, consultants, and others 712 articles so far 135 have the word Bessemer

7 Scans of the journal A nonprofit contractor, Digital Divide Data Photocopied and scanned the journals to make image files Ran optical character recognition (OCR) software on the images to make PDF files Ran spell checks to reduce errors Most of this computer work was done in Cambodia. The PDF files are at Quality varies, and some sections are missing. The resulting files can be: searched for particular words copy-and-pasted from patched to make corrections

8 Data: article length, word counts We have counted particular words in articles. We can imperfectly but systematically compare iron and steel articles to other articles.

9 Data Exploration: Author Biographies

10 Thomas Kuhns hypothesis (from Structure of Scientific Revolutions) An established scientific paradigm has a precise vocabulary for its methods, measurements, tools, and natural laws agreed-on by the relevant practitioners shared with prospective group members by standardized, formal education As a new paradigm develops, communication involves: inventing and exploring alternative definitions wordy translation between reader and writer concepts (The price is often sentences of great length and complexity. Kuhn, p. 203) Claim: early, pre-paradigm scientific articles are long; later ones assume more, are short, and use specialized vocabulary.

11 Stretching Kuhns hypothesis to industrial technology (from science) A technological paradigm might have the same property (a working hypothesis) For example, the Big Steel paradigm involves High volume, speedy, mass production Big equipment; capital-intensive production; Big plants; large staff employers Chemistry and physics relevant Centralized geographically Contents of inputs and outputs more precisely understood Mechanical, chemical, and industrial engineering have roles Do steel articles shrink over time? No strong evidence. We find that TAIME articles on average got a little longer over time Articles with steel words grew longer, but a little less so.

12 Percentages of TAIME articles years an author lists no advanced degree an author has PhD articles which do not have the word "Bessemer (~570 of these) 1871-187528%26% 1876-188044%30% 1881-188559%21% steel articles (with "Bessemer") (135 of these) 1871-187535%26% 1876-188049%27% 1881-188574%11% Related hypothesis: education of technologist becomes more formal, standardized (paradigmatic). Trends: A decreasing fraction of articles in TAIME were by people with advanced degrees. This is especially true of the Bessemer articles. Possible interpretation: This technological paradigm draws from science and is taken over by industrial engineers (unlike the airplanes invention which was led by tinkerers not academics.) (Or: scientists increasingly publish elsewhere.)

13 Kuhn idea, contd: We do see discussion of definitions 1875:1880:


15 Paradigm shift to chemistry In an 1872 letter, a general manager of an important iron-works wrote: The president of our company thinks we ought to follow the fashion and have a chemist. To my mind it is a waste of money. When I want an analysis I can have it madeand that is very seldom; for the furnace-manager who needs a chemist to tell him the quality of ore or limestone, or whether his pig-iron is soft or hard, had better resign and go to farming. However, if the president says chemist, chemist it is. My object in writing is to know if you can recommend a young man competent to fit up a laboratory and take charge of it. We have very little society here, and it is desirable that he should be a gentleman. My wife plays the piano and I do a little on the flute; and if we can get a chemist who plays the violin, we could have some music evenings. If you can suggest a man who combines these qualifications, I could employ him. I do not know what a chemist would expect; but I should not care to pay more than $10 a week. This predisposition was getting wiped out. By 1884 an iron manager would have to know the wage and capabilities of chemist. Source: Bayles, 1884

16 Other formative discussions in TAIME Discussion about relevant new inventions When and whether patenting is appropriate What makes a good rail Whether chemical information is enough to know whether a rail is good Educational institutions for iron workforce

17 Uncertainty hypothesis: count uncertainty Hypothesis: development of technology occurs in an environment of technological uncertainty, meaning its future is unknown and to some extent all the people are guessing. Count the fraction of words in each article made up of iron-related phrases: (hot blast, Bessemer, puddling, open hearth, Siemens, Martin, spiegel) Count fraction of words containing "uncert" These counts across the 712 articles have a tiny positive correlation:.0071. So articles with iron-related terms are slightly more likely to use literal uncertainty than other TAIME articles were.

18 Also steel articles are more likely to have question and whether

19 Early tentative conclusions Steel articles use experiment and test more than others Uncertainty, question, whether are a bit more common in steel articles than others Some statistical evidence for a Kuhnian or uncertainty story –Maybe the big paradigm/uncertainty transition is before 1871 Articles were increasingly authored by people without advanced degrees, especially Bessemer steel articles. We are trying to count whether the authors were academics, employee engineers, or consultants The text data and databases can improve and we plan to extend them past 1885 Would welcome advice and comment

20 Advancing productive processes in layers Iron and steel, 1871-1884 Blast furnaces making pig iron Bessemer and open hearth steel production Iron and steel plants Railroads (transportation) Business process of railroad companies (cost accounting, personnel departments, time setting, timekeeping) Earlier, more basic, "upstream" levels Materials science and solid state physics Chip design and electrical engineering Semiconductor memory and microprocessor chips Microcomputers Applications software (word processors, spreadsheets, databases, chip design software) Net software and business process (e-commerce, auctions, search engines) Production of information technology goods, in recent decades Later, downstream" levels In both cases there were feedback processes by which downstream advances affected earlier stages of production

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