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Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
Thesis: History Of Inventors
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Thesis: History Of Inventors

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Here is the final versions of my PhD thesis on the history of inventors …

Here is the final versions of my PhD thesis on the history of inventors

it is in english with few chapters in french

enjoy

hervé

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  • 1. Université Paris-Sud Faculté Jean Monnet – Droit, Economie & Gestion Centre de recherche Analyse des Dynamiques Industrielles et Sociales (ADIS) Les facultés de l’inventeur Une analyse économique du comportement des inventeurs dans l’incertitude Thèse de doctorat en Sciences Economiques Hervé LEGENVRE Sous la direction de Bertrand BELLON, Professeur à l’Université Paris-Sud 11 Membres du Jury : - Bertrand BELLON, Professeur, PARIS-SUD - Alain BRAVO, Directeur général, SUPELEC - Philippe LAREDO, Professeur, UNIVERSITE PARIS-EST, ENPC & MANCHESTER BUSINESS SCHOOL - Jacques MISTRAL, Directeur des études économiques, IFRI - Bertrand QUELIN, Professeur, HEC - Alain RALLET, Professeur PARIS-SUD 2008
  • 2. 2 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 3. Remerciements Je tiens à exprimer ma gratitude et mon amitié à Bertrand Bellon, mon directeur de thèse pour avoir accepté de superviser l’écriture de ma dissertation. Son attention et ses encouragements ont alimenté de manière constante ma détermination. Sa patience, ses conseils et ses questions ont été précieux tout au long de cette tâche. Merci également à son épouse, Blanche qui m’a accueilli avec gentillesse dans leur maison pour les échanges réguliers qui ont jalonné ce travail. Je remercie le Professeur Rallet de me faire l’honneur de présider le jury. Je remercie le Professeur Laredo et le Professeur Quelin d’avoir accepter d’être rapporteurs de ma thèse. Je remercie Mr Bravo et Mr Mistral de me faire l’estime d’être membre du jury. J’aimerais également remercier toute l’équipe de de l’ADIS et de L’université Paris Sud pour leur accueil, leurs conseils et leur confiance. Je pense plus particulièrement à Mme Bonésio, Mr Carayol et Mme Plunket Les conseils avisé de Paul David ont alimenté mes reflexions. Les encouragements et les discussion que j’aie eu avec Paula Stephan ont nourri mon travail et ma détermination. Je tiens tout particulièrement à remercier Marie-Gabrielle Hubler pour ses relectures, ses remarques et son aide inestimable. Sue Sweet m’a fait l’amitié de relire les épreuves en anglais de cette dissertation, j’aie tout particulièrement appreciè ses encouragements. Zoé Mauss m’a offert une assistance précieuse dans le travail bibliographique, qu’elle en soit remerciée. Les bavardages philosophico-pratique avec Alexis, Ivan, James, Jean-Pierre, Marie- Gabrielle, Patrick, Pierre, Stéphane A., Stéphane M. et Zoé ont alimenté mes reflexions. Je voudrais également remercier tous ceux qui ont offert un toit à mes reflexions : mes parents, Katherina, Justine, Pierre, Jean-Pierre et Marylise. Les illustrations artistiques de mon travail par Alice et Anatole mériteront une édition spéciale. Je souhaite également adresser mes remerciements à ma famille, mes amis, collègues. qui m’ont soutenu et encouragé. Pour finir, j’aie une pensée particulière pour les villes, les aéroport et les hotels de par le monde qui ont abrité mon travail et mes reflexion. 3 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 4. Comment vivre sans inconnu devant soi? René Char 4 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 5. Table of content Table of content ........................................................................................................................................... 5 Executive summary .................................................................................................................................... 10 Note de synthèse ........................................................................................................................................ 14 A brief history of inventiveness .................................................................................................................. 18 Introduction (English version) ........................................................................................................... 26 A. Methodological Individualism ........................................................................................................... 27 B. The Attentiveness-Experimentation-Persuasion model ............................................................. 29 C. How the model will be tested using historical evidences ......................................................... 34 Introduction (Version française) ...................................................................................................... 38 A. La notion d’individualisme méthodologique ................................................................................. 40 B. Le modèle AEP : Attention, Expérimentation et Persuasion .................................................... 42 C. Comment le modèle sera testé en utilisant l’Histoire comme source de preuves............. 46 Part 1. Inventing during the late 18th century in Britain .................................................. 51 Preliminary Chapter - Overview of the late 18th century ........................................................................ 51 Chapter 1- Career inventors and the three abilities ................................................................ 57 Section 1. Richard Arkwright ................................................................................................................ 57 A. Attentiveness: listening to people ................................................................................................... 59 B. Experimentation: tinkering for success .......................................................................................... 62 C. Persuasion: self-fashioning and glibness ......................................................................................... 64 Section II. Josiah Wedgwood ................................................................................................................ 68 A. Attentiveness: learning from History and scouting in London ................................................. 71 B. Experimentation: Wedgwood’s experimental laboratory ......................................................... 75 C. Persuasion: Royal Patronages .......................................................................................................... 77 Section 3. James Watt ............................................................................................................................ 81
  • 6. A. Attentiveness: the power of observation ..................................................................................... 85 B. Experimentation: the ‘perfect engine’ as a guide ......................................................................... 87 C. Persuasion: ‘steam connections’ ..................................................................................................... 90 Chapter 2. Networks of inventors in 18th century Britain ...................................................... 93 Section I. The Lunar society and relationships.................................................................................. 96 A. Presentation of the Lunar Society .................................................................................................. 96 B. Relationship between regular members of the Lunar Society .................................................. 98 C. Relationship between regular members of the Lunar Society and another person.......... 100 Section II. The A-E-P triptych, a framework to explain the existence and functioning of network of inventors ............................................................................................................................ 103 Chapter 3. Passion for Experimentation .................................................................................... 106 Section I. Balloons, igniting a passion for Experimentation .......................................................... 108 Section II. Experimentation and entertainment .............................................................................. 110 Section III. Experimentation, education and religion, the figure of Joseph Priestley .............. 113 Closing remarks on Experimentation and institutional transformation .................................... 115 Part 2. Inventing during the late 19th century in America ............................................ 118 Preliminary Chapter - Overview of the late 19th century ...................................................................... 118 Chapter I. Inventors at the age of large systems ..................................................................... 125 Section I. Alexander Bell A. Attentiveness: family and city as crucibles .................................................................................. 129 B. Experimentation: analogies, cross-fertilisation and systematic debugging ........................... 133 C. Persuasion: prominent occupations and partners..................................................................... 138 Section II. Thomas Edison .................................................................................................................... 144 A. Attentiveness: going systematic .................................................................................................... 148 6 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 7. B. Experimentation: division of labour in the laboratory.............................................................. 151 C. Persuasion: Edison, a prophet of his time ................................................................................... 157 Section III. Sperry ................................................................................................................................... 164 A. Attentiveness: getting the timing right ......................................................................................... 167 B. Experimentation: breakthrough versus fine tuning, the dual reality of invention............... 171 C. Persuasion: Courting the rich and the Navy .............................................................................. 174 Chapter 2. The rise of the inventive hierarchy ......................................................................... 180 Section I. Theoretical background ..................................................................................................... 182 A. Frank Knight: a world of uncertainty ........................................................................................... 182 B. Uncertainty and collective arrangements according to Knight .............................................. 183 C. Coase, Williamson and the transaction cost theory ................................................................ 184 Section II. The evolution of the railroad industry throughout the 19th century in America 186 A. The early years of inventive activities in the railroad industry: networks of inventors and attentive railroad companies (Regime I) ........................................................................................ 188 B. Charles Dudley, a transition figure from invention regime I to II .......................................... 192 C. The later years of inventive activities in the railroad industry during the late 19th century: Inventive hierarchies (regime II) ....................................................................................................... 194 Section III. Comparative analysis between regime I and II of invention .................................... 199 A. Comparative analysis of the regime I and II of inventive activities in the American railroad industry .................................................................................................................................................. 199 B. The two regimes analysed through the triptych Attentiveness – Experimentation – Persuasion ............................................................................................................................................... 201 Part 3. Inventing during the early 20th century in America.......................................... 203 Preliminary chapter - Overview of the early 20th century ..................................................................... 203 7 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 8. Chapter I- Inventors at the age of predictive science ............................................................ 208 Section I. Thomas Midgley ................................................................................................................... 208 A. Attentiveness: the firm as a guide ................................................................................................. 212 B. Experimentation: under the guidance of the periodic table .................................................... 216 C. Persuasion: creating information asymmetries .......................................................................... 220 Section II. William Coolidge ................................................................................................................ 225 A/ Attentiveness: open innovation at the start of the 20th century ........................................... 229 B/ Experimentation: serendipity and systematism .......................................................................... 232 C/ Persuasion: ‘The House of magic’ ................................................................................................ 235 Section III- Wallace Carothers ........................................................................................................... 240 A/ Experimentation: theory and practice as ‘friends’ .................................................................... 247 B/ Persuasion: the battle for ‘Pure Science’ ..................................................................................... 251 Chapter II. Collective arrangement: the ‘Soft Hand’ ............................................................. 256 Section I - Theoretical background ................................................................................................... 258 Section II - The ‘Soft Hand’ at the General Electric research laboratory ................................. 260 A/ The ‘Soft Hand’ within the laboratory......................................................................................... 261 B/ The ‘Soft Hand’ and the other departments of General Electric .......................................... 263 C/ The ‘Soft Hand’ and the outside world ....................................................................................... 265 Closing remarks on the ‘Soft Hand’ .................................................................................................. 266 Chapter III - The rise and limits of industrial laboratories................................................... 268 Section I. The pioneering years of industrial laboratories ............................................................ 269 A/ Attentiveness..................................................................................................................................... 273 B/ Experimentation ................................................................................................................................ 276 C / Persuasion ........................................................................................................................................ 277 Section II- The celebration of industrial laboratories in the post-war period ......................... 281 8 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 9. Section III- New collective arrangements on the rise ................................................................... 286 Closing remarks ..................................................................................................................................... 290 Taking stock, looking ahead ........................................................................................................ 297 A/ The abilities of career inventors ................................................................................................... 298 A/1 Attentiveness .................................................................................................................................. 302 A/2 Experimentation ............................................................................................................................. 305 A/3 Persuasion........................................................................................................................................ 309 A/4 Conclusions related to the three abilities ................................................................................ 312 B/ Collective arrangements ................................................................................................................. 314 C/ Further potential investigations .................................................................................................... 320 Bibliographie...........................................................................................................................322 9 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 10. Executive summary The chief characteristic of the present economy is the uncertainty. Uncertainty is a partial and shared ignorance of what will happen in the future. Its consequences are manifold, for instance, consumers show distrust when the long term impact of recent technologies are not understood and entrepreneurs find it difficult to predict the combinations of factors that might turn profitable for them in the future. Understanding how inventors act before uncertainty enhances our comprehension of the modern economy. It allows us to identify the abilities that enable inventors to confront uncertainty; it explores the collective arrangements used by inventors and offer new perspectives for institutional economics. Inventors studied here are scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs or simply independent inventors. The model tested focuses on three abilities: Attentiveness, Experimentation and Persuasion (triptych A-E-P). It investigates how inventors are attentive to the information, knowledge or insight that could lead them to success; how they experiment in order to create new information, knowledge or insight and how they persuade other agents of the value of their work. This investigation is performed by using History as a source of evidence. Three periods of intensive inventive activities are studied: the ‘age of the machines’ during the late 18th century in Great Britain, the ‘age of systems’ during the late 19th century in America and the ‘age of predictive science’ at the start of the 20th century in America. Career inventors who met success more than once, collective arrangements used by inventors and institutional transformations are studied for each of these periods. Inventors can come across valuable insights by luck or can perform systematic searches to find what they need (Attentiveness). They can progress by trial and error or use scientific knowledge to guide their experiments (Experimentation). They rely on their personal persuasion power or they accepted facts to promote their work (Persuasion). Throughout history, practices underpinning these three abilities have developed and accumulated, they have been imitated and re-used in different contexts and they have sometimes been 10 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 11. intertwined within the personal life of inventors. The practices specific to each ability can be allocated to different levels of uncertainty. Contrary to popular belief, inventors do not act alone, they mobilise their family, friends and collaborate with other agents. The description of collective arrangements based on the A-E- P triptych, casts light on what inventors do collectively. Over the three periods studied, the division of labour in inventive activities has never ceased to progress. It has engendered a diversity of collective arrangements at the forefront of inventive activities: networks (1), inventive hierarchies (2), research laboratories (3) and product development teams (4). A network (1) is described as sets of relationships between individuals facing uncertainty. When uncertainty prevails, attentive inventors form networks to share and gather information that could lead them to a winning combination of factors. They acquire information, they experiment together and they enhance their reputation and build their social capital as they interact with established inventors and investors entrepreneurs. Such relationships can be interpreted as repeated transactions where information is exchanged for free because of the reigning uncertainty. Another form of collective arrangement studied is the ‘inventive hierarchy’ (2) which appeared with the development of large systems such as the cost reduction and standardisation offices of the late 19th century in the railroad industry. Engineers within those inventive hierarchies are inward looking and focus on the optimisation of specific parameters, such as costs using strict decision making rules. Costs of experiments tend to rise when inventor-scientists investigate the forefront of scientific knowledge to hedge the risk of losing ground to competitors. Only research laboratories (3) established on the back of large firms can sustain such investments in such uncertain contexts. However successful inventors, within such laboratories, remain attentive to what happens outside of their walls. This is described using the metaphor of the ‘soft hand of management’ where a hierarchy guides and controls the work of inventors while encouraging them to networks that nourishes them with new ideas and knowledge. 11 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 12. When uncertainty is less prominent, another form of collective arrangements is more appropriate: the product development team (4) where inventors are attentive to specific applications and experiment with a diversity of parameters in order to learn and bring innovations to the market. These collective arrangements are presented using a taxonomy based on different levels of uncertainty. The study of institutional transformations suggests that during the late 18th century in Great Britain, Experimentation became a passion for people from all walks of life. They considered experiments as entertaining and educational and enjoyed the optimism their diffusion inspired. This popular passion stimulated the development of a new set of norms, incentives, and organisational structure. Networks of individuals who shared an interest for technical matters emerged and economic agents developed a preference for occupations and investments that involved pursuing experiments and inventive activities. This contributes to the explanation for the intensification of inventive activities during this period as measured by the number of patents registered. The study of another institutional transformation: the evolution of the railroad industry shows that transaction costs help to understand organisations and their boundaries but it also needs to be complemented by analysis, using for instance the E-A-P triptych, in order to understand informal organisations, complex industry structures or the transformation of an industry structure especially when inventive activities play an important role. The approach adopted in this dissertation, by putting the individual inventor at the heart of the analysis, could contribute to bridge the understanding between economists who see economic activities as the outcome of individual actions and economists who study innovation and technical change as the outcome of collective actions. This would require forging a common vocabulary and to re-interpret some of the existing concepts used by different economists building on the triptych of abilities proposed here. This is only outlined in the present work and will need to be pursued. There are also promising developments that could be undertaken following this dissertation. Attentiveness, one of the three abilities, could serve to further understand what a firm’s strategy is and how it operates. A strategy is a hypothesis about the future of the firm in an 12 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 13. uncertain context and strategizing would therefore be described as the mechanism used to guide the attention of agents towards the assets that could become a source of rent in the future. Another development that could be studied relates to the ability named Persuasion. By investigating the practices used by inventors to persuade other agents of the value of their work, we could better understand some of the institutional mechanisms that shape the preferences of economic agents. This would allow us to understand how some information asymmetries are created to gain economic advantages by agents and firms engaged in inventive activities. 13 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 14. Note de synthèse Comprendre la manière dont nous agissons face à l’incertitude est essentiel dans un monde où l’innovation est la norme et où les consommateurs sont sensibilisés de manière croissante aux dangers liés à l’usage des nouvelles technologies. L’incertitude est définie ici comme une ignorance partielle et partagée sur ce qui va se passer dans le futur. L’étude du comportement des inventeurs face à l’incertitude est un levier de compréhension de l’économie moderne. Elle conduit à identifier les facultés qui permettent aux inventeurs d’affronter l’incertitude; elle explore les arrangements collectifs utilisés par les inventeurs et elle offre de nouvelles perspectives à l’économie institutionnelle. Les inventeurs étudiés ici sont des scientifiques, des ingénieurs, des entrepreneurs ou simplement des indépendants. Le model testé se concentre sur trois de leurs facultés : l’Attention, l’Expérimentation et la Persuasion (triptyque A-E-P). Il permet d’examiner l’attention que portent les inventeurs à des informations, connaissances ou idées qui pourraient accroître leurs chances de succès (1) ; la manière dont ils expérimentent afin de créer de nouvelles informations, connaissances ou idées (2) et, finalement, leur capacité à persuader d’autres agents de la valeur de leur travail (3). Cette étude est réalisée en utilisant l’Histoire comme source de postulats et de preuves. Trois périodes d’intenses activités inventives sont étudiées : « l’âge des machines » à la fin du 18ème siècle en Grande Bretagne, « l’âge des systèmes » à la fin du 19ème siècle aux Etats Unis, et, enfin, « l’âge de la science prédictive » au début du 20ème siècle, toujours aux Etats-Unis. Pour chacune de ces périodes, sont étudiés : des inventeurs de carrière, dont l’histoire personnelle et le parcours témoignent de multiples « succès », ou « échecs », des arrangements collectifs et des transformations institutionnelles. L’étude des faits historiques montre que les inventeurs découvrent des idées prometteuses par chance et/ou réalisent des recherches systématiques pour trouver ce qu’ils poursuivent (Attention). Ils progressent par essais et erreurs et/ou utilisent des connaissances scientifiques pour guider leurs expériences (Expérimentation). Ils utilisent leur pouvoir de persuasion personnel et/ou exploitent des faits tangibles et admis par tous, pour 14 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 15. promouvoir leur travail (Persuasion). Au cours de l’Histoire, les pratiques qui sous-tendent ces facultés se sont développées et se sont accumulées. Elles ont été imitées et réutilisées dans des contextes différents et se sont parfois trouvées mêlées à la vie personnelle de leurs utilisateurs. Les pratiques spécifiques à chacune de ces facultés peuvent être classées selon différents « niveaux » d’incertitude. De plus, les inventeurs n’agissent pas seuls, ils mobilisent leur famille, leurs amis et collaborent avec d’autres agents. L’analyse des arrangements collectifs basée sur le triptyque A-E-P nous éclaire sur les formes collectives d’action des inventeurs. Au cours des trois périodes étudiées, la division du travail dans les activités inventives n’a pas cessé de progresser. Elle a suscité une diversité d’arrangements collectifs: des réseaux (1), des hiérarchies inventives (2), des laboratoires de recherche (3) et des équipes de développement de produits (4). Un réseau (1) se définit comme un ensemble de relations entre des individus qui font face à un contexte d’incertitude. Quand l’incertitude prévaut, des inventeurs attentifs forment des réseaux pour partager et recueillir des informations, ils expérimentent ensemble, font progresser leur réputation et construisent leur « capital social » au fur et à mesure de leurs interactions avec leurs pairs, avec des entrepreneurs et des investisseurs établis. De telles relations peuvent être interprétées comme des transactions répétées où l’information est échangée gratuitement du fait de la prégnance de l’incertitude. Une autre forme d’arrangement collectif est la « hiérarchie inventive » (2) qui apparaît avec le développement des grands systèmes techniques, comme les bureaux de standardisation propres à l’industrie du rail à la fin du 19ème siècle. Les ingénieurs faisant partie de ces hiérarchies inventives se tournent vers l’intérieur et se focalisent sur l’optimisation de paramètres spécifiques, tel que les coûts, en utilisant des règles de décision strictes. A partir du 20ème siècle, le coût des expérimentations dans les laboratoires de recherche (3) tend à s’accroître car les inventeurs-scientifiques explorent les fronts les plus avancés de la connaissance pour ne pas perdre de terrain face à la concurrence. Seuls des laboratoires de recherche associés à de grandes entreprises sont en mesure d’initier et de maintenir de tels 15 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 16. investissements dans un contexte de forte incertitude. Les inventeurs à succès de ces laboratoires restent attentifs à ce qui se déroule en dehors de leurs murs. La métaphore de « la main souple du management » présente une hiérarchie qui guide et contrôle le travail des inventeurs, tout en encourageant leur participation à des réseaux qui les nourrissent de nouvelles idées et connaissances. Quand l’incertitude est moins importante, une autre forme d’arrangement collectif émerge : il s’agit de l’équipe de développement produit (4). Les inventeurs y concentrent leur attention sur des applications spécifiques et expérimentent avec une diversité de paramètres dans le but d’apprendre et d’amener des innovations sur le marché. Une taxonomie de ces arrangements collectifs basée sur différents niveaux d’incertitude est proposée en conclusion. La transformation historique étudiée à la fin du 18ème siècle en Grande Bretagne trouve sa source dans la passion populaire pour l’expérimentation qui traverse et transcende les catégories sociales de l’époque. Le grand public considère ces expériences comme divertissantes et éducatives et se révèle sensible à l’optimisme que leur diffusion inspire. Cette passion populaire stimule également le développement d’un nouvel ensemble d’incitations, de normes et de structures organisationnelles. Des réseaux d’individus partageant un intérêt pour les choses techniques émergent et les agents économiques développent une préférence pour les professions ou les investissements impliquant la réalisation d’expériences et des activités inventives. Ces éléments contribuent à expliquer l’intensification des activités inventives mesurée par le nombre de brevets enregistrés durant cette période. L’étude d’une autre transformation historique, celle de l’évolution de l’industrie du rail au 19ème siècle aux Etats-Unis, montre que les coûts de transaction permettent de comprendre la nature et les limites des organisations, mais elle doit être complétée par des analyses utilisant notamment le triptyque A-E-P, de manière à comprendre comment fonctionnent les organisations informelles et les structures industrielles complexes et la manière dont se transforment les industries où les activités inventives jouent un rôle important. 16 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 17. L’approche adoptée dans cette recherche place l’inventeur individuel au cœur de l’analyse et pourrait contribuer à rapprocher les économistes qui voient les activités économiques comme le résultat d’actions individuelles et ceux qui étudient l’innovation et le changement technique comme le résultat d’actions collectives. Ceci nécessiterait de forger un vocabulaire commun et de réinterpréter certains des concepts existants en utilisant le triptyque de facultés proposé ici. Le présent travail constitue une esquisse dans cette direction nécessitant d’être poursuivie. D’autres axes de recherche prometteurs pourraient être explorés. L’Attention, l’une des trois facultés, pourrait servir à mieux comprendre ce qu’est la stratégie d’une entreprise et la manière dont elle opère. Une stratégie peut être considérée comme une hypothèse sur le futur dans un contexte d’incertitude. L’action stratégique peut, dès lors, être décrite comme le mécanisme utilisé pour guider l’Attention des agents vers les actifs susceptibles de devenir une de revenus dans le futur. Un autre développement qui pourrait être étudié réside dans la faculté de Persuasion des inventeurs. L’exploration des pratiques utilisées par les inventeurs et les scientifiques pour persuader d’autres agents de la valeur de leur travail permettrait de comprendre les mécanismes institutionnels qui façonnent les préférences des agents économiques. Cet axe de recherche aurait l’ambition d’étudier comment certaines asymétries d’informations sont consciemment créées par des agents ou des entreprises impliqués dans des activités inventives afin de gagner des avantages économiques. 17 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 18. A brief history of inventiveness The present overview provides a condensed version of the historical facts studied in this dissertation. It looks at the three periods of history investigated and outlines some of the salient facts that will be examined below. The ‘Age of the machines’, a popular passion for experiments During the last 20 years of the 18th century, across Europe, children enjoyed making and playing with balloons, they were small scale replicas of the ones that were now flying in the air following the initial breakthrough of the Montgolfier brothers in France. Those children sometimes put haystacks on fires and learned the harsh lessons that nature was ready to teach them. The balloon was regarded as an emblem of hope; a balloon-mania was raging across Europe. Those balloons fortified the passion for Experimentation that had already started some years before with itinerant lecturers who travelled from one country to another to educate people and share their experimental tricks. Dissenters who had separated from the established church of England were amongst the strongest supporters of Experimentation and used it as part of the education they provided to children. This led many of them to prefer jobs and investments that involved experimental and inventive activities. Networks of inventors: the Lunar Society Networks of independent inventors such as the Lunar Society developed across England. The Lunar Society brought together people who had a scientific curiosity such as Joseph Priestley, the chemist; people who were part time inventors such as Doctor Erasmus Darwin, also known as the grandfather of Charles Darwin; and also inventors-entrepreneurs such as James Watt, inventor of the steam engine and Josiah Wedgwood (another grandfather of Charles Darwin) who revolutionized the pottery industry. On a regular basis, they exchanged ideas, shared scientific and technical information amongst themselves coming from other people they knew, they advised each other. They helped each other procuring scientific and technical instruments, they organised experiments together. 18 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 19. Sometimes, they joined forces to persuade other people of the value of their ideas. They provoked or challenged each other in a playful way; they drank and laughed as they argued late into the night when the full moon could ease their way back home. Such a network is an attack on uncertainty. Scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs taking part in the Lunar Society were attentive to each other ideas and achievements; they used experiments to gain feedback from each other and to spread knowledge. They joined forces to persuade others to adopt their inventions. Sharing is a rational behaviour when uncertainty prevails. Career inventors during the ‘Age of the machines’ During this ‘Age of the machines’, inventors like James Watt and Josiah Wedgwood that we already mentioned or Richard Arkwright who transformed, through his inventions, the textile industry stole from nature new ways of doing things. Those inventors, who remained in history, and many others we have forgotten, started to harness water and steam energy and basic chemical reactions in order to create practical mechanical devices that grew more complex over time. Their work resulted in new machines that were meant to serve mankind and that sometimes mankind ended up serving. These inventors were attentive to the technical discoveries, market opportunities and social issues of their time; they enjoyed talking with people in search for an idea or valuable information. Arkwright was even accused of stealing other people’s ideas. They travelled across the country and like Wedgwood; they sometimes scouted in the streets of London to understand the latest fashion and the needs of the new bourgeoisie. Experimenting meant for them tinkering with mechanical constructs and conducting systematic trial and error. Wedgwood created a small laboratory in his kitchen to avoid mixing production and experimental activities. Watt explored systematically the physical principles of a ‘perfect engine’ in order to understand why the model of a Newcomen engine was very inefficient. To persuade others, some relied on their natural glibness, most of them engaged family and friends in their inventive and business activities as they were easier to convince and more reliable when it came to keeping secrets. Arkwright fashioned himself as a ‘Grand man’, Wedgwood used the patronage of the Queen to sell his work. 19 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 20. Transformations in the rail industry: the rise of ‘inventive hierarchies’ In 1831, Robert L. Stevens for the Camden & Amboy Railroad in America bought a locomotive to Stephenson, the British rail pioneer. Three years after, rail lines had been established in New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Massachusetts, and Delaware. In 1840, with 2800 miles of tracks, the U.S. railroad had more tracks than the British. In 1859, it was 28,800 miles of tracks connected American cities. The steam engine of James Watt had paved the way for the locomotive and this roaring machine crossed the Atlantic where a young, vast and expanding nation was in need of new means of transportation and communication. The railroads materialized as a large-scale system capable of carrying a diversity of people and goods. It required complex machines, tracks and fuel but also tunnels and signals. The so-called ‘Yankee ingenuity’ was at work. People with an interest and an aptitude for technical and scientific matters, were attracted by the numerous practical issues that needed to be solved. Skilled migrants brought their diverse experience and sometimes their ideas with them. They joined the machine shops across the country. Railroad companies hired machinists who built the machines and often used and repaired them. Machinists moved from one firm to another, selling their skills to the highest offer, taking with them the knowledge and experience they had gained. Redundancy of skills encouraged them to specialise and invent new things. They visited each other to keep up to date with the technical developments. International exchange also occurred between experts especially with the British ones. This network of attentive machinists, keen to experiment and tinker with new ideas, eager to persuade others of their talent expanded alongside the railroads. Inventions were usually attributed to them as railroad companies preferred to take licences from inventors than to buy patented products on the market. On such a network, talent irremediably rose to its best use; new needs and opportunities were constantly emerging, sharing knowledge was a way of helping others, helping oneself and signalling one’s worth. However, during the 1860’s, transaction costs were on the rise. The increasing number of patents made the work of railroad companies difficult. They were facing mounting complexity on legal cases; assigning rights to the right inventors was becoming difficult. At the same time, the rising power of some suppliers threatened them. For instance, Carnegie in the steel business had increased its bargaining power by building a massive production 20 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 21. capacity in a growing market. Westinghouse did not want to licence his brake systems to railroad companies as he was determined to exploit and profit from his invention. As materials became more sophisticated; railroad companies needed to specify and verify what they were buying. Moreover, it was time for an industry that had grown in an ad hoc way, to rationalize its functioning and adopt a different approach to inventive activities. Railroad companies therefore adopted a different approach to inventive activities. They established centralized, corporate departments staffed with professional engineers. The personal authority of the technical experts was diminished and replaced by an ‘inventive hierarchy’ where salaried engineers took decisions based on defined rules. Such engineers had a knack for uniformity. They pursued a policy of standardization as the industry had developed haphazardly during its formative period. They established methods to analyze materials and developed sound technical specifications that were integrated into a supplier’s contract. They used managerial innovation as much as technical ones to optimize the performance of the traffic on the railroads and to improve the efficiency of the system. They were attentive to internal operational discrepancies and costs reduction opportunities. They conducted systematic experiments to select solution amongst existing technologies. They persuaded others and based their decisions on financial information, not on expert opinion. A new collective arrangement had emerged. This inventive hierarchy was well suited to rationalize a large scale system but inadequate to defy the providence and bring original inventions into the limelight. The railroad, with its complexity and the challenge of size, led the development of an engineering culture, out of which the so-called ‘scientific management principles’ of Frederick Taylor emerged. Career inventors during the ‘Age of the systems’ During this ‘Age of the systems’, the rail and the telegraph were loosely coupled systems that emerged out of a machine shop culture thanks to the contribution of many inventive minds and hands. Electricity was a system of a different kind, it needed a master architect: Edison created parts that worked together to illuminate New York and other cities. Similarly, 21 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 22. Alexander Bell brought the telephone to life. Shortly after Elmer Sperry, inventor of the gyroscope, applied the principles of feedback loop to many practical problems. At that time, towns like Boston offered to an attentive inventor like Bell all he needed: libraries, scientific institutions, the expertise of many other inventors and access to investors. Luck and errors continued to trigger the attention of inventors. However, inventors also conducted systematic investigation of patents, technical and scientific literature and they performed systematic searches for appropriate materials. Someone like Edison enjoyed working on a diversity of projects that cross fertilized each other. Sperry learned to recognise when to invest in a business field, move rapidly from one invention to another through close collaborations with the users and then abandon the field as it matured. Experimenting still included painstaking trial and error. Sometimes metaphors and analogies acted as guides for experiments. Finalising an invention often meant systematically testing design parameters in search for the most efficient solutions. Edison created his own laboratory where tens of experimenters and machinists worked together. Sperry scaled up models little by little to create his inventions. To persuade others, Bell found a prominent partner and enjoyed demonstrating his telephone using his theatrical skills. Edison fashioned himself as the wizard of Menlo Park. He grabbed the attention of Americans and Europeans by telling them of what the future would be made. Sperry convinced others simply because he was a talented inventor who courted his peers, his customers and investors. Career inventors during the ‘Age of predictive science’ At the turn of the 20th century, science offered some gifts to inventors. The scientific understanding of the physical world was transformed; it offered predictive power: the periodic table of elements allowed screening of relevant materials and chemical reactions could be anticipated. Science started to play an important role in inventive activities undertaken by firms, at least in specific sectors such as electricity, the communications or chemical. This was the ‘Age of the predictive science’. Industrial laboratories, an emerging collective arrangement capable of performing expensive Experimentation, took the centre stage. 22 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 23. In such industrial laboratories, a new breed of inventors, often called scientists, was pioneering new inventive practices. This group included Midgley from General Motors who came up with leaded fuel and Freon, Coolidge, who worked for General Electric Research Laboratory, the first laboratory of this kind, was the father of ductile tungsten filament for lamps and of the medical applications of X-rays and Carothers who spearheaded the development of nylon and other giant man-made molecules at DuPont. Such inventor- scientists were attentive to what mattered to the decision makers of the firm for which they worked. They monitored inventions occurring outside of their firm in order to anticipate competitive threat and possibly turn them into opportunities. Industrial laboratories were established far from the manufacturing activities; nevertheless, these scientists concentrated their effort on the core business activities of the firm they served. They were attentive to scientific development and benefited from the ‘golden age of physics’ which brought them new instruments and scientific knowledge that could be put to good use. With these inventors, science and theory contributed to Experimentation without fully replacing serendipity, trial and error and the systematic variation of parameters needed to fine-tune products and production processes. Theory and practice worked hand in hand. Experiments required teamwork as inventing became more and more the work of specialists. Inventors and their boss exploited the image of science to persuade decision makers in their firms of the value of science and consumers of the value of their products. General Electric Research laboratory was fashioned as the ‘house of magic’. At the same time, inventors with their scientific authority were capable of contributing to the creation of potentially dangerous information asymmetries. Midgley with the leaded fuel is a deadly example. If it was difficult at the start to persuade high calibre scientists to join research laboratories and top management of the value of performing pure science to explore the frontiers of science but the early success at General Electric and A.T.T. helped others to follow. The First World War convinced some politicians and businessmen that science would play an increasing role in warfare. The ‘Soft hand of management’ Research laboratories were established in large businesses but their research directors tried to keep the network culture of inventors in order to maintain contacts between the scientists and the business needs or the scientific and technical development of their time. 23 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 24. The first directors of industrial laboratories had a ‘Soft hand’ approach that pushed their inventors to exchange information amongst themselves, with people in other departments of the firm they served and with the outside world. As a consequence, hierarchy guided and controlled the work of inventors while networks continued to nourish them with new ideas and knowledge. Division of labour amongst collective arrangements Industrial laboratories survived the great depression. Their promoters created the erroneous belief that independent inventors had disappeared. The emerging passion for science was strengthened by the American victory in the Second World War Firms started to invest heavily in science. This led to the isolation of corporate inventors and scientists. A lack of Attentiveness started to reign in the inventive activities of large businesses. Passion is not always virtuous. After the war, Bell laboratories, the research arm of A.T.T remained the largest corporate research laboratory with 2000 scientists and engineers and 5700 people overall. Brattain and Bardeen discovered the amplifying capabilities of semiconductor devices. Shockley brought some refinement to their invention that was announced in 1948 by Bell Laboratories under the name of transistor. The three of them received a Nobel Prize in 1954 for their discovery. The transistor, to release its full economic potential, needed two fertile grounds different to the one initially offered by A.T.T. It needed specialised firms such as Texas Instruments attentive to its immediate new applications and production issues. It also needed inventive networks such as the ones that emerged in the Silicon Valley to explore its future applications. A company like Texas Instruments was a specialised manufacturer with development teams dedicated to semi-conductors. The management of the company and employees were attentive and dedicated to the exploitation of the market opportunities offered by semi- conductors. Experimentation meant developing low-cost semi-conductors which was different in nature to inventing the transistor. It was essentially the work of engineers 24 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 25. focused on creating defect free and reliable production capacity. From a Persuasion perspective, demonstrating the possibility of creating an inexpensive and simple product such as a radio proved to be a winning strategy. Companies like Intel later followed a similar path of specialised manufacturers which did not have to invest in basic research but who combined rigorous engineering approaches with a market orientation. Intel, however, was the fruit of another fertile ground: the Silicon Valley. The Silicon Valley, was a network of individuals who job-hopped between firms. They were attentive to both technical and market opportunities that could make best use of their skills. They experimented by tinkering with their electronic circuits. They continuously tried to persuade others: venture capitalists, colleagues and potential users of the value of their ideas and work. They did not investigate scientific problems but simply combined and re-combined electronic components, hoping to bump into a star component or product. Today, a diverse set of collective arrangements continue to bring inventions to the market, using the Attentiveness, the ability to experiment and the persuasive powers of independent inventors, entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists and others. 25 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 26. Introduction Millions of economic transactions are performed every day and, in order to study their aggregated effects, it is a fruitful assumption to see them as the result of rational actions conducted with perfect information. However, society is also shaped by the work of individuals who, without acting irrationally, are braving the frontiers of ignorance and defy uncertainty to bring new economic goods to reality. Those individuals who face uncertainty are inventors and their practices are still badly understood by economists. Exploring how agents such as inventors act before uncertainty should therefore prove helpful in uncovering the functioning of modern economic practices. This will help to understand the abilities and practices used by agents when uncertainty prevails. It will throw some light on how agents collaborate to address this uncertainty collectively. This will also prepare the ground to better understand what a firm’s strategy is and it will offer new perspective in exploring how the preferences of economic agents are shaped and information asymmetries consciously created by firms and individuals engaged in inventive activities. The inventor has often been portrayed as a lucky guy, a mistakes maker, a hero or an acclaimed magician. Economists have tended to regard him as someone alien to the economic system. The inventor can, more prosaically, be treated as an agent who contributes to the creation of new markets thanks to a number of specific abilities: Attentiveness, Experimentation and Persuasion, as this will be demonstrated here. Schumpeter defines the entrepreneur as the one who brings innovation, new combinations of economic factors to the market: ‘(F)or actions which consist in carrying out innovations we reserve the term Enterprise; the individuals who carry them out we call Entrepreneurs’. (Schumpeter, 1939) He therefore outlines a difference between the inventor and the entrepreneur but recognise that they can sometimes be the same person. ‘The entrepreneur may, but need not; be the ‘inventor’ of the goods or process he introduces’ (Schumpeter, 1939). In other words, the inventor creates something useful and the entrepreneur is the one who transforms something useful into profit. The inventor takes some necessary steps in bringing something new towards the market or the public sphere although he may not necessarily be the one who completes the process of commercialisation or diffusion. 26 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 27. Since Schumpeter’s contribution, the study of innovation has largely abandoned the ‘methodological individualism’ approach to adopt a ‘social collectivities’ perspective. This is the case, for instance, of the evolutionary and the strategic management schools of thought (Felin & Foss, 2004) for which routines (Nelson & Winter, 1982) and capabilities (Teece, Pisano & Shuen, 1997) appear in this literature as ‘social facts’ somehow independent from human actions (Felin & Foss, 2004). By adopting here a methodological individualism perspective and exploring how inventors act before uncertainty, some bridges can possibly be established between concepts and tools belonging to different traditions of economic thinking. This introduction outlines the specific form of methodological individualism adopted here (A/) and it develops a model appropriate to the study of inventive practices (B/) and, finally, it describes some methodological issues related to the use of History as a source of evidence to validate this model (C/). A. Methodological Individualism According to Hodgson (2007), methodological individualism was an expression first used by Schumpeter, he defined it as follows: ‘just means that one starts from the individual in order to describe certain economic relationships.’ In fact, Schumpeter was inspired by Max Weber who in Economy and Society looked at ‘social collectivities’, such as states, associations, business corporations, foundations: ‘in sociological work these collectivities must be treated as solely the resultants and modes of organisation of the particular acts of individual persons, since these alone can be treated as agents in a course of subjectively understandable action’ (Weber, 1968). However, methodological individualism has since been at the core of a heated debate between different traditions in social sciences. Felin and Foss (2004) presented the terms of this debate: ‘Methodological individualism in its purest form builds on the ontological argument that only individuals are real (...). This strong form of individualism denies the existence and causal influence of collectives and institutions and argues that they must be reduced to and explained in 27 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 28. terms of individuals – that is, individual endowments, intentions, desires, expectations, and goals ... In contrast, methodological collectivism starts with the assumption or even assertion of the independence of collectives from individuals. That is, collectives such as organisation and society, and ‘social facts’ such as institutions and culture serve as the independent variables determining individual and collective behaviour and outcome’. This polarised debate has hidden the diversity of interpretations behind the methodological individualism perspective. The intent in this work is not to debate methodological individualism and its diversity of interpretations but to specify what it means for the present study of inventive activities. Udehn (2001) distinguishes ‘weak methodological individualism’ from ‘strong methodological individualism’. Strong methodological individualism implies that all ‘social situations’ are themselves explicable through the understanding of individual’s actions. On the contrary, weak methodological individualists allow the existence of autonomous institutions and social structures that shape individual behaviour. In the present work, the intent is to develop an understanding of inventive practices by starting from the intentional or unintentional 1 actions of individuals. This is not a reduction to a purely atomistic perspective on human actions as it accepts the possibility that human action might have an irreducibly social dimension. Methodological individualism is here a methodological stance and a ‘weak’ version of it is adopted: It is a point of departure that can contribute to the explanation of what will be called ‘collective arrangements’ and ‘institutional transformations’ 2. In fact we will see how individual actions contribute to the formation of collective arrangements such as networks of inventors or inventive hierarchies 1 A proponent of methodological individualism is Hayek. He did not reduce methodological individualism to the idea that the world is the result of intentional human design. He provides the example of the development of a path in the woods. One person makes his way through, choosing the route that offers the least resistance. His passage reduces, ever so slightly, the resistance offered along that route to the next person who walks though, who is therefore, in making the same set of decisions, likely to follow the same route. This increases the chances that the next person will do so, and so on. Thus the net of effect of all these people passing through is that they ‘make a path,’ even though no one has the intention to do so, and no one even plans out its trajectory. It is a product of spontaneous order: ‘Human movements through the district come to conform to a definite pattern which, although the result of deliberate decisions of many people has yet not been consciously designed by anyone’ (Hayek 1942). 2 Collective arrangements can be understood here as the ‘Social Collectivities’ of Weber discussed above. The word ‘arrangement’ is used here to indicate that it can be interpreted as a result of human actions. Elster (1989) wrote ‘History is the result of human action, not of human design’. The model proposed here will take this quote seriously and see how the understanding of human actions can help to explain some institutional transformations. 28 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 29. which enable and constrain, at the same time human actions. At no point, will it be inferred that all social phenomenon can or should be reduced to individual actions. Moreover, this interpretation of methodological individualism cannot be reduced to the rational choice assumption. The present work will espouse the logic explicated by Arrow (1994) who sat with Weber and Hayek on the weak side of methodological individualism: ‘(I)n this quick presentation of individualism, I have avoided the term, ‘rational choice.’ The individualist viewpoint is in principle compatible with bounded rationality, with violations of the rationality axioms, and with the biases in judgment characteristic of human beings. The additional step to rational choice is, of course, of the greatest practical importance to theory formation, but it is not in principle necessary for the individualist viewpoint’. B. The Attentiveness-Experimentation-Persuasion model In economics, uncertainty was defined by Knight. According to him, we know something about the future but we know very little: ‘(T)he facts of life in this regard are in a superficial sense obtrusively obvious and are a matter of common observation. It is a world of change in which we live, and a world of uncertainty. We live only by knowing something about the future; while the problems of life or of conduct at least, arise from the fact that we know so little. This is as true of business as of other spheres of activity. The essence of the situation is action according to opinion, of greater or less foundation and value, neither entire ignorance nor complete and perfect information, but partial knowledge. If we are to understand the workings of the economic system we must examine the meaning and significance of uncertainty; and to this end some inquiry into the nature and function of knowledge itself is necessary’ (Knight, 1921). He suggests limiting the notion of uncertainty to situations where measurement in terms of probability is not possible. In other words, uncertainty applies when the past does not inform us about the future. ‘It will appear that a measurable uncertainty, or ‘risk’ proper, as we shall use the term, is so far different from an unmeasurable one that it is not in effect an uncertainty at all. We shall accordingly restrict the term ‘uncertainty’ to cases of the non-quantitive type’ (Knight, 1921). 29 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 30. This was also emphasized by Keynes in a famous sentence. ‘By ‘uncertain’ knowledge, let me explain, I do not mean merely to distinguish what is known for certain from what is only probable. The game of roulette is not subject, in this sense, to uncertainty...The sense in which I am using the term is that in which the prospect of a European war is uncertain, or the price of copper and the rate of interest twenty years hence (…). About these matters there is no scientific basis on which to form any calculable probability whatever. We simply do not know’ (Keynes, 1937). More recently, Post Keynesian economists have continued to explore the concept of radical uncertainty (Dequesch, 2001). Today, an appropriate definition of uncertainty would distinguish it from information asymmetries: uncertainty is not the result of disequilibrium in the allocation of information amongst agents but a partial knowledge and a shared ignorance of what will happen in the future. As outlined before, understanding how agents act individually and collectively before uncertainty is here pursued by focusing on a specific category of agents who have specialised in creating something useful and bringing it toward the market or the public sphere. This specific category of agent is the inventor, and more specifically, career inventors who met success on a recurring basis. They brave the frontiers of ignorance and defy uncertainty to bring new economic goods to reality. This does not however mean that individuals act haphazardly. They imagine what could work, balance options, explore one or more paths, and come back when they have reached a dead end. They sometimes abandon ideas and sometimes celebrate their success. As methodological individualism is adopted as an epistemological point of departure, the word ‘inventor’ will be used throughout this work to refer to agents who are engaged in inventive activities and innovation at large. It should not be reduced solely to ‘patent holders’. Economists have often used the expressions inventors as a synonym of ‘patent holders’ adopting de facto the practice of patent offices. In this work, inventors will include individuals who have sometimes been called in the profane literature ‘independent inventors’, ‘engineers’ or ‘scientists’ depending on the context studied. This terminology may be punctually used according to its relevance to the historical context. 30 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 31. As inventors have played an increasing role in economic activities due to the growing division of labour, it is safe to believe that they have developed and acquired some specific abilities to face uncertainty. The A-E-P (Attentiveness-Experimentation-Persuasion) triptych of inventor’s abilities (See Fig 1) is introduced here in order to enhance our economic understanding of human actions when uncertainty prevails. This triptych has first emerged from the reading of many biographies of inventors. Attentiveness These three abilities present an Persuasion inventor as someone who: − is Attentive to the information, knowledge and insight that could Experimentation lead him to success − Experiments in order to create new, useful information, knowledge and insight − Persuades others (potential investors, Figure 1: The A‐E‐P triptych of inventors' abilities  potential users, etc.) of the value of his work. The Model proposed is an informational one that tackles the acquisition, the creation and the transmission of information and knowledge. Such abilities are not specific skills that can help to address given problems but rather a wider set of tactics, strategies, traits and situations used by an inventor in relation to specific problems and contexts. 31 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 32. B/1 Attentiveness is about the acquisition of information, knowledge and insights. It has some similitude with (1) the importance given by Adam Smith (1776) to observation 3; (2) the concept of ‘alertness’ proposed by Kirzrner (1997) which privileges accidental discovery 4 of previous mistakes; (3) the notion of ‘opportunity recognition’ which recognises the possibility of deliberate search process (R. Teach, R. Schwartz, & F. Tarpley, 1989); (4) the concept of ‘spillovers’ especially when it is associated with a theory of entrepreneurship where knowledge created endogenously results in knowledge spillovers and give rise to opportunities to be identified and exploited by entrepreneurs (Acs, Audretsch, Braunerhjelm & Carlsson, 2006) and (5) with the idea of ‘absorptive capacity’ (Cohen & Levinthal, 1990) which from an organisation point of view refers to the ability to recognise the value of new knowledge. B/2 Experimentation has been extensively studied by the philosophers of science. For economists, two authors or schools should be mentioned. (1) John Stuart Mill has very eloquently talked about ‘the labour of the brains and the labour of the hands’. He observed that inventions are adopted and then superseded by better ones. Nature offers its secrets through Experimentation and a thorough selection, comparison and confirmation of facts 5. 3 According to him, inventions result from sustained attention and observation: ‘(M)en are much more likely to discover easier and readier methods of attaining any object, when the whole attention of their minds is directed towards that single object, than when it is dissipated among a great variety of things. But in consequence of the division of labour, the whole of every man's attention comes naturally to be directed towards someone very simple object. It is naturally to be expected, therefore, that someone or other of those who are employed in each particular branch of labour should soon find out easier and readier methods of performing their own particular work, wherever the nature of it admits of such improvement’ (Smith, 1776). Inventions are not conceived by operators only, makers of machines and philosophers also invent through observation:’(All) the improvements in machinery, however, have by no means been the inventions of those who had occasion to use the machines. Many improvements have been made by the ingenuity of the makers of the machines, when to make them became the business of a peculiar trade; and some by that of those who are called philosophers or men of speculation, whose trade it is not to do anything, but to observe everything; and who, upon that account, are often capable of combining together the powers of the most distant and dissimilar objects’ (Smith, 1776). 4 ‘Entrepreneurial alertness refers to an attitude of receptiveness to available (but hitherto overlooked) opportunities. The entrepreneurial character of human action refers not simply to the circumstance that action is taken in an open-ended, uncertain world, but also to the circumstance that the human agent is at all times spontaneously on the lookout for hitherto unnoticed features of the environment (present or future), which might inspire new activity on his part. Without knowing what to look for, without deploying any deliberate search technique, the entrepreneur is at all times scanning the horizon, as it were, ready to make discoveries’ (Kirzner, 1997). 5 ‘Inventors, besides the labour of their brains, generally go through much labour with their hands, in the models which they construct and the experiments they have to make before their idea can realize itself successfully in act. Whether mental, however, or bodily, their labour is a part of that by which the production is brought about. The labour of Watt in contriving the steam-engine was as essential a part of production as that of the mechanics who build or the engineers who work the instrument; and was undergone, no less than theirs, 32 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 33. (2) Herbert Simon and his colleagues have categorized methods used as part of scientific discovery or more generally problem solving as ‘weak’ or ‘strong’ 6 depending on the extent that knowledge pre-exists in the specific fields of scientific investigation. B/3 Persuasion We can mention here two similarities with existing work. (1) Akrich, Callon and Latour see innovation very much as an act of Persuasion. They define innovation as ‘the art of interesting an increasing number of allies who will make you stronger and stronger.’ (Akrich, Callon & Latour, 2002a). They see the success of an innovation as being very much linked to the people who take cause for it: ‘(T)he fate of innovation, its content but also its chances of success, rest entirely on the choice of the representatives or spokespersons who will interact, negotiate to give shape to the project and to transform it until a market is built.’ (Akrich, Callon & Latour, 2002b). (2) Persuasion can also be related to another stream of research known as the ‘signalling’ theory. Different agents taking part in a transaction often have different levels of information about the transaction which can lead to ‘adverse selection’. This was highlighted by G. Akerlof (1970) in his articles about used cars: a good quality seller can have difficulty in signalling good quality. Spence (1973) describes signals as ‘activities or attributes of individuals in a market which (...) alter the beliefs of, or convey information to, other individuals in the market’. The signaller tries to ‘create a favourable impression or, more precisely, to affect the [receiver’s] subjective probabilistic beliefs. in the prospect of remuneration from the produce. The labour of invention is often estimated and paid on the very same plan as that of execution. Many manufacturers of ornamental goods have inventors in their employment, who receive wages or salaries for designing patterns, exactly as others do for copying them. All this is strictly part of the labour of production; as the labour of the author of a book is equally a part of its production with that of the printer and binder’ (Mill, 1848). 6 Weak methods demand little or no specific knowledge about the problem. Pure trial and error is one of the weakest methods that can be chosen. It consists simply of picking a solution and trying it. An everyday life example would be trying a full set of keys to see which one opens a door. Hill climbing, another weak method consists of going in the most promising direction and to review progress as you go. Means-end analysis consists in analyzing the gap between the current situation and the goal before starting experimenting. Weak methods rely extensively on experiments as no knowledge is there to guide the search for a solution. Strong methods are procedures or calculations which take you close to the right answer. Strong methods are typically domain dependent. They require an attentive inventor capable of associating the problem with the method. They still require experiments often in limited number but with extensive use of specialised instruments or simulation techniques. In between all sorts of situations exist where more and more domain specific knowledge can be used and less and less experiments are required. Analogy is one method that can help to bridge the gap between the weak and strong methods. An attentive inventor could see similarities between his work and another domain and therefore import some strong methods to help him solve the problem. 33 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 34. C. How the model will be tested using historical evidences The validation of the hypothesis presented above will be carried out by confronting them with historical evidences and facts and, more precisely, by investigating the practices of inventors at different points in time and space. The present dissertation will proceed by studying a diversity of cases throughout history. This approach is well-suited to understanding complex issues. The case will focus on human actions but will require outlining the context of those actions. Yin (1984) defines the case study research method as an empirical enquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context. It is sometimes contended that generalising from a series of case studies can be difficult. To prevent this, a clear and limited set of hypothesis to be tested has been established before proceeding and well informed and fact based sources of information used to build the cases will be preferred to judgemental interpretation of what happened. Furthermore, by adopting an historical perspective it is possible to identify what has endured and what has changed over time, a form of analysis that contributes to bringing to the surface the modalities of human actions before uncertainty. This will require careful investigation of the events, discourses and circumstances that have shaped inventive practices and the actions of inventors. Three groups of evidences throughout three periods and places within the History of inventive activities will be investigated. The three periods have been selected because they are recognised as periods of intensive inventive activities within human history. The rationale behind the selection of each individual inventor or collective arrangement will be introduced at a later stage. The inventors selected here are career inventors who have met success more than once in their inventive practices; this makes the investigation of the practices they use richer and more robust. The collective arrangements selected are ideal types of their time, and for most of them, the first or amongst the first of their kind. This provides an opportunity to see the events, discourses and practices underpinning them at the very specific moment when significant institutional transformations occur. 34 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 35. D/1 The study of the inventive abilities of three ‘career inventors’ for each of the periods studied. This will include Arkwright, Wedgwood and Watt for the late 18th century in Britain: ‘the age of the machines’ (Chapter 1); Bell, Edison and Sperry for the late 19th century in America: ‘the age of the systems’ (Chapter 2); Midgley, Coolidge and Carothers for the early 20th century: ‘the age of predictive science’ (Chapter 3). These inventors are not selected because they are sometimes treated by their hagiographers as iconoclastic genius but because they have achieved success more than once. They are career inventors who brought a diversity of inventions to life. This will therefore require detaching the legend from the basic historical facts, to focus on evidences and not their existing interpretations. D/2 The analysis of the ‘regimes of invention’ and the collective arrangements supporting inventive activities during each of those periods. This will include a network of inventors such as the ‘Lunar Society’ during the late 18th century in Britain (Chapter 1); inventive hierarchies in the railroad industry during the late 19th century in America (Chapter 2) and the soft hand of management (superposition of network and hierarchy) in research laboratories such as in the General Electric research laboratory in America during the early 20th century (Chapter 3). This will reveal the role of the A-E-P triptych within collective actions. We will describe each regime using these three abilities. This will provide an opportunity to connect individual behaviours and collective arrangements. It will also help to understand how the collective arrangements studied can enable and constrain human actions. We will describe different ‘regimes of invention’ in order to compare inventive practices adopted by groups of agents. A regime of invention is a coherent set of inventive practices used by a group of individuals at a particular point in time and in a given situation. It is not the description of what one individual has done but a description of what a group of people has done. It is not a recipe for success but a set of practices. Regimes of invention here are an organised description of the reality that uses the A-E-P triptych to guide the analysis. When appropriate, regimes of invention will be seen as a particular case that embodies the 35 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 36. chief characteristics of a common case, an ideal type 7. An ideal type should not be confused with a general truth, a law that could be applied, for instance, to understand how History unfolds. An ideal type is considered here as an abstract description of a set of practices and their context that can be common to a diversity of situations that resemble each other. Such a ‘regime of invention’ that can represent a diversity of daily practices and situations will therefore be called here: ‘collective arrangement’. In other words by describing regimes of invention we intend to characterize recurring patterns of how individuals can work together to invent. D/3 The investigation of some institutional transformations that have impacted inventive hierarchies during the three periods studied. This includes the widespread passion for Experimentation during the late 18th century (Chapter 1); the transformation of the regimes of invention in the railroad industry during the late 19th century in America (Chapter 2); the rise and limits of fundamental research conducted by the industry during the 20th century (Chapter 3). Such investigation will focus on the contiguity of historical facts during a given period. It will highlight the succession of practices, at the specific cases that were much talked about in order to understand what lead to ‘tipping points’. It will look at the coherence throughout time between what is said and what is done. Some institutional factors will be considered to investigate how the economic history of organisation takes time and history into account. The emergence of new collective arrangements or the passage from one collective arrangement to another will be treated in the present work as an institutional transformation. Here again, the intent is not to look for underlying causes in history but to look at tipping points. We will investigate how, throughout a certain period of time, specific inventive practices have evolved, how they succeeded each other, how they have created new situations, how they have sometimes contradicted their initial intention and therefore left very different practices emerge. 7 Ideal types are often associated with the research work of Max Weber. They are common mental construct in the social sciences derived from observable reality. They are a constructed ideal used to approximate reality by selecting and accentuating certain elements. 36 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 37. Recent History is not studied here. It is first due to a certain caution, historians have not yet distilled their analytical power to comprehend this period. We need a certain distance in time and peace in mind to look at our period in the same way as we will study the other three. Without doubt, the crest of knowledge has progressed, new ideas, new tools, new problems and new practices have emerged but it is safe to assume that they can still be interpreted using the approach developed here. The dissertation will proceed by investigating the three Ages (the ‘Age of the machines’; the ‘Age of the systems’ and the ‘Age of predictive science’) one after the other. The three career inventors, the collective arrangements and the institutional transformation will be examined in this order for each of them. This will lead to the establishment of a table that presents the three abilities along different levels of uncertainty 8 and to another table that present a diversity of collective arrangements supporting inventive activities along the same three levels of uncertainty 9. Further potential development will finally be suggested. 8 See infra: ‘Taking Stock and looking ahead’. 9 See infra: ‘Taking Stock and looking ahead’. 37 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 38. Introduction Des millions de transactions économiques s’effectuent tous les jours et, afin d’étudier leurs effets cumulés, il est judicieux de les envisager comme le résultat d’actions rationnelles menées par des individus parfaitement informés. Cependant, la société est également façonnée par le travail d’individus qui, sans pour autant agir de manière irrationnelle, bravent les frontières de la connaissance et défient l’incertitude afin que de nouveaux biens économiques voient le jour. Les individus qui affrontent l’incertitude sont des inventeurs, et les économistes comprennent encore mal leurs pratiques. Etudier la manière dont certains agents tels que les inventeurs agissent face à l’incertitude devrait, par conséquent, nous permettre de dégager le fonctionnement des pratiques économiques modernes, et de mieux comprendre les aptitudes de ces agents et les pratiques auxquelles ils ont recours lorsque l’incertitude prévaut. Cette analyse se propose également de mettre en lumière la manière dont les agents coopèrent pour faire face ensemble à cette incertitude. Cette nouvelle perspective concluera par des suggestions pour mieux comprendre comment les firmes exécutent leur stratégie. Des propositions seront aussi faites pour étudier sous un angle nouveau la manière dont les préférences des agents économiques sont façonnées, et comment des asymétries d’informations sont consciemment créées par les entreprises et les individus impliqués dans des activités inventives. On a souvent décrit l’inventeur comme un homme découvrant des idées par chance, progressant par erreurs, comme un héros ou encore un magicien acclamé par tous. Les économistes ont souvent eu tendance à le considérer comme un élément étranger au système économique. De manière plus prosaïque, on peut concevoir l’inventeur comme un agent contribuant à la création de nouveaux marchés grâce à certaines facultés spécifiques, à savoir l’Attention, l’Expérimentation et la Persuasion, comme nous le démontrerons plus loin. Selon Schumpeter, l’entrepreneur apporte des innovations et de nouvelles combinaisons de facteurs économiques au marché : « Pour les actions qui consistent à faire
  • 39. preuve d’innovation, nous réservons le terme d’Entreprise; et les individus qui les accomplissent sont appelés Entrepreneurs » (Schumpeter, 1939). Schumpeter fait ainsi la distinction entre la figure de l’inventeur et celle de l’entrepreneur mais reconnaît qu’ils peuvent parfois ne faire qu’un: « L’entrepreneur peut être, mais pas nécessairement, l’inventeur des biens ou des procédés qu’il introduit (sur le marché) » (Schumpeter, 1939). En d’autres termes, l’inventeur crée quelque chose d’utile tandis que l’entrepreneur est celui qui transforme quelque chose d’utile en profits. L’inventeur prend les initiatives nécessaires pour apporter quelque chose de nouveau vers le marché ou à la sphère publique, même s’il n’est pas nécessairement celui qui réalisera la commercialisation ou la diffusion. Depuis les travaux de Schumpeter, les recherches dans le domaine de l’innovation ont largement abandonné l’approche de « l’individualisme méthodologique » pour lui préférer un angle d’étude centré sur les « collectivités sociales ». C’est par exemple le cas des théories du management stratégique et le courant évolutionnistes (Felin & Foss, 2004) qui considèrent dans les ouvrages qui leur sont consacrés les routines (Nelson & Winter, 1982) et les compétences (Teece, Pisano & Shuen, 1997) comme des « faits sociaux » indépendants des actions humaines (Felin & Foss, 2004). En adoptant ici l’approche de l’individualisme méthodologique et en cherchant à comprendre comment les inventeurs agissent face à l’incertitude, certains liens peuvent être établis entre des concepts et des outils d’analyse appartenant à différents courants de pensée économique. Nous présenterons dans cette introduction la forme spécifique d’individualisme méthodologique employée dans cette étude (A/) et proposerons un modèle permettant l’analyse des pratiques inventives (B/). Enfin, nous décrirons certaines difficultés méthodologiques liées au recours à l’Histoire en tant que source de preuves pour valider ce modèle (C/). 39 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 40. A. La notion d’individualisme méthodologique Selon Hodgson (2007), le terme d'individualisme méthodologique a été employé pour la première fois par Schumpeter, qui le définit comme suit: « il faut tout simplement se baser sur l'individu afin de décrire certaines relations économiques 10 ». En effet, Schumpeter s’est inspiré de Max Weber qui, dans son ouvrage « Economie et société », se penche sur les « collectivités sociales » telles que les États, les associations, les entreprises, ou les fondations: « Lors de toute étude sociologique il faut uniquement envisager ces collectivités comme des modes d'organisation résultant des actions d’individus donnés, étant donné que seuls ces derniers peuvent être considérés comme des agents engagés dans des actions compréhensibles subjectivement 11 » (Weber, 1968). Toutefois, l'individualisme méthodologique a depuis lors fait l’objet d'un vif débat entre différentes traditions des sciences sociales. Felin et Foss (2004) ont présenté en ces termes ce débat: « l'individualisme méthodologique dans sa forme la plus pure se fonde sur l'argument ontologique selon lequel seuls les individus sont réels (...). Cette forte forme d'individualisme nie l'existence et l'influence déterminante des collectivités et des institutions et soutient qu'elles doivent être réduites et expliquées en termes d’individus – à savoir de dotations, intentions, désirs, attentes et objectifs individuels (...). En revanche, le collectivisme méthodologique se base sur l'hypothèse voire même l’affirmation de l'indépendance des collectivités par rapport aux individus : les collectivités telles que les organisations et sociétés, et les « faits sociaux » tels que les institutions et la culture servent de variables indépendantes déterminant les comportements et les résultats individuels et collectifs 12 ». Ce débat polarisé a occulté la diversité d’interprétation inhérente à la perspective de l'individualisme méthodologique. Le but de ce travail n'est pas de débattre de l'individualisme méthodologique et de la diversité de ses interprétations, mais de préciser ce que nous entendons par « individualisme méthodologique » lors de notre analyse des activités inventives. Udehn (2001) fait la distinction entre « individualisme méthodologique faible » et « individualisme méthodologique fort ». 10 Traduction personnelle. 11 Traduction personnelle. 12 Traduction personnelle. 40 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 41. L’individualisme méthodologique fort implique que toutes les « situations sociales » s’expliquent elles-mêmes à travers la compréhension des actions individuelles. Au contraire, l’individualisme méthodologique faible conçoit l'existence d'institutions et de structures sociales autonomes qui façonnent les comportements individuels. Notre intention est de développer au cours de notre étude une compréhension des pratiques inventives en partant des actions intentionnelles ou non intentionnelles des individus. Nous ne nous restreignons nullement à une perspective purement atomistique des actions humaines dans la mesure ou nous acceptons l’éventualité que l'action de l'homme puisse posséder une dimension sociale irréductible. L'individualisme méthodologique s’emploie ici comme positionnement méthodologique et nous l’adoptons dans sa version « faible » : il s'agit d'un point de départ qui peut contribuer à expliquer ce que nous appellerons les « arrangements collectifs » et les « transformations institutionnelles ». Nous verrons en effet comment les actions individuelles contribuent à la formation d’arrangements collectifs tels que les réseaux d'inventeurs ou les hiérarchies inventives qui favorisent et limitent à la fois les actions humaines. Nous n’insinuerons à aucun moment que tous les phénomènes sociaux doivent ou devraient être réduits à des actions individuelles. En outre, cette interprétation de l'individualisme méthodologique ne peut être assimilée à une hypothèse de choix rationnel. Le présent travail épousera la logique explicitée par Arrow (1994) qui se situe du côté de l'individualisme méthodologique « faible » avec Weber et Hayek. « Dans cette rapide présentation de l'individualisme, j'ai évité le terme de «choix rationnel». Le point de vue individualiste est, en principe, compatible avec la rationalité limitée, les violations des axiomes de rationalité, et les préjugés caractérisant les êtres humains. L'étape supplémentaire que constitue le choix rationnel est, bien sûr, d’une grande importance pratique à l’heure d’élaborer une théorie, mais n'est en principe pas nécessaire pour ce qui est de la perspective individualiste. 13 » 13 Traduction personnelle. 41 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 42. B. Le modèle AEP : Attention, Expérimentation et Persuasion En économie, l'incertitude a été définie par Knight. Selon lui, nous avons quelques connaissances quant à l’avenir, mais elles demeurent très limitées: « Concernant l’avenir, les choses de la vie sont dans un sens superficiel importunément évidentes et relèvent de la pure observation élémentaire. Nous vivons dans un monde de changement et d'incertitude. Nous vivons uniquement en ayant une idée de l'avenir, tandis que les problèmes de la vie, ou de gestion du moins, résultent du fait que nous en savons si peu. Ceci s’applique tant aux entreprises qu’aux autres sphères d'activité. L'essence de la situation est l'action découlant de l'opinion, possédant une valeur ou un fondement plus ou moins important. Il n’existe ni ignorance totale ni information parfaite, mais une connaissance partielle. Si nous voulons comprendre le fonctionnement du système économique, nous devons examiner le sens et l'importance de l'incertitude, et à cette fin, il est nécessaire d’explorer la nature et la fonction de la connaissance elle-même 14 » (Knight, 1921). Il suggère de limiter la notion d'incertitude aux situations où la mesure en termes de probabilité est impossible. En d'autres termes, l'incertitude est de mise lorsque le passé ne nous fournit aucune information sur l'avenir. « Il apparaît qu’une incertitude mesurable, ou un « risque » proprement dit, comme nous l’appellerons, est si différent d’une incertitude non mesurable, qu’elle n’en est en fait pas une du tout. Nous allons par conséquent restreindre le terme d «’incertitude » aux seuls cas où elle n’est pas mesurable. 15» (Knight, 1921). Keynes l’a également souligné dans une phrase célèbre : « Par le terme de connaissance « incertaine », je ne souhaite pas simplement faire la distinction entre ce qui est connu comme certain de ce qui est seulement probable. Le jeu de la roulette n'est pas soumis, en ce sens, à l'incertitude (...). Le sens dans lequel je comprends ce terme est celui dans lequel la perspective d'une guerre européenne est incertaine, ou le prix du cuivre et le taux d'intérêt d’ici vingt ans (...). Pour ces questions, il n'existe aucune base scientifique permettant de calculer une quelconque probabilité. Nous ne savons tout simplement pas 16 » (Keynes, 1937). Plus récemment, les 14 Traduction personnelle. 15 Traduction personnelle. 16 Traduction personnelle. 42 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 43. économistes post-keynésiens ont poursuivi leurs recherches sur le concept d'incertitude radicale (Dequesch, 2001). Aujourd'hui, une définition adéquate de l'incertitude ferait la distinction entre incertitude et asymétries d’informations: l'incertitude n'est pas le résultat d'un déséquilibre au niveau de la répartition de l'information entre les agents, mais d’une connaissance partielle et d’une ignorance partagée de ce qui se passera dans l'avenir. Comme nous l’avons indiqué précédemment, nous cherchons ici à comprendre comment les agents agissent individuellement et collectivement face à l'incertitude; nous nous basons sur une catégorie particulière d'agents qui s’attachent à créer quelque chose d'utile et à l’amener sur le marché ou dans la sphère publique : il s’agit de l'inventeur, et plus précisément des inventeurs de carrière dont le parcours témoigne de multiples succès. Ils bravent les frontières de la connaissance et défient l’incertitude afin que de nouveaux biens économiques voient le jour, ce qui ne veut pas pour autant dire qu’ils agissent de façon aléatoire. Ils imaginent ce qui pourrait fonctionner, envisagent différentes options, explorent une ou plusieurs voies, et changent de stratégie quand ils atteignent une impasse. Ils renoncent parfois à des idées et célèbrent d’autres fois leur succès. De même que nous adopterons l'individualisme méthodologique comme point de départ épistémologique, le mot « inventeur » sera utilisé tout au long de ce travail pour se référer à des agents engagés dans des activités inventives et d'innovation au sens large. Il ne se réduit pas uniquement aux « détenteurs de brevets ». Les économistes ont souvent utilisé l’expression d’inventeur dans le sens de « détenteurs de brevets », entérinant de fait l’existence des offices de brevets. Dans ce travail, le terme d’inventeur inclura les individus que la littérature populaire a parfois appelé «inventeurs indépendants», «ingénieurs» ou encore «scientifiques ». Cette terminologie pourra être ponctuellement utilisée en fonction de sa pertinence pour le contexte historique étudié. 43 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 44. Etant donné que les inventeurs ont joué un rôle croissant dans les activités économiques en raison de la division croissante du travail, on peut affirmer qu'ils ont développé et acquis des compétences spécifiques pour faire face à l'incertitude. Le tryptique A-E-P (Attention, Expérimentation, Persuasion) des facultés de l’inventeur (voir figure 1) est présenté ici afin d'améliorer notre compréhension économique des activités humaines quand l'incertitude prévaut. Ce triptyque a été formulé après la lecture préalable de nombreuses biographies d’inventeurs. Attention Ces trois aptitudes présentent l’inventeur comme un individu : Persuasion - Attentif aux informations, connaissances ou idées qui pourraient accroître ses chances de succès, Experimentation - qui Expérimente afin de créer des informations, des connaissances et des idées nouvelles et utiles - et Persuade les autres (investisseurs et utilisateurs potentiels) de la valeur de son travail. Figure 2: Le tryptique A‐E‐P de facultés des inventeurs  Le Modèle proposé est informationnel et prend en compte l'acquisition, la création et la transmission des informations et des connaissances. Ces aptitudes ne sont pas des compétences spécifiques qui peuvent aider à résoudre certains problèmes mais plutôt un ensemble plus vaste de tactiques, stratégies, caractéristiques et situations utilisées par un inventeur pour faire face à certains problèmes et contextes spécifiques. B/1 L’Attention fait référence à l'acquisition d'informations, de connaissances ou d'idées. Elle est comparable à (1) l'importance accordée par Adam Smith (1776) à l'observation, et à (2) la notion de « vigilance » (alertness) proposé par Kirzrner (1997), qui privilégie la 44 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 45. découverte accidentelle par essais et erreurs. On peut également rapprocher cette notion de celle de (3) « reconnaissance d’opportunités » qui admet la possibilité que le processus de recherche soit délibéré (R. Teach, R. Schwartz, et F. Tarpley, 1989); (4), et du concept de « retombées » (spillovers), tout particulièrement lorsqu’il est associé à une théorie de l'entreprenariat qui considère que le savoir créé entraîne des retombées endogènes sur la connaissance, et créé un contexte favorable lui permettant d'être identifié et exploité par des entrepreneurs (Acs, Audretsch, Braunerhjelm et Carlsson, 2006). On peut enfin l’associer (5) à l'idée de « capacité d'absorption » (Cohen et Levinthal, 1990), qui, du point de vue d’une organisation, se réfère à la capacité de reconnaître la valeur de nouvelles connaissances. B/2. L'Expérimentation a été largement étudiée par les philosophes des sciences. Pour les économistes, deux auteurs ou écoles se doivent d’être mentionnés. (1) John Stuart Mill a longuement écrit sur le « travail des cerveaux » et le « travail des mains». Il a fait observer que les inventions sont adoptées puis remplacées par de meilleures. La nature dévoile ses secrets à travers l'Expérimentation et une sélection, une comparaison et une confirmation des faits rigoureuses. (2) Herbert Simon et ses pairs ont classé les méthodes utilisées dans le cadre de la découverte scientifique ou, plus généralement pour la résolution de problèmes, comme « faible » ou « forte » en fonction de la mesure dans laquelle la connaissance préexiste dans les domaines spécifiques de la recherche scientifique en question. B/3. La Persuasion. Nous pouvons citer ici deux similitudes avec d’autres travaux. (1) Akrich, Callon et Latour considèrent largement l’innovation comme un acte de Persuasion. Ils définissent l'innovation comme « l'art d’intéresser un nombre croissant d'alliés qui vous rendront de plus en plus fort 17» (Akrich, Callon et Latour, 2002a). Ils considèrent que le succès rencontré par une innovation est étroitement lié aux personnes qui la soutiennent: «Le sort de l'innovation, son contenu mais également ses chances de succès, repose entièrement sur le choix des représentants ou porte-paroles qui vont interagir et négocier pour donner forme au projet et le transformer jusqu'à ce qu’un marché soit créé » (Akrich, Callon et Latour, 2002b) (2). 17 Traduction personnelle. 45 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 46. On peut également rapprocher la Persuasion d’un autre courant de pensée connu sous le nom de théorie de la « signalisation ». Les différents agents qui prennent part à une transaction disposent souvent de différents niveaux d'informations quant à cette transaction, ce qui peut conduire à «une sélection adverse» ou « antisélection ». G. Akerlof (1970) a souligné cette idée dans ses articles sur les voitures d'occasion: un vendeur possédant des produits de bonne qualité peut avoir des difficultés à « signaler » au public cette bonne qualité. Selon Spence (1973), les « signaux » sont des « activités ou attributs d’individus sur un marché qui (...) modifient les croyances d’autres personnes sur ce marché, ou leur transmet des informations ». Le « signaleur » tente de «créer une impression favorable ou, plus précisément, d'affecter les croyances subjectives et probabilistes [du récepteur] 18». C. De quelle manière le modèle sera testé en utilisant l’Histoire comme source de preuves Les hypothèses présentées ci-dessus seront validées après avoir été confrontées à des preuves et faits historiques et, plus précisément, en étudiant les pratiques des inventeurs à différents points de l’espace et du temps. Nous procéderons à l'étude d’une large gamme de cas à travers l'Histoire. Cette approche est bien adaptée à la résolution de questions complexes. Nous nous concentrerons sur les actions humaines, tout en décrivant le contexte de ces actions. Yin (1984) définit la méthode de recherche procédant par l'étude de cas comme une enquête empirique qui étudie un phénomène contemporain dans son contexte réel. On a parfois avancé qu’il peut être difficile de généraliser à partir d'une série d'études de cas. Pour éviter cet écueil, une série claire et limitée d'hypothèses à tester a été établie avant de procéder à notre analyse. Nous nous référerons à des sources d’informations sûres et basées sur des faits concrets pour construire nos cas, et non à des interprétations biaisées de ce qui s’est produit. 18 Traduction personnelle. 46 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 47. En outre, en adoptant une perspective historique, il est possible d'identifier ce qui a changé ou non au fil du temps, une forme d’analyse qui contribue à révéler les modalités des actions de l'homme dans un contexte d’incertitude. Une étude minutieuse des événements, des discours et des circonstances qui ont façonné les pratiques inventives et les actions des inventeurs est ici requise. Nous étudierons trois groupes de preuves au cours de trois périodes de l'Histoire des activités inventives. Nous avons choisi ces trois périodes car elles ont été reconnues comme des périodes d'intense activité inventive. Nous expliquerons à un stade ultérieur le processus de sélection de chacun des inventeurs et arrangements collectifs. Les inventeurs sélectionnés ici sont des inventeurs de carrière dont le parcours témoigne de multiples succès, ce qui rend l'étude de leurs pratiques inventives plus riche et plus solide. Les arrangements collectifs choisis sont des idéaux-type de leur temps, et pour la plupart, le premier ou parmi les premiers du genre. Nous pourrons ainsi appréhender les événements, les discours et les pratiques qui les sous-tendent au moment précis où d'importantes transformations institutionnelles ont eu lieu. D/1. L'étude des facultés inventives de trois « inventeurs de carrière » pour chacune des périodes étudiées. Il s'agira notamment de Arkwright, Wedgwood et Watt à la fin du 18ème siècle en Grande- Bretagne : «l'âge des machines » (Chapitre 1); de Bell, Edison et Sperry à la fin du 19ème siècle aux Etats-Unis: « l'âge des systèmes » (Chapitre 2); et de Midgley, Coolidge et Carothers au début du 20ème siècle: « l'âge de la science prédictive » (Chapitre 3). Nous n’avons pas choisi ces inventeurs parce que leurs hagiographes les ont parfois qualifiés de génies iconoclastes, mais parce leurs activités inventives ont été couronnées de succès plus d'une fois. Ce sont des inventeurs de carrière qui ont donné naissance à des inventions diverses et variées. Il faudra donc s’attacher à dissocier la légende des faits historiques, et se concentrer sur les preuves et non sur leurs diverses interprétations. 47 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 48. D/2. Analyse des « régimes d'invention » et des arrangements collectifs soutenant les activités inventives au cours de chacune de ces périodes. Il s'agira notamment d'un réseau d'inventeurs tel que le « Lunar society » à la fin du 18ème siècle en Grande-Bretagne (Chapitre 1); des hiérarchies inventives en vigueur dans l'industrie du rail à la fin du 19ème siècle aux Etats-Unis (Chapitre 2) et de la « main souple du management » (superposition de réseaux et de hiérarchies) dans les laboratoires de recherche tels que celui de la General Electric aux Etats-Unis au début du 20ème siècle (Chapitre 3). Cette analyse révèlera le rôle du triptyque A-E-P au sein des actions collectives. Nous décrirons chaque régime au moyen de ces trois facultés, ce qui permettra de faire le lien entre comportements individuels et arrangements collectifs, et nous aidera à comprendre comment les arrangements collectifs peuvent favoriser mais également limiter les actions humaines. Nous décrirons différents « régimes d'invention » afin de comparer les pratiques inventives adoptées par des groupes d'agents. Un régime d'invention est un ensemble cohérent de pratiques inventives employées par un groupe d'individus à un point donné dans le temps et dans une situation précise. Il ne s’agit pas de décrire les actions d’un individu mais celles d’un groupe de personnes. Nous ne dégagerons pas une recette du succès, mais un ensemble de pratiques. Les régimes d'invention sont ici une description organisée de la réalité au moyen du triptyque A-E-P qui guide cette analyse. Le cas échéant, les régimes d'invention seront considérés comme des cas particuliers incarnant les principales caractéristiques d'un cas courant, un « idéal type ». Il ne faut pas confondre la notion d’idéal-type avec celle de vérité générale, telle une loi qui pourrait être appliquée, par exemple, pour comprendre comment se déroule l'Histoire. Un idéal-type est une description abstraite d'un ensemble de pratiques et de leur contexte qui pouvant s’appliquer à une diversité de situations similaires. Un tel « régime d'invention » qui 48 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 49. peut représenter une diversité de pratiques et de situations quotidiennes sera donc appelé ici : « arrangement collectif ». En d'autres termes, en décrivant les régimes d’invention nous avons l'intention d’identifier des modèles récurrents décrivant la manière dont les individus travaillent ensemble pour inventer. D/3 Analyse de certaines transformations institutionnelles ayant eu un impact sur les hiérarchies inventives au cours des trois périodes étudiées. Il s’agira, notamment, de la généralisation de la passion populaire pour l'Expérimentation à la fin du 18ème siècle (Chapitre 1), de la transformation des régimes d’invention dans l'industrie du rail à la fin du 19ème siècle aux Etats-Unis (Chapitre 2); et de l’essor de la recherche fondamentale menée par l'industrie au cours du 20ème siècle, ainsi que ses limites (Chapitre 3). Cette étude se penchera sur la continuité des faits historiques au cours d'une période donnée. Elle mettra en lumière la succession de pratiques relatives à des cas spécifiques largement débattus afin de comprendre l’origine des « points de basculement » (tipping points). Nous nous pencherons sur la cohérence dans le temps entre ce qui est dit et ce qui est fait. Certains facteurs institutionnels seront pris en compte afin d’étudier la façon dont l'histoire économique des organisations prend en compte le temps et l’Histoire. L'apparition de nouveaux arrangements collectifs ou le passage d'un arrangement collectif à un autre sera traité dans le présent travail en tant que transformation institutionnelle. Là encore, notre intention n'est pas de rechercher leurs causes historiques sous-jacentes, mais de se pencher sur les « points de basculement » (tipping points). Nous étudierons comment, au cours d’une période de temps donnée, certaines pratiques inventives spécifiques ont évolué, comment elles se sont succédées, comment elles ont créé de nouveaux contextes, comment elles ont parfois été en contradiction avec leur intention initiale et ont donc permis à une large gamme de pratiques de voir le jour. L’Histoire récente ne sera pas prise en compte ici, tout d’abord par prudence, les historiens n’ayant pas encore distillé leur pouvoir analytique pour comprendre cette période. Il est 49 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 50. nécessaire d’avoir un certain recul pour pouvoir se pencher sur notre époque de la même manière que pour les trois autres. La crête de la connaissance a indubitablement progressé, de nouvelles idées, de nouveaux outils, de nouveaux problèmes et de nouvelles pratiques ont vu le jour mais nous espérons que celles-ci pourront toujours être interprétées au moyen de l'approche développée dans notre étude. Notre procéderons à l’étude successive des trois « Ages » (l’ «Age des machines », l' « Age des systèmes » et l’ « Age de la science prédictive»). Les trois inventeurs de carrière, les arrangements collectifs et les transformations institutionnelles seront examinés dans cet ordre pour chacune de ces périodes. Nous établirons ensuite un tableau/taxonomie qui présentera les trois facultés des inventeurs en fonction de différents « degrés » d'incertitude, et un autre tableau qui présentera une large gamme de régimes collectifs soutenant les activités inventives selon ces trois niveaux d'incertitude. D’autres axes de recherche prometteurs seront enfin proposés. 50 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 51. Part 1. Inventing during the late 18th century in Britain Preliminary Chapter - Overview of the late 18th century The high middle age was a period when many inventions were brought to life in different activities such as building, shipbuilding, metallurgy, textile and the military arts. Hydraulic energy was widely used. Human labour started to be replaced by machines, such as the watermill and windmill (Mokyr, 1990). Later on, the population saw bright and dark periods alternating. Periods of economic progress and social stability stimulated demography and inventive activities, periods marked by war, plagues and demographic deficit did not bring as many inventions to life (Gilles, 1978). During the Renaissance, most inventions continued to be the work of craftsmen. Their workshops were a source of inspiration for the people who transformed the practice of sciences and invented the experimental method. In Italy, Galileo used to observe extensively the people working in the arsenal of Venice. In England, Gilbert 19, one of the physicians of Queen Elizabeth I, investigated the properties of lodestones that could move other stones containing iron. During the late 16th century, the French potter Bernard Palissy 20 tried to apply the experimental method to inventive activities in order to make an Italian style enamel (Fayence). The work of the potter involves combining together a number of parameters: the quality of the clay, the pot’s thickness, the melting point, quality and colours of the enamel, the level and consistency of the fire, and the pot position in the kiln. Epstein commented: ‘(i)t is all very well to define the ‘scientific method’ as ‘accurate measurement, controlled experiment, and an insistence on reproducibility’. As Palissy noted, the problem with this ideal, to which in principle he subscribed, was to know what to measure and experiment with’ (Epstein; 2005). Moving from trial and error to more predictable forms of Experimentation was difficult. Many inventors tinkered in their workshop. Some could see the value of a more systematic approach to Experimentation, 19 Gilbert (1544-1603) pioneered research on magnetism. He became the most distinguished man of science in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. 20 Palissy (1509-1590), potter and writer, was a pioneer of the experimental method. 51 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 52. like Bernard Palissy. However, they often lacked the required instruments and knowledge to progress in this direction. Prior to the 18th century, technical information circulated slowly, few books were available but it was mainly the circulation of people and goods themselves (Mokyr, 1990) that supported the diffusion of technical information. The first historical period studied in this dissertation investigates inventive activities during the late 18th century in Britain. This period is commonly called the ‘industrial revolution’ even though the validity of the word ‘revolution’ can be questioned (Landes, 1999), as it spreads over 60 years and as the Growth Domestic Product (GDP) per Capita did not progress at a rapid rate. Nevertheless, it was the period when inventive activities, measured by the number of patents filed, started to ramp up (McLeod, 1989). It was a time spearheaded by inventors who started to transform the economic system from a cottage industry towards a factory system. Machinery appeared and replaced human labour, especially in the textile industry. Machine tools spread across industries. Natural energies were slowly replaced by steam power. This period can be described as ‘the age of the machines 21’. The development of machines stimulated the discovery and use of a large diversity of mechanisms and materials that could be re-used and combined together to create new applications. The number of mechanisms available grew rapidly in numbers, quality and precision, as machines became bigger, more robust and more volatile in their applications. Only 70 years separate the flying shuttle (1733) of John Kay 22 from the Trevithick 23 locomotive (1803). Thanks to progress of the machine tools, machines started to construct new machines. All these machines were not a product of science but the result of the curiosity, the entrepreneurial spirit and the technical mastery of inventors. 21 Undoubtedly, this is a restrictive appellation as, for instance, some chemical reactions also started to be mastered. Nevertheless, the machine is probably the most emblematic innovation of this period. 22 John Kay (1704-1764) was an English machinist and engineer, inventor of the flying shuttle, which was an important step toward automatic weaving. Woollen manufacturers in Yorkshire were quick to adopt the new invention, but they organised a protective club to avoid paying Kay a royalty. After he lost most of his money in litigation to protect his patent, Kay moved to France, where he is said to have died in obscurity. 23 Trevithick (1771-1863) was an English mechanical engineer and inventor who successfully harnessed high- pressure steam and constructed the world’s first steam railway locomotive. 52 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 53. The first chapter studies three career inventors to investigate the role of the Attentiveness- Experimentation-Persuasion triptych in the context of the intensification of inventive activities: Arkwright, who was the leading figure of the transformation of the textile industry (Chapter I, Section I), Wedgwood, who brought many changes to the pottery industry (Chapter I, Section II) and Watt, who developed a steam engine that was used for multiple applications (Chapter I, Section III). These inventors were not fully dedicated to inventive activities; they were also entrepreneurs, managers and held other professional occupations. They were attentive to technical and social changes that were happening in Britain and across Europe. They moved beyond trial and error to organise what could be described as ‘organised experiments’. They relied on family, friendship and business relations to advance and promote the result of their inventive work. Arkwright was chosen for his role in the transformation of the textile industry where he seized a number of technical and business opportunities. He combined existing mechanisms to create the water frame and the carding machine, two important inventions that engendered significant productivity increase for the industry. He established some of the first modern factories and contributed to revolutionise working practices in the British cottage industry. Wedgwood was a master experimenter who built his own laboratory, separate from the production line. He was chosen because he understood and served the needs of the rising wealthy class that aspired to more luxurious goods. He created modern showrooms and used his association with the queens and kings of the world to grab their attention. Watt is the emblematic career inventor of the late 18th century. He is most famous for bringing to life a new steam engine that became a commercial success. He pursued many other inventions with success. The development of his steam engine required from him the investigation of natural phenomena through experiments before he could scale up his concept step by step. The second chapter (Chapter II) is dedicated to the study of a collective arrangement that brought together people who shared a common passion for Experimentation, scientific investigations and inventive activities. The role of networks in inventive activities has been 53 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 54. highlighted by a number of scholars over the years. We will suggest here that the A-E-P triptych helps to characterise and explain the role of such networks. A network will be understood as sets of relationships that help individuals face uncertainty. Inventors form networks to share and gather useful information. It will be done by investigating a specific network that was active in the region of Birmingham in England during the late 18th century: the Lunar Society. Wedgwood and Watt were actively involved in this informal group and Arkwright came in contact with some of its members. The third part (Chapter III) investigates an institutional transformation that led to the intensification of inventive activities as measured by the evolution of the number of patents filed. Institutional economics suggest that institutional arrangements can impact the economic evolution of a region, country or group of countries. North (1990) studied, for instance, the structures of incentives related to property rights that encouraged innovation and private entrepreneurships. Experimentation became a passion of people from all walks of life. It was entertaining, educational and it inspired optimism. New sets of norms, incentives, and organisational structures developed. Economic agents developed a preference for occupations and investments that involved pursuing experiments and inventive activities. The widespread interest for balloons and natural phenomena such as electricity will be explored before looking at how Experimentation became a common denominator to many social fields such as art, religion, education and politics. However, before moving to the study of the three career inventors, some elements of context that impacted inventive activities during the late 18th century in Britain need to be presented. Three salient facts are encountered throughout this study: (1) the evolution of the economic practices; (2) the transformation of the textile industry especially in the North of England; (3) the development of societies and networks interested in science, philosophy and political matters. (1) The late 18th century in Britain was a time of intense changes across all social practices. Local markets had already developed and multiplied over the 16th and the 17th centuries. During the late 18th century, new shops opened in towns and local markets saw the development of an intense social life. New professions emerged; the division 54 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 55. of labour was not solely applicable to manufacturing. Courtiers, salesmen, merchants and other agents of commerce developed (Braudel, 1979). However, Britain at that time was still like the rest of the Europe: a rural world where people tended to live all their lives were they were born. Canals and the introduction of new roads modified the transportation system and contributed to the expansion of human exchanges. A middle class of industrialists rose. It was happening at a time when the nature of economic demand was altered and human desires started to shape the functioning of the economic system. Working class did not benefit from those transformations. Child labour was common. Hygiene and safety conditions were poor. Moreover, people had to face rapid changes in the pattern of work. This led to revolts. (2) The textile industry and its transformation at the end of the 18th century in Britain are emblematic of the so-called ‘industrial revolution’ (Toynbee, 1884). In 1760, Manchester had a population of 17, 000 people compared to 500, 000 for London. The cotton industry was barely noticeable at that time, linen and wool were the main raw materials used in textile. The value of exported cotton goods grew from £ 0.2 M in 1754 to £ 5.4 M in 1800. By the 1830’s, cotton represented 20% of British imports, and cotton goods amounted to 50% of the exports. In 1830, Manchester had grown to 180,000 people and, by 1850, it was producing 40% of the world cotton textile production. In the meantime, other traditional textile production areas, such as the regions of Worcester and Norwich, stagnated in terms of population. Cotton goods production grew, as the price of cotton goods fell dramatically. The production of cotton goods in Britain was competitive, even compared to countries like India, where wages were one sixth of the British ones. The cost of manufacturing one pound of cotton yarn in 1784 was equivalent to one week’s wage for an unskilled manual labourer. By 1832, it was equivalent to less than three hours wages. This drastic fall was due to a number of technical innovations that led to the development of a new system of production. At the start of the 17th century, the textile industry was a domestic one. Women spun the yarn on a spinning wheel and men wove it on looms in sheds. It was a human powered industry. The invention of the flying shuttle by John 55 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 56. Kay (1733), the spinning jenny by James Hargreaves 24 (1769), the water frame by Arkwright (1769), the mule by Samuel Crompton 25 (1779) and the power loom, by Edmund Cartwright 26 (1785) automated the production and transformed the industry. Factories replaced the domestic system of production. Water and then steam were used to power the industry. (3) The late 18th century in Britain saw the rise of an increased complexity of urban life, commerce and techniques. At the same time, the transport network was expanding and newspapers multiplied. These trends supported the developments of formal and informal academies, clubs and societies that offered people opportunities to learn (Schofield, 1963). An eloquent observer of his time, Doctor Jonhnson, talked of his contemporaries as ‘clubbable men’. At the beginning of the 18th century, only two formal scientific societies existed in England: the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal Society. The first one was elitist as it only accepted fellows from Oxford and Cambridge and the second one was not interested in practical concerns. The Society of Arts was established in 1754 to promote practical improvements and encourage local arts. The development of industry in some regions of Britain encouraged people to establish their own local clubs and societies. In a city like Birmingham, it meant book clubs and societies, such as the Birmingham Sunday Society that organised lectures on scientific or technical topics like chemistry, physics, optics, electricity, mechanics and astronomy. Lectures on non-technical issues were less common at that time in Birmingham but they included philosophy, morals, and history. Another society was formed in 1796. It was known as the Brotherly Society and included reading, writing, arithmetic, drawing, geography, natural and civil history, and morals on its list of topics. It later became the first mechanics' Institute in Britain. A number of debating societies also existed. They were called the Robin Hood Free Debating Society or the Amicable Debating Society. They addressed philosophical and political questions. 24 James Hargreaves (?-1770) was an English inventor of the spinning jenny, the first practical application of multiple spinning by a machine. 25 Samuel Crompton (1753-1827) wan a British inventor of the spinning mule, which permitted large-scale manufacture of high-quality thread and yarn. 26 Edmund Cartwright (1743-1823) was an English inventor of the first wool-combing machine and of the predecessor of the modern power loom. 56 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 57. Chapter 1- Career inventors and the three abilities Section 1. Richard Arkwright Richard Arkwright was born in Preston, England in December 1732. He was a career inventor who dedicated his inventive and entrepreneurial efforts to the textile industry. He developed the water frame, the carding machine and mechanised textile production. He replaced human power by other sources of energy, such as water and steam, and spearheaded the transformation of the cotton industry from small-scale cottage craft to large scale factory production. He developed the factory system with his Cromford Mill by employing hundreds of people in the same place. Richard Arkwright was from a working class family and the youngest of thirteen children. He received a basic education. He was trained as a barber and started as an apprentice in Kirkham. After moving to Bolton, he opened his own barber shop and enjoyed a commercial success. He used to debate mechanical issues with his customers. He had a mechanical clock on the shelves of his shop, he liked to tinker with it. On his trade card, it read: ‘Rich Arkwright – Peruque maker – hair cutter in Bolton, Lancashire – in the neatest and best Fashion’ (Hills, 1973) Arkwright married his first wife, Patience Holt, in 1755. In 1756, she died of unspecified causes. Arkwright later married Margaret Biggins in 1761. By the time he was 30, Richard Arkwright started to buy and sell hair to be used in wigs, a fashionable product of the time. He therefore travelled extensively around the country. He came into possession or invented a secret way of dying hair, which enabled him to sell to other wigs-maker (Guest, 1823). However, as fashion changed and the demand for wigs vanished, he had to find another occupation. 57 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 58. By 1767, a machine for carding cotton had been introduced in England. Arkwright developed the water frame thanks to the help of John Kay, a clockmaker. It was used to spin cotton and was able to do the handwork of spinners. It used rollers to guide the yarn and was run by horse power or water power. It helped the manufacture of hard yarn suitable for weaving. The spinning Jenny invented by James Hargreaves produced the weaker yarns. In 1750, Arkwright was established as a manufacturer. The water frame was improved over the following years. The first water frames were powered by horses, Arkwright established a first water powered mill in 1771, in Cromford. The investment was significant, it amounted to £12,000. It was capable of producing night and day, six days a week, using a shift system. Arkwright also created Masson Mill in 1783. Following a number of subsequent inventions, Arkwright took a second patent in 1775 on the full carding process. By 1780, with his partners, he had set up six mills using the water frame. He expanded his activities throughout the country and in Scotland. His fortune was made. In 1781, he prosecuted competitors for breach of his patents. His second patent was challenged in a trial by manufacturers from the region of Lancashire. He lost the case as his patent lacked accuracy in the description of the invention. In 1782, he estimated his workforce at more than 5,000 people. In 1785, the verdict of the first trial was reversed. Another trial was initiated during which his inventions were challenged by Thomas Highs who claimed the original use of rollers for spinning and the widow of James Hargreaves, another inventor in the textile industry. Arkwright lost it but he had already made a fortune from his own exploitation of his inventions. In 1786, he was knighted by King George III and he was made High Sheriff of Derbyshire. In 1792, he died of asthma at the age of 60. This chapter will start by looking at how Arkwright, by listening to the people he met throughout his travels and as part of his business activities, became an attentive inventor and entrepreneur (A/ Attentiveness: listening to people). Arkwright was a perceptive entrepreneur who recognised the business opportunities he encountered. He was also a conscientious inventor who capitalised on existing discoveries to create his own machines. 58 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 59. Arkwright appears as a talented mechanic capable of experimenting using an arduous tinkering process. Arkwright was able to get the different part of his machines to work together. Individually, none of them was an innovation but, together, they changed the face of the textile industry (B/ Experimentation: tinkering for success). To conclude, Arkwright will appear as a restless persuader. He convinced investors to trust him, lobbied the government with success and developed a loyal workforce during troubled times. He used his glibness to self-fashion himself and seek public recognition (C/ Persuasion: glibness and self fashioning). A. Attentiveness: listening to people Richard Arkwright was someone attentive to the rumours, discussions and issues that surrounded mechanical developments in the textile industry. Being an astute entrepreneur, he was also very alert to business opportunities. Industrial secrets did not remain secrets for long at that time and Richard Arkwright was able to recognise a promising idea when he heard about or saw one. Many hypothesis and stories have circulated about Richard Arkwright’s initial interest in spinning (Fitton, 1989). One hypothesis was that he studied Lombe’s silk mill 27. A different proposition suggested that he accidentally purchased a spinning jenny. Less credible stories said that his interest rose when working on perpetual motion or that he heard in his barber shop a sailor talking about an incredible Chinese machine. In his barber shop, he often engaged in conversations about mechanical issues. He heard weavers complaining about the lack of yarn and many stories about recent inventions in spinning. It was a common topic of discussion at that time, as it was difficult for the spinners to fulfil the demand (Hills, 1973). As he travelled around the country for his wig business, he met many people in markets and inns, with whom he talked about the current mechanical 27 Lombe is often refered to as an ‘industrial spy’. He discovered the silk throwing machine in Italy before building his mill in Britain. 59 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 60. developments. It is apparent from the hearings of his second trial in connection with his patents. During his travels, he met Kay, a clockmaker from Warrington, who told him that he had made a model of a spinning machine for Thomas Highs, a reed maker from Leigh. Highs, with the help of Kay, had tried to build a spinning machine. They faced months of failed attempts. Highs, nevertheless, went back to his garret and succeeded in building a spinning jenny in 1764. Later, he again used the skills of Kay and they worked together on a machine for spinning cottons that used rollers. Highs made significant progress in that direction but he did not manage to refine the process. The first encounter between Arkwright and Kay occurred in 1767. They worked together again in Warrington, when Kay had returned there. Arkwright asked him to make a wooden model of this machine. It was the first step that led to the development of the water frame. Later, his choice of the region of Nottingham to settle his business shows that he had understood that manufacturers in this region were dependent on the yarn manufacturers from Lancashire. He saw this as a market opportunity. He also certainly realised that many skilled mechanics were available in this region, of whom he could make good use. His interest for different sources of energy is very indicative of his Attentiveness to technical matters. The use of water power might have been an obvious solution to the limitation that Arkwright met with his first water frames powered by horses. In many places at that time, investments were made with the aim of exploiting the energy of running water. At the beginning of the 18th century, it was used in silk mills by entrepreneurs like Lombe. One of the partners of Arkwright, Strutt, was certainly well aware of this as his business included the manufacture of silk in Derby. The chronology of the use of Newcomen28 and Watt engines with separate condensers in the cotton industry somehow lacks clarity. It appears that the first Boulton and Watt steam engine used in a cotton mill was operational at Papplewick by the Robinsons in 1786 (Fitton, 1989). However, Arkwright tried to install and 28 Thomas Newcomen (1663-1729) was a British engineer and inventor of the atmospheric steam engine. The first Newcomen engine was erected in Staffordshire in 1712. Newcomen’s engine was used in the draining of mines and in raising water to power waterwheels. 60 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 61. use a Newcomen engine that could provide rotary power as early as 1782. By October 1783, he abandoned his efforts as they were proving unsuccessful. He ended up using the engine to replenish the reservoir by pumping back water that had passed the watershed. Throughout his legal cases, Arkwright showed that he knew how to pay attention to the slightest details. The second patent of Arkwright was first challenged on the basis that the description of his invention was incomplete and obscure. Having lost his rights, Arkwright fought back by running a systematic search for evidence to support his position. He and his partners made enquiries about previous inventors, like Kay and Hargreaves. They started to consult many people: attorneys, a prominent draughtsman master of an academy, natural philosophers, such as Erasmus Darwin 29 and Samuel More, inventors and mechanics, such as Watt and Wilkinson 30, manufacturers and also Members of Parliament. All those efforts paid off and Arkwright’s patent was re-instated. The development of the factory system was not just the achievement of an inspired entrepreneur. To develop a work place with over 1,000 people, close attention to the problems that emerged was fundamental. Fitton (1989) described Arkwright as follows: ‘(A)lthough Arkwright’s career confirms the superiority of his instinct in business over rules, his was an instinct supported by unremitting toil and a meticulous attention to details extending from the highest policy decision to the personal supervision of the mills room’. The transformation of the cottage industry and the development of factories worked to the disadvantage of workers who saw their work disappearing. It led to a number of revolts. Richard Arkwright understood that such revolts had a disastrous impact on the fortune of inventors. Therefore, he installed his mills in areas where such revolts were less likely to happen and implemented working conditions that were above the traditional standards of the time, to install a positive attitude from his workforce. He also ensured that he could rapidly improvise an army of 6,000 men, 1,000 guns and cannons if rioters approached his mills. Indeed, he was never threatened by these movements. 29 Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802) was a prominent English physician, grandfather of the naturalist Charles Darwin and the biologist Francis Galton. 30 John Wilkinson (1728-1808) was a British industrialist known as ‘the great Staffordshire ironmaster’ who found new applications for iron and who devised a boring machine essential to the success of James Watt’s steam engine. 61 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 62. B. Experimentation: tinkering for success Experimentation, in the case of the water frame, the first machine patented by Arkwright, meant tinkering and trying to bring all the pieces to work properly together. As mentioned, Arkwright asked John Kay to make a model of the machine he and Thomas High worked on. This machine used rollers to draw out the fibres of cotton. The model of Kay was a working prototype. It allowed playing and experimenting with the basic principles of the machine. However, the development required the construction of a full scale machine that Arkwright could then fine tune. Arkwright’s inventions were performed with the help of smiths, clockmakers and frame-makers. There are very limited accounts of the invention of the water frame (Hills, 1980). However the trials where the rights of Arkwright were challenged provide interesting information that can help to reconstruct the nature of the experiments he performed. The challenge in court was motivated by an alleged absence of innovation which could lead to a misunderstanding of the technical achievements of Arkwright. By looking at the originality of each separate elements of his invention, Arkwright might appear as someone who assembled together sets of existing discoveries, without bringing anything new. This is misleading as getting the whole system to work together is usually the most challenging exercise in the development of a machine. During the trial, the ten parts that appeared in the patent were examined. Five of them were useless and they were presented as ‘mischievous’ (Fitton, 1989). It included the beating hammer, which could have served to beat hemp but was useless for cotton. The role of the feeder was debated, as it was proved that such feeders had been used prior to Arkwright’s invention. The crank 31 that served to take the carded cotton into continuous sheet was also presented as being a device that had been used previously. The widow of Hargreaves testified that her husband had used such a crank and that it had been developed in 1772, in collaboration with George Whitaker, a smith and frame maker. The fillet cards 31 In mechanics, important motion-transmitting device. It converts linear to rotary motion, and vice versa. 62 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 63. enabled the cylinder to give off the cotton in a continuous fleece. Robert Pilkington testified that he made one with Richard Livesay in 1770 and that it had been used in the presence of Arkwright prior to his invention. The revolving can was said to have been used as early as 1759. It also appeared that two former workmen of Arkwright had made one for Neddy Holt in 1774. Thomas Highs and John Kay also testified. Critical aspects of the two patents of Arkwright were at stake. Highs affirmed that he had made rollers himself in 1767 and that, in 1769, he had designed one similar to the one currently used by Arkwright. Highs mentioned a conversation he had with Arkwright in 1771 during which he had mentioned the model made for him by Kay. It was confirmed by Kay that use of rollers in such circumstances was an idea of Highs. Mr. Serjeant Adair, who was in charge of the defence of Arkwright, said that ‘the more important part of the mechanical powers have been discovered, rather than invented, many centuries ago, many thousands years ago (…) this is a new invention in a machine, which consists of a new combination of old parts’ (Fitton, 1989). Adair advanced the idea that the one who brings an invention to a certain degree of maturity is the one who is entitled to a patent. This confirms that Arkwright was as an attentive inventor who was able to see how previous ideas, improvements and inventions could be brought together to form a new machine. As mentioned before, looking at each piece one by one is misleading. The originality of Arkwright’s machine compared to existing ones rested in the correct spacing of the rollers and their weighting (Hill, 1973; Fitton, 1989). Arkwright recognised the importance of the distance between the pairs of rollers to avoid gripping both ends of the same cotton fibre, if they were too close and gripping any cotton fibres at all or if they were too far apart. He also weighted the top rollers so that they pressed firmly against the lower counterparts to help hold the fibres tightly in the nip of the rollers. Finding the right distance and the right weight required trial and error guided by some simple measurement distance in the first case and weight in the second. This fine tuning of the water frame is not the only proof that Arkrwright was a talented mechanics who could turn experiments into achievements. In order to bring the carding machine to life, Arkwright improved, one after the other, the different steps of the spinning and carding process. As Fisk (1998) commented on the achievement of Arkwright: ‘the whole 63 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 64. process of yarn manufacture, including carding, drawing, rolling and spinning, was now performed by a beautifully arranged succession of operations on one machine.’ The improvement to the spinning process turned the carding process into a bottleneck. The mechanisation of one part of the process made the mechanisation of the other part necessary. One thing of great importance was the possibility to improve on each steps independently and, then, to connect them together. Bradshaw 32 (2005) alleged that dividing a problem in different parts allows conducting easier and cheaper experiments. It limits the number of parameters to be controlled and ease the interpretation of the outcome of experiments. In the case of Arkwright, the different steps of the process were ‘naturally’ separated and the connections and interfaces were basic. Therefore, it was possible for Arkwright to experiment and improve on each of them separately and, then, bring all of them together. Today, such developments appear as being simple mechanical issues. However, they were great challenges at that time. According to Hill (1973), as Arkwright was facing his trials, he claimed that ‘(M)any years intense study and painful application, and after a great variety of experiments’ were needed to invent his machine. C. Persuasion: self-fashioning and glibness Richard Arkwright had a strong sense of how to best fashion himself. He claimed for instance: ‘I can plainly prove, on the best of all authorities, that Noah was the founder of our family, for he was undoubtedly the first Arkwright in the world’ (Fitton, 1989°) 33. Richard Arkwright’s ability to persuade others to support him was demonstrated by his ability to mobilise capital for his ambitious plans. He first persuaded two merchants, who were distant relatives of his from Preston and Liverpool, John Smalley and David Thornley. The family bond helped him to convince them to enter into this risky venture. The partnership later included Need and Strut who had many connections in the textile industry. 32 Bradshaw studied the development of rockets by young people in the late 1950’s. He analysed the strategy and tactics they used to experiment. He also studied the work of the Wright brother and suggested that functional decomposition allowed them to meet success before their competitors. 33 Arkwright means the ‘builder of arks’ in old English. 64 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 65. Need was a wealthy hosier in Nottingham. The other one, Strutt, was established in the hosiery trade in Derby. They had made a significant profit together out of a patent on the Derby rib machine and they were looking forward to exploiting new opportunities. Their personal experience as inventors and entrepreneurs certainly helped Arkwright to persuade them to support him 34. Arkwright and his partners needed to persuade the government to change the law. Early in the century, finished fabrics such as calicoes faced double excise duties and printed calicoes were almost completely prohibited. In February 1774, Arkwright and his partners petitioned the Parliament. Not accustomed to this exercise, they had to be patient. In May and June, their petition was heard again and it was turned into a law without amendments. Arkwright suggested that each piece of cloth made in Britain with cotton should be marked with three blue threads at both ends of the piece. This would help to distinguish them from imported ones. It was decided by the board of excise to add a stamp ‘British Manufactory’ to the proposition of Arkwright. Arkwright was somehow more successful than other inventors in the textile industry in making money out of his patent, until it was challenged before the court. He certainly took seriously the patenting process. However, he did not manage to enforce what he considered to be his rights. His fortune was made from exploiting his own invention. After the first challenge of his patent on the basis of the obscurity of the description of his invention, he led a systematic effort to collect evidence that his patent should be considered valid. To persuade his opponents, he said that he had kept the patent obscure to prevent his invention to fall into the hands of foreigners. As we already outlined, he also secured the support of natural philosophers, such as Erasmus Darwin or Samuel More who was the Secretary of the Society of Arts. They could make a favourable impression during the trial. 34 The story of Arkwright is interestingly fully aligned with recent research on the funding of innovative ventures. Information from the Global Enterprise Monitor has shown that informal sources of finance are larger than formal ones (Mason, 2006). Informal sources comprise family money, sometimes called ‘love money’ and individuals outside of the family called ‘business angels’. ‘Business angels’ are, or were often, successful entrepreneurs. The importance of an informal source of finance shows that entrepreneurs get significant support from the people who are ‘the easiest ones to convince’: their family and people who resemble and understand them the most. 65 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 66. Somehow contradicting himself, he found experienced and admired inventors who could testify that they could have built the machine based on his description. Five witnesses also testified that they had been able to build the machine based on the specifications. This approach turned out to be a successful Persuasion tactic. After Arkwright lost his rights on the carding machine on the basis that it was not a new invention, Wedgwood visited him. Following their encounter, he pleaded for both Arkwright and Watt to work together on making some proposals to improve the patent system (Fitton, 1989): ‘you two great geniuses may probably strike out some new lights together, which neither of you might think of separately.’ They, therefore, drew up the ‘Heads of a Bill’. Even though it was not taken forward in the end, it is interesting to note the way inventors could decide to use their powers of Persuasion not just to support their activities, but also to influence the institutional rules and laws. As mentioned before, Arkwright took good care of his employees in comparison to other industrialists of the time. It allowed him to secure their loyalty, but also to prevent the development of riots. He built rows of cottages for his workforce. He established a school for children and banned child labour before the age of ten. No work was carried out on Sundays to allow attendance at the churches and chapels built for the workers. Loans were available for their families to buy a cow. Clearly, Arkwright fashioned himself amongst his employees. Once a year, he held a festival. In 1776, 500 workmen paraded around the village. Upon their return, they received ale and buns, followed by a ball in the evening. In 1778, a song praising Arkwright was composed and sung at the festival. It finished with: ‘To our noble Master, a Bumper then fill, The matchless Inventor of the Cotton-Mill, Each toss off his Glass with a hearty Good-Will, With Huzza for the mills now at Cromford, All join with a jovial Huzza.’ 66 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 67. In 1781, Syllas Neville, a medical doctor, commented that Arkwright ‘by his conduct, appears to be a man of great understanding and to know the way of making his people do their best. He not only distributes pecuniary rewards, but gives distinguishing dresses to the most deserving of both sexes, which excites great emulation. He also gives two Balls at the Greyhound to the workmen and their wives and families with a week’s jubilee at the time of each ball. This makes them industrious and sober all the rest of the year’ (Hills, 1973). 67 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 68. Section II. Josiah Wedgwood If Arkwright brought some lasting changes to the textile industry, Josiah Wedgwood (1730- 1789) led the transformation of the pottery industry. A visitor to the region of Burslem in England reported that: ‘Innovation is running mad’ (Dolan, 2004). He could see a mix of cooperation and competition between the local producers. New companies were appearing through a burst of innovation. A spirit of open collaboration reigned in the region, even if some tried to develop their invention within the secrecy of their laboratories. During the first half of the 18th century, the pottery industry traditionally produced jugs, porringers, baking dishes made of black or red ware. Cream coloured earthenware was available during the mid 1740’s. Artisans mixed chemicals and monitored the temperature of the kilns. They were backed up by throwers, modellers and packers. Fragile pottery was very much at risks when travelling by road. Their market was essentially local. The extraction of raw materials was done in mills powered by water or wind. Those natural sources of power acted as a constraint on the development of the industry. Having the mill close to the kiln offered some advantage, as the artisans could oversee the mix of raw materials (Roberts, 2001). This situation changed as, during the second half of the 18th century, a middle class developed. These people were living longer and had new needs. They were seeking comfort and were eager to demonstrate their new social status. The career inventor who answered those needs and was at the forefront of this transformation was Josiah Wedgwood. Wedgwood was born in 1730 in Burslem and was raised within a family of English dissenters 35. A vein of clay had made this town a centre of production for bricks, tiles, teapots and other products. Potters from Burslem served the whole country. They used kilns in the shape of a cone. In the 1680’s, Robert Plot had described this town in his history of Staffordshire: ‘the greatest pottery they have in this county is carried on in Burslem, where for making their several sorts of pots they have as many different sorts of clay which they dig round 35 Any English Protestant who does not conform to the doctrines or practices of the established Church of England. 68 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 69. about the town’ (Dolan, 2004). This area of North Staffordshire contained rare deposits of clay. However, the potters of Burslem did not make much money before the generation of Wedgwood because of a lack of entrepreneurship spirit and widely-spread alcoholism that had brought poverty. Wedgwood was from a poor family and lost his father when he was nine years old. He attended school at the age of seven in Newcastle-under-Lyme but was rapidly sent to work with his elder brother Thomas. He had to become an apprentice in 1744 with his brother from which, due to special arrangements, he did not receive any money. The same year, he also suffered smallpox which left him with an injured leg. His apprenticeship came to an end in 1749. He, then, worked for Thomas Alder, a potter from whom he continued to learn the trade. He went into partnership between 1754 and 1759 with a master potter, Thomas Whieldon. Whieldon had developed the tortoiseshell ware that raised much interest across the country. In 1759, Wedgwood discovered a new green glaze that had the best effect. As Whieldon was losing interest in his business, Wedgwood turned to his cousins to secure support in order to start his own pot-works. He started at the Ivy House works where he produced green glaze and later a yellow-orange one. The shapes he produced were cauliflower, pineapple and melon allowing for defects to be somehow hidden in such odd shapes. He started to sell cream coloured earthenware in 1761. He had an accident on his way to Liverpool in 1762 and, during his recovery, he met Matthew Turner, a local doctor and Thomas Bentley, an aristocrat who had both a great scientific curiosity and a knack for political issues. They brought Wedgwood into contact with a diversity of people at the forefront of ideas and concerns of the time, while offering him business opportunities. He became a close friend and a business partner of Bentley. Bentley organised foreign trade for Wedgwood, lived for some time with him and ended up representing their common interests in London. The abundant correspondence between the two gives a good account of the life of Josiah Wedgwood. 69 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 70. In 1764, Wedgwood moved to a new factory: the ‘Brick house’ or ‘Bell Works’. By that time, he was married to Sally Wedgwood, a distant cousin who supported him throughout their life in his inventive and business activities. In the summer of 1765, he sold cream coloured earthenware to Queen Charlotte. This was an important landmark in his business activity as, at that time, the royalty set the fashions and the aristocrats followed. He created a line of pottery for them called ‘Queensware’. In 1768, he developed another glaze, the black Basalt, and opened a third showroom in London. His work was now very much in fashion with the rising wealthy class of England. By 1768, he led the pottery industry in the world, selling all over North America and Europe Wedgwood realised the importance of canal transport. In 1766, he joined the Duke of Bridgewater 36 and James Brindley 37 and played an important role in the construction of Trent & Mersey Canal. In 1769, he and Bentley opened a new factory: ‘Etruria’. It was outside of the town, with good working conditions compared to the ones in Burslem. The canal ran in front of the factory. The canal contributed to reducing the costs for clay and served to deliver the finished pottery avoiding the breakages encountered on the roads. The factory had 278 workers in 1790 who worked according to a thorough division of labour. The blue and white colour called ‘jasper’ was developed in 1775. Wedgwood became a Unitarian and, like most of them, he was a political reformer. He supported universal male suffrage and took a position against slavery. Bentley died in 1780. In 1789, Wedgwood created the Portland vase, a replica of a blue and white glass vase dating back to the first century BC. It is still regarded as one of his masterpieces. He died that same year. His grandson was Charles Darwin. This chapter will start by looking at how Josiah Wedgwood learned from history and how he paid attention to aspirations of the aristocrats to serve them (A/ Attentiveness: 36 The Duke of Bridgewater (1739-1803) is considered as the founder of British inland navigation, The Bridgewater canal was built from his estates at Worsley, where he owned mines, to the city of Manchester. 37 James Brindley (1716-1772), pioneer and canal builder, constructed the English canals of major economic importance. After the Bridgewater canal, he led the developments of the Grand Trunk Canal. 70 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 71. learning from history and scouting in London). By paying attention to the recent local history of his industry, he was able to take some valuable lessons for the conduct of his own affairs (1). He developed friendships which helped him to keep abreast of recent developments in terms of the market needs and technical developments. Wedgwood also enjoyed scouting for new ideas in the streets and salons of London (2). Wedgwood was a disciplined and tireless experimenter (B/ Experimentation: Wedgwood’s modern laboratory). He established a laboratory in his kitchen outside of the production line where he could pursue long series of experiments that helped him to bring innovative products to the market. To conclude, it will show how Wedgwood developed a loyal clientele amongst the rising wealthy class of aristocrats. (C/ Persuasion: Royal Patronage). The patronage of Wedgwood’s product by royal figures and his innovative sales and promotion techniques show that Wedgwood was an astute businessman who pioneered some business practices that are still used today. A. Attentiveness: learning from History and scouting in London 1. Learning from history Wedgwood was able to learn from the past and the local history of the pottery industry. His two cousins, Long John and Thomas, were renowned potters. He talked to experienced potters to understand the source of their success. He discovered how the white glazed ware was discovered and diffused within the industry. This story impressed the young Wedgwood and he learned lessons from them. The white glazed ware had been brought to Burslem in 1698 by two Dutchmen: John Philip and David Elers. They had moved to London two decades before, at the time when the British started to adopt tea. The drink was favoured by ladies who started to meet in tea shops. There, they admired the rose-coloured tea pots imported from China. The brothers were amused by this, as, in their country, a manufacturer had already started to produce copies of the pots for some time. They saw a business opportunity and decided to 71 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 72. investigate some improved ways of manufacturing teapots, which led them to Dwight, a lawyer associated with the Royal Society. Dwight claimed that he had discovered ‘the mysteries of the stone ware’ and he had taken two patents on the production of ‘an opacious red and dark-coloured porcelain’ in imitation of the Chinese pots’ (Dolan, 2004). The two brothers listened to Dwight at a meeting at the Royal Society during which he explained his chemical experiments and his investigations of various types of clays. The Elers brothers moved to North Staffordshire and rented a pot-work in 1698 close to Burslem. After some efforts conducted with the utmost secrecy and isolation, they succeeded in manufacturing mat-red coloured teapots through the addition of salt to the glaze. The accomplishments of the brothers were reported in the journal of the Royal Society. Dwight became infuriated, as he was certain that they had used his own discoveries and he filed a lawsuit against them. However, it was too late as the secret had started to slip into other hands, including the ones of Josiah Wedgwood’s family. Dolan (2004) commented on the lessons that the young Josiah Wedgwood learned from this episode of the history of pottery to which he paid the highest attention: ‘Josiah found much that was instructive in the potters’ tale’. He saw how a potter could benefit most from learning skills beyond those traditionally associated with a craft. The ‘art and mystery’ of experimental chemistry, for instance, could produce remarkable results: trying to understand the secrets of nature could reveal how melting salt under certain conditions could form a special glaze or how grinding particular minerals could affect the colour of the finished piece. Wedgwood learned that new techniques had been introduced to Burslem through the Dutchmen because they had been anxious to harness a burgeoning London market. He also saw how through espionage, rivalling that of the Elers brothers, his cousins had profited from the stealing of secrets. All his life, Wedgwood preferred secrecy to patent in order to keep ahead of the competition, as he was attentive to what had occurred in his industry, he took such informed decisions in order to steer his progress through a period of intense innovation. Throughout his life, Wedgwood met with people who remained his friends and who played an important role in bringing novelties to his attention, such as Bentley, Turner and 72 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 73. Priestley. Meeting Matthew Turner and Thomas Bentley 38 had a profound impact on the life and work of Josiah Wedgwood. Wedgwood developed these acquaintances after he fell from his horse. His convalescence had to take place in Liverpool under the supervision of Matthew Turner, a local surgeon. As he and Turner discussed about the location where the potter fell, the surgeon said that he was giving lessons of chemistry nearby at the Warrington Academy, an institution dedicated to the ‘education of dissenters and young laymen’ (Dolan, 2004). Talks about the injured leg stopped and was replaced by inquiries into the activities of this academy and, more specifically, on the ones related to the teaching of chemistry and to the education of people. Matthew Turner then introduced Josiah Wedgwood to Thomas Bentley, an aristocrat who became his business partner, and Joseph Priestley who became a famous chemist and a friend of Wedgwood. Inspired by their conversations, Wedgwood initiated some new experiments and had plans for new ones even before his convalescence was over (Dolan, 2004). Upon his return to Burslem, Wedgwood entered into correspondence with both Turner and Bentley. His correspondence with Bentley turned to be a lifelong one 39. The friendship and business acquaintances of Wedgwood brought him much more than moral support, they brought to him the most advance knowledge, discoveries and ideas of the time. This will be further illustrated with the study, in the second chapter, of the Lunar Society. 2. Scouting for ideas in London For Wedgwood, his visits to London were an occasion to scout for ideas. His first visit to London took place in 1764. It was to help with the petition to the Parliament in order to build a new road. It was also an opportunity to see how fashion was developing, what sold and what did not. Wedgwood could see emerging trends and new shapes that could be imitated. During another visit, after the Queen of England gave him his patronage, he was walking in Pall Mall and noticed what he called ‘large shoals of ladies’ seeking fashionable entertainment. A new concept of showroom emerged in his mind from observing this scene 38 Turner and Wedgwood could have met in different circumstances as they had acquaintance in common, such as the Reverend Willets (Dolan, 2004). 39 He wrote to him: ‘at other time I may call upon you for assistance to settle an opinion – or to help me form a probable conjecture of things beyond our ken and sometimes I may want that valuable and most difficult office of friendship, reproof’ (Dolan, 2004). 73 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 74. and from the discussions he had with aristocrats who visited his factory. He also took the opportunity of his visits in London to find new employees and to engage with craftsmen: enamellers, carvers, etc. During his search for new premises to exhibit his work in London, Wedgwood met a couple, the Halmintons, who had a passion for antiques. This was a rising interest amongst wealthy aristocrats, who loved to tour Europe. The Halmintons were at the forefront of such a group of people who were referred to as the ‘Virtuosi’. These encounters happened after the archaeological sites of Herculaneum and Pompeii were discovered; it provoked the curiosity of Wedgwood. To enhance his knowledge about this kind of art, Wedgwood followed the advice from his friend Bentley and visited the British Museum and toured book stores. He also met relatives of the Halmintons: the Cathcart, a couple passionate about Etruscan antiques that would later play an important role in furthering the reputation of Wedgwood, as they bought a service for the Empress of Russia, Catherine the Great, when they became ambassadors in Russia. Etruscan antiques became a source of inspiration for Wedgwood who now understood the appeal of the rich city-dwellers for such things. This led him to name his factory Etruria and to create the Portland vase. If Josiah Wedgwood was attentive to the latest trends in fashion, he was also alert to more technical opportunities. He, for instance, bought clay from merchants coming from South Carolina. He noticed that its quality was unusual as it was whiter than most clay and remained as such even after being fired at high temperature. He consulted his friends who had a good knowledge of chemistry, Joseph Priestley and James Watt, who assured him that it lacked ‘phlogiston’ a substance which allowed other substances to burn. Josiah Wedgwood asked Bentley to import such clay and they sent someone to America to oversee the provision of Cherokee clay. Wedgwood was always keen to adopt new techniques and he managed to keep an eye on promising developments. For instance, he bought a book published in Paris ‘L’art de tourner’ which brought to his attention potential improvements to his operations. In 1763, he therefore introduced an engine turning lathe that was acquired thanks to the help of some of his friends. He later made some significant modifications to it in order to use it to its full 74 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 75. potential (Roberts, 2001). He recognised that the Elers brothers were the first to introduce a lathe for pottery work but he claimed to be the first to introduce eccentric motion lathes. In 1775, Wedgwood and Turner travelled to Cornwall where they saw the Newcomen engines in actions in the tin mines. Upon their return, Wedgwood bought a book describing those machines and Turner bought a Newcomen engine. Wedgwood experimented with a horizontal windmill together with Erasmus Darwin, but it was later abandoned in favour of a steam engine. Indeed, Wedgwood bought engines from Boulton and Watt, in 1782 and 1784. These were the first two engines of this kind installed in Staffordshire (Roberts, 2001). They were used to grind flint and enamel, to operate a stamper or a crusher for saggars and to temper mix clays. This eased the preparatory work within the factory and supported mechanisation. The curiosity of Wedgwood helped him extensively to further his business activities. It also helped him to achieve technical prowess as it infused in him a passion for experimental investigations. B. Experimentation: Wedgwood’s experimental laboratory Even though he received a very basic education, Wedgwood turned into a skilled experimenter. Experimentation was more than a means to an end in the conduct of his affairs, it became a way of life for him. As part of his pottery work, Wedgwood turned his kitchen into a laboratory. Experimentation costs could therefore be significantly reduced by having research taking place outside of the production flow. He developed a systematic and coded way of recording his experiments in a notebook. He adopted a trial and error approach but a systematic one, where he changed parameters little by little. Later in his life, he developed a method to measure high temperatures, which brought further precision to his experimental work. 75 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 76. In 1744, after Wedgwood had contracted smallpox and recovered from it, his leg remained damaged. The work of the potter required the use of two legs: one to anchor the body, the other to operate the kick-wheel. It encouraged him to experiment with other parts of the work relating to preparing clay, forming pieces and firing. In 1768, he decided that his leg should be amputated, a daring decision as no anaesthetic existed. Before Josiah, Long John, his cousin, had started to experiment with new approaches to pottery making. In a book named ‘Essay on Pottery’ written in 1743, he explained that ‘(P)otmaking chiefly depends on a knowledge of ye nature of Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Clays, Marls, and some Stones, and some Minerals’. He went on ‘to try which proportion of each sort will work kindly together, Limestone, Alabaster and ye nature of them maybe tryd by several Experiments in mixing with others, Chalks, red Earth, and other Coloured Earth fullers may be considered’ (Dolan, 2004). He also emphasised the importance of keeping records into such a pursuit. The art of the potter can be best described as leaving mixtures of clay in the kiln for the right time at the right temperature. New combinations could give a competitive edge to the potter, as Wedgwood had learned from the story of the Elers brothers and of his cousins. But experimenting remained expensive. He transformed his kitchen into a laboratory. He started a notebook and wrote ‘Experiment Notebook I’ on the front of it. He had decided to pursue long experimental investigations in order to find winning combinations. He started mixing different proportions of chemicals and applied the resulting glaze to samples of earthenware subsequently heated in an oven. He proceeded systematically, changing the proportions of ingredients little by little. He took notes on each experiment with the greatest minutiae. The type of experiments conducted by Wedgwood can be assimilated to a trial and error approach. However, he started what could be described as ‘a laboratory for inventive activities’ where he could pursue his research outside of the classic production flow. It reduced costs and prevented jeopardizing the optimisation of the production process. However, one factor that still affected the experiments of Josiah Wedgwood was the lack of purity of the basic ingredients, such as clay. On 23 March 1759, experiment 7 led him to write: ‘(T)his is the result of many experiments, which I made in order to introduce a new species of colour’d ware to be fired along the tortoiseshell 76 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 77. and Agat ware in our common Gloss Ovens to be of an even self-colour, and laid upon the ware in the form of a colour’d glaze’ (Dolan, 2004). The following day, he started the production of a green glaze that surpassed all existing ones. He also started to label some teapots with his initials, ‘JW’. After the discovery of the green glaze, he discovered a yellow-orange one. It then took him until experiment 411 to make a major discovery. He labelled it: ‘A GOOD Wt. GLAZE! The best of all these trials – uniform – transparent and nearly colourless’ (Dolan, 2004). The development of the ’jaspers vase’ took about 5,000 recorded experiments (Roberts, 2001). Josiah Wedgwood used a secret code to record his experiments in order to prevent his ‘attentive’ competitors from laying their hands on his secrets. It was a time when industrial espionage was common place. Moreover, the story of Dwight and the Elers brothers had taught Wedgwood that patents afforded only a limited protection effect for his trade. During the age of the machine, Experimentation often lacked the required measurement instruments. For instance, Wedgwood had no thermometer that could help him with the monitoring of high temperature within the kiln. The cousin of Wedgwood, Long John, used clay pellets to gauge the change of temperature through the change of their appearance. Josiah Wedgwood therefore invented the pyrometer to measure temperature in kilns. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society for this invention in 1782. C. Persuasion: Royal Patronages Wedgwood wanted to ‘surprise the world with wonders’ 40 and he just did so. He understood very well how a patronage with the most prominent people such as the Queen of England could favour his business. Josiah Wedgwood was an eloquent speaker who managed throughout his life to rally people to his goals. For instance, he was a supporter and promoter of the turnpike roads, especially the ones connecting his area to Liverpool or Chester. He understood that it was going to 40 Expression used by Wedgwood to describe his ambition when writing to his friend Bentley (Dolan, 2001). 77 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 78. help him to import clay and export potteries. In 1762, he made a vibrant public speech in front at the Town Hall of Newcastle-under-Lyme to promote such roads. He highlighted the importance of access to foreign markets and warned the crowd of the risks of competition. He was helped off the stage, as he needed a crutch to walk, to a round of applause. The turnpike Bill was approved by the Parliament in 1766 thanks to a number of connections Wedgwood had established. This led him to travel for the first time in 1763 to London following the advice of Bentley. Such an experience certainly reassured Wedgwood about his ability to rally others when needed. Securing some funding to start and grow a business is crucial and often demonstrates the entrepreneur’s powers of Persuasion. Like many other inventors and entrepreneurs, Josiah Wedgwood turned to ‘love money 41’ to do this. First, he convinced his cousins to lend him a pot-works at the normal business rate. It was not enough to be just a relative, he was also able to demonstrate his abilities to come up with inventive development, such as the green glaze he had experimented with when working in the company of Whieldon. Marrying a wealthy woman strongly benefited Wedgwood, as well as other entrepreneurs, at that time. It was also the case, for instance, of Matthew Boulton, who married two sisters in turns and used their family wealth to invest in different business activities. However, his wife was much more to Josiah Wedgwood than a source of investment, as she also helped him with experiments. She could be trusted about keeping the secrets in the house and not disseminating them to competitors. Indeed, she was the first one to provide an opinion to Josiah Wedgwood on his new products. Wedgwood’s father-in-law was also conducting some banking business with a Member of Parliament from Liverpool, Lord of the Admiralty, and a collector of prints, vase and antique artefacts, called Meredith. He bought a set of tableware from Wedgwood. This was to be embossed with his family coat of arms. Josiah promised to develop the most complete and attractive service ever produced in Staffordshire. Meredith committed to recommending Wedgwood to his acquaintances in London and the potter expressed his gratitude with impressive verve: ‘(M)y heart is overflowing with sentiments of gratitude and thankfulness I am at a loss where to begin my acknowledgements. Your goodness is leading me into improvements of the 41 See supra: footnote 34. 78 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 79. manufacture I am engaged in and patronising those improvements you have encouraged me to attempt, demand my utmost attention. With such inducements to industry in my calling, if I do not outstrip my fellows, it must be owing either to great want of genius, or application’ (Dolan, 2004). Wedgwood was also a fervent supporter of James Brindley and his plans to develop canals. Wedgwood was the treasurer of one of his grand works: the connection of the rivers Trent and Mersey. The first meetings to support such development happened at the end of 1764. The canal was finally opened in 1777. It was 93 miles long and included 76 locks, 269 aqueducts and bridges and a 2,880 yards long tunnel (Roberts, 2001). This canal passed in front of Etruria, which provided Josiah Wedgwood with a convenient means of transport for his business. In 1766, Wedgwood was involved in the first meeting that gathered the promoters of this great piece of work. Wedgwood, that same year cut the first sod of earth to open the construction of this canal. Thanks to the promotion of the canal, Josiah Wedgwood met Gabett, a merchant and chemist who shared his enthusiasm for the new navigation system. Gabett recommended seeking the patronage of Lord Gower, a wealthy and influential landowner. After, they decided to gain the patronage of the Duke of Bridgewater. After offering his support to the canal work, the Duke ordered what Josiah Wedgwood reported as ‘the completest service of table service in the cream colour that I could make’ (Dolan, 2004). Soon after, an order for ‘a complete set of tea things’ with a gold flower upon it was placed for Miss Deborah Chetwynd, Seamstress and Laundress to Queen Charlotte. He used up quite some gold in experimenting to achieve the best effect for this order. However, he was ready to do so in order to gain a prestigious patronage. The result was flamboyant and immediately sparked rumours amongst the London aristocrats who rushed to place orders. Wedgwood secured the permission to title the service he did for Queen Charlotte: the ‘Queen’s ware’ and was appointed as Her Majesty’s potter. He advertised it in papers. In 1769, he wrote to Bentley ‘(T)he demand for the Cream colour, alias Queen’s ware, alias Ivory still increases – it is really amazing how rapidly the use of it has spread almost over the whole Globe, and how universally it is liked – much of this general use and estimation is owing to the mode of its introduction and how much to its real utility and beauty? ’(Roberts, 2001). 79 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 80. Wedgwood was the first potter to mark his product with his name, signing the bottom of each piece to establish his brand. He was also the first one to offer a money back guarantee, and to offer free shipping. Wedgwood also sent out unsolicited pieces to the 700 top aristocrats. The risk paid off as all of them but two subsequently bought from him. The Empress Catherine of Russia ordered a now famous dinner and dessert service made of 952 pieces, each of them hand painted with scenery of a famous house or garden. She received it in 1774. It was displayed in London and attracted many visitors. Wedgwood encouraged ladies to visit his shops with friends. Wedgwood employed renowned designers and architects to design new forms and patterns. He adopted, in 1771, the candlestick design of Sir William Chambers, architect to King Georges III. Artists like John Flaxman, Henry Webber and William Hacwood worked for him (Roberts, 2001). He recognised the importance of fashion. He wrote to Bentley in 1779: ‘(F)ashion is infinitely superior to merit in many respects’ (Roberts, 2001). 80 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 81. Section 3. James Watt During the second part of the 18th century, James Watt, a Scotsman, came up with a series of inventions. He invented a perspective drawing machines, one of the first micrometer and a telemeter for civil engineers to measure distance. He designed cranes, drew up plans for bridges and acted as a technical adviser in the pottery industry. He worked on new bleaching processes for textiles and developed schemes for the production of alkali from salt. He designed the first copy machine and another machines to replicate statues. He got involved in debates on the possibilities and difficulties related to the invention of ‘faery chariots’, now known as automobiles. But first and foremost, Watt is known for his crucial contribution to the development of the steam engine, an invention that unlocked remarkable opportunities in the mining, the manufacturing and the transportation industries, to name the main ones. James Watt, was not the sole inventor of the steam engine 42 but he brought radical improvement to it. James Watt was the son of a ship builder and ship owner. He was born in 1736 in Cartsdyke and raised in Greenock, where he went to the ordinary local school and the grammar school. It was in London, in 1755 and 1756, that he was trained as an instrument maker. He came back to Scotland and was appointed by the University of Glasgow as ‘Mathematical instrument maker to the University‘ in 1757. Watt maintained the instruments used for measurement and Experimentation at the university. He supported professors who used them to perform demonstrations within their class. This was an important role, as professors depended on the donation of the local aristocrats to get their income. They therefore had to impress their students who were the sons of those aristocrats and, sometimes, the aristocrats themselves. The attention of Watt was caught by steam in 1758 when Robinson, one of his friends, wanted to equip a wheel carriage with an engine. In 1761 and 1762, Watt experimented 42 Savery had already taken a patent on a steam engine in 1698 and Newcomen erected his first success full engine to pump water from the mines in 1712. Watt perfected the design of the steam engine and turned it into a widespread commercial application together with Matthew Boulton, the entrepreneur. 81 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 82. with a Papin digester. In 1763 and 1764, he tried to make a model of the Newcomen engine work properly upon request of the university. He went much beyond this assignment and ended up inventing the separate condenser to improve the efficiency of the steam engine in 1765 demonstrated by a model he built. The concept was great and simple but scaling up the model engine turned out to be a daunting task. James Watt started to supply people outside of the university and ended up in a partnership with John Craig in 1759. It lasted six years and proved to be a commercial success. Watt had the expertise and the contacts, Craig had the capital and knew how to keep the books. Growth led them to recruit apprentices. Their reputation spread. Watt moved beyond copying existing tools and started to invent new ones. The perspective machine was his first achievement. As its name suggests it, it was meant to draw perspectives. They also expanded their business into musical instruments. Craig died in 1765 and, subsequently, Watt had to change the course of his career as he was lacking the capital to pursue his trade. Watt had married Margaret Millar in 1764 and had a family to support. After the death of his business partner, he erected a Newcomen engine and then moved into civil engineering. He surveyed canals, as the financial reward appeared greater there than in other fields. He developed some surveying instruments to measure distances. Watt erected at Kinneil in 1768 a large steam engine of his own design. In 1769, he patented his engine with separate condenser. Between 1765 and 1770, Watt’s steam work was financed by Roebuck, a captain of industry who had a strong knack for technical innovation. They also collaborated on the production of alkali from salt together with Black 43, a professor from Glasgow. Watt also got involved in pottery work, he invested £477 in it in 1768 and acted as a technical adviser. He brought improvement to the kiln design. This activity provided him with regular income. Later, he advised Wedgwood on types of Cornish clays. In 1770, the engine at Kinneil was not yet working properly. Roebuck faced financial troubles in 1772. Due to his financial support from Watt, he owned two thirds of the patent 43 Joseph Black (1728-1799) was a British chemist and physicist best known for the rediscovery of ‘fixed air’ (carbon dioxide), the concept of latent heat, and the discovery of the bicarbonates. 82 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 83. rights. Matthew Boulton 44 an inventor and captain of industry from Birmingham, had already offered Watt and Roebuck to buy back Roebuck’s participation in the steam engine. However, Roebuck had decided that he wanted to remain a partner. With his financial troubles, the situation changed and his rights were transferred to Boulton in order to settle some of his debt. Watt’s wife died in 1773. Watt decided to move to Birmingham to pursue his work. There, he invented a method of copying letters and drawings. He led the way for the manufacture of chlorine and acted as technical adviser for his friends. However, it was the steam engine that remained his main occupation. In 1775, Watt and Boulton decided to petition Parliament to extend the application of his patent; time was running too fast for them to make money out of it. The first orders arrived in 1776. The first engines erected needed substantial repairs, maintenance and improvements but they nevertheless proved the value of the invention. The method of payment for the steam engine consisted of taking a share of the savings occurring through the use of the engine. Boulton and Watt manufactured some specific parts of the engine but their customer had to provision others from suppliers. This method of payment created some resentment from customers. In 1777, Watt had to move to Cornwall to supervise the erection of engines. Success was now on their side even though Boulton had to face some financial worries. By 1778, 78 reciprocating engines had been erected. Over time, Boulton and Watt tried to secure patents in France, America, Spain, Austria, Belgium, Prussia, etc. In 1781, Watt filed five patents to give life to the rotative motion including the ‘sun and planet’ motion, solving a long standing mechanical puzzle. It paved the way for new applications in the textile industry and new sources of revenue for Watt and Boulton. In 1782, Watt invented the double acting engine, then, the parallel motion and, finally, the centrifugal governor. All those demonstrate the technical elegance of the Scotsman. 44 Matthew Boulton (1728-1809) was an English manufacturer and engineer; in 1762, he built the Soho manufactory near Birmingham. The factory produced small metal articles such as gilt and silver buttons and buckles, Sheffield plate, and a variety of other items. 83 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 84. However, he was not the sole inventive steam worker. Hornblower had developed a more efficient engine. Watt was well aware of this. It copied some of the invention of Watt but offered 50% more power. Hornblower challenged the patent of Boulton and Watt who used their parliamentary connections to oppose this move. They continued to oppose competition over the years, therefore, securing their wealth. By 1800, more than 800 steam engines could be attributed to them (Marsden, 2002). Engines were not the only field of interest for Watt. Like Wedgwood, he was part of the Lunar Society. In 1783, Watt intended to develop a calculating device but did not pursue this line of research. He developed a method to copy letters and drawings and invented the iron cement to make steam-tight joints. Watt also played a part in scientific efforts, such as the discovery that water was a compound and not an element. During retirement, he developed machines that could be used to duplicate statues. He died rich in 1819, at the age of 84. Watt’s ability to observe and his numerous friendships in inventive and scientific circles brought him a wide diversity of problems to solve. He even used ‘Observare’ as a motto (A/ Attentiveness: the power of observation) Watt had to use a sophisticated experimental approach in order to come up with a radically improved version of the Newcomen steam engine. He had to investigate natural phenomenon to grasp what prevented his engine from becoming perfect (B/ Experimentation: the ‘perfect engine’ as a guide). In order to find investors and partners, James Watt lacked the eloquence of Wedgwood and the glibness of an Arkwright; he therefore relied on his friendships and connections to persuade others and help him to progress in his inventive activities (C/ Persuasion: ‘steam connections’). At the end of his life, James Watt and later, his heir, embellished the accounts of the invention of the steam engine and made a legend of him. 84 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 85. A. Attentiveness: the power of observation Adam Smith and James Watt knew each other. The philosopher and economist had Watt in his mind when he wrote eloquently in the first pages of ‘The Wealth of Nations’ about speculators and philosophers: ‘(A)ll the improvements in machinery, however, have by no means been the inventions of those who had occasion to use the machines. Many improvements have been made by the ingenuity of the makers of the machines, when to make them became the business of a peculiar trade; and some by that of those who are called philosophers or men of speculation, whose trade it is not to do anything, but to observe everything; and who, upon that account, are often capable of combining together the powers of the most distant and dissimilar objects’ (Smith, 1776). It is not known today whether it was Watt who brought the word ‘observation’ to the attention of Smith or Watt developed his motto ‘Observare’ following the steps of Smith. In any case, this emphasises the role of observation in inventive activities. The primary interest of Watt for observation led him to develop many friendships and a vast knowledge. Watt was at the forefront of most of the technical and scientific developments of his time, which could sometimes work against his business interests. As an instrument maker, Watt recognised the need for specialisation to decrease costs. Nevertheless, he enjoyed copying other people’s products. It provided him with opportunities to observe interesting mechanism. According to Robinson, one of the professors at the University of Glasgow, Watt was ‘continually striking into untrodden paths, where I was always obliged to be a follower’ (Hills, 2002). Such versatility provided him with many opportunities to re-use some mechanism from one machine or another. Hills (2002) suggested that the perspective drawing machine use of parallel drawers could have been a source of inspiration for his later parallel motion on his rotative steam engine. Every time he faced a new technical puzzle, Watt started by reading the relevant literature before experimenting. He once said: ‘I have never yet read a book, or conversed with a companion, without gaining information, instruction, or amusement’ (Hills, 2002). Watt, according 85 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 86. to Robinson, got acquainted with the German language in order to understand the ‘Theatrum Machinarum’, written by Leupold 45. Sometimes, Watt was kindly helped by other people in his research. To support his work on the Newcomen engine, it was Robinson who assisted him in searching the literature, as he was occupied by his business. Never accepting the presence of obstacles between him and knowledge, Watt, for instance, asked helped from a Swiss dyer to read a book in German about the work in the mines in the Upper Hartz (Dickinson, 1967). Through his many friends, Watt was always confronted with the most challenging problems and the most interesting discoveries. For instance, Watt enjoyed going to London where he could meet instrument makers and exchange ‘professional gossips’ (Marsden, 2002). At the University of Glasgow, he ended up at the centre of an informal circle of minds passionate about natural philosophy and inventive activities. He was also accepted as member of the Anderston club amongst the most famous mathematicians and professors of Scotland. In Birmingham he took part in the Lunar Society. Robinson described how Watt became the centre of scientific and technical discussions in Glasgow: ‘(A)ll the young lads of our little place that were any way remarkable for scientific predilection were acquaintances of Mr Watt; and his parlour was a rendez-vous for all of this description. Whenever any puzzle came in the way of any of us, we went to Mr. Watt. He needed only to be prompted; everything became to him the beginning of a new and serious study; and we knew that he would not quit until he had either discovered its significance, or had made something of it. No matter in what line, language, antiquity, natural history, - nay, poetry, criticism and works of taste; as to anything in line with engineering, whether civil or military he was at home and a ready instructor’ (Hills, 2002). The intense exchanges between those brilliant minds sometimes led to polemics. For instances, it has been said that Watt’s invention of the separate condenser was inspired by the findings of Black’s and his theory of the latent heat. According to Watt himself, it was not the case. Black, who was a friend of Watt, had discovered that different bodies had 45 Jacob Leupold (1674–1727) was a German instrument maker, mining commissioner and an engineer who published an important and popular book Theatri Machinarum (The General Theory of Machines). 86 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 87. different capacities for heat and that all bodies require for their fusion an immense quantity of caloric. This did not inspire the work of Watt. It is only when Watt was puzzled by some of his own measures that he talked to Black and realised that his own work was in fact a confirmation of Black’s. The investigations of Watt spurred new research by Black (Hills, 2002). James Watt, the attentive inventor who believed in the power of observation, not only used that skill to spot technical or business opportunities, he also put it to good use as part of his experiments on the steam engine. B. Experimentation: the ‘perfect engine’ as a guide Watt learned a lot through experiments and he made this very clear when he declined, in a letter, an offer for employment in Russia: ‘I am a person of no great learning, but I have had from my infancy a propensity to mechanics and chemistry, and have tried many experiments in both these sciences. What little knowledge I have is the fruit of these experiments’ (Hills, 2002). As outlined below, Watt’s knack for experiments was supported by his access to some of the well-known natural philosophers 46 of his time. His concept of the perfect engine was essential to his success. At the University of Glasgow, as instrument maker for the faculty, Watt was at the best school possible to learn the practices of Experimentation. His affiliation with Anderson, Black and other professors such as Wilson 47 played an important role. Anderson, professor of natural philosophy at the University of Glasgow, appointed Watt to mend demonstration apparatus covering the disciplines of physics, mechanics, pneumatics and electricity. He was also asked to demonstrate himself the apparatus on a number of occasions. Watt thanked Black for teaching him reason and experiment in natural philosophy and recognised that it facilitated his own progress. The systematic approach of Black to note-taking in experiments influenced the practices of Watt (Hills, 2002). Watt is considered by Hills (2002) as one of 46 Natural philosophy is a term applied to the objective study of nature and the physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science. 47 About Wilson, see infra. 87 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 88. the first to use graphs instead of tables for engineering purpose. One of these was relating pressure against temperature. He later related such measurement to atmospheric pressure. As an instrument maker, Watt was able to develop scientific instruments and apparatus. It played an important role in his work. Wilson ordered barometers from him. He was familiar with the use of balance in chemistry pioneered by Black. By using barometer and mercurial manometers, he explored the relationship between temperature and the pressure of steam. Watt also developed a micrometer to measure the length of pieces of metal and to create scales on glass. In 1773, he claimed he was able to ‘divide an inch in 1,000 tolerably equal and distinct parts on glass’ (Hills, 2002). When Watt started to work on the model of the Newcomen engine of the university, he was unimpressed by its performance and decided to improve it. He started to experiment by relating the performance of the engine to different parameters. In many instances, he was concerned that some parameters could interfere with the experiments he intended to conduct. It led him to adopt a measurement discipline and to multiply experiments to gain accuracy and understanding of the mechanism. Following this episode, he concluded that the steam engine was imperfect: ‘(F)irst because the cylinder having been cooled by the Injection in the preceding stroke condenses a considerable quantity of steam besides what is necessary to fill it. Secondly, because the vacuum is imperfect without the cylinder and all the water in it be cooled down to 90° Fahrenheit thermometer. If this was done, the vacuum could be made perfect but the condensation of the team the next stroke would much over balance the power gained, therefore experience has taught Men that an engine works most advantageously when loaded about half the pressure of the atmosphere’ (Hills, 2002). From this analysis, he derived the concept of ‘Perfect engine’ that would use only one cylinder full of steam at each stroke and the steam would be condensed to a perfect vacuum. This concept of perfect engine is very important to understand the approach of Watt to Experimentation. In a random trial and error situation, it is impossible to know if a mechanism is perfectible or not and to what extent it is perfectible. By using the perfect engine as a standard of performance, Watt knew that the engine was perfectible and had clear means to measure how far it was from perfection. Such a concept of perfection was 88 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 89. used at that time in religious or architectural and engineering matters. For instance, it was applied by Smeaton, a civil engineer, to the design of the waterwheel (Marsden, 2002). When applicable, it is a means to increase one’s chances of success when pursuing experiments. This concept is similar to the notions of ‘hill climbing’ and of ‘Means-end analysis’ suggested by Simon and his colleagues (Klahr & Simon 2001). The perfect engine helped Watt to move beyond random investigation and to learn whether he was on the right track. Watt had already ensured that the boiler would consume as little heat as possible in order to improve fuel consumption 48. He investigated the relationship between the volume of steam and the volume of water, it helped him to measure the steam consumption of an engine. He also explored the heat capacity of different materials. At that stage, he concluded that ‘it was necessary that the cylinder should be as hot as the steam and that the steam should be cooled down below 100° in order to exert its full powers’ (Hills, 2002). This research led to the invention of the separate condenser, the separation of the two actions of heating the cylinder with hot steam and cooling it to condense the steam for every stroke of the engine. After Watt invented the separate condenser, he decided to abandon the use of a water-jet and to use surface condensers. However, it was in 1775 that success materialised when he reverted his approach to the water jet. To understand the ‘mysteries’ of steam, Watt’s approach to Experimentation was to breakdown a problem into a series of simple ones for which practical Experimentation could be conducted. He unveiled the secrets of steam by studying different phenomena in separation 49. Having made progress on the model of the Newcomen engine, Watt had to develop his own model and to scale up his invention. At this stage, it appears that he stopped altering parameters one by one and started to make major changes from one experiment to 48 He discovered that the surface and the quantity of water played no role, but that the distance between the source of heat and the boiler as well as the use of thin sheets of metal was important. 49 It relates to the notion of ‘functional decomposition’ that was already mentioned in the case of Arkwright, see Section 1. 89 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 90. another. Such an approach led to many fruitless experiments. Hills (2002) suggested that this could be explained by the absence of help from Robinson and Black during this period. Later in a letter to Small 50, Watt wrote an interesting comment to warn his friend about the risks of chasing more than one goal at a time: ‘(…) unless I do what I have done too often, neglect certainty for hope’ (Hills, 2005). Dickinson (1967) summarised such difficulties related to Experimentation: ‘(O)f a number of alternatives, he does not seem to have had the flair of knowing which was the most practicable, hence he expended his energies on many avenues that lead to dead ends. In truth, this is the attitude of the scientist rather than the one of the craftsman. Still, unless he had explored these avenues he could not be certain they were dead ends.’ Troubleshooting the invention ended up being a long and painful process. The achievement of Watt and his approach to Experimentation are remarkable, his progress was not guided by scientific knowledge but by some of the experimental stratagems of science in order to investigate natural phenomena that helped him to come as close as possible to the ‘perfect engine’. Without this search, the separated condenser would not have imposed itself as a solution. C. Persuasion: ‘steam connections’ James Watt had, at the same time, a reserved character and an aptitude for developing friendships. He was never skilled at confronting adversity, and he lacked a diplomatic temperament. One of his contemporaries said of him that he was ‘modest, timid, easily frightened by rubs and misgivings and too apt to respond’ (Dickinson, 1967). However, the deep friendships he maintained demonstrate an attractive personality and convincing manners (Hills, 2002). 50 About Small, see infra. 90 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 91. In his obituary, Lord Jeffrey 51 painted a highly eloquent portrait of Watt. He insisted on his vast knowledge and his intelligence but he also described him as a man who could easily engage and capture the attention of others: ‘(H)e had infinite quickness of apprehension, a prodigious memory, and a certain rectifying and methodising power of understanding (…). It is needless to say, that, with those vast resources, his conversation was at all times rich and instructive in no ordinary degree… No man could be more social in his spirit, less assuming or fastidious in his manners, or more kind and indulgent towards all who approached him. He rather liked to talk. His talk, too, though overflowing with information, had no resemblance to lecturing or solemn discoursing, but, on the contrary, was full of colloquial spirit and pleasantry’ (Hills, 2002). In his early career, the progress of James Watt could be compared to the irresistible ascension of an asset towards its most valuable use, thanks to the people he met at every stage. Watt made his way to Glasgow thanks to his uncle Muirheid who introduced him to professors at the university where he was himself a professor. He met with a professor of natural philosophy named Dick, who encouraged him to go to London and offered him a letter of introduction to a famous telescope maker. In London, he learned and worked under the guidance of five or six instrument makers in order to gain a wide range of skills that could be used back in Scotland. On his return, Dick offered him some work at the university. He met eminent scientists, such as: • Robinson who shared with Watt his plans for using the steam engine to power wheel-carriages; • Anderson, who asked him to maintain the university model of the Newcomen engine; • Wilson who ordered from Watt a barometer to record temperature changes at the boiling point, he also involved him in canal survey; • Black, who pioneered the use of balance in chemistry and developed the theory of latent heat, which both played a role in the development of the steam engine. 51 Lord Jeffrey was editor of The Edinburgh Review, a quarterly journal that was the pre-eminent organ of British political and literary criticism in the early 19th century. 91 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 92. Later, Black introduced Watt to Roebuck who financed his first full scale works on steam engines in Kinneil. Roebuck recognised the value of Watt’s steam engine and of the Alkali from the salt project. As a civil engineer, Watt met with Small, a Scotsman who moved to Birmingham in 1765. Small introduced Boulton, Keir and other prominent Birmingham figures to Watt (Dickinson, 1967). Watt was able to convince his peers at the University of Glasgow and in Birmingham of the significance of the separate condenser because he was able to relate it to his concept of ‘perfect engine’. Developing a model was also instrumental in convincing people of the value of the concept. Watt had often a humble and modest attitude. However, on a number of occasions, he did not hesitate to ‘self-fashion’, especially when his reputation was at stake. To support the extension of his patent in 1775, he presented his work as a series of philosophical investigations. It helped him to differentiate his own findings from the engines of Newcomen and Savery. However, securing the legal success around Watt’s patent was very much owed to Boulton’s ability to bargain for the support of influential people. In the 1790’s, Robinson wrote articles about the steam and steam engine in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. It turned out to be different from the eloquent and panegyric account that Watt wanted. Pressed by some friends, Watt published his own account of his contribution to the steam quest (Marsden, 2002). Watt insisted he had a flash of genius that led to the invention of the separate condenser as he was walking in a park of Glasgow. Such stories tend to hide the laborious progress and the countless experiments that were needed to progress the steam engine but it offered a certain aura to the inventor. 92 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 93. Chapter 2. Networks of inventors in 18th century Britain The study of the three career inventors proves that their successes relied deeply on their network of acquaintances, friends and peers that they could mobilise. Arkwright listened to the people in order to spot business and technical opportunities. Wedgwood developed a network of friends and acquaintances who guided him around recent technical developments, fashion as well as current political and philosophical issues. James Watt relied on his numerous acquaintances to find business partners and investors. This raises the question of the nature and functioning of collective arrangements that supported inventive activities at that time. This second chapter investigates, through the lenses of the A-E-P triptych, networks of individuals engaged in inventive activities. Social networks have been considered as omnipresent social contexts to economic transactions. The economic sociologist saw human action embedded in networks of relationships: ‘(T)heir attempts at purposive action are instead embedded in concrete, ongoing systems of social relations’ (Granovetter, 1985). Trust has often been presented as an interpersonal feature of networks (Axelrod, 1984), it limits the frictions inherent to the use of the price mechanism by reducing the uncertainty that can exist when market exchanges occur. Håkansson and Johanson (1988) distinguish between social and industrial networks; social networks consist of actors while industrial networks consist of a complex pattern of three interrelated elements, actors, activities and resources. Others have proposed to move beyond social networks to consider ‘a national system of innovation’ (Edquist,1997), (Lundvall, 1992) (Nelson, 1993), defined as ‘the networks of institutions in the public and private sectors whose activities and interactions initiate, import, modify and diffuse new technologies’ (Freeman, 1987). In other circumstances, the term network is used to refer to large firms and their suppliers. The focus will be here on individuals engaged in inventive activities. It will look at both social and industrial networks. 93 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 94. Patton and Kenney (2003) present a core difference between networks and markets that are both based on reciprocal exchanges. ‘Networks differ from these other forms of economic organi(s)ation in terms of the identity of the actors and the relationships among them. Reciprocity is a crucial consideration in these relationships. Unlike market actors, members of a network engage in reciprocal exchange where benefits are given without the expectation of immediate benefits in return. In other words, the exchanges are not treated as though they are taking place on a spot marker. Although benefits may very well balance out in the long run, network exchange is not simultaneous and is not subject to the short-term rational calculations of a market transaction – the issue that much of the network proponents miss is whether there is a long-term rational calculation. Often, the distinction between short-term and long-term rationality and efficiency is missed’. In some specific situations, networks are less regarded as an omnipresent social context but more as a mode of collective arrangement supportive of inventive activities. The archetype of this mode of governance is the network of individuals involved in innovation within the Silicon Valley. Its foundation can be traced back to the ideas proposed by Alfred Marshall (1890) who identified ‘industrial district’ as specialised local economies where knowledge is freely shared. The pioneering work of Saxenian presented here by Casuntila, Hwang, Granovetter and Granovetter (2000) present the role of network in the Silicon Valley. ‘Saxenian (1994) shows that Silicon Valley shares many of the characteristics of European industrial districts, and thus promotes collective learning among specialist producers of interrelated technologies. In this decentrali(s)ed system, dense social networks and open labour markets encourage entrepreneurship and the ongoing mobili(s)ation of resources. Companies compete intensely, but simultaneously learn about changing markets and technologies through informal communications, collaborative projects, and common ties to research associations and universities. High rates of job mobility spread technology, promote the recombination of skills and capital, and aid the region’s development. Silicon Valley companies, just as those in Germany and Italy, trade with the whole world, but the core of knowledge and production remains local. One way the Valley accomplishes this recombination of knowledge and capital is through spin-offs, which have contributed to the construction of dense social networks of entrepreneurs, inventors, and other institutional actors.’ 94 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 95. Networks have been presented as ‘a mode of governance that aims at addressing high level of uncertainty’ by Robertson and Langlois (1995). They revisited the argument of Knight 52 that modes of governance are a function of uncertainty and they suggested that markets best fit low level of uncertainty and innovative network best fit high level of uncertainty. The present work will suggest that networks can be defined as sets of relationships between individuals (not firms) facing uncertainty and that such relationship can be interpreted as transactions where information is exchanged for free. This will be investigated by looking at the ‘Lunar society’, a network of people who had interests in scientific, inventive and money-making activities. First, after a presentation of the Lunar society, two types of relationships will be studied: the ones amongst members of the Lunar society and the ones between regular members of the Lunar society and other persons (Section 1) This will lead to an analysis of how the A-E-P triptych of abilities can be mobilised to explain the existence and functioning of such network of inventors (Section 2). 52 See infra, Part 2, chapter 2. 95 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 96. Section I. The Lunar society and relationships A. Presentation of the Lunar Society The Lunar society brought together over the years a number of individuals, most of them were involved in some sort of inventive activities. Watt and Wedgwood were both associated with this group. Schofield (1963) dates the start of collaboration between three of the members in 1765. They lived near Birmingham and met on the Monday nearest to the full moon. Marsden (2002) described their association as a ‘fertile test-bed for new ideas’. Matthew Boulton 53 was one of the individuals at the origin of this group. Erasmus Darwin was a doctor, a poet and a renowned botanist to name a few of his areas of predilection. Small brought to America new methods of education before coming back to England and settling down as a doctor in the area of Birmingham. He played an important role in keeping the Lunar circle a lively one. Thomas Day was a philanthropist who had limited interest in scientific or inventive activities but who, nevertheless, participated to the exchanges amongst the members of the society. Richard Edgeworth was a brilliant mechanic. James Keir was a chemist and an inventor. James Priestley was a renowned scientist and polemist. As mentioned in the introductory pages, the Lunar Society was not the sole network at that time. A number of ‘Lunar men’ were associated with the Royal Society of London, sooner or later in their life. This society had no interest in applied science but had a highly regarded social status. Other societies were covering specific fields: the Botanical society, the British Mineralogical society, etc. The one that supported improvements and technical development of businesses was The Society of Arts. Awards were given for best solutions related to specific problems, it gathered the majority of prominent manufacturers of England and its reach went far beyond London. Local societies appeared to support local efforts in cities such as Bristol, Bath, Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle. Studying networks can prove difficult as informal relationships rarely leave many traces. Moving beyond the collection of evidence can be difficult. However, the Lunar circle offers a 53 See supra, Chapter 1, Section 3. 96 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 97. unique opportunity as its members established a lively correspondence amongst themselves and with others. These primary sources have now been studied and analysed. This paves the way for a more systematic approach to the analysis of the formation and exploitation of the network as a collective resource. The method used here aims at providing a quantitative analysis within a very qualitative field of enquiry. Relationships between individuals will be systematically analysed to see if, and how, the three abilities play a role in the institutionalisation of the network or if they justify the exploitation of the network by agents. All relationships will be studied as to whether they involve one of the abilities or not. The order of introduction follows the chronological logic of Schofield, the Lunar Society of Birmingham, a social history of provincial science and industry in Eighteenth-Century England, (1963). The present study will be based on the chapters 2, 3 and 4 who introduced the main participants to the Lunar Society one by one. Galton, Johnson and Stokes are not covered by this analysis as they were late additions to a group that had passed its apogee. Whenever a reference to one of the three abilities is made, the ability at play is mentioned in bracket. The relationships that do not involve one of the three abilities of the A-E-P triptych are highlighted in grey. Primary sources are quoted in brackets. The text of Schofield is presented as such and most of the time in an abridged version. The relationships are presented using their order of appearance within the book. Regular participants to the Lunar Society will be studied in a first table; other people who have been connected to the group will be studied in a second table. 97 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 98. B. Relationship between regular members of the Lunar Society Table 1: Relationship between regular members of the Lunar Society Relationships The relationship and how it relates to Attentiveness, # Experimentation and Persuasion Boulton-Darwin • Darwin was the first acquaintance of Boulton with a formal 1 education and a trained interest in science 54 (Attentiveness). • Boulton might have assisted Darwin in experiments related to the ascent of vapour (Experimentation). • Around the time they first met, Darwin sent a letter to Boulton about ‘faery chariots’ where he wrote ‘I shall lay my thoughts before you, crude and indigested as they occur to Darwin-Whitehurst me…as by those Hints you may be led into various Trains of thinking upon the subject, and by any means (if any Hints can assists your genius, which without Hints is above all others I am acquainted with) be more likely to improve or disapprove’ (Attentiveness). • The previous letter may have been the beginning of the interest of Boulton in steam engines (Attentiveness). Darwin-Whitehurst • Whitehurst conducted some co-operative investigations with 2 Darwin (Experimentation). • Whitehurst was the first to bring the subject of Geology to the Lunar circle (Attentiveness). Boulton- • Whitehurst constructed a pyrometer for Boulton to be used in 3 Whitehurst experiments to investigate heat expansion of metal; hygrometers and barometers are also mentioned (Experimentation). Small-Boulton • Boulton did little in science without Small’s advice (Attentiveness). 4 Small-Galton • Galton said of Small: ‘some eminently scientific men have shown their 5 original power by little more than a continuous flow of helpful suggestions and criticism‘(Attentiveness). Darwin-Small- • Darwin wrote to Boulton ‘Our ingenious friend Dr Small. From whom 6 Boulton and from you, when I was last at Birmingham I received ideas ...’ (Attentiveness). Darwin-Edgeworth- • Darwin wrote to Boulton about a new friend, Edgeworth: ‘he has 7 Boulton-small ye principles of nature in his palm, and moulds them as He pleases. Can take away polarity or give it to the needle by rubbing it thrice on ye palm of his hand and can see through two solid Oak boards without glasses! 54 In SCHOFIELD, The Lunar society of Birmingham, a social history of provincial science and industry in Eighteenth-Century England, (1963), page 19. 98 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 99. Astonishing! Diabolical!!! Pray tell Dr. Small He must come to see these Miracles’ (Attentiveness, Experimentation, and Persuasion). Darwin-Edgeworth • Someone not mentioned by his name had mentioned to Edgeworth 8 a carriage invented by Darwin. Edgeworth wrote ‘from this hint (…) I invented a very handsome Phaeton upon this principle’ (Attentiveness). • He wrote to Darwin about this and was later invited by him for a visit. Edgeworth-Boulton • Edgeworth wrote ‘I shewed some of those deception of Comus, which I 9 had discovered. They were particularly a propos, as at that time Mr Bolton was making a large number of magnets for exportation. He asked me to his house (…)’ (Attentiveness). Day-other • Day had limited interest in science or mechanics, his concerns 10 members were metaphysical philanthropic, educational and political. Schofield explains his participation to the Lunar circle because of ‘money lent and affection.’ • Day had the eloquence to make the belief of the other members glamorous and morally right (Persuasion). Darwin-Boulton • Darwin wrote to Boulton: ‘I (…) am going to make innumerable 11 Experiments on aqueous, sulphurous, metallic, and saline vapours. Food for Fire-engine!’ (Experimentation). Watt-other • As Watt joined the Lunar society, steam engine experiments 12 members independent of Watt disappeared. (Experimentation) Keir-Watt-Small • Keir and Watt competed on the production of Alkali through 13 experiments (Experimentation). Small, who was in relation with both, contributed to the emulation. He encouraged them to exchange on the topic (Attentiveness) 99 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 100. C. Relationship between regular members of the Lunar Society and another person Table 2: Relationship between regular members of the Lunar Society and another person People part of the The relationship and how it relates to Attentiveness, # relationship Experimentation and Persuasion Darwin-Eeles • Eeles was a scientist associated with the Royal Society. Darwin started a 1 controversy with him about the ascent of vapour. This was based on some experiment conducted by Darwin with probable support of Boulton (Persuasion). Darwin-Boulton- • Michell, a distinguished scientist, frequently visited Birmingham and the 2 Michell members of the Lunar circle. The experiments of Darwin on the ascent of vapour probably supported by Boulton might have been the cause of his first visit. (Attentiveness). • Michell was responsible for the further extending of the horizons of the Lunar circle (Attentiveness) Boulton - • Boulton and Baskerville were friends. 3 Baskerville • Franklin was keen to meet Baskerville who printed the writings of Virgil Franklin (Attentiveness) Boulton-Franklin- • Michell sent a letter of introduction to Boulton about Franklin. He 4 Michell referred to Boulton’s interest in electricity (Attentiveness). • Boulton became an agent for procuring electrical apparatus for experiments (Persuasion, Experimentation). • Franklin was to become a recurrent visitor to the Lunar circle (Attentiveness). • Franklin and Boulton conducted experiments together on electricity (Experimentation). Whitehurst- • Franklin promised to send to Whitehurst a journal of the weather a 5 Franklin friend of his kept for several years (Attentiveness). • Whitehurst had promised to deliver a thermometer to Franklin (Experimentation). Boulton – Darwin – • Petit from, the Royal Society, ordered thermometers from Boulton 6 Petit through Darwin (Experimentation) Boulton-Roebuck • Boulton and Roebuck, the entrepreneur collaborated on the 7 thermometer. (Experimentation) • Boulton later bought his shares in the partnership with Watt Boulton-Darwin- • Ferguson, an astronomer, gave some lectures in Birmingham where 8 Ferguson Boulton and Darwin attended. Schofield says that the inimitable performance attracted the attention of Boulton (Attentiveness) Boulton-Small- • Franklin introduced Small to Boulton in a letter as an ‘ingenious philosopher 9 Franklin and a worthy man’ (Persuasion) 100 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 101. Small-Jefferson • Small educated Jefferson, the American politician who said of him: ‘from 10 his conversation, I got my first views of the expansion of science and of the system of things in which we are placed’ (Attentiveness) Small-Ash • Small shared a house with a local respected physician Ash 11 Wedgwood- • In a committee that was formed to petition for parliamentary approval of 12 Bentley-Darwin- a canal, Darwin first saw the pamphlet written by Wedgwood and Bentley Bindley-Garbett- as a nuisance but later he became a canal enthusiast (Persuasion). Boulton-Small • Bindley and Garbett also supported the scheme (Persuasion). • Darwin involved Boulton and Small. Wedgwood wrote to ‘Boulton who had taken ‘ye infection’ (Persuasion). • The interest for canals was later shared by almost all members of the Lunar Society (Attentiveness, Persuasion). Wedgwood- • Willet was a Reverend versed in scientific subjects. He helped 13 Priestley-willet Wedgwood, his brother-in-law, with his self-study (Attentiveness). • He was a host of Priestley when he was teaching at Nantwich. Wedgwood- • Wedgwood was encouraged to experiment by Whielden, a master potter 14 Whielden (Experimentation). Wedgwood- • Wedgwood was introduced to Priestley and Bentley by Turner, the 15 Turner—Priestley- surgeon, when he was being treated by him in Liverpool Bentley Wedgwood-Bentley • Bentley introduced Wedgwood to a new world of people and ideas. He 16 sent advice on books, hints on pottery design, suggestion on techniques to increase sales, and advice about experiments (Attentiveness, Experimentation). Darwin-Butlers- • Wedgwood talked in a letter about a new carriage of Mr Butlers with 17 interesting technical devices that were first suggested by Darwin (Attentiveness). Edgeworth-Delaval • Edgeworth attended a show in London by the ’Celebrated Comus’ 18 described as a combination of Magic and Parlour-science. Together with a friend, Delaval he created a show of his own which won him many acquaintances in London (Attentiveness, Experimentation, Persuasion). Edgeworth- • After reading books of Wilkins and Hooke, Edgeworth designed a 19 Wilkins-Hooke- mechanical telegraph. His experiments are anterior to the ones of Chappe Chappe in France. Chappe was the first to introduce an operating system and Edgeworth did the same after him (Attentiveness). Edgeworth- • Edgeworth decided to make a fair trial of Rousseau’s system described in 20 Rousseau ‘Emile’. The boy ended up unmanageable. Rousseau criticised the results when he met the child. (Attentiveness, Experimentation). Day-Rousseau • Day adopted two girls to educate them in the principles of Rousseau. He 21 wanted a perfect wife for himself. He abandoned it, as the results were not promising. (Experimentation). Day-Edgeworth— • Anne Seward, who would become a poetess, hosted coteries where 22 Darwin-Boulton- members of the Lunar circle attended. Small-Keir-Anna Seward-Honora • Day and Edgeworth both fell in love with Honora Sneyd, a friend of Anna 101 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 102. Sneyd Seward. Day transferred his affection to her sister Elisabeth, who ended up rejecting him. After the death of his wife, Edgeworth married Honora. • When Edgeworth was in love with Honora, Day asked him if reason could not prevail over his emotions. Edgeworth answered ’nothing but trial could make me acquainted with the influence, which reason might have over my feelings; that I would go with my family to Lichfield, where I would be in the company of the dangerous object’ (Experimentation). Day-Bicknell • Day and Bicknell wrote an anti-slavery poem together (Persuasion). 23 Boulton-Pringle- • Carbioni wrote to Boulton ‘I recently visited Dr. Pringle and Dr. Franklin. We 24 Franklin- Carbioni spoke much of your goodness, your merits, and your project of a new steam engine. I would like very much to see it.’ (Attentiveness). • Boulton sent a model to Franklin to get his opinion (Attentiveness). • Franklin responded that Experimentation will best decide (Experimentation) Watt-Anderson- • All of them were members of the same club in Glasgow. Watt wrote ‘our 25 Millar-Simpson- conversations…turned principally on literary topics, religion, belles-lettres.; and Smith-Black Cullen to those conversations my mind owed its first bias towards such subjects’ (Attentiveness). Watt-Robinson- • Watt’s shop became the favourite gathering spot for them. Watt became 26 other students a listener and a participant in scientific conversation held there. From such discussions, he acquired his first knowledge of scientific, experimental procedures. (Attentiveness, Experimentation). Watt-Black • Watt said of Black ‘the correct modes of reasoning and of making 27 experiments to which he set me the example, certainly conduced very much to facilitate the progress of my inventions’(Attentiveness, Experimentation). Watt-Black- • Roebuck and Black experimented on decomposition of salt 28 Roebuck-Boulton (Experimentation). • Roebuck had invested in mines that were flooded, Black told him about Watt’s engine. He agreed to carry the cost of development (Attentiveness). • Boulton later bought the shares of Roebuck in the steam engine and started his partnership with Watt. Watt-Small-De • Watt started his correspondence with Small after a visit to Birmingham. 29 Luc-Smeaton- He mentions reading a book of De Luc and experiments he started Boulton following his reading (Attentiveness, Experimentation). • He expresses worries related to the progress of Smeaton. • Small encouraged Watt to publish, offers to help him and to present it to the Royal Society (Persuasion). • Small also made suggestions to Watt (Attentiveness). Keir-Whitehurst- • They testified for Keir in a petition that aimed at exempting him from salt 30 Blair-Boulton- duties, as he developed a method to produce salt from Alkali Watt-More (Persuasion). Watt-Boulton- • As for Keir, those ones testified for Watt in a petition that aimed at 31 James Black exempting him from salt duties, as he developed a method to produce salt from Alkali (Persuasion). 102 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 103. Section II. The A-E-P triptych, a framework to explain the existence and functioning of network of inventors The work of the historian Schofield offers a springboard to better understand the nature of networks of inventors. Out of 44 of the relationships recorded above, all, except for two, have at least one of the three abilities playing a role in their establishment or exploitation. The two remaining ones do not demonstrate a role for any of the three abilities, which does not necessarily mean that they never played a role in specific relationships. Within the remit of the Lunar circle and with the outside world, the three abilities have different weights in the establishment and the exploitation of the network (see table 3). Attentiveness is ahead of the others: Within Lunar circle Outside of Lunar circle Attentiveness: 11 Attentiveness: 28 Experimentation: 7 Experimentation: 15 Persuasion: 2 Persuasion: 12 Table 3: role of the three abilities in the establishment and exploitation of networks Attentiveness tended to play an important role. On the one hand, participants to the network of inventors brought interesting information to the attention of the others. On the other hand, participants to the network sought advice from each other. Attentiveness is not solely based on the exchange of technical information, exchanges on other topics, such as literature, occurred between participants within the network. This might not have contributed to inventive activities but it brought the participants to the network closer to each other. Experiments were conducted together by members of the network. They also regularly benefited from the help of others to access instruments and apparatus in order to perform those experiments. In a number of cases mentioned above, experiments simply acted as a means to share useful pieces of information amongst people with common interests. 103 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 104. Persuasion took the form of letters of introduction and alliances to support new schemes, such as petitioning the government. In some cases, individuals put their Persuasion ability at the disposal of others. Networks created relationships that helped inventors access investors and business partners. Persuasion played a more significant role with the outside circle of the Lunar Society than within it. Within the network, participants tended to share the same views of the world and Persuasion was very much about joining forces to convince the outside world. The A-E-P triptych of abilities also came into play together. Experiments help to persuade others. By experimenting in groups, participants to the network benefit from the advice and suggestions made by others. By bringing information to the attention of some participants, one can persuade others of the value of their work and, sometimes, secure some funds. Inventors taking part in the Lunar Society were bound together by these abilities. They were attentive to each other’s ideas and achievements, they used experiments to gain feedback from each other and to spread knowledge. They joined forces to persuade others to adopt their inventions. Such networks play a fundamental role in inventive activities. Looking beyond the Lunar Society, a network is, first and foremost, a collective arrangement along which information circulates freely. When uncertainty is high, when costs and benefits are considered unpredictable by inventors, such a form of network is an appropriate collective arrangement to progress together. Networks bring interesting information to the attention of individuals, they provide physical and informational resources to conduct experiments and they help to mobilise allies when one needs to persuade others. Taking a marginalist perspective, a new participant to a network will be keen to bring new information or experiments to the attention of others in order to be accepted. As his contribution is valued by others, he will have access to the information detained by them, to the resources they use to experiment and to their collective Persuasion power. As the three abilities contribute to reduce uncertainties, networks appear as a collective arrangement that provides a means to advance knowledge and reduce uncertainty. The 104 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 105. study of the Lunar society tends to confirm the ideas of Robertson and Langlois (1995), who suggested that markets best fit low levels of uncertainty and innovative network best fit high levels of uncertainty. A network also appears as a self-reinforcing arrangement; as the three abilities come to play, relationships intensified and networks solidified. In the case of the Lunar Society, the networks appear as a sort of magma from which markets and firms tend to emerge. For instance, along the different branches of the Lunar network: • a market for instruments emerged; • a partnership between Boulton and Watt was formed and solidified; • Watt, Roebuck and Black started a venture to manufacture alkali; • Wedgwood built his partnership with Bentley; • Arkwright started to buy steam engines. As long as uncertainty was high, ideas and inventions could not be attributed a reliable price. Markets for inventions did not exist. In such circumstances, such networks nourished ideas about unfinished inventions until the price mechanism could be applied to them. Network therefore appear as sets of relationships between individuals (not firms) facing uncertainty. When uncertainty prevails, attentive inventors tend to form networks to share and gather useful information that could lead them to a winning combination of factors. They acquire information, they jointly experiment with others and they enhance their reputation and build their social capital as they interact with established inventors, investors, entrepreneurs, etc. Such relationships can be interpreted as repeated transactions where information is exchanged for free. 105 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 106. Chapter 3. Passion for Experimentation ‘One day when Miss Cunegund went to take a walk in a little neighbouring wood which was called a park, she saw, through the bushes, the sage Doctor Pangloss giving a lecture in experimental philosophy to her mother’s chambermaid, a little brown wench, very pretty, and very tractable. As Miss Cunegund had a great disposition for the sciences, she observed with the utmost attention the experiments, which were repeated before her eyes; she perfectly well understood the force of the doctor’s reasoning upon causes and effects. She retired greatly flurried, quite pensive and filled with the desire of knowledge, imagining that she might be a sufficing reason for young Candide, and he for her.’ Voltaire, Candide The late 18th century in Britain witnessed an intensification of inventive activities as measured by the number of patents registered (see figure 1). The core proposal of this third chapter is that, during this period, a widespread passion for Experimentation stimulated the development of a new set of norms, incentives, and organisational structures that led economic agents to develop a preference for business activities and investments that involved experiments and inventive activities. 106 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 107. Figure 1: Number of patents registered per annum (Source: Mcleod, 1988) Institutional economics suggests that institutional arrangements can impact the economic evolution of a region, country or group of countries (North, 2005; Eggertsson, 1990). Institutions consist of formal and informal rules that offer incentives and impact the choice of individuals (North, 1990; Williamson, 2000). Formal rules, such as constitutions, laws and property rights, are the results of the exercise of power and a cumulative change process. Rules embedded in customs and cultures tend to remain in place for long periods of time; changes in informal rules tend to occur gradually. Different governance mechanisms ensure the coordination of human activities in market economies. The market and the firm are the most classic forms of governance. Other forms of governance such as alliances, collaborations and networks have been extensively studied over the past decades. Such governance mechanisms are supported by the institutional environment that surrounds them. Individuals, through their choices and actions, provide the fundamental input for the governance mechanisms to operate effectively. They also influence the institutional environment over time. The behaviours, skills and knowledge that pay off appear as a function of the incentive structure inherent in the institutions (North, 2005). The widespread interest for balloons during the late 18th century is first presented as an illustration of the growing public interest for Experimentation (Section I). Then, the inter- relationships between Experimentation and entertainment (Section 2) and the account of 107 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 108. the life and work of Joseph Priestly (Section 3) will contribute to demonstrate that Experimentation became a common denominator to many social fields such as art, religion, education and politics. Section I. Balloons, igniting a passion for Experimentation The analysis of the causes of the intensification of inventive activities during the second part of the 18th century starts in France with the invention of the balloon by the Brothers Montgolfier, Joseph and Etienne, the sons of a wealthy paper manufacturer. The aim here is not to look at the inventive abilities of the brothers Montgolfier but to understand how the contemporaries of the two brothers reacted to such inventions. Like no other discovery, the balloon captured the imagination of the people of that time and contributed to inspire interest for Experimentation. In this regard, the most relevant events took place in the year 1783, with the first public demonstrations of balloons in France. After some successful attempts in Annonay, their home town, the two brothers organised a demonstration at the Court of Louis XVI, in Versailles. Because it was the biggest balloon they had ever made, the demonstration was in itself a daring experiment. As a matter of fact, the balloon they had built did not resist an early trial due to the rain. A new balloon of 1,400 m3, 400kg and shaped as a sphere was built in five days. As expected, on 19 September 1783, it took its ascent in front of Louis XVI, with a sheep, a duck and a cockerel as passengers. The balloon reached 500 meters and flew eight minutes over three and a half kilometres. This first success made a strong impression on many of the people present at the Court, including the Queen of France who used her influence to permit the first human flight. It took place on 21 November with Pilatre de Rozier on board. They flew nine kilometres over Paris. Pilatre de Rozier later died dramatically during an attempt to cross the channel in a balloon from France to England. The brothers pursued their experiments in Paris, Lyon and other towns, rallying passionate crowds every time. In December 1783, the two brothers were appointed at the French ‘Académie des Sciences’ and were knighted in April 1784. Their motto was ‘Sic itur ad astra’ (‘this is how one can reach the sky’). Following the first flight of the Montgolfier brothers, a popular interest rapidly spread in France and 108 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 109. beyond. Everyone, poor or rich, educated or not, saw in the balloon an exciting sign of the time. Poets celebrated the events, for instance, Gudin de Brenellerie (Anglade, 1990) wrote: ‘Montgolfier taught us how to create a cloud. His surprising genius, as bold as wise Under an immense sail locking up the steam, By its ability, destroys heaviness. Our audacity, soon will know how to use it We will subdue the air, the mobile element…’ The sheep, the hen and the duck, the three passengers of the first flight instantly inspired artists and singers. Engravings commemorated their adventure. Chairs and clocks were designed with balloon as ornaments. Less affluent people could buy crockery decorated with naive pictures of balloons. Marion (2004) described this wide interest: ‘(B)alloon mania was manifested in a thousand and one ways. It swept through arts and literature, even everyday life. One had merely to claim that an object was ‘au ballon’ (in the balloon style) for sales to increase. Ceramics are a perfect example. Often inexpensive plates and teapots enabled people of all classes to own a tangible souvenir of the great invention.’ Newspapers all around Europe reported the first flights. People from all walks of life were fascinated by the balloons. Horace Walpole wrote: ‘(B)alloons occupy senators, philosophers, ladies, everybody’ (Keen, 2006). Even though the balloon ended up being a pretty useless invention, many applications were foreseen and formed the subject of discussion between people: it could help to explore new parts of the world and to bring back some bird’s eye views of their scenery. It could help prisoners to escape from prison, it could help physicists to understand natural phenomenon such as lightning and clouds. It could help to draw the map of cities and kingdoms. It could help generals to conduct wars. It could help the police to carry on the secret service, etc. In 1784, balloons were built with unexpected shapes, such as a barrel of whisky, a sausage, bottles, etc. (Anglade, 1990). 109 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 110. Carlyle 55 (Keen, 2006) saw the balloon as a symbol of this period. He wrote ‘the beautiful invention; mounting heaven ward, so beautiful, so unguidably! Emblem of much and of our Age of Hope itself’. This is also perfectly illustrated by the story reported by Marion (2004) about the Marechal Villeroi: ‘an octogenarian and an invalid, was conducted to one of the windows of the Tuileries, almost by force, for he did not believe in balloons. The balloon, meanwhile, detached itself from its moorings; the physician Charles, seated in the car, gaily saluted the public, and was then majestically launched into space in his air-boat; and at once the old Marechal, beholding this, passed suddenly from unbelief to perfect faith in aerostatics and in the capacity of the human mind, fell on his knees, and, with his eyes bathed in tears, moaned out pitifully the words, ‘Yes, it is fixed! It is certain! They will find out the secret of avoiding death; but it will be after I am gone!’’. The balloon contributed to a passion for Experimentation and ignited the belief that many things were possible. The story of the balloon is emblematic of this period of history. Experiments were attempts to reach what was not reachable before, demonstrations of the wonders of nature mastered by men caught the attention of everyone in society. New was good and Experimentation was the way to get there. This example shows how Experimentation and popular enthusiasm could blend together and raise the hopes placed in inventive activities. But balloons were not the sole invention that captured the minds of people Section II. Experimentation and entertainment Mechanical wonders and the magic of electricity were common sources of entertainment throughout the 18th century. Experiments became demonstrations and demonstrations turned out to be entertaining for all people. Hauksbee, an assistant of Bacon, the philosopher, developed in 1706 a machine with a wheel and globe where, after some time turning the wheel, an electric light would start to shine and flashes would start to spark across the globe of glass. Luminosity created a mysterious atmosphere that delighted many. 55 Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)was a British historian and essayist who wrote about the French revolution. 110 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 111. After the discovery of the Leyden jar 56 by Pieter van Musschenbroek in 1745, Nollet, a French scientist, arranged some spectacular demonstrations of its power at the Court in France. He gave a shock to 180 royal guards and, later, joined 700 monks in a circle to a Leyden jar leading to a surprising effect for both the monks and the public. The wide interest in electricity encouraged lecturers and instrument makers to follow on that road. Those itinerant teachers travelled across Europe and offered lectures for both the learned and the uneducated. Hochadel described the content of the lessons of one of them, Giacomo Bianchi: ‘(a) report of his activities in Swabia from 1759 mentions the following phenomena: a one-foot-long electrical spark can be drawn from the machine, an entire deck of cards as well as six eggs can be struck through, several animals are killed, butter, oil as well as gunpowder can be ignited, different metals can be melted. The list seems endless and there is hardly one trick missing which had made electricity so popular in the 1740’s: the electric chime, the beatification, which makes the hair of a person ‘glow’, the electric spider and so on and so forth.’ Such lectures ignited sparks of interest for those who wanted to replicate the wonders of the masters. Experiments, at that time, had to accept the laws of fashion and the interest for electricity declined during the 1760’s and the 1770’s, until the medical application of electricity revived the public interest. University professors, far from being secured in their position, had to make their classes enjoyable for their students and to look for patrons. They used experiments to cause the most seductive effects on both of these audiences. This trend explains the circumstance of the recruitment of Watt by the University of Edinburgh. Sometimes, experiments were turned into pure entertainment. Edgeworth, one of the members of the Lunar Society, attended, for instance, a show in London by the ‘Celebrated Comus’ that was described as ‘a combination of Magic and Parlour-science’. Together with a friend, he created a show of his own which won him many acquaintances in London (Schofield, 1963). 56 Device for storing static electricity discovered accidentally and investigated by the Dutch physicist Pieter van Musschenbroek of the University of Leiden in 1746. 111 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 112. It is interesting to note that experiments started to appear on paintings. It was more specifically the case in the work of Joseph Wright who was closely associated with the Lunar experimenters but who was not formally part of them. As a painter, he was interested in light and in the technical practicalities of his art. In 1766, he caused some stir within the artistic gentry when he presented his painting: ‘A philosopher giving that lecture on the Orerry, in which a lamp is put in place of the sun’. The philosopher on this painting explains the functioning of an eclipse, demonstrating therefore the value of experiments and knowledge in dissipating fears and educating people. The attention of children and adults, of men and women, seems intense and the painter illustrated that demonstrations and experiments could attract the interest of all people. In another painting, he represented ‘An experiment on a bird in the air pump’. He chose there to represent the archetypal instrument used in experiments at the time: the air pump. The history of balloons and this description of the relationship between entertainment and Experimentation help to understand how experiments became of so much interest in the late 18th century. Many individuals developed an interest in the entertaining nature of experiments. They also developed the belief that those experiments announced an ‘Age of Hope’. The aggregation of those individual interests is best described as a ‘passion’, a passion that contributed to some transformation of the institutional environment of the time. It is misleading to regard the popularisation of science as an unimportant event compared to a fantasized development of a noble and academic science. This view has been expressed by Oliver Hochadel: ‘(t)o say that itinerant lecturers and instrument makers only performed eye- catching tricks while the institutionali(s)ed scientists did the ‘real’ research would be to misconstrue the character of eighteenth-century scientific practice. Despite being called ‘the Age of Reason’, the eighteenth century is a ‘visual culture’. Science, and in particular electricity, was fashionable, not because it was useful but because it was entertaining. The visual character of a large part of natural philosophy is not peripheral or negligible but central to its ‘success’, i.e. the widespread public attention. And therefore a strict dichotomy between the ‘playful’ electricians and the ‘serious’ natural philosophers would be completely misleading. The practice of electricity in academies and universities is often no less performative than that of itinerant lecturers and instrument makers.’ 112 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 113. The study of the life and life-work of Joseph Priestley, a chemist, presents the relationship between Experimentation and a number of social practices such as education, politics and religion. Experimentation was a common denominator to social practices in 18th century Britain. Section III. Experimentation, education and religion, the figure of Joseph Priestley The following analysis shows how Experimentation made its way in some of the social practices that constituted the institutional environment, such as the political, the religious and the educational arena. In order to do this, along with generic evidences, the life of Joseph Priestley, one of the inventors of chemistry seems particularly appropriate to enhance the understanding of such phenomenon. During his youth, following a popular path similar to the one of Josiah Wedgwood or Erasmus Darwin, experimenting was a source of entertainment for Joseph Priestley. His brother told the story that he used to put spiders in bottles to see how long they would live (Uglow, 2002). When he grew older, Priestley became a precursor of modern chemistry, a polemist, a priest and a teacher at the same time. Experimentation was at the core of all of those activities. As a man of experiments, even more than as a man of science, he wrote a history of electricity. He chose to write a history as it was best suited to arouse ‘sublime emotions’ (Uglow, 2002). He wanted to show that no genius was required to experiment in an attempt to convince many to try. He often insisted on the accidental nature of discovery for the same purpose. This also reinforced the providential nature of discoveries. He experimented with water and gas and was recognised as a pioneer of modern chemistry. He insisted that experimental apparatus should be kept inexpensive and easy so many people could use them. He opposed Lavoisier, the French chemist, on the grounds, that he was not adhering to such principles. He opposed what he called speculative theories: ‘speculation is a 113 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 114. cheap commodity. New and important facts are most wanted and therefore of most value’ (Golinski, 1992). As a teacher, Priestley offered courses at Warrington, a dissenting academy. He bought scientific instruments, such as an air pump and an electrical machine. He taught his students, boys and girls, to use them, to maintain them and to entertain their family with them. According to him, the result was that he ‘considerably extended the reputation of (his) school’ (Uglow, 2002). Courses were also opened for the local population. Many itinerant lecturers incorporated the experiments he had described in his books in their performances. Before him, chemistry was not part of such curriculum. He advocated a liberal education that would give significant room to experiments. This was, in his eyes, a means to improve business. As a man of religion, he started as a dissenting preacher in Suffolk. He saw science as a means to understand the working of the divine providence in nature. He belonged to the Unitarian church. His religious views were intimately mixed with his views in politics. For example, he preached: ‘(l)et all the friends of liberty and human nature join to free the minds of men from the shackles on narrow and impolitic laws. Let us be free ourselves, and leave the blessings of freedom to our posterity’ (Uglow, 2002). As a polemist, he was an enthusiast, he expressed his belief with grandiose terms: ‘(t)he morning is upon us and we cannot doubt that the light will increase, and extend itself more and more into the perfect day.’ His vision of the future was supported by the belief that experimenting with electricity or chemistry would unleash humans from their chains, allowing them to question the authority of the traditional and corrupted powers that reigned at this time: the political system and the Church. He promoted emancipation and social progress. He supported the French revolution and wrote some political pamphlets that led him to be seen as an insurgent. When his house near Birmingham was destroyed, he moved to London. He had, in the end, to leave for America, where he retired. 114 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 115. Priestley is not a ubiquitous case, the Unitarian church 57 was highly supportive of political transformation and saw Experimentation as a means for emancipation. Dissenters mainly came from the middle-class involved in commerce, industry or finance. Josiah Wedgwood’s grandfather was a Unitarian minister. Unitarians believed that knowledge based upon reason and experiment was preferable to dogma. Unitarians believed in free enquiry, free worship and voluntary prayers. Another emblematic example is Reverend William Willet, who preached at Newcastle-under-Lyme. He was of the view that the truth about God’s creation was to be found through experimental practices. The reverend pursued the development of improved telescopic lenses. His adage was ‘Invention without Experiment signifys very little.’ He later married Josiah Wedgwood’s sister. Wedgwood borrowed books on chemistry from him. Methodists also had an interest in Experimentation. John Wesley was spreading around his religion from one village to another, throughout America and England. He had written ‘Electricity made plain and useful’, a summary of Benjamin Franklin’s discoveries. Dissenting academies stressed natural philosophy and opposed traditional education that was promoting the classics, literature, theology and other established disciplines. ------------------------------------------------------- Closing remarks on Experimentation and institutional transformation The interest for experiments had started at the royal courts across Europe. It offered many opportunities for scientists to pursue their work as long as they would amaze the nobility. The success of scientific demonstrations and experiments gained ground well beyond the courts of Europe. Many people wanted to see the wonders of electricity and of the balloons that could reach the sky. This passion for Experimentation grabbed people’s mind in countries like France and Britain. It was grounded in the preferences of individuals, in their 57 This church had dissented from the Church of England. In England, Unitarianism got off to a bad start. Most notable is John Bidle (1615-1662), who looked to reason, rather than tradition, for guidance and ended up dying in prison where others like him were burned. 115 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 116. knack for amazement and, at the same time, stimulated their interest for new phenomena. It made people believe that what still appeared as impossible could soon become a reality. Experimentation was entertaining, educational and stimulated optimism. Individuals like Priestley promoted together Experimentation as part of religious, educational and political activities. Art started to represent experiments, university professors used experiments to attract students. Many clubs and network of inventors, such as the Lunar Society, were collective arrangements that contributed to the diffusion of new knowledge and ideas while they also promoted Experimentation. The institutional environment of the time was transformed, new attitudes emerged and people saw Experimentation as a practical way of addressing the challenges they encountered. Protestant and dissenters provided many first generation entrepreneurs and inventors. Hagen (1962), Jeremy (1988, 1998), Bergoff (1995) and Merton (1938), also found that puritans and dissenters tended to be overrepresented in the Royal Society. Following the thesis of Weber (1905), it led scholars to see a link between the religious values of Protestantism and the spirit of capitalism. This can also be interpreted differently in the light of the present analysis. The passion for Experimentation reached people from many different backgrounds and origins in Britain but the Protestants and dissenters, more than any other group, integrated Experimentation in their education, religion and political activities. This passion stimulated the development of a new set of norms, incentives, and collective arrangements that were even more significant for people from this religious obedience. As a consequence, many economic agents developed a preference for occupations and investments that involved pursuing experiments and inventive activities. In this context, the intensification of inventive activities was the result of a much wider number of individuals who used Experimentation as an approach to guide their decision. It was the outcome of a passion for Experimentation that had created an incentive for people to embrace and support inventive activities. Douglas North remarked that ‘institutions reduce uncertainty by providing a structure to everyday life’ (North, 1990). The case studied here is a perfect illustration of this as it connects together uncertainty, Experimentation, the intensification of inventive activities and the 116 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 117. institutional environment. Economists have paid significant attention to the role of formal rules provided by the legal environment (Hodgson, 2006). Here, the widespread passion for Experimentation falls in a different category, informal rules, customs and culture. Yet, because such a collective passion, together with other forces, have profoundly transformed the institutional environment of Britain during the late 18th century, it is valuable to understand how such changes can provide a different set of incentives to people and impact the preferences of agents. 117 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 118. Part 2. Inventing during the late 19th century in America Preliminary Chapter - Overview of the late 19th century The 18th century saw the development of mechanisms and machines alongside the mastering of power technologies such as the steam engine. Inventions were the result of many improvements made by craftsmen as part of their work but some people started to make their lives revolve around inventive activities. They appeared as a passion for Experimentation had spread across Europe, people from all walks of life enjoyed the experimental tricks of the itinerant lecturers. Some of them developed a scientific curiosity and saw nature as an endless chest full of ideas and resources that could help to emancipate people and bring them money. This passion encouraged people to defy uncertainty and some of them started to form networks, such as the Lunar Society in England. Amongst peers, they exchanged ideas, shared scientific and technical information, they organised experiments together and, sometimes, they joined forces to persuade other people of the value of their ideas. The A-E-P triptych helped us to understand how some of those individuals brought to life new modes of production within the textile industry, steam engines with multiple applications and a revolution in the pottery business that turned into a fashion industry serving the rising wealthy class. The second historical period investigates the inventive practices in America that surrounded the development of networks such as the train, the telegraph, the telephone or the electric system. The rail and the telegraph were loosely coupled systems that emerged out of a machine shop culture thanks to the contribution of many inventive minds and hands. These large-scale technical systems were fertile soil for the development of large firms. The history of the railroad industry will provide an interesting testing ground to see if the A-E-P triptych can help to understand the transformation of an industry structure and, more specifically, the evolution of the collective arrangements supporting inventive practices. Electricity and 118 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 119. the telephone were tighter systems which needed master architects to develop them. The career inventors studied in this part dedicated their lives and work to inventive practices. They haunted the same cities where they could meet with master mechanics, scientists, lawyers, financiers and businessmen. Some of them established laboratories where their collaborators worked systematically on their inventive endeavour. They became public figures and promised to people that the magic of invention would enlighten their life when in fact technological progress was paving the way for a new kind of war. The first part studies the individual abilities of three career inventors: Alexander Bell (Chapter I. Section I), Thomas Edison (Chapter I. Section II) and Elmer Sperry (Chapter I Section. III). The focus is to be on inventors who pioneered new fields and brought radical changes; who acted as master architects for new systems, such as the telephone or electricity, and who saw their inventive endeavour turned into large businesses. At that time, towns like Boston offered to attentive inventors many information and resources they needed: libraries, scientific institutions, the expertise of many other inventors and access to investors. They conducted systematic investigation of patents, technical and scientific literature and they performed systematic search for appropriate materials. They enjoyed working on a diversity of projects that cross fertilised each other and they learned to recognise when to invest in a business field. Experimenting still included painstaking trial and error. Sometimes, metaphors and analogies acted as guides for experiments. Finalising an invention often meant systematically testing design parameters in search for the most efficient solutions. Some inventors created their own laboratory where teams of experimenters and machinists worked together. To persuade others, they often simply demonstrated their talents to investors and potential business partners who were eager to rip some benefits from the transformations at play in America. They used their eloquence and self-fashioned themselves to become public figures and brands synonym of magic and progress. The understanding of late 19th century is somehow broad here. The starting point of this period is the end of the civil war in 1865 and the end point is the engagement of America in the First World War in 191758. 58 This reasoning follows the logic of Hobsbawm, an Historian who wrote an essay entitled The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century in which he suggested the 20th century started with the First World War (Hobsbawm, 1994). 119 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 120. Alexander Bell is the well known inventor of the telephone. He was chosen as he is a transition figure between the 18th century inventor, with a curiosity for the gifts of nature, and the 19th century professional and independent inventor who established large businesses. More than any other inventor, he illustrates the figure of the inventor who depended on entrepreneurs and managers to mainstream their work. Thomas Edison was chosen as he is the archetypal figure of the American industrial revolution. His contribution goes well beyond the light bulb to cover the whole electrification process and many other technical and business fields. Edison brought the division of labour to Experimentation and inventive activities by creating two laboratories: Menlo Park and the Orange Lab. Elmer Sperry, with more than 350 patents, is without a doubt a career inventor. He has been active in a diversity of business and technical fields such as electric lighting, mining machinery, electric devices for trolley cars, electric automobiles, gyroscopes, gyrocompass, torpedoes and aeroplane stabilizers. He applied his understanding of electrical and control systems to this diverse group fields. Sperry was chosen for this reason and because he was a successful engineer and entrepreneur beyond being a professional inventor. At the same time, the rail industry was the first sector where large businesses decided to rely on engineers for routine invention, standardisation and improvement thanks to a collective arrangement called in the present dissertation ‘inventive hierarchy’. This transformation occurred during the last thirty years of the 19th century. Its analysis provides both insights into the functioning of a diversity of collective arrangements and remarkable perspective on the transformation of an industry throughout history. In this context, A-E-P triptych will contribute to describe and understand the evolution of the collective arrangements supporting inventive activities within an industry. This will be an opportunity to comprehend how it complements the analysis in terms of transaction costs. Seminal contributions to the economic theory of the firm such as the ones of Knight, Coase and Williamson will be juxtaposed to the A-E-P triptych in order to interpret the salient facts observed as part of the transformation of the railroad industry (Chapter 2). 120 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 121. Before studying the three career inventors, some elements of context can help to characterise the late 19th century in America. Even though America resists a simple and homogeneous description, three salient facts can be outlined. The country faced a secession war during the 1860’s. Following the war, the economic system was unified. (1) A transportation and communication system developed rapidly across the country. The North-East saw the rapid development of urbanisation while the West acted as a promised land for an ongoing flow of emigrants coming mainly from Europe. (2) New business practices emerged with the rise of large firms. The rail, the telegraph, the telephone and electricity were the emblems of a profound transformation. (3) They were the fruits of what was called the ‘Yankee ingenuity’, a knack for practical problems in a vibrant and vast new country. (1) The development of the transportation system was a necessity in a young, large and demographically dynamic country it was also economically significant. Roads, canals and trains contributed to an open market and stimulated the economy. They were widely supported by governments. The Cumberland road, the first national road, was started in 1811. The Erie Canal was opened in 1825. This was the route connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. It was mainly financed by the states themselves. It was both an engineering and a financial success. The Canal helped New York City to become a major trading centre. However, roads and canals were going to face fierce competition from a new mode of transportation, the rail, an emblem of America in the making. Over 100,000 miles of tracks were laid between 1877 and 1893, therefore doubling the network. On 10 May 1869, at Promontory Utah, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific lines met, connecting the Mississippi Valley and the Pacific coast. The Southern States, Chicago were connected through rail to the rest of the country. The development of a railroad in America was supported by the state and local authorities which granted land, offered tax concessions and bought their bonds. Railroad had significant economic impacts. First, the sheer size of the project itself was economically considerable: railroads needed workers to build and operate their lines. It also stimulated the production of steel on a large scale. Secondly, such a network of transport facilitated economic exchanges and growth. The development of the railroad also led to some institutional harmonisation, such as the adoption of a time zone 121 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 122. system. The telegraph, a new system of communication, developed along the lines of the railroads. In 1844, Samuel F. B. Morse created his signalling code for the telegraph. By 1860, the telegraph connected the country from the Eastern coast to the Mississippi. However railroad companies were pitiless in exploiting their dominant position: they fixed prices at their convenience, discriminated among customers and favoured the development of corruption. (2) The business practices during this period were transformed by an increasing specialisation, the expansion of markets and capital accumulation. This was a time when large firms started to flourish and when the question of monopoly took on a new significance. The so-called ‘tycoons’, moguls or business barons started to create business empires and amassed vast financial powers. The railroad sector was the first to see the emergence of large corporation but it was followed by others. For example, in the oil sector, Rockefeller organised the Standard Oil Co. by buying out small manufacturers and integrating them. Andrew Carnegie took a dominant position in the steel business through a combination of technical advantage and rapid expansion. J.P. Morgan built an empire in banking and invested in nascent industries. It was often done with the use of a new organisational form: the trust 59. It was no surprise that this series of business consolidation resulted in reduced competition and an increase in profits for small groups of shareholders. If political leaders first adopted a ‘laissez faire’ approach with limited interference in economic affairs, they started, at the end of the 19th century, to change their views as pressure groups, small businesses and labour movement started to ask them to intervene. Here again, the railroad was ahead of other industries with the voting of a law regulating railroad in 1887, this was the Interstate Commerce Act. This law made it illegal for a railroad to charge more for a short haul than for a longer one. In 1890, the Sherman Act was passed to prevent monopoly to control a single industry. It took ten years in order to use it to break up a monopoly. Under this pressure, trusts, such as Standard Oil, became holding companies. Anticompetitive behaviour continued to flourish in industry such as tobacco with the creation of the American Tobacco Company and, in sugar, with the American Sugar Refining Company. In the meantime, the business barons started to employ 59 In such an organisation, the voting rights of a controlling number of shares of competing firms were gathered by a small group of men, who could therefore prevent competition among the companies they controlled. 122 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 123. managers, the ‘visible hand of the capitalist system’ elegantly described by A. Chandler (1977). The use of the capital necessitated a larger number of workers and larger plants than ever before. Administrative structure and coordination by managers replaced Adam Smith's invisible hand and became a core mode of governance of the economic system. (3) In the 1870’s, government support for engineering and science was limited. It was dedicated to geological survey and agriculture in order to support the ‘Go West’ movement. However, only a few universities offered advanced degrees in sciences and engineering. Most people interested in these fields had to study in Germany. The situation changed over the years. The Morrill Land-Grant Acts provided land to State colleges 60. It was very much dedicated to support the agricultural research. Private philanthropy also provided funds to universities. New educational programmes were offered including doctoral ones. In 1900, universities graduated hundreds of scientists and engineers. Nevertheless, compared to Europe, America was not a land of basic science. As part of a young nation in expansion, Americans were facing very practical challenges and they had to solve problems. The so- called ‘Yankee ingenuity’ was at work. People who had some interest and aptitude for technical matters were attracted by those numerous practical issues that needed to be solved. Transport and communication issues topped the list. The maxim ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ applies perfectly to the American situation during the 19th century. Furthermore, the deep interest in inventive practices led to the development of a modern patent system and, in return, the patent system served the development of inventive activities. In addition, the realisations of inventors fostered the development of a passion for invention. American citizens loved and admired their inventors for the new technologies such as electric lighting or the phonograph. They enjoyed the rising number of articles in the press that described their work and the new technology that were brought to life by them. Such a passion for invention stimulated vocations for inventive activities. It can be illustrated by this quote in which Lincoln, in 1859, celebrated inventions as a true distinctive trait of the nation: ‘(w)e, here in America, think we discover, and invent, and improve faster than any of (our predecessor nations) (…). In anciently inhabited countries, the dust of ages – a real downright old- fogyism – seems to settle upon, and smother the intellects and energies of man. It is in this view 60 The Morrill Act was passed in 1862, it granted each state tracts of land that could be used to finance new agricultural and mechanical schools. 123 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 124. that I have mentioned the discovery of America as an event greatly favouring and facilitating useful discoveries and inventions’ (Usselman, 2002). Finally, inventions fuelled the rise of large corporations and helped a new class of capitalists to become rich. These business barons shared the country interest for inventions. They financed inventors and recruited engineers who came up with promising solutions from which their business could benefit. This virtuous circle can be summarised in the following figure. A passion for invention The multiplication of The rise of large practical problems Inventive practices systems and corporations Efficient patent system Figure 2: Virtuous cycles of inventive practices during the late 19th century in America 124 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 125. Chapter I. Inventors at the age of large systems Section I. Alexander Bell Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh on 3 March 1847. He is a career inventor with about 30 individual and collective patents related to telegraphs, telephones, medical devices, aeronautics, engineering structures, etc. His interests went well beyond the invention of the telephone, pursuing what he felt would be useful to the world and what he felt passionate about. All his life, he dedicated his efforts to teaching deaf people how to speak. His grandfather, father, uncle and brothers were all engaged in work on elocution and speech. His mother and his wife were deaf. At the age of 12, Bell showed his knack for inventing. He was playing with the son of a neighbour who owned a flour mill. The father of his friend asked the two boys to remove the husk from the wheat, a long and laborious task. Bell built a rudimentary de-husking machine using rotating paddles and nail brushes (Mackay, 1997). The machine was subsequently used for a number of years. At the age of 15, Bell moved to London to live with his widowed grandfather. The older man, with his zeal for education and his belief in the importance of eloquence, had a major influence on Alexander Bell. At the age of 16, back in Scotland, he became a teacher of elocution and music at the Weston House Academy. He studied at the University of Edinburgh and taught in Bath in 1866 and 1867. During those years, his scientific curiosity for the human voice became his main leisure pursuit, for example, he joined the Philological Society and took some courses in anatomy and physiology at the University College in London. In 1867, Bell’s father published his work on visible speech: a system of symbols that can be used to represent any sounds the human voice can produce. He had developed it some years before but kept it secret, hoping to attract some funding from government in order to diffuse it. His three sons helped him with demonstrations. Finally, Bell’s father did not 125 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 126. receive the recognition he was eager to get. He was, however, invited to Canada and America to demonstrate his system. The same year, Alexander Bell lost his younger brother to tuberculosis and, three years later, in May 1870, his other brother also died from complications of tuberculosis. The Bell family decided to move to Canada and to settle in Ontario. There, Alexander Bell learned the Mohawk language and translated its vocabulary into visible speech. He left for Boston the year after. His father had been offered a position by Sarah Fuller, Principal of the ‘Boston School for Deaf Mutes’. He declined the offer and recommended his son. There, Alexander enjoyed many successes with teaching elocution using visible speech to deaf mutes and he went on to open his own class in October 1872. Deaf mutes were traditionally considered stupid by society and the progress Bell helped them to achieve enthused parents and scholars. In 1872, Alexander Bell developed the idea that his work on acoustics could lead to a multiple telegraph that would send numerous messages simultaneously along a single wire. He progressed with experiments during his leisure time and often late at night. He became Professor of Vocal Physiology and Elocution at the Boston University School of Oratory. His time was fully absorbed by the teaching and the experiments he conducted. In order to keep time for his experiments on his multiple telegraphs 61, Bell decided to concentrate his efforts on two private students: ‘Georgie’ Sanders, a six-year old boy, son of a leather merchant and 15-year old Mabel Hubbard. The fathers of the two pupils became the financial backers and associates of Bell from February 1875 (Grosvenor & Wesson, 1997). Mabel Hubbard became his wife in 1877. Free from other obligations, Bell was able to concentrate on his experiments and started to employ Thomas Watson, an experienced mechanical and electrical designer. Experiments went on throughout 1874 and 1875. In June 1875, while working on his multiple telegraph, they discovered that sound could be transmitted using electric current. They went on and discovered, step by step, the working principles of the telephone. Bell pursued some inventive work afterwards. In 1879, he came 61 The terminology ‘multiple telegraph’ is used here to refer to the work of Bell. This device is sometimes also called ‘acoustic telegraph’ or ‘harmonic telegraph’ by historian and biographers. 126 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 127. up with an audiometer to measure hearing ability. This led to the adoption of his name for a unit of measure: the decibel. His ‘Photophone’, developed with Charles Tainter, accomplished a wireless transmission. In 1880, Bell received the Volta Prize from the French government. He used the money to fund the Volta Laboratory in Washington. In this laboratory, he developed, together with his cousin Chichester Bell and Charles Tainter, the ‘Graphophone’, a phonograph using wax cylinders. In 1881, Bell worked on a metal detector following an attempt to assassinate James Garfield, The U.S. president, with a gun. In 1883, he invented a vacuum jacket following the death of his newborn son. A patent was issued to Bell on 7 March 1876 and covered ‘the method of, and apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically (…) by causing electrical undulations, similar in form to the vibrations of the air accompanying the said vocal or other sound.’ This was going to be one of the most money-spinning patent in history and a vastly contested one. The Bell Telephone Company was created in 1877 and the commercialisation of the telephone started at a rapid pace. That year, Bell went on honeymoon to Europe. He demonstrated the telephone to Queen Victoria in England. Back in America, he remained loosely connected with the business. His main role was to defend the rights of his invention. As a matter of fact, the company faced legal challenge from Gray 62 and other inventors. More than 600 litigations, over 12 years were conducted. None of them were lost by Bell and his associates. In 1882, Alexander Bell became an American citizen. He and his family shared their time between Washington and Nova Scotia, in Canada. His interest went well beyond inventive activities. In 1883, Bell contributed to funding the publication of ‘Science’, a scientific journal. He was also one of the founding members of the National Geographic Society. He continued to help the deaf and established the Volta Bureau in 1886 as a centre for studies on the deaf. In 1990, Bell also founded the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to 62 Gray is an American inventor and contestant with Alexander Bell in a famous legal battle over the invention of the telephone. On 14 February, 1876, the day that Bell filed an application for a patent for a telephone, Gray applied for a caveat announcing his intention to file a claim for a patent for the same invention within three months. 127 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 128. the Deaf. Bell received many honours and awards before he died of pernicious anaemia on 2 August, 1922. Some of his ideas are still debated today 63. The first part will look at how the Bell family and the city of Boston channelled his attention towards acoustical problems (A/ Attentiveness: family and city as crucibles of inventions). Indeed, the most striking fact when studying Alexander Bell’s life and work is the role of his family, specialists of elocution and speech, son of a deaf mother and the husband of a deaf wife (1). The city of Boston nourished Bell’s work with all he needed to bring the telephone to life (2). Bell had a very strong belief in the value of Experimentation and was ready to learn as much from failure as from success: ‘(i)n scientific researches, there are no unsuccessful experiments; every experiment contains a lesson,’ he wrote, ‘(i)f we don’t get the results anticipated and stop right there, it is the man that is unsuccessful, not the experiment’. In order to develop the telephone, he used analogies, insights from his work on the multiple telegraphs and a systematic approach to guide his experimental work. The full spectrum of Experimentation practices, starting from providential discovery and ending with a quasi-rational or systematic approach was used (B/ Experimentation: analogies, cross fertilization and systematic debugging). This will be studied by looking at the different stages of the development of the telephone from his exploratory work (1) to the optimisation of what was to become a very successful commercial product (2). Some inventors persuade others of the value of their work by associating themselves with prominent partners (C/ Persuasion: prominent partners and occupations). Bell offers an interesting case as he was himself a prominent figure thanks to his work on visible speech (1). This provided him access to the scientific institutions of Boston and led him to find his financial backers. His father-in-law, Hubbard, also played an important role in persuading others of the value of his inventive work (2). He acted as a financial backer but also paid special attention to matters related to patents and to the promotion of Bell’s invention. Finally, Bell turned the demonstration of his invention into a useful but temporary 63 For instance, in 1917, in a paper on the depletion of natural resources, he stated that the unchecked burning of fossil fuels would lead to a ‘sort of greenhouse effect’ and global warming. 128 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 129. occupation that paved the way for a commercial success (3). Bell’s theatrical skills served him to promote the telephone in such a way that it nearly became a business in itself. Quickly the magic of the telephone attracted the attention of the press and potential users. A. Attentiveness: family and city as crucibles 1. Family of Bell channelled his attention toward acoustical problems In February 1879, Bell started to enjoy his nascent wealth. He bought an exemplar of the Encyclopaedia Britannica with the firm intention to read it from A to Z. In 1992, Johnson’s encyclopaedia served him as night reading. He eloquently commented on it: ‘my usual night reading, Johnson encyclopaedia. Find this makes splendid reading matter for night. Articles not too long – constant change in the subject of thought – always learning something I have not known before – provocative thoughts – constant variety’ (Bruce, 1973). Bell’s scientific curiosity had was vast and immensely served his inventive work. Without such a curiosity, the influence of his family on his inventive work would have been of limited impact. Nevertheless, it was his family who channelled his attention towards acoustical problems. Surrounded by specialists of elocution and speech and as the son of a deaf mother and the husband of a deaf wife, one could imagine that Alexander was guided by destiny in his inventive activities. Alexander Bell’s father, Melville Bell, was an elocutionist and a speech teacher. He taught elocution to ministers and children from rich families. He wrote books with the help of his brother David, and he believed a scientific alphabet could be established to represent all possible human sounds. Alexander Bell grew in the shadow of his father and older brothers. In his solitude, he developed an interest for science, Experimentation and technical matters. When he lived in London, Alexander Bell benefited from the lessons of elocution and declamation of his grandfather. It was in London, at the age of 19, that Alexander Bell and his father visited Sir Charles Wheatstone, one of the leading English scientists of that time, who believed that, one day, it could be possible to articulate speech electrically. He owned one of the exemplars of Baron de Kempelen’s speaking machine and, before lending Alexander Bell a copy of the Baron’s book describing the machine, he offered the father and the son the opportunity to listen to it. After this visit, Bell’s father suggested to him and his 129 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 130. brother to conceive a speaking machine. This machine ended up saying ‘Mama’ but, most importantly, Bell, probed by his father, was starting to perform scientific investigations on how speech was produced by human organs. In 1864, Melville Bell had developed his universal alphabet. He taught the system to his three sons who were able to demonstrate that ‘visible speech’ was suitable to transcribe languages such as Arabic, Hindi or Urdu. ‘Visible speech’ started to gain Melville Bell a reputation in America. He declared in the press that he hoped for ‘acoustic and articulative principles be developed, which could lead to mechanical invention no less wonderful and useful than those in optics’ (Bruce, 1973). Melville Bell encouraged by his brother David, opted for a lecture tour in America. During this trip, Melville Bell started to describe the early success of his son Alexander with deaf children. It was this trip to America that led to the establishment of the family in Canada. Alexander Bell was also influenced by his deaf mother who played piano helped by her ear tube. In his youth, Alexander became an excellent pianist and was encouraged by his mother who hired a renowned pianist to give him lessons. Years later, when he was still in England, Alexander Bell developed the idea of an electric piano combining electromagnets, pitchforks and the principle of resonance. He did not turn this idea into a practical device. However, with his understanding of the telegraph he could see that ‘not only could a chord be transmitted over a single wire and unscrambled at the other end, but also a number of simultaneous Morse code messages sent in different pitches. His mind was hovering about the idea of a multiple telegraph, of a kind that would be called ‘harmonic’’ (Bruce, 1973). If it was Bell’s curiosity and his inquisitiveness that helped him to gather the many valuable hints he needed, it is without a doubt Alexander Bell’s family who engaged him during his time in Scotland and England on the right trail to invent the telephone. The following words written much later by his wife outline a portrait of an attentive inventor: ‘(W)hat a man my husband is! I am perfectly bewildered at the number and size of ideas with which his head is crammed… Flying machines to which telephones and torpedoes are to be attached occupy the first place just now from the observation of sea gulls… Every now and then he comes out with ‘the flying machine has quite changed its shape in a quarter of an hour’ or ‘the cigar-shape is dismissed to the 130 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 131. limbo of useless things’. Then he goes climbing about the rocks and forming theories on the origin of cliffs and cave… then he comes home and watches sugar bubbles’ (Bruce, 1973). It was in England that Bell started to explore acoustical phenomenon and to enrich his knowledge of electricity by using telegraphic instruments. However, it was America, and more specifically Boston, that offered him the resources and people he needed to invent the telephone. 2. Boston’s inventive environment: people and libraries Alexander Bell always enjoyed participating in scientific circles even though he could not actively take part in all the ones of which he was a member. Later in his life, when he lived in Washington, he was an assiduous member of the National Academy of Science and the regent of the Smithsonian Institution. He organised Wednesday’s dinners where men of science were invited to debate and discuss recent developments. This interest from Bell for societies was not a late hobby of an established patriarch. Boston with its institutions, scientific circles and libraries played a fundamental role in the birth of the telephone. When Alexander Bell arrived in Boston, he discovered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.). An acquaintance of his father, Professor Monroe, gave him a copy of the latest book on sound of a prominent scientific figure: Tyndall. Bell read his other books at the public library and attended his lectures at the university. This was where he first heard about the undulatory theory of light propagation which he used for his work on the telephone. Soon after he arrived in Boston, he also joined the Social Science Association, visited a number of public exhibitions and attended lectures on experimental mechanics at the M.I.T. His neighbour, Percival Richards had, like many people in America, an interest in electricity. When Alexander Bell started to work on a multiple telegraph by replicating Helmholtz experimental equipments, Richards encouraged him and sometimes helped him with practical tasks as Bell was too clumsy for the programme of work he had assigned to himself. 131 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 132. By pioneering the use of visible speech with deaf children, Alexander Bell gained a professorship in Boston. He commented that this ‘has at once placed me in a new position in Boston. It has brought me into contact with the scientific minds of the city’ (Bruce, 1973). This was also his entry ticket to experiment with Helmholtz equipment. As part of the M.I.T. equipment, he discovered the ‘Phonautograph’ of a Frenchman called Scott, an apparatus with a large wooden cone in which one could speak and transform a sound into a drawing using a membrane diaphragm. He also discovered the ‘Manometric flame’ of Koenig, another Frenchman, in which a membrane fluctuated depending on the sound emitted. Bell saw this as a potential help to teach visible speech and experimenting with this idea brought him very close to the working principle of the phonograph that was later invented by Edison. At the public library of Boylston Street, the largest in America, Bell discovered the book of Baile: ‘The wonders of Electricity’. This is where he got the idea to replace the pitchfork he used in his experiments with some steel reed which gave him the possibility to adjust and tune the pitch. The book also foresaw something that certainly encouraged Bell to pursue his ideas, Baile had concluded that: ‘(h)ence it should be possible to transmit as many musical tones simultaneously through a wire as through the air’(Grosvernor & Wesson, 1997). Bell also started some joint investigation of the human ear together with Blake, a specialist of the subject. They used the temporal bones of bodies from the medical school. Later, Blake re-assured Bell that his ideas were valid from an acoustic point of view, it helped him concentrate on his mechanical work. Blake was also the one who saved the sketches of the harp apparatus, an early concept of the telephone which proved important in later legal matters. All those encounters, books and equipment gave him some hints that proved useful in conceiving the telephone and, more specifically, a key milestone in his thinking process, the harp apparatus. In 1874, as Bell felt threatened by the progress of Gray, his rival, he asked his former neighbour Percival Richards to write down his recollection of his work a year before to keep a testimony of his ideas and achievements at that time. He consulted Professor 132 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 133. Lovering from Harvard and Moses Farmer, a Boston inventor 64. They saw nothing wrong with the ideas and theories of Alexander Bell. However, Farmer thought that turning those into practice would take years and that it would be better to publish his results in a scientific magazine. It led Bell to put aside his work on the telephone in order to concentrate on the multiple telegraphs. However, Henry, a scientist from Washington who had bad recollection of the time he let Samuel Morse developed his idea on the telegraph, convinced him not to publish but to pursue his work until he had a workable device 65. When Bell said he did not have the electrical knowledge, Henry replied to him ‘Get it’. Bell subsequently wrote to his parents: ‘I cannot tell you how much these two words have encouraged me’ (Bruce, 1973). Shortly after this event, Professor Monroe gave him a year’s advance for his lectures. The Boston’s and the Washington’s networks of scientists and inventors were not only a source of valuable information, it was also a place where Bell could get advice as well as moral and financial support. Bell also met in Boston his two financial backers, Hubbard and Sanders, who enabled him to concentrate on his experiments. B. Experimentation: analogies, cross-fertilisation and systematic debugging 1. From the multiple telegraph to the telephone We saw previously how Bell’s family was instrumental in initiating his curiosity for acoustic phenomena. His first experiment was conducted together with his brother Melly, following the challenge given by their father to create a speaking machine. In England, Bell, surrounded by his family and friends, made his early attempts to use an experimental approach which proved to be a first step towards Bell’s future inventive activities. It brought him some of the skills and knowledge he needed, it strengthened his determination and his knack for playful Experimentation. 64. Farmer also recommended Thomas Watson to Bell. He was a young man working for Charles Williams, who made, with his 25 employees, electrical devices in his machine shop. He started to work on the basis of a paid assignment for Bell before joining him on a full time basis. 133 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 134. When he left England for America, Bell had the multiple telegraphs and the electric piano in mind, which served as powerful analogies that guided Bell in the right direction. Bell’s experiments led to the invention of the telephone picture inventive activities as a series of paths that are explored, abandoned, re-explored and, sometimes, end up being conclusive. They also show how different streams of inventive work, such as the multiple telegraphs and the telephone, can cross-fertilize each other. The telephone and the multiple telegraphs were some kind of twin brothers sharing some basic features but with different applications. They were conceived by Bell simultaneously. One could see here Bell’s difficulty to take decisions and to focus on a single invention but the two streams of inventive activities nourished each other with ideas, insights and experimental plots. Moreover, Bell could jump from one to another as he felt he had bumped into a dead end. He could temporarily take away his mind from one problem and explore the other one in the meantime. At the end of 1873, Bell focused his effort on steel reed rheotomes, current-interrupters based on Helmholtz idea. By connecting two rheotomes and two receivers using a wire, Bell assembled his first prototype of a multiple telegraph. The first transmitter worked well but not the second one. As he was trying to find the origin of the failure, he pressed his ear against the transmitter. He noticed a noise that was the first telephonic one (Bruce, 1973). However, he was looking for something else. He noted it in his notebook and pursued his investigation. After some efforts, he concluded that the fundamental principle of the multiple telegraphs had been experimentally validated. The next step was to develop a similar equipment but with multiple stations. To make it possible, he had the idea to use an induction current between the stations and the main lines. After some further reflection, he felt he had reached a dead end and stepped back. He had to develop a new transmitter. He foresaw the possibility of using a receiver as a transmitter but, eventually, discarded this idea which would have brought him very close to the telephone. He went back to the idea of developing a battery powered current which appeared to him as the most promising working solution for the multiple telegraphs. However, shortly after this, his mind was dragged again into acoustic issues, as he had just discovered the Phonautograph and the Manometric flame. He also started his collaboration 134 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 135. on the human ear with Blake. He created a Phonautograph using for a membrane an ear taken from a dead body 66. Having worked on his multiple telegraphs and having furthered his understanding of the human ear, the practical scheme of a telephone came to his mind. He looked back at the idea of induced current and conceived the harp apparatus which was never realised in practice for lack of skills and equipment. Mid-1874, he came back to the multiple telegraphs which he considered a much simpler scheme that he could pursue. Early 1875, Thomas Watson started to help Bell by making several reel-spring rheotome of a new design. A problem of oxidation delayed the final prototype. Experimenting provides many long and strenuous periods of problem fighting and tinkering 67. This prototype was presented to William Orton, President of the Western Unions. Following this, it was decided that it was time to file three patents. As Bell was supposed to refine his multiple telegraphs, he could not prevent his mind from going back to what he called ‘electric speech’. In May 1875 Bell came up with the idea of using a variable resistance. The day after, together with Watson, they were experimenting with this idea without success. The next step they took was to make a diaphragm instrument. However, they continued to improve the multiple telegraphs in parallel. They focused their efforts on the practical enhancement of parts that could benefit both devices. On July 2, 1875,, they succeeded in transmitting unintelligible sound across a house. That night, Bell wrote to his father: ‘(T)his afternoon on singing in front of a stretched membrane attached to the armature of an electro- magnet – the varying pitch of the voice was plainly discernible at the other end of the line (300ft) no battery, nor permanent magnet being employed(…). When the sounds are received upon another stretched membrane – instead of a steel spring which can only vibrate to certain pitches – 66 He observed that ‘the sound waves acting on a tiny membrane of the eardrum could move relatively heavy bones. This led him to speculate that sound waves themselves might be strong enough to generate an appreciable current’ (Mackay, 1997). 67 He wrote to his parents ‘I trust you may never know the agony I endured all night and yesterday’ (Mackay, 1997). 135 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 136. it is highly probable that the ‘timbre’ of the voice may be perceived. I feel that I am on the threshold of a great discovery’ (Grosvenor & Wesson, 1997). This letter is considered to be the birth certificate of the telephone. 2. The last mile can be the hardest one Validating a technical concept is very different from having a marketable product. Bell still had many hours of work in front of him before reaching that stage. First, he wanted to eliminate the sparking of intermittent current contacts without using a condenser. He did not remain happy for long with his achievements, as a patent challenge from Gray brought his moral down. He also started to believe that Western Union spies could be after his work. It was time for experiments to be resumed. He pursued some debugging and fine tuning work on his multiple telegraphs, testing various combinations of armature, cells and circuits. He turned the manometric flame into an instrument to measure the electromagnetic effect of undulatory current (Bruce, 1973). In March 1876, he started to use a dish of water as proposed in his spark arrester specification. He noticed a faint sound. As he was adding acid to the water, the sound became louder. He also substituted the tuning fork by a hand bell, it was the only applicable device he had at hand. He discovered that resistance should be varied by varying the area of contact. He sketched some drawings with a needle dipping in the liquid. After refining the experimental apparatus, he tried it with Watson. He reported in his notebook: ‘I then shouted into M [the mouthpiece] the following sentence ‘Mr Watson – Come here – I want to see you.’ To my delight he came and declared that he had heard and understood what I said’ (Bruce, 1973). This was the first audible discussion using a telephone. Unfortunately, not all sound was easily recognisable yet. Stronger current led to gas bubbles in the acid and black deposit on the needle called for regular cleaning. More trials allowed him limited progress. He then stopped this trial and error approach and started to theorize about the problem. He used graph and calculations. The solution that was used a few years later across the nascent industry was in front of him but he was not confident in his theorizing ability (Bruce, 1973). He explored alternative solutions, came up with a practical 136 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 137. application after going through days of fruitless experiments. He finally achieved some success in May after many more trials, observation and some surprises. His telephone was now based on what was called a ‘double pole magneto transmitter’ and a simple reed receiver. At this stage, both vowel and consonants could be heard distinctly. He left his experimental work to demonstrate his work at the Philadelphia International exhibition which ended up being the start of fame for the telephone. It was now time to test the telephone over distance which he did in Canada over five and, then, eight miles. Watson joined Bell on a full time basis and was offered, on top of his salary, a 10% share in Bell’s patent. Bell reviewed his notebook and found an idea that had been left aside untried. It suggested applying a large metal disk on the transmitter membrane. The trial was a success. In October, Bell and Watson had the first phone conversation in history. Bell wrote: ‘the utterance was perfectly distinct (…). If we can only keep it always so our fortunes are made. The success (peculiarly) of telegraphy (that is, telephony) is no longer an uncertainty. I know that my fortune is in my own hands. I know that complete and perfect success is close at hand’ (Bruce, 1973). A stern contrast with the letter he had a few months before. Now, it was a matter of fine tuning the telephone. They embarked on a highly systematic approach to Experimentation, varying each part while keeping the others constant. They debugged the phone step by step, eliminating defects as they were discovered. As part of this effort, Bell re-considered the variable resistance method that was going to be the standard a few years after but he abandoned it again. Bell’s approach to Experimentation was very much guided by trial and error logic. These trials and errors were sometimes close to a pure random exploration, pursuing a promising idea. Other times, they were more systematic in order to eliminate problems and defects. The latter approach became more and more important as the development of the telephone progressed, as uncertainty vanished leaving a strong belief that success was at hand. In April 1877, the first regular telephone line was established between the shop and the house of Charles Williams, who was now manufacturing the telephone for Bell. The first 137 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 138. ‘real’ customer was recorded in May 1877 and income started to arrive the same month. In July, the first telephone company was established and financial success lay ahead. This was also the result of Bell’s abilities to persuade others and to surround himself with people who could help him to do so. C. Persuasion: prominent occupations and partners 1. Visible speech, visible Bell Some inventors persuade others of the value of their work by associating themselves with prominent partners. The case of Bell offers an interesting derivative, as he was himself a prominent figure thanks to his work on visible speech. It provided him access to the scientific institutions of Boston and led him to find viable and interested financial bankers. Visible speech had made Bell a visible man. Using the system developed by his father: ‘visible speech’, Bell started to teach the deaf how to speak. At first, his intention was to promote visible speech but quickly helping deaf people became his main goal. His energy, his enthusiasm and his achievement in the field rapidly enhanced his reputation in Boston. However, it was in May 1868 in England that Alexander Bell started to use visible speech to teach deaf mutes. It was Susanna Hull, who was running a school for deaf children in South Kensington, who gave him the opportunity. He started with two young girls: Lotty, 6 years old, and Minna, 8 years old, soon joined by Kate and Nelly, both 8 years old. Using a picture of the face and of the different body parts playing a role in speech, Bell helped them to master a few sounds after the first lesson. After their fifth lesson, they all knew all consonants and some of the vowels. At the age of 21, Alexander Bell’s reputation for teaching deaf children spread rapidly and enquiries started to be addressed to the school. In 1871, teaching visible speech attracted Alexander Bell in Boston. He started with 30 children at the public school for deaf mutes where Sarah Fuller acted as Principal. The first attempts brought magnificent results that deeply impressed the governing committee of the 138 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 139. school 68. The Boston Journal reported on the event. More newspaper reports were published, Bell addressed the American Social Science Association and wrote an article in the American Annals of the deaf and dumb which continued to spread the word about visible speech and the achievements of Bell. In March 1872, accounts of his work had been reported in the national press. The Japanese commissioner for education visited Bell who convinced him of the value of the system for the Japanese language. Bell also established his own school in October that year. In 1873, Bell was offered the professorship of ‘Vocal physiology and elocution’ at the Boston university by Professor Monroe. It gave him access to the academic circles and the experimental equipments of the university. In January 1874, a convention of sixty visible speech teachers was organised. Bell gave the principal lecture. It was also decided to start a periodical, ‘the visible speech pioneer’. Finally, he was invited to lecture at the M.I.T., an entry ticket to mingle with the finest scientific elite of Boston. In October of that year, he was offered to teach Georgie Sanders in Salem in return for a free board and lodging. Bell shared his idea about multiple telegraphs with Thomas Sanders, the father of Georgie, who had a profitable leather business. Sanders offered to support Bell’s experimental work financially. During the same month, Bell met Mabel Hubbard, who had just come back from Europe, and who was to become Bell’s new pupil. Bell was invited to her parent’s house; he played the piano and asked if they knew that a piano could repeat a note sung into it. Within minutes, Bell and Gardiner Hubbard, the father of Mabel, were feverishly discussing the multiple telegraphs. Hubbard was one of the most anxious people in America looking for a workable multiple telegraphs. Bell was now a ‘visible man’ in Boston. This led him to interact with the elite of Boston and, therefore, to secure funding for his experimental work. Bell had gained a reputation in a different field than telegraphy and telephony, it helped him to further his cause and, in the end, to gain a partner that was to play an important role in the invention of the telephone: Gardiner Hubbard. 68 The superintendent of Boston schools found the results ‘more than satisfactory, they are wonderful’ and that ‘(T)he system must speedily revolutioni(z)e the teaching in all articulating deaf-mute school’ (Bruce, 1973). 139 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 140. 2. Family business: the prominent father-in-law Gardiner Hubbard was not just a financial backer. He became Alexander Bell’s father-in-law. He was the strongest advocate of Bell’s multiple telegraph and oversaw patent issues. He dealt with the establishment of the Bell Telephone company. He was the one who saw the benefit of associating Bell’s name to the company. He later had the great idea to recruit Theodore Vail who ran the company successfully for many years. All along the development of the multiple telegraphs and the telephone, he urged Bell to focus his efforts on the telegraph. But he backed up the telephone as soon as he understood its potential. As a lawyer, he used his talent and his acquaintance with patent and to protect Bell’s inventions. Because of potential litigation, he advised Bell to write down every experiment conducted and to send them to him the notes dated and signed. He also suggested withdrawing a caveat Bell had drafted. Gray had already submitted a draft patent and the caveat would only alert him of Bell’s progress without giving any protection to Bell. All legal battles were later handled by Hubbard’s patent attorneys. Hubbard, the thorough businessman, saw an inventor like Bell as someone who tended to procrastinate. He wanted him to abandon teaching visible speech but Bell resisted. Hubbard, without consulting Bell, decided to file a patent on undulatory-current and telephone application on 14 February 1876, a few hours before Gray filed a caveat for a speaking telephone on the liquid variable resistance principle. Hubbard also organised the demonstration of Bell’s telegraph to William Orton, President of the Western Union, the main telegraph company in America. The demonstration was a success. But when Bell met him again in New York, Orton did not show any interest. He had held promising exchanges with Gray and did not want an association with Hubbard, his rival. Hubbard had organized, using his acquaintances, other demonstrations including five Harvard Professors and Pickering from the M.I.T. and wanted Bell to demonstrate his 140 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 141. telephone at the Philadelphia International Exhibition. This exhibition was going to be the most astonishing exhibition that ever took place in America and nearly every American knew about it. Hubbard was part of the committee on Massachusetts’ education and science. Visible speech had its place on the stand and some space was reserved for Bell’s telephone and telegraph. Hubbard insisted that Bell join to meet the jury of the exhibition electrical entry. But Bell was busy with his visible speech teaching engagement. Hubbard insisted and even used his daughter to persuade Bell to join. Hubbard installed Bell in the hotel where the judges were staying. The highlight of the exhibition for Bell was his demonstration of the telephone to the Emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro, and the judges. Bell explained his telegraph and they played with it. After, he explained the ondulatory theory and offered them to try the transmission of human voice. It was the start of Bell’s career as a demonstrator of the telephone. Bell had written what happened then to his parents: ‘I stated however that this was ‘an invention in embryo.’ I trusted that they would recognise firstly that the pitch of the voice was audible and secondly that there was an effect of articulation. I then went into a distant room and sang into the telephone. Willie Hubbard told me what happened. Sir William listened and heard my voice distinctly. I then articulated the sentence: ‘do you understand what I say.’ He listened again and said: ‘Yes. – Do you – understand – what I say.’ He then exclaimed quite excitedly ‘Where is Mr. Bell – I must see Mr. Bell.’ Willie pioneered the way – but Sir William ran along before him and came suddenly upon me shouting ‘Do you understand what I say.’ – He said ‘I heard the words’ ‘what I say’ – He then requested me to sing and then recite something. Willie told me afterward that he listened to my voice and then started up with the exclamation ‘To be or not to be.’ The emperor then listened and exclaimed in surprise in his broken English ‘I have heard – I have heard’ and then listened again’ (Grosvenor & Wesson, 1997). 3. Demonstrations, fame and buzz Demonstrating an invention helps to promote it. Bell’s theatrical skills had served him to such an extent that it became a business in itself. This brought fame to Bell. Quickly the magic of the telephone worked by itself and attracted the press and potential users like a magnet. The buzz was spreading. 141 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 142. During the Philadelphia exhibition, Hubbard and Bell had neglected the press and not many reports of the telephone were published at first, with the exception of the Boston Globe. In fact, many of the articles in the press about the exhibition had been written in advance. On 27 November, 1876, Bell and Watson demonstrated the telephone over 16 miles of distance, between Boston and Salem, using the Eastern Railroad telegraph wire. The Boston Post reported the imaginings of Bell: ‘Professor Bell doubts not that he will ultimately be able to chat pleasantly with friends in Europe while sitting comfortably at home in Boston.’ Other newspapers reported the news. They started to anticipate the excitement that the telephone would create. Nature, the English scientific newspaper reported an address from Sir William given at the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The lines mentioning Bell in the article published by Nature were quoted in many American newspapers. The Salem demonstration was repeated 69 but this time Bell made 149 dollars out of it, the first revenue from his inventive activities. In February 1877, Bell gave a demonstration of the telephone as part of a series sponsored by the Essex institute. All tickets had been sold in advance. The start of the presentation was delayed. People were tapping their canes on the floor waiting for the ‘show’ to start. Bell appeared on stage and started the demonstration after some explanation. The first sound was echoed by a great burst of applause. Bell wrote the next day: ‘(i)t seems as if an electric thrill went through the audience, and that they recogni(s)ed for the first time what was meant by the telephone’ (Bruce, 1973). At the end, the crowd went on stage, listening to the first account of News dictated by telephone and published the day after in the Boston Globe. Accounts of this demonstration were published in newspapers all over America as well as in London and Paris. He asked other associations 200 dollars to run the demonstration. In April-May, three were given in New York and Boston and in five other cities. Hubbard compared him to Barnum. Entertainment was added to the demonstration, such as opera singers or quartets, with more or less success. The press reported those events using many superlatives and colourful images. The New York Herald found the effect ‘weird and almost supernatural’. These demonstrations and 142 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 143. lectures had turned Bell into a celebrity while he was just trying to cash some money out of his invention. The success was not the one expected but it happily served Bell and his business partners. Later, in England and Scotland, Bell performed again a series of lectures and demonstrations that drew up to 2000 people. The highlight was his demonstration for Queen Victoria of England. She found the demonstration ‘as most extraordinary’. Those comments were largely publicised and contributed to the success of the telephone in England. They increased the fame of Bell 70. After this and throughout his life, Bell has been regularly interviewed and featured in the press. After the invention of the telephone, Bell was famous. Persuading others had become much easier for him. He used this asset to support other inventors who were themselves struggling to persuade people of the value of their work. It was, for example, the case for mechanical flights. Bell defended publicly Langley, a friend of his, who believed it was possible to fly a machine heavier than air. Bell made many enthusiastic and confident statements about such a possibility. A journalist from McClure’s wrote of Bell’s ability to persuade others: ‘Professor Bell has the happy faculty of expressing great ideas in simple words… He is as enthusiastic as a schoolboy thinking of the kite he will make as big as a barn-door. His black eyes flash, and they seem all the blacker contrasted with his white hair; the words tumble out quickly and those who have the good fortune to listen are carried away by the magnetism of the great inventor’ (Bruce, 1973). 70 Bell’s wife wrote at that time: ‘(w)herever you go, on news-paper stands, at news stores, stationers, photographers, toy shops, fancy goods shops, you see the eternal little black box with red face and the word ‘telephone’ in large black letters. Advertisements say that 700,000 have been sold in a few weeks’ (Bruce, 1973). 143 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 144. Section II. Thomas Edison Edison, the American inventor was granted 1,093 patents by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a record number (see fig 3). Throughout his career, he initiated over 100 businesses and partnerships. Some see him as the creator of the modern method of invention 71. He was active in the telegraph, mining, electricity, music and motion picture industries, to name the most important ones. He played a crucial role in creating the last three. His fellow citizens saw him as one of the most talented representatives of the American genius. Figure 3: Edison, number of patents per year 72 Thomas Alva Edison was born in Milan, Ohio, in February 1847. He settled with his family in Port Huron, Michigan, in 1854. He became hearing impaired during his childhood. Edison joined the vibrant crowd of telegrapher operators in 1862, at the age of 15. He tramped from city to city and went through a self-study programme like many of his peers. He started experimenting during this period. He exchanged jokes and developed friendships along the telegraph lines. Being part of this modern guild helped him to advance his career and find employment. 71 In 1926, the Philosopher Whitehead wrote ‘(t)he greatest invention of the 19th century was the invention of the method of invention.’ That method, Whitehead added, ‘has broken up the foundations of the old civili(s)ation.’ 72 Source: http://edison.rutgers.edu/patents.htm, December 2007. 144 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 145. Edison started to improve and perfect telegraph equipment for the Western Union Company. He settled in Boston in 1968 and filed his first patent in 1869. He moved to Newark in the same year, where he established a machine shop devoted to telegraphy and printing. By 1871, the year he got married, he was considered ‘the best electro-mechanician in the country’ by the Western Union President, William Orton (Israel, 1998). He started working on duplex technology for telegraphy. After a six months visit in Great Britain in 1873, where he met experts in the field, he established a laboratory in order to understand some electric and chemical phenomena. He invented the quadruplex telegraph in 1874. This was a chief innovation that allowed to transmit in a wire two messages simultaneously in opposite directions. This invention brought significant revenue to Edison and enabled him to establish Menlo Park, a laboratory fully dedicated to experimenting and inventing. He improved the telephone of Bell in 1877 and invented the phonograph in 1878; it brought him public recognition. The following years of his life were dedicated for what is now seen as his main legacy: the commercial development of electricity. The invention of the self- excited battery in the 1860’s had opened the door for the use of electric system for lighting. However, arc lights were much too bright for domestic use and inventors started their search for an incandescent lamp (Finn, 2004). In 1878, Edison formed the Edison Electric Light Company in New York City with J. P. Morgan and the members of the Vanderbilt family. Edison patented the incandescent light bulb using high resistance carbon filament, in 1879. He was not the first one to envision an electric light bulb but he was the first to turn it into a viable commercial product. However, Edison had to invent much more than the light bulb, he had to create a whole electric system going from the production to the consumption of electricity. In 1880, he founded the Edison Electric Illuminating Company. He opened the Pearl street power station and lit Lower Manhattan in 1882. He filed more than 100 patents during that period. Then, he decided to dedicate his effort solely to his electric business. By 1886, more than 50 stations had been established in the U.S. and a few in Europe. The Edison companies erected stations and manufactured lamps, generators, conductors, meters and other components of his electric lighting system. The business was prospering and the Edison Electric Company capitalisation had now reached 10 million dollars. 145 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 146. In 1886 and 1887, he pursued his work on the phonograph and, in 1888, Edison established a new laboratory: the West Orange laboratory, where he dedicated again his effort to experimenting. Together with up to 100 collaborators, he continued to experiment on electricity and other inventions such as motion picture ones, the kinetograph and the kinetoscope. However, with the success of the alternative current over the direct current that was promoted by Edison, his company merged with the Thomson-Houston company to form General Electric in 1892. Edison started to turn his back on the electricity business. During the late 1880’s, he invested a large amount of his fortune in a mining project to extract iron from low grade ore using magnetic forces. He built a mill in New Jersey and kept on pouring money in this project although it was never successful. It nearly brought him to bankruptcy, especially as the commercial applications of the phonograph were not yet profitable. It swallowed the money he made from electric stations. This episode did not prevent him from pursuing his inventive work during the 1890’s. Benefiting from the public appetite for entertainment, Edison found the route to commercial success with the phonograph and motion picture equipments. He established units to support the different lines of business he was pursuing. However, it remained a centralised corporation with Edison heavily involved in decision making. In 1907, Edison was 60 years-old, he announced his intention to give up the commercial ends and to work in his laboratory as a scientist. His health was not good, however, his personal impact on the conduct of the business was still fundamental. In 1910, throughout his different companies, he was selling phonographs, movie projectors, electric fans, batteries, music, movies and cement. Facing some financial difficulties, he had to reorganise the business and established professional management to run more autonomously each business, as there were few synergies between them. 146 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 147. Now standing on the public scene, he became the Head of the Naval Consulting Board 73 in 1915 and continued to devote his time and some inventive activities to social problems. He continued to receive public and official recognition until he died in 1931. Edison was without doubt a career inventor but he was also a business man who created many ventures and a business ‘empire’. Edison the inventor and Edison the businessman cannot be fully separated. However, the focus will remain here on his inventive work during the 19th century, his period of intense inventive activities which offers an opportunity to investigate the role of Attentiveness, Experimentation and Persuasion in his inventive work by looking at his success, the setbacks he encountered and also some of his failures. What characterises Edison from an Attentiveness perspective is his systematic approach to harvest ideas, knowledge and resources available to him (A/ Attentiveness: going systematic). Every search for an invention led by Edison had to start with a systematic study of the literature, followed by systematic searches for the materials that would be best suited to his purposes (1). However, Edison also experienced a number of failures or drawbacks throughout his career due to a misevaluation of the situation. They have been qualified as ‘myopia’, ‘folly’ and ‘blind spots’ (2). Experimentation was at the heart of his method of invention 74. Overall, his interests were practical and, in a context of scarce knowledge on matters such as electricity and chemistry, experimenting was the only way to progress. Edison claimed: ‘(t)he only way to keep ahead of the procession is to experiment. If you don’t, the other fellows will. When there’s no experimenting, there is no progress. Stop experimenting and you go backward. If anything goes wrong, experiment until you get to the very bottom of the trouble’ (Israel, 1998). Edison relied on many people to experiment and invent, he brought the division of labour to experimental activities; he created laboratories which hosted dozens of experimenters and machinists (B/ Experimentation: Division of labour in the laboratory). It was initiated in his Ward street machine shop (1) which helped him to envision what a real modern laboratory could 73 About the Naval Consulting Board, see infra: section 3, Elmer Sperry. 74 Biographers of Edison Frank Dyer and T.C. Martin wrote that Edison did not trust theory. One of his assistants is quoted saying: ‘(h)e is never hindered by theory, but resorts to actual experiment for proof’ (Dyer & Martin, 2001). 147 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 148. look like. He turned this idea into reality, first, in Menlo Park and, then, with the West Orange laboratory (2). The popularity of Edison was immense; for his fellow citizens, he was a fascinating figure; the press called him the ‘Wizard of Menlo Park’. He was perceived as a prophet of his time capable of foreseeing the technical wonders that were to come (B/ Persuasion: Edison a prophet of his time). Before gaining such an aura he extensively used demonstration to further his cause (1). This led him to discover the power of establishing intimate relationships with the press, a self-fashioning exercise (2). A. Attentiveness: going systematic 1. Systematic search What characterizes Edison from an Attentiveness perspective is his willingness to go systematic in order to exploit the many sources of ideas and knowledge available to him. One event that triggered this attitude was his trip to England, in 1873, to promote his work on duplex and automatic telegraphy. Through his meetings and encounters there, he could realise how little he knew about the electric and chemical phenomenon at work in telegraphy. It led him to pursue some experiments to further his understanding. He purchased instruments, equipment, books and treatises from England and found them very much of value. Later when Gould, the finance baron, had offered him $30,000 for his rights in the quadruplex, the first thing Edison did was to buy several hundred dollars worth of books and technical equipments. Every search for an invention led by Edison had to start with a systematic study of the literature and of what was conceived before. Early in his career, he also invested in private tutoring in order to further his understanding of specific fields of knowledge. For instance in the early 1870’s, he engaged a Brooklyn high school professor to teach him about chemistry and later acoustics. However reading was certainly not the unique source of insights for Edison. Dismantling existing machines available was also 148 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 149. a source of learning. As a very productive inventor, it is no surprise that Edison was also, on some occasions, ‘blessed by luck 75’ with his inventive endeavours. However, the success of Edison and his team in inventing the incandescent electric light bulb would not have been possible without a number of systematic searches. Upton, a newcomer in Edison’s team, surveyed all British and American patents related to electric lighting. He also reviewed the scientific and technical literature available. When the decision was taken to use a vacuum to protect the platinum from oxidation, Edison’s staff studied all the literature related to vacuum technology. They identified the best available vacuum pumps and used features from three of them. Edison paid a lot of attention to costs in his development of the electric system. Unfortunately, platinum was an expensive metal. Edison therefore conducted an exhaustive search of all source of supplies of platinum. He sent letters to mining districts in the U.S., to American ambassadors and other people in countries with platinum resources. He did this in his own name and engaged in extensive correspondences after answers started to arrive. The search for a suitable filament for the light bulb is also characteristic of such systematic investigation: the cardboard used for the early demonstrations was not suitable for commercial application. He addressed his staff as follow: ‘(n)ow I believe that somewhere in God Almighty’s workshop there is a vegetable growth with geometrically parallel fibres suitable to our use. Look for it’ (Israel, 1998). A literature survey helped to guide this search which focused on bast and bamboo fibres. When bamboo appeared to be the best solution, Edison sent men to Cuba, Brazil and Asia to search for the best source of supplies, as he did for platinum. The Madake Bamboo from Japan turned out to make the best filament. However, the exercise was performed again some years after with the hope of finding more uniform fibres. After spending $11,000, this quest was abandoned. Such an approach was re-used by 75 The discovery by Edison of the phenomenon that enabled him to develop afterwards the phonograph owes very much to luck. It occurred when he was experimenting on an automatic telegraph where letters were formed by embossing strips of paper. He realised that when the strip was moved rapidly against the lever used to send the signal to the telegraph it produced a sound comparable to a human voice. He came back to this discovery and perfected the outcome. He turned it first into a sort of ‘scientific toy’ that he demonstrated first at the offices of Scientific American. A few years after, under severe competition from the Volta Laboratory, he participated in the race to commercial applications. The phonograph turned into an ongoing stream of revenue for Edison thanks to this initial providential discovery. 149 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 150. Edison in different circumstances, for instance, he surveyed iron mining districts in search for low grade iron ore and cobalt mines for his batteries. 2. Myopia, folly and blind spots Edison experienced a number of failures or drawbacks throughout his career. Those are very much telling about the significance of Attentiveness in inventive and business practices. Some of them can be called ‘myopia’ where Edison wrongly denied a future to some technical developments, others can be called ‘folly’ and occurred when he overestimated the potential benefits of his work and others are simply ‘blind spots’ that arose more on the commercial side of the business where Edison did not recognise or accept that changes were occurring in society. The telephone was one of his blind spots. Edison reacted first with indifference to the invention of the telephone by Bell. As many in the telegraph industry, he saw it as a scientific toy that could one day be useful for their work but not as a promising new stream of technology. First, he did not enter this field of activity but, a few years later, as business opportunities materialised, he brought some improvement to Bell’s telephone. As the Thomson-Houston company was outperforming its rival, a merger between this company and Edison General was agreed and it launched General Electric. Edison used the sales of his stocks of the newly established company to fund his new project in the iron ore 76 industry. It is considered to be one of his major failures in his career and was described by an historian as ‘Edison’s Folly’ (Israel, 1998). After some early success, Insull, a close collaborator of Edison, commented that Edison was ‘practically intoxicated by the business’ (Israel, 1998). Throughout this project, Edison kept on being overoptimistic. He remained blind to the technical problems and never stopped to believe that this project could be successful. In the end, he nevertheless admitted that it was unwise to continue to pour money into it. 76 Iron ores are rocks and minerals from which metallic iron can be economically extracted. 150 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 151. Later in his career, Edison became more and more subject to blind spots. It was summarised by Andre Millard as follows: ‘(h)e hired professional managers and then overruled their decisions, making several critical errors of judgments that were to cost TAE Inc. dearly in the phonograph business. Edison refused to move into radio and electronic recording in the 1920s and therefore lost the technological leadership that had used to be the hallmark of his business enterprise. His own personal taste determined what records and films his company made, and the results were completely out of step with the changing audience expectations of the 1920s. Edison hated jazz and his company missed the great boom in new popular music in the 1920s. His choice of film subjects tended toward themes that would not provoke censors. Advertised as ‘clean and wholesome’ fare that would entertain and educate, Edison pictures did not provide the titillation and violence that sold seats in movie houses‘ (Millard, 1991). If Attentiveness helps to understand both the failure and success of Edison, Edison found in failed experiments a source of learning. B. Experimentation: division of labour in the laboratory 1. Endless experimental variations and the Ward street machine shop Edison recognised that failed experiments could offer some precious insights and that experiments in one field could lead to new ideas in another. He often re-used his ideas or devices in other lines of research. During his early years as an inventor, working on telegraphs, he reacted to comments from investors by highlighting that according to him ‘no experiments (were) useless’ (Israel, 1998). When working on the automatic telegraph, he worked on a device that he re-used as part of his acoustic telegraph. Discontented by some galvanometers he had purchased, he decided to develop his own. It led him to experiment with electromotograph repeater for automatic telegraphy and then to developments in the field of high speed Morse telegraphy. It was therefore no surprise that Edison required from his collaborators careful recording of experiments as they could prove useful for other lines of work. Moreover, Dyer and Martin (2001), biographers of Edison, wrote: ‘(t)he ability to 151 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 152. detect errors quickly in a series of experiments is one of the things that has enabled Edison to accomplish such a vast amount of work as the records show.’ A patent attorney of the Western Union said of Edison that he had a ‘kaleidoscopic brain’ (Millard, 1991). He meant that Edison had the tendency to come up with multiple variations of devices. It allowed him to establish a viable patent strategy but, also, to increase his understanding of technical issues by exploring alternative designs. He applied this approach right from the start of his inventor’s career to devices such as the automatic telegraphy and the translating printing machine. He wrote in his notebook ‘I do not wish to confine myself to any Translating Printing Machine, as I have innumerable machines in my mind’ (Israel, 1998). Some years later in his West Orange laboratory, he gathered wealth, materials and devices that allowed multiplying the exploration of alternative designs in his inventive activities 77. Israel (1998) provides a telling account of such a multiplication: ‘Edison and his staff were able to experiment with 150 different vacuum tube designs in only two months. They tested different materials and shapes for the tube and electrode, varied the electrode arrangements and electrical connections and spark generators, different exposure times of photograph plates, and how readily the rays penetrated different materials. These experiments enabled Edison to reduce the cost of tubes considerably.’ Later in his career, Edison tested 2300 different reproducers as part of his work on the phonograph. It is important to highlight that such an approach should not be mistaken for blind trial and error, it is an intended ploy that aims at learning from the exploration of alternative solutions in order to come up with the best possible one. This approach also provided a wealth of new ideas that could be explored or re-used later in different circumstances. When Edison came back from his visit to England, he was 26. He was convinced by what he saw there that he needed to enhance his knowledge of electrical and chemical phenomena. Hence, he established a laboratory in his Ward Street machine shop and recruited some skilled experimenters. It was at that time that Charles Batchelor started to work with Edison, as his chief experimental assistant. It was the start of 20 years of work and friendship between the two men. Batchelor was a British mechanic who came to America to 152 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 153. install textile machines. The precision of his work was highly appreciated by Edison and he complemented Edison well. James Adams also joined as an experimenter around that time. Both of them were rewarded with shares in the royalties Edison was getting from his inventions but their names were never mentioned on the patents. John Ott, a skilled machinist, who was to become a long term companion of Edison, joined in 1871, his precision and patience were highly appreciated. Charles Wurth and John Kruesi also worked with Edison. They acted as machinists, turning the ideas and sketches of Edison into reality. Machine shops were flexible manufacturing facilities capable of precision machining. As they used general machine tools, they were a place where inventions could be turned into products. Textile was the main industrial activity in Newark and machine shops supported this industry by working on the machines and tools it needed. Young inventors and skilled machinists could come and go in machine shops. Subcontracting was a common practice. The practices and the atmosphere of machine shops influenced Edison in the management of his different laboratories. 2. Edison’s laboratories: Menlo Park and West Orange Edison decided to open the Menlo Park laboratory in 1876. Some of his collaborators such as Batchelor, Adams or Kruesi joined him. Now, all efforts could be dedicated to Experimentation and invention. It was designed as an invention factory out of which Edison expected to deliver ‘a minor invention every ten days and a big thing every six months or so’ (Hargadon, 2003). The laboratory of Edison was not unique, other independent inventors had a laboratory and collaborators to support them. However, Menlo Park was the largest existing laboratory. In 1880, up to 60 men were working there. Edison and his experimenters worked but, also, played and lived together. They could be caught singing, drinking or listening to the organ pipe. Sometimes, during the day or the night, they exchanged jokes in a relaxed atmosphere; it contributed creating a sense of community and to bring moments of relaxation as work could turn strenuous. Indeed, the sixty hours week often turned out to last eighty hours, as they sometimes worked long nights to complete important experimental campaigns. De facto, Edison was managing a 153 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 154. group of talented and skilled men whom needed some autonomy in their work. He built on the machine shop culture and was very present amongst his men. He also interacted with them on an individual basis. The New York Herald tribune described him as follows: ‘Edison himself flits about, first to one bench, then to another, examining here, instructing there; at one place drawing out new fancied designs, at another earnestly watching the progress of some experiment’ (Israel, 1998). Discipline was, nevertheless, important in some specific aspects of the work. Experiments had to be recorded and signed by experimenters. Notebooks were assigned to projects or test series. They served to review progress and to keep track of ideas and realisations that could be used in other projects. Progress of each project was tracked through a system of daily records. Each cost had to be allocated to projects. Edison relied heavily on his own ideas. Sometimes, he also drew on the ones of his most experienced assistants, such as Batchelor or Adams. Less experienced experimenters were employed to work for him, not to come up with ideas. He was the only one who would decide what was worth pursuing. As the staff and the scope of the work expanded, he started to assign sub-elements of the work to different teams of experimenters and machinists. He offered them initial guidance, sometimes sketches, but they were expected to work out a solution by themselves. He described his own approach as follows: ‘I generally instructed them on the general idea of what I wanted carried out, and when I came across an assistant who was in any way ingenuous, I sometimes refused to help him out in his experiments, telling him to see if he could not work it out himself, so as to encourage him’ (Israel, 1998). Edison continued to reward his collaborators with percentage of the royalties made from invention 78. When Edison closed down Menlo Park to become a businessman selling electric stations, the laboratory was abandoned to pursue the work on the electric lighting system in New York. In 1887, Edison started to build his new laboratory, a green field one that could incorporate the lessons taken from the years at Menlo Park. 78 Batchelor was earning 10% from each invention. He also received 10% on the manufacturing companies. Francis Upton received 5% from the Lamp Company and the lighting company. John Kruesi became a partner in the machine works and managed the electric tube works. 154 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 155. After his laborious experience of inventing a complex system such as the electric one, Edison decided to focus on more manageable and profitable inventions. ‘My plan contemplates to working of only that class of inventions which require but small investments for each and of a highly profitable nature and also of that character that articles are sold to jobbers, dealers, etc – No cumbersome invention like the Electric Light’ (Israel, 1998). He expected to be funded by the research he was going to perform for the Edison Lighting Companies and contract research. But, as the foreseen operating costs started to increase, he looked for investors. The big appetite of Edison deterred them from participating into the venture. Edison had to invest his private money to support some of the projects conducted there. The laboratory was equipped with a large and comprehensive technical library where a wealth of patents, technical or scientific articles was readily available. The precision machine shop in charge of producing mock up and devices were connected to the laboratory area where experiments were conducted. Downstairs, a large machine shop was established. All the facilities had the best available equipment. The building was designed with one principle in mind: to facilitate communication and exchanges between experimenters and machinists. The relationship between those two professions was fundamental. As an experimenter developed an idea, he could immediately ask machinists to provide him with a model or prototype to conduct some experiments and tests. Edison believed that ‘(t)he real measure of successes is the number of experiments that can be crowded in 24 hours’ (Millard, 1990). Access to wealth or resources was part of the formula for success in the eyes of Edison. He once expressed it in an interesting way: ‘(t)he most important part of an experimental laboratory is a big scrap heap’ (Millard, 1990). Edison improved on the record keeping practices established at Menlo Park. Timesheets were widely used and general expenses were split across projects. In January 1888, 75 men were working at West Orange Laboratory and during the next two years, up to 100 were working there79. 79 The staff included: 25 to 30 experimenters with some well versed in mathematics and optics, 30 to 40 machinists, five pattern makers, three to four draftsmen, blacksmiths, steam fitters, carpenters, labourers, clercks, and few people to support the laboratory. 155 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 156. Edison also insisted on the need to have someone familiar with scientific matters and capable of understanding English, French, German and Italian. He recruited young experimenters with a university degree but favoured people who had more of a generalist profile than of a specialist one, as flexibility was going to be required 80. Edison’s ability to find and develop young and talented people who could work using his method of invention was crucial. He removed people who did not perform according to his expectations and rapidly advanced the promising ones to take on wider responsibilities. Pursuing what had been established in Menlo Park, experimenters and machinists were offered shares of the royalties, or interesting positions, in the companies that exploited the inventions. Lectures on scientific matters were offered every week. Self-study was encouraged and made possible thanks to the rich on-site library. According to Edison the coordination of a laboratory obeyed a simple principle: ‘(t)he way to do it is to organi(s)e a gang of one good experimenter and two or three assistants, appropriate a yearly sum to keep it going (…) have every patent sent to them and let them experiment continuously’ (Israel, 1998). Beyond the written instructions and sketches given before starting experimenting, Edison used his daily morning rounds to provide guidance to his staff. Some of his collaborators remembered him as being supportive of their works, avoiding criticism and offering advice. Others described him as someone challenging and capable of sarcasm. In any case, Edison insisted on maintaining an open culture. He encouraged the sharing of solutions he found good. One experimenter stated: ‘we were all interested in what we were doing and what the others were doing’ (Millard, 1990). 80 For example, Dickson who was working with Edison on the ore mining project was a photographer and ended up heading the projects on motion picture. 156 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 157. C. Persuasion: Edison, a prophet of his time 1. Running the show: demonstrating inventions During the first years of his inventive activities, Edison managed to convince the leaders of the telegraph industry of his inventive capabilities. His self-confidence combined with his technical skills proved to be highly persuasive with people with a strong technical acumen. Building on his first inventive success, he rapidly became one of the most admired inventors in the industry. During these years, he discovered the power of demonstrating models of his inventions to gain the attention and confidence of investors. Developing the electric lighting system required significant investments, as many components needed to be brought together in order to have a viable and scalable commercial application. The investors themselves asked Edison to demonstrate his invention. Lowrey, Edison’s patent attorney, was helping him with his dealing with investors, he advised Edison on this visit ‘it is all the better that they should see the rubbish and rejected devices of one sort or another. Their appreciation thereby becomes more intelligent’ (Israel, 1998). It appeared that this was a successful strategy. According to Lowrey: ‘(o)ur friends had their imagination somewhat tempered, but their judgments are instructed, and we now have to deal with an intelligent comprehension of things as they are, which makes both your part and mine much easier. They reali(s)e now that you are doing a man’s work upon a great problem and they think you have got the jug by the handle with a reasonable probability of carrying it safely to the well and bringing back full’ (Israel, 1998). Demonstrating invention such as the electric system was not just a good Persuasion tactic to gain the attention of investors, it was also a way to win the support of the potential buyers and to ease the acceptance of the new technology by the public. At the end of 1877, Edison demonstrated the electric lighting system in his laboratory of Menlo Park to stockholders. From New Years’ Eve, he extended the invitation to the public. It attracted a massive crowd that packed all the trains and could delight their eyes with the marvels offered by Edison’s invention. The Pearl street station that illuminated part of New York was a full scale experimental site from which Edison learned a lot. It was also an exercise in 157 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 158. convincing investors and the public of the value of the system invented by Edison 81. The area of Manhattan covered by the lighting system included the offices of Drexel and Morgan, his investors, as well as the offices of some of the New York newspapers. Demonstrations became a marketing tool for Edison’s business. The Paris international exposition of 1889 was a vibrant example of this. The arrival of Edison in France was orchestrated as the first steps in a series of events that intended to promote Edison and his products. He continuously met the press, the ‘rich and famous’ of the time in a series of dinners and ceremonies. It included for example, Eiffel, who had built the tower carrying his name for the exposition. Edison offered him a phonograph. The American display at the exposition was pretty poor but the Edison display was grandiose. It contained all his major inventions so far. It was the occasion for 30,000 people to listen to the phonograph, a premiere in Europe. Demonstrating invention turned into a well organised marketing tactic aimed at promoting the products that carried Edison’s name 82. 2. The road to self-fashioning In 1878, a French Writer, Viliers de l’isle-Adam, wrote a story published in 1886 under the title ‘l’Eve future’ (‘The Future Eve’). In this story, Edison appears as one of the main characters. The author referred to Edison as follows: ‘(i)n America and in Europe, a legend has sprung in the popular mind regarding this great citizen of the America. He has become the recipient of thousands of nicknames such as ‘the Magician of the Century’, ‘the sorcerer of Menlo park’, ‘the Papa of the phonograph’, and so forth and so on. A perfectly natural enthusiasm in his own country and elsewhere has conferred him a kind of mystique, or something like it in many minds’ (Israel, 1998). The story of Viliers de l’isle-Adam was not an apologetic account of the ‘Wizard of Menlo Park’, as the press called Edison. This story was critical of the faith and the passion for science and technology that was raging at that time. The Edison of Viliers de l’isle-Adam was 81 Dyer and Martin (2001) commented on the station and its role in convincing the public: ‘(D)uring the first three months of operating the Pearl Street station light was supplied to customers without charge. Edison had perfect confidence in his meters, and also in the ultimate judgment of the public as to the superiority of the incandescent electric light as against other illuminants.’ 82 Interestingly, demonstration was so convincing that Edison turned into a business for the phonograph. After the early developments of the phonograph started to attract the attention of the press and the public, Edison established an exhibition business. In 1868, 80 men were trained to exhibit the phonograph. For 100 dollars they had the right to conduct exhibition for which 25 cents were charged as an admission fee. 158 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 159. presented as someone ready to crash trains full of people in order to try his new invention. It was an exaggeration that intended to warn the citizens of the time of some risks ahead, but without doubt the real Edison did not embarrass himself with truth to persuade others he was right. Exploring this aspect of Persuasion will conclude the present study. One of the early episodes in the life of Edison announces one of the tactics used by Edison to fascinate his contemporaries: sharpening their appetite by giving them hints about what they might see in the future. When he was young, Edison started to work as a newsboy on the train. With the civil war, he sold more newspapers. The day the battle of Shiloh was reported in the news proved to be an important day for Edison, who recalled himself: ‘(o)n the day of this battle, when I arrived at Detroit, the bulletin boards were surrounded with dense crowds and it was announced that there were 60,000 killed and wounded and the result was uncertain. I knew that if the same excitement was attained at the various small towns along the road and especially at Port Huron that the sales of papers would be great. I then conceived the idea of telegraphing the news ahead, went to the operator in the depot and by giving him Harper’s weekly and some other papers for three months; he agreed to telegraph to all the stations the matter on the bulletin board’ (Israel, 1998). Instead of taking with him 100 newspapers, Edison wanted to take 1000 in order to benefit the most from the stratagem he had devised. He went to the editor and persuaded him to give him credit so he could take the 1000 newspapers. At the first station he sold 35 newspapers instead of the two he would usually. His ploy proved highly useful. As he progressed from one station to another, he realised that he was going to be even more successful than he thought at first. He increased the price of the papers, as he saw that he was going to run out of them. Instead of the usual price of 5 cents, he sold the last ones for 25 cents in his hometown of Port Huron. In this anecdote, it is interesting to see that he both persuaded the customers to buy and the editor to invest in his idea. Paul Israel (1998) wrote that this anecdote certainly taught a lot to Edison about the power of the press. Moreover, Edison convinced people to buy his newspaper by telling them about an exciting future perspective: the prospect of reading about the account of the battle of Shiloh. In his career, he kept on doing just this: by telling people about the exciting perspectives, the inventions of the future could offer them, he 159 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 160. self-fashioned himself and people developed a great interest for the inventions that bear his name. Edison has always been conscious of the important role of the press to promote his achievement. He wrote an article in Telegrapher as early as 1868 on a double transmitter he had worked on. The phonograph is the invention that contributed extensively to make Edison a high-profile inventor. As mentioned previously, one of the first things he did after he discovered the phonograph was to take it to the office of Scientific American, where it received a warm welcome. Within three months, the phonograph had become the centre of attention of all the press. Profile and stories on Edison himself started to appear. Journalists visited him at Menlo Park, his laboratory became part of the stories itself. In the New York Sun, interviews of Edison appeared every month, as he always had new things to share with the journalists. The newspaper saw in him an endless source of entertaining articles for their readers. Edison tended to embellish reality and reporters would reciprocate. Hence, their articles were very arousing for the public, his achievements gained a magical touch and he, himself, appeared as a living legend. A journalist from The New York Daily Graphic went as far as saying that Edison had invented a machine that could feed the human race. Edison had self- fashioned himself as a prolific inventor and an outstanding character. In April 1878, George Bliss, a close collaborator of Edison, wrote ‘(t)he Mania has broken out this way – school girls write compositions on Edison. The funny papers publish Squibs on Edison. The religious papers write editorials on Edison, The daily papers write up his life (…). When shall we get a rest? Why don’t the Graphic full up exclusively with Edison and [be] done with [it]’ (Israel, 1998). The press offered to Edison a unique Persuasion springboard to catch the attention of the public, to promote his inventions and to respond to his detractors. With the end of the century approaching, Edison was continuously asked to share his views about the future. He was offered to collaborate on literary work. His imaginative mind was to provide a wealth of ideas but he was not reliable in his delivery. Anyway, articles and interviews continued to be published, sometimes without any contribution from Edison himself, but featuring him as a sort of hero of the future. Edison, thanks to the appetite of 160 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 161. the press, became a ‘prophet of his time’. He stimulated the minds of his contemporaries with accounts of what could be possible 83. He fuelled an optimism that saw technology as a solution to the problems of Americans and humanity. A journalist wrote in relation to Edison’s visit to Paris in 1889: ‘America could have in Europe no worthier representative of the consummate flower of its national life and progress than this modest scientific investigator and industrious mechanic. Its chief contributions to the world’s stock of civilization have been the works of its inventors. In that beneficent field of human effort its sons are unrivalled for practical skills habits of scientific investigation and triumphs of mind over material forces. While the European Continent to-day is a circle of camps swayed by the caprices of sovereigns whose inherited functions are their only title to fame, America has expanded its energy in working out an industrial development that is the marvel of Christendom, and the real leaders of its Pacific progress have been and are its inventive mechanic – men of the Edison’s stamp’ (Israel, 1998). Edison was a very persuasive inventor but he, sometimes, tended to play with the truth. Around the middle of his career, he attributed his hearing loss to being struck on the ears by a train conductor when his chemical lab in a boxcar caught fire. In his later years, he modified the story to say the injury occurred when the conductor, in helping him onto a moving train, lifted him by the ears. Such a change in his anecdote is harmless… but on some occasions he used what could be seen as unfair tactics. Edison tended to aggrandize his achievements. He attributed to himself inventions that were not his. His minor inventions appeared as grandiose innovations. He did not publicly recognise the contribution of his collaborators and, if accounts of their contribution were published, he ridiculed them. Sprague, a collaborator of Edison who had worked on a motor for electrified railway, saw his name being taken out and the product to be called ‘Edison’s Motor’. A campaign of denigration was launched against Sprague who did not appreciate seeing his own contribution undermined. He resigned and severed all links with the Edison Company. Such a campaign had been orchestrated by Edison’s collaborators. Sprague, throughout his life, fought against Edison. Other inventors joined him. Elihu Thomson wrote about Edison: ‘(g)reat as has been the work of Edison in various fields to which he has given 83 A reporter commented: ‘Edison is the Aladdin’s lamp of the newspaper man.The fellow who approaches him has only to think out what he wants to get before taking the lamp in his hand and he gets it’ (Israel, 1998).  161 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 162. attention, it seems to me that the attempt to spread his fame over fields in which he has done very little, and sometimes done the wrong things, it to be sincerely deprecated’ (Israel, 1998). As electricity was turned into a commercial application, people worried about the safety of this new technology. Its use for the death penalty, therefore, started to be investigated. As pain was more and more regarded by the public as unacceptable, electricity appeared as a means to achieve sudden death without signs of pain. This application of electricity turned out to be at the centre of the battle of the currents: the direct current promoted by Edison and the alternating current promoted by his competitors. Edison believed that alternating current would never be safe and used this argument to scare potential buyers of competing systems. In November 1887, Edison was contacted by the commission in charge of reviewing the methods that could be used to administer the death penalty. The first reaction of Edison was to respond that he was opposed to capital punishment and that he did not want to offer any advice. As the representative of the commission insisted that the aim was only to find a more humane way to give death, Edison responded: ‘(y)our points are well taken and though I would join heartily in an effort to totally abolish capital punishment, I at the same time realise that while the system is recogni(s)ed by the State, it is the duty of the latter to adopt the most humane method available for the purpose of disposing of criminals under sentence of death. The best appliance in this connection is to my mind the one which will perform its work in the shortest pace of time, and inflict the least amount of suffering upon its victim. This I believe can be accomplished by the use of electricity and the most suitable apparatus for the purpose is that class of dynamo-electric machine which employs intermittent currents. The most effective of these are known as ‘alternating machines’, manufactured principally in this country by Mr Georges Westinghouse, Pittsburgh’ (Essig, 2003). This letter convinced the commission of the use of electricity for death penalty. Within a year, the Edison laboratory hosted the first systematic research on animal killing using electricity. Such experiments were conducted for days and nights and the laboratory was opened to visitors. As the battle of current was at its peak, Edison commented: ‘I did quite a lot of experimenting with currents on dogs. It was funny. At first, we used continuous currents. After the electricity charged the dog he stood still without the slightest change in his 162 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 163. appearance. He did not move, and his eyes retained the same expression they usually wore. Then after a minute, or a minute and a half, he would collapse and tumble over, dead. Finally we tried alternate currents…Then it was found that this shock of one-tenth of a second killed the dog’ (Essig, 2003). Edison also explained why, according to him, someone surviving a shock could feel pain but not one that was killed. He used for this purpose a metaphor: ‘(t)here won’t be time for these sense-bearing nerves to telegraph the news that he is hurt to his brain before he will be dead from the shock’ (Essig, 2003). Westinghouse reacted heatedly and claimed that Edison was trying to create a prejudice against the use of alternating current. He highlighted that this reaction was motivated by Edison losing ground on the competitive turf. This polemic did not prevent Edison business from falling behind his competitors, but it influenced heavily the choice of electricity for the death penalty. 163 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 164. Section III. Sperry Elmer Sperry was an inventor who had been granted over 360 patents. He was also an engineer and an entrepreneur. His inventions included an electric arc light, street lighting systems, machinery for mining, electric devices for trolley cars, an electric automobile, a lighting system for motion picture projection, giant searchlights for boats and electrochemical processes, amongst many others. He applied his understanding of electrical and control systems to a diverse group of business fields. He is best known for the gyroscope, an invention traditionally conjointly attributed to him and to Herman Anschütz- Kaempfet. Elmer Sperry was born in Cortland in the New York State on October 12, 1860. His mother died while giving birth to him. Sperry's grandparents and his aunt Helen looked after him throughout his youth. He lived in the town of Cortland which was going through a rapid industrialization at the time. He observed and sometimes worked at the blacksmith shop, the machine shop, the foundry, the printing press, and the railway yard. He developed a flair for technology and built small water wheels that he sold as toys. He attended activities of the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association), including lectures on technological matters, visits to exhibitions such as the 1876 Philadelphia one. He also used extensively the YMCA library for his personal development. He was educated in the State Normal School in Cortland and, then, attended Cornell University to study electrical engineering for one term, from 1879 to 1880. Sperry was impatient to tackle practical engineering problems and, like many at that time, he was very enthusiastic about the developments in the electric lighting field. He, therefore, joined a group of Syracuse industrialists who trusted him to bring to life a station for the city arc lighting system. It widened his understanding of inventive and business activities and contributed to the establishment of his reputation within business and technical circles. To further his business activities, he moved to Chicago in 1883 and, soon after, founded the Sperry Electric Company, which manufactured electric dynamos and arc lamps. He rapidly 164 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 165. became regarded as one of the pioneers of the nascent electric lighting industry. He contributed to the establishment of trade and professional associations where emerging problems were debated. He also established the Sperry Electric Light, Motor, and Car Brake Company 84. However, after a few years, he could not compete with the larger electrical company that had taken the lion’s share in the business. While he had to focus on practical, technical issues, he had not been able to develop the technical capabilities of his company in pace with the industry changes. Forced to leave the electric lighting business, he established the Sperry Electric Mining Machine Company, which manufactured machines for the mining industry. After some success, in 1892, the Thomson-Houston Electric Company bought the company for $50,000. Sperry started to work for Thomson-Houston, as a consultant. It did not prevent him from embarking on new projects. He simply had more business connections to make them happen. Elmer Sperry moved to Cleveland where businessmen had invested in his experimental electric street car. In 1895, Thomson-Houston and the Edison Electric Company merged to form General Electric. This company bought Sperry's street car patents and he also started to work for this new company in a consulting capacity. Sperry pursued his engagement in diverse, emerging business fields. He worked for instance on an electric automobile which led him to develop storage batteries and brought him later to the electrochemistry field. In 1900, Sperry established an electrochemical laboratory in Washington. Together with his associate, Clifton Townshend, he developed a process for making pure caustic soda from salt and conceived, for the American Can Company, a process for recovering tin from scrap metal. A number of patent litigations followed and he ended up abandoning those activities. In 1910, he started the Sperry Gyroscope Company in New York and his first compass was tested that same year on the USS Delaware. It was the result of extensive collaboration with Admiral David Taylor of the U.S. Navy. His compasses and stabilizers were taken up by the American Navy as standard equipment and used during the two World Wars. He also 84 Previous to 1910, a total of six industrial corporations had been established by Elmer Sperry to manufacture his inventions; their annual turnover was $5,000,000. Amongst the companies he founded were Sperry Electric Company (1883), Sperry Electric Light, Motor, and Car Brake Company (1883), Sperry Electric Mining Machine Company (1888), Sperry Electric Railway Company (1894), Chicago Fuse Wire Company (1900), Sperry Rail Service (1911), Sperry Gyroscope Company (1910). 165 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 166. developed the gyroscopic compass and, after the First World War, the Sperry Gyroscope Company began a systematic effort to market its products abroad. After years of success, in January, 1929, he sold the Sperry Gyroscope Company to the North American Aviation Company. By 1930, Sperry Gyroscope had become one of the world's most important producers of military hardware. He received many awards and recognition across the world 85. Sperry was a leading figure in the field of control systems also called cybernetics during the 20th century. He extensively used feedback system and developed control loops where past performance is used as information to correct the output. From early on in his career, he learned to recognise when such an approach could be applied. He continuously refined and developed those control systems. Sperry died from complications after an operation for gallstones in June 1930. The New York Times wrote in his obituary: ‘he has left among men an everlasting fame, and imagination allows one to think of his inventive spirit making suggestions to the ferryman about improving service in the crossing for the benefit of those who have to take it later. For Mr. Sperry was ever thinking of how he might make the dwellers on earth a little more at ease whether on sea or land or in the air (…)’. In 1986, Sperry Corporation merged with Burroughs Corporation to form Unisys Corporation. From an Attentiveness point of view, Sperry shares some habits and practices with other inventors. He cautiously analysed all existing literature including existing patents before tackling a specific problem. He also used his network of contacts to scout for information and access ideas when he needed it. Sperry was attentive to technical developments but also to business needs, he was an acute entrepreneur who understood when it was time to enter a specific field of activity (A/ Attentiveness: getting the timing right). After entering the mining field, he came up with a series of inventions that stimulated one another 85 In 1914, he was awarded first prize of the Aero Club of France for his airplane stabilizer; he was the winner of two Franklin Institute Medals in 1914 and 1929; Collier Trophies, 1915, 1916; Holley Medal, 1927; John Fritz Medal, 1927; Albert Gary Medal, 1929; two decorations from the Czar of Russia; two decorations from the Emperor of Japan, the Order of the Rising Sun and the Order of the Sacred Treasure. He also received the grand prize of the Panama Exposition. The Battleship USS Sperry (AS-12) was named after him and he was also awarded three honorary degrees.  166 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 167. (1). More generally he did not perform in depth business analysis before entering a new business field but he paid attention to the signals that motivated his entrepreneurial moves (2). Sperry showed his interest in Experimentation from an early age. He became an inventor at a time when the electrical engineering was in full development. Sperry was also able to build on scientific approaches and on the technical library of his time to guide his Experimentation. Yet, experiment had the final word. What Sperry invented had to work in the real world 86.He was both an inventor capable of fine tuning and improving products and an inventor who could come up with breakthrough. Throughout his career, he had to find a balance between those two inventive activities (B/ Experimentation: breakthrough versus fine tuning: the dual reality of invention). Sperry complained about the conservatism he had to fight throughout his career. Sperry did not need to convince large numbers of customers of the value of his work and inventions. His main concerns were to ensure that he would have access to the needed capital to pursue his work either from financiers, industrialists or his large customers, such as General Electric and, later, the Navy (C/ Persuasion: Courting the rich and the Navy). Sperry courted the rich (1) and developed some friendly relationships with them. With his work on the gyroscope, Sperry had to persuade a different group of people: the Navy (2). Government was on the verge of becoming a core customer of inventors. Sperry became a major player as an inventor for the military. His name was even given to a vessel: The USS Sperry. A. Attentiveness: getting the timing right 1. Chain reactions in mining When Sperry started to investigate a specific technical or business field, it seemed that inventions came as a cluster or as a sort of chain reaction. His involvement in the mining 86 He wrote: ‘(w)henever your theory and practice do not agree, your theory is faulty’ (Hughes, 1971). 167 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 168. industry is more specifically looked at to analyse this point. He built on his technical knowledge but, also, through regular interactions with customers, he developed an intimate understanding of the business needs. In 1889, Sperry launched the Sperry Electric Mining Machine Company. He realised that an opportunity existed in this field when he was on his wedding trip. He met Mr Sweet, who owned one of the main coal producers in the Illinois region. From their discussions, Sperry saw the possibility of developing an electrified coal puncher. At that time, with the development of electrical systems, the sector was up for some significant technical change. Sweet foresaw this and his ideas were immediately taken up by Sperry. He developed a full- scale model in the winter of 1888. Together with Sweet, Sperry conducted some basic tests that led to some modifications. The tests were not comprehensive, which proved to be a problem later. In October 1888, he drafted a patent which led them to found his new company in 1889. However, some of the first machines sold had problems, as the model had not been tested with hard coal, the machine could not, therefore, be used in all conditions. As difficulties arose, Sperry was close to abandoning but, according to Hughes (1971), he pursued his work with determination for a specific reason: ‘(h)e knew from prior invention and developments that once an inventor immersed himself in a field new horizons and opportunities for invention opened if one pushed forward. He had seen himself and other inventors go into electricity with only an arc-light system and then invent substantial improvements and entirely new applications.’ It proved to be a sound decision. Sperry raised some more capital and went onto design a new coal cutter and an entire collection of mining equipment. He moved away from imitating the manual work of miners and replaced the puncher by a rotary cutting approach that he tested and patented in 1891. He faced resistance from the mining industry, as this technical change forced them to adapt their approach to mining but he, nevertheless, made some progress. As the puncher or the cutter needed a generator, it was now a possibility to offer additional applications that could use this source of power. Then, Sperry invented an electric locomotive for mine hauling. He improved existing designs and met immediate success. In 1892, he employed more than 50 people in this business. 168 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 169. A sort of chain reaction occurred from a product to another. As the inventor applies his know-how in a specific industry, his attention is caught by new problems that he can solve. In a business-to-business situation, like the one encountered by Elmer Sperry in the mining industry, being attentive to a problem can lead to discover more problems that await to be solved. It required, however, entering the business field at the right time 2. Jumping on a business opportunity at the right moment The Elmer Sperry Company of Chicago was an invention and development company. The aim was not to invest in a specific business field but to bring some inventions to maturity and to leave to others the manufacturing and the marketing job. This was not an uncommon form of business at that time in history and Elmer Sperry wanted to establish such a company as he wanted to focus on inventive activities. Sperry had many ideas and saw many opportunities. His notebook was full of such concepts that he hoped to develop one day. However, he had to make choices. One of the key factors in his decision-making process was the cost of experiments. Building a model, validating its principles, testing a product could cost a significant amount of money and Sperry acted cautiously in front of such issues by investing in potential invention that did not cost too much to invent. Contrary to Edison, he was capable of resisting follies. Sperry did not make thorough analysis of business fields before entering them but he paid attention to specific signals and, given his wide array of contacts and his constant interest in information both on the business and on the technical side, he was able to take some informed decisions. Sperry invested in different business fields between 1880 and 1910, such as arc lights, power, mining electrical-machinery, electric traction, automobiles, batteries and electrochemistry. Hughes (1971) highlighted a number of patterns related to those investments. Sperry was moving in new fields of activity that were rapidly developing. He was sometimes part of the pioneers or at least part of the second wave. 169 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 170. He would leave a business field, on average, after five years. He did not want to compete with large companies with their in-house inventors. As they would develop within a field, he would have found another attractive field. He would focus solely on what he knew best: electrical technology but would consider applying it to a diversity of fields. He would move in a field only if he could find a critical problem that was preventing the industry from progressing; a critical problem to which one of his inventions could bring a solution. Those critical problems would usually be discussed or highlighted within technical circles. They could be discovered in magazines, patents, etc. Sperry did not focus on inventing a product as such, but on solving those critical problems that made a real difference in a business field. Sperry reflected on such issues and commented: ‘(s)o far as I can see, I have come up against situations that seemed to me call for assistance. I was not usually at all sure that I could aid in improving the state of affairs in any way, but was fascinated by the challenge. So I would study the matter over; I would have my assistants bring before me everything that had been published about it, including the patent literature dealing with attempts to better the situation. When I had the facts before me I simply did the obvious thing. I tried o discern the weakest point and strengthen it; often this involved alteration with many ramifications which immediately revealed the scope of the entire project’ (Hughes, 1971). The role of patents is highlighted in this quote. Sperry had a strong understanding of patents, their role, their use and their impact on an industry. For instance, when he started to look at automobiles, he foresaw very early that the Selden patents on the internal combustion engine and the rotary engine were going to be critical in the future. He thought that by complementing them with a few other patents, this emerging industry could be locked for the profit of few players. This fence of patent would scare smaller players. He brought this to the attention of Rice from General Electric, in 1897. The deal never occurred and, in 1906, Selden was receiving licence fees from most automobile manufacturers in America. 170 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 171. Sperry was a talented entrepreneur who could recognise the early signal of existing opportunities; he was also a talented engineer capable of taking an invention from its early concept to the final fine-tuning activities. B. Experimentation: breakthrough versus fine tuning, the dual reality of invention Sperry was working on inventions that required both experiments that would lead to some breakthrough discovery and fine testing that would ensure that his products or machines would work in all the required situations. Such a balance led him to explore different organisational solutions that will be looked at in this section. As Sperry got his first job as inventor and started to work for the Cortland Wagon Company, he started to learn the many sides of inventive activities. He understood the value of working together with a skilled mechanist. He learned the properties of matter from the machine tool operators. He was instructed in the challenge of financing and marketing invention by the management of the company. He learned how to prepare for patent by recording and dating his work in a notebook, looking after the patent application process and maintaining a good relationship with the Patent Office. With the increasing technical complexity, large scale production and the rise of large businesses, inventing had become a complex activity 87. Later, when Sperry had established his company in Chicago, he ran into business difficulties that offered him valuable learning. The Sperry electric lighting system was well appreciated by customers. However, he continuously needed to adjust it to the specific requirements and situations he and his company encountered. The arc light could interfere with the telephone system, it would have to work without supervision for small installations or it would have to comply with demanding legislation or standards. As Sperry was kept busy 87 Hughes (1971) highlighted one very specific aptitude of Elmer Sperry that helped him to deal with complex issues. It was his ability to perform mental experiment. He was able to visualise in his mind machines operating, going through constraint and stress. It helped him to discard potential solutions that would not have worked and to focus on the ones that could work. Another form of visualisation that he shared with many other inventors is the wealth of sketches he drew in his notebook. 171 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 172. with such needs, he could not focus on more fundamental inventive activities. It hurt the business as the technical developments were going full pace and the Sperry Electric Company was not able to remain at the forefront of those developments. Thomson- Houston or Westinghouse hired at the same time the inventors who spearheaded major changes in the industry and the engineers who could mainstream such inventions. They led the major developments, such as incandescent light and alternating currents, when Sperry was wrestling with routine adaptation with his arc-light system. One of the first answers of Sperry to such challenges was to establish his firm as an invention and development company. By doing so, he was able to choose the critical problems he wanted to work on. It did not relieve him from pursuing in depth testing of his inventions, as his work on mining equipment illustrated. Furthermore, as Sperry was a consultant to well-established companies, he focused on maturing his inventions until they were taken over by such companies who could deal with the routine adaptation of his work. He nevertheless valued comprehensive and quantitative testing 88. ‘His communications and articles of the eighties did not provide reports and analysis of tests run on his equipment. They gave basic specifications and made assertions, but validation depended on the authority of the inventor or his company, not on an objective appraisal of test data. In the nineties, he sent the engineering staff at General Electric quantitative reports on his inventions. When for instance, he began intensive development of his electric brake in 1893, he provided full reports on its performance. E.W. Rice, Jr., Walter Knight, and the other General Electric engineers needed such objective reports to make final decisions about the allocation of development funds in a profit-conscious corporation. General Electric also wanted reports from Sperry for the use of its sales representative selling to technically informed customers’ (Hughes, 1971). 88 The streetcar developed by Sperry went through some tests together with cars from competitors. They had to drive twice over 6000 foot with an inclination of 12%. On one of the trips, they had to stop every 1000 foot. Sperry’s car did well. He also worked on brakes and he tested them over 70,000 miles on a streetcar, after he wrote ‘(i)t is only under such rigorous conditions of actual operation that rapid progress can be made in reduction to practice. All machinery or apparatus must pass this ordeal successfully before it can be brought into thoroughly commercial shape’ (Hughes, 1971). If a working principle was scientifically proven, it still needed some comprehensive tests as interference or practical issues could still get in the way. 172 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 173. Sperry needed to surround himself with some experienced and skilled mechanics and engineers to perform his company’s inventive work. He developed what he called a large experimental staff with a diversity of technical specialisations. When recruiting them, he sometimes asked about their experience with creating models. He also wanted them to be able to work out the details. A special shop was dedicated to the development of models. He often favoured people coming from Cortland and his own family. Relationships were informal, decisions were taken on the spot. He called the young engineers ‘his boys’, expecting them to work long hours and hoping to transfer his knack for problem-solving to them. Engineers brought him the issues they could not handle. They also suggested ideas that he, sometimes, decided to turn into patents. He offered them a lump sum of 15 or 25 dollars for this, a rather ungenerous recognition by all standards. The organisation Sperry developed for inventive activities was designed to respond to different degrees of uncertainty. He decided to establish an invention and development company in order to focus on more radical invention, as opposed to routine improvement or customer specific adjustments. The fruit of his work, nevertheless, needed comprehensive qualitative tests. Within his organisation, he kept for himself the most advanced work which he saw as ‘pure invention’ (Hughes, 1971). He appointed engineers to the routine work but established an informal way of bringing interesting problems or ideas to his attention. 89 Sperry complained: ‘(r)esearch has done away with races to the Patent Office with absent minded inventors who sometimes won glory and often lost everything to smart promoters. It has eliminated too much of the exhilaration which came when uncertainty gave way to accomplishment’ (Hughes, 1971). However, he did everything to keep for him the exhilaration offered by Uncertainty and chose a business and a form of organisation that would just do this. 89 When, in 1918, Sperry reorganised his company, he accepted to implement a more structured and routinised organisation. The General management was given to a former naval officer who had developed close relationships with Sperry. Sperry was the president but worked essentially with a small group of people on invention and development as part of the research department. This formal routine frustrated Sperry in many occasions. He could not, for instance, call foremen on the spot to have their views on how to manufacture a new product. 173 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 174. C. Persuasion: Courting the rich and the Navy 1. Courting the Rich Right from his first contact with Cortland Wagon Company, his first employer, Sperry appeared as determined, self-confident and enthusiastic. He was given recommendations from Professor Anthony from the Cornell University. His technical skills were quite admirable for such a young man. It gave him the opportunity to have the full support from the company to pursue some inventive activities with arc-lights and generators. To gain such support so young, Sperry certainly benefited from the aura that was shining above the head of inventors at the time. The fame of Bell and Edison was grand and it helped aspirant inventors of talent to make their way. The first installation of electric lighting systems in Cortland and Syracuse brought Sperry the recognition and started to build for him a mighty asset: a reputation. People tended to acclaim their rising local inventors and the local newspaper eloquently reported such events. In Chicago, Sperry pursued his ascension, his colleague revered him for his role in the development of the industry. He contributed to the establishment of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers and played an important role in the establishment of the National Electric Light Association where problems common across the industry could be discussed. He took an active part in many of those discussions and was noticed by reporters who praised his ability to explain technical matters with simple words. Sperry, indeed, shared his enthusiasm and used metaphors to convey his ideas to others. His lectures and presentations were lively and well appreciated by people from all walks of life. When Sperry was working for the Cortland Wagon Company, he decided to demonstrate his arc light system and generator in front of capitalists who might be interested in establishing an electric lighting company in Chicago. Together with Tysdale, the treasurer of the Cortland Wagon Company, they persuaded the county commissioner to gather a group of potential investors in order to perform the demonstration. It led to a deal and the Sperry 174 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 175. Electric Light, Motor and Car Brake Company was founded 90. In his first business, Sperry was keen to install his electric lighting system for special events, such as the Chicago Exhibition or concerts, where he could grab the attention of wealthy people. When he started his invention and development company, Sperry pursued his approach of finding outstanding citizens to backup his business and support financially his activities, such as Medill, the mayor of Chicago and editor of the Tribunes and Sweet, the second largest producer of coal in Illinois, was his partner in mining activities. When Sperry started to work on his streetcar, he moved to Cleveland. One of the main reasons that led him to move was his association with industrial and banking prominent figures in this town who had agreed to invest in his inventive activities. Those relationships opened more doors to him. It was also at that time that Thomson-Houston, which was to become General Electric, had purchased some of Sperry’s business activities. He, now, had a direct access to the managers of some of the most powerful corporations in America. He later became acquainted with Dutton, who was heading the American Can Company. Sperry’s family also contributed to widening the circles of influence of Sperry. His parents- in-law introduced him to Rockefeller. Sperry took him for his first ride in an automobile. He also tried to get President McKinley to join him in a car but apparently without success. Sperry’s connections with the political world were also strengthened in his later life. He supported the election of Hoover, the ‘President-engineer’. Sperry was very enthusiastic that an engineer would become president. The relationship between the two engineers developed over time and they had discussions together on many occasions. Sperry also met and liked very much the company of Mussolini. 90 Amongst the investors, there was what Sperry saw as two prominent citizens and backers of his business: the Reverend Anderson, who was the President of the University of Chicago, and Fitzgerald, who was the President of the Wagon Company. 175 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 176. 2. Persuading the Navy With the development of the gyroscope, Sperry established a relationship with an economic player that was new to him: the army. The role of the American army as a catalyst of inventive activities was on the verge of becoming an influential one. Indeed, the Navy had been caught in a naval armament race with European countries and was committed to increasing its funding of technical developments. Following the decision of Britain in 1906 to launch the vessel H.M.S. Dreadnought, Roosevelt had decided to build six ships of the same family. Roosevelt was also keen on improving the relationship between line officers and the Navy engineers. Nevertheless, the Navy was not mandated to support upfront development activities, they expected inventors to demonstrate their ideas using working models. But, year after year, the Navy was becoming more and more positive about the development of relationships with inventors and started to acknowledge this evolution in its role. The potential utility of gyroscopes for the Navy was well-known and Sperry managed to have an appointment with Sir William White, a specialist in naval architecture, in April 1908. Sperry was accompanied by the President of the American Institute of Mechanical Engineers, as he intended to disclose the content of the patent he was going to submit in the following days. White’s reaction was positive but he did not back up the purchase of the patent by his firm. In May 1908, Sperry met with David Taylor, an officer who was heading the model experimental basin of the army and had been involved in testing anti-rolling tanks. Taylor expressed some interest in the work of Sperry who then built a model. The two men met again in December and agreed to progress with some experiments on a model. The technical background of Taylor was paramount to the establishment of such a relationship. His interest and expertise in applied sciences were instrumental in creating an opportunity for a joint experiment of that scale. Sperry and Taylor worked hand in hand to conduct the test and complemented each other in many ways as it was explained above. Taylor wrote a report to the Bureau of Construction and Repair in which he recommended further tests, using a full-scale model. This bureau designated the ship to be used for this in 1911. 176 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 177. In July 1911, the full-scale experiment started, more than three years after the two men met for the first time. This full-scale experiment transformed the gyroscope into a commercial product. Sperry was now entering the circles of the Navy and of naval architects. In 1910, Sperry’s gyrocompass also benefited from a policy of the Congress that required the purchase of American made equipment for the Navy. The Navy was close to forming a deal with a German manufacturer for the gyroscope but Sperry managed to turn the situation to his advantage. How this was done is not fully known according to Hughes (1971). With the war in Europe, it was Britain and Russia who placed the first large orders for the gyrocompass in 1914. With its engagement in the Second World War, the Army decided to install a stabilizer on a second ship. War had created the demand. Close collaboration between Sperry and the Navy, was pursued over the years, especially around experimental work. This included activities related to the gyroscope and the gyrocompass but also searchlights for the Navy, fire control systems, aerial warfare equipment, etc. Such close collaboration provided an insider perspective to Sperry on the emerging needs of the army that continued to favour the involvement of business in inventive activities. A particular episode illustrates this, when the American Army was informed before their engagement in the First World War that the Allies had an effective weapon against the German submarine: the depth charge. Americans could not yet ask the allies to share with them such secret information. The Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance decided to ask the ‘one company in the America that could work fast and do things for the Navy without any order or without any contract’: the Sperry Company (Hughes, 1971). In 1915, naval officers had become concerned about the ability of American inventive activities to support wartime effort. It was decided to establish the Naval Consulting Board. Edison was appointed President of this Board and Sperry joined him as one of its members. As the press speculated about the names of the potential members, it is interesting to note that Sperry was not mentioned. Sperry did not have the public recognition of other 177 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 178. inventors. He had progressed throughout his career by courting the rich and, now, the government, not the American people as a whole. It can easily be explained by the nature of the activities and inventions of Sperry. His business served large corporations or organisations for which he performed inventive activities. He had not come up with a product used by or visible to all Americans. He was also more representative of the silent army of engineers who were in rapid development than of the bunch of famous inventors who had changed the face of the world. However, the membership of the board was established based on the recommendation of eleven professional societies. He, therefore, chaired the committee on mines and torpedo and the one on aids to navigation. Later, he also became chairman of the aeronautics committee 91. Some members headed by Edison recommended the creation of a large laboratory to support inventive efforts. Sperry, together with others, suggested that the laboratory should limit itself to fundamental research, experimental test and quality control and to rely on private enterprise for most of inventive activities. This laboratory created heated debates that eventually led to compromises. Its location became a major point of contention and nothing had been started by the end of the war. The final choice for the location was Washington DC but it was decided without the support of Edison. The board also reviewed 110,000 suggestions from amateur inventors and found only 110 of them worth exploring, a disappointing result especially considering the effort that had been needed to screen them. The role of Attentiveness in inventive activities aiming at serving the Navy was publicly recognised by some members of the board such as Hudson Maxim: ‘(t)his is an age of specialists, and it is necessary for any inventor, scientist, or engineer to devote a large amount of time and attention to the special requirements of naval and military matters before he can qualify himself to be of much use’ (Hughes, 1971). He also recognised Sperry as being one of such men. 91 Overall, Sperry was the founder of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers and of the American Electro-Chemical Society. He was also a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Physical Society, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, New York Electrical Society, American Petroleum Institute, Edison Pioneers, National Aeronautical Association, Aero Club of America, the Engineers Club, National Electric Light Association, Franklin Institute, Japan Society and director of the Museum of Peaceful Arts. 178 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 179. The board had difficulties and some success. Manufacturing resources for war were identified, contacts were facilitated and some inventive projects were initiated. There were, by any standards, some conflict of interests but they were not regarded as issues. Sperry’s company experimented and worked on antisubmarine devices, torpedoes and airplanes. For some time, Sperry was publicised as the inventor of a solution to the threat of submarines as he had worked on a net that would help detect submarines. But other members of the board denied that this was going to be a true and decisive solution to the submarine problem. Sperry was nevertheless regarded as a very valuable member of the board and furthered his own reputation within naval affairs through his participation and was considered as an expert on this topic in many circles. In 1930, the Secretary of the Navy expressed the view about Sperry that ‘(n)o American has contributed so much to our naval technical progress’ (Hughes, 1971). 179 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 180. Chapter 2.The rise of the inventive hierarchy So far, the study of career inventors during the late 18th century in Britain and late 19th century in America has demonstrated that they tend to be in ongoing interactions with other agents in order to progress their inventive activities. In the study of a specific network of inventors of the late 18th century, the Lunar Society showed that the A-E-P triptych is a contending framework to explain why such networks come to exist and how they operate. A network is defined, in the present dissertation, as sets of relationships between individuals (not firms) face uncertainty. When uncertainty prevails, attentive inventors tend to form networks to share and gather useful information that could lead them to a winning combination of factors. They acquire information, they jointly experiment with others and they enhance their reputation and build their ‘social capital’ as they interact with established inventors, investors, entrepreneurs, etc. Such relationships can be interpreted as one-offs or repeated transactions where information is exchanged for free. If the A-E-P triptych can help to explain the formation and functioning of a collective arrangement such as a network of inventors, we should investigate if it could describe other forms of collective arrangements that support inventive activities and if it could help to understand the evolution of the structure of a specific industry and its inventive practices. This chapter will look at the changes that occurred in the railroad industry throughout the 19th century in America. It will study the evolution of the industry and the inventive practices that accompanied those changes. It will investigate to what extent those transformations can be explained thanks to the transaction cost theory. It will highlight the added value offered by the A-E-P triptych in explaining them. By doing so, this chapter will fulfil a dual role: contribute to the identification and study of collective arrangements that support inventive practices and investigate an historical transformation. The evolution of the railroad industry shows that the transaction cost theory provides a compelling explanatory framework but that it can be complemented by further analysis, using the A-E-P triptych, in order to describe the changes that occur across an industry. The 180 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 181. choice of the railroad industry is motivated by two reasons. (1) The railroad companies were the first large scale companies to emerge and serve as models to others. (2) They were the first ones to adopt an engineering mindset to conduct inventive activities. We will reach these conclusions by performing a series of preliminary analysis: (1) A presentation of the theoretical background and more specifically of the transaction cost theory (Section I). It will investigate the seminal contributions of Knight, Coase and Williamson. (2) An identification of the salient facts that describe the evolution of the railroad industry throughout the 19th century (Section 2).This will be done using the notion of ‘regime of invention’ 92. The first regime studied consists of a wide network of inventors and “attentive” railroad companies. Altogether, they created the longest net of tracks in the world at that time (1). The second regime is the one of engineers who worked hard within their hierarchies to optimise and standardise the ‘machine’ they inherited from their predecessors. It will be called an ‘inventive hierarchy 93’ (2). (3) An analysis of those facts through the lenses of the A-E-P framework (Section 3). First, it will be done by looking at the work of a transitional inventive figure, Charles Dudley (1). It will lead to a first comparative analysis between the two regimes using some generic criterion (2) and, then, to another comparison table that will be structured around the A-E-P triptych. 92 A regime of invention is a coherent set of inventive practices used by a group of individuals at a particular point in time and in a given situation. When there are evidences that a regime of invention can be more than a special case, it will be considered as a collective arrangement. 93 The denomination ‘inventive hierarchy’ refers to an in-house capability to conduct inventive activities with a specific focus on a measurable parameter such as cost, quality or time. 181 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 182. Section I. Theoretical background A. Frank Knight: a world of uncertainty Transaction cost economy deals with the theory of the firm and its boundaries. It evolved into a contractual perspective on economic arrangements. It is associated with the recent work of Williamson and the early development of Coase, who, in his 1937’s paper, ‘The Nature of the Firm’ identified ‘the cost of using the price mechanism’. However, some of the original questions it tries to answer have been raised by Knight, who proposed to make a distinction between risks and uncertainty, and suggested that uncertainty impacts on the decisions, the behaviours and the social organisation of economic agents. Uncertainty was a foundational concept for Knight who acknowledged that: ‘(i)t is a world of change in which we live, and a world of uncertainty. We live only by knowing something about the future; while the problem of life, or of conduct at least arises from the fact that we know so little. This is true of business as of other spheres of activity. The essence of the situation is action according to opinion, of greater or less foundation and value, neither entire ignorance nor complete and perfect information, but partial knowledge’ (Knight, 1921). What is meant by ‘partial knowledge’ requires some clarification. Knight differentiates risk and uncertainty by defining Risks as a measurable uncertainty. This apparently simple definition has had diverse interpretations by economists. On the one hand, some have argued that this notion of uncertainty can simply be assimilated to a subjective probability where we do not have a measure but we attribute one, based on our opinion. On the other hand, other economists (Langlois & Cosgel, 1993 ; Denzau & North, 1994) saw in his work a more radical departure from the neo-classical assumptions: for them, Knight was not so much concerned with assigning a probability to an instance but with situations where ‘there is no valid basis of any kind for classifying instances’ (Knight, 1921). In this second interpretation, uncertainty is not related to a probability but to the nature of what can be done. 182 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 183. B. Uncertainty and collective arrangements according to Knight Knight believes that uncertainty prevents competition from working perfectly, provides opportunities to make profits and justify the existence of ‘enterprises’. He uses the term ‘enterprise’ to describe large corporations that had developed intensively at the beginning of the 20th century. In Knight’s core argument, there are two mechanisms that can help to address uncertainty and that justify the rise of large corporations: first, consolidation and, then, specialisation. Consolidation as a means to address uncertainty is best illustrated, according to Knight, by the notion of insurance where Uncertainty provides an incentive to deal with a group of cases instead of individual cases. For Knight, it explains why the scale of some business operations had been extended. Bad decisions and investment can be offset by good ones. It could, for instance, contribute to clarifying why Edison was interested in developing multiple businesses during the early 20th century. When some of his businesses were not profitable, there was always one that was bringing enough cash to pursue other inventive activities and keep other business activities running. Another form of consolidation that led to the development of the largest laboratory of the time was the choice of Edison to have everything he could need to invent at hand. He wanted an immediate access to all possible information, skills, competencies, sample of material or pieces of equipment he might need to experiment. His Orange laboratory was conceived in such a way that he had consolidated access to the individuals and everything else he could need in a single place. The emergence of such a large scale laboratory in this period of history can be explained as a way to build a temple of knowledge and tools that would help reduce significantly uncertainty as fast as possible in inventive activities. There is here a sort of trade-off between time and costs: Edison preferred to have people and things at hand to economise on time. Previously, another form of consolidation that fosters a specific social organisation of economic activities was observed, the constant and rather free exchange of information 183 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 184. between inventors, natural philosophers and entrepreneurs within the Lunar Society, a network. Knight did not describe such networks as a form of collective arrangement that could address uncertainty through consolidation. The development of large corporations was the main phenomenon to be explained at the time he wrote his book. For Knight, specialisation means that some people are better equipped than others to exert judgement and, therefore, to deal with uncertainty. Langlois and Cosgel (1993) suggested ’(W)e can summari(s)e Knight's theory of organi(s)ation this way: because of the non mechanical nature of economic life, novel possibilities are always emerging, and these cannot be easily categori(s)ed in an intersubjective way as repeatable instances. To deal with this ‘uncertainty’, one must rely on judgment. Such judgment will be one of the skills in which people specialise, yielding the usual Smithian economies. Moreover, some will speciali(s)e in the judgment of other people's judgment. As the literature since Coase suggests (1937), however, a theory of speciali(s)ation is not by itself a theory of organi(s)ation, since, in the absence of transaction costs, there is no reason why the division of labour could not be undertaken through markets rather than firms. Knight's answer is that the function of judgement is ultimately non-contractible.’ C. Coase, Williamson and the transaction cost theory Coase (1937), in his paper about the nature of the firm, was not interested by the difference between risk and uncertainty, he was only concerned by explaining why organisations could be preferred to markets in order to organise economic activities. However, he recognised that firms emerged out of uncertainty: ‘(i)t seems improbable that a firm would emerge without the existence of uncertainty’. Yet, he did not pursue this idea which he saw as being distinct from his main question: the determinant of choice between market and hierarchies, to which he answered plainly ‘(t)he main reason why it is profitable to establish a firm would seem to be that there is a cost of using the price mechanism’ (Coase, 1937). When looking at an inventor such as Edison, some observations are at odds with the theory proposed by Coase. If Edison wanted to have all information, skills, material sample and equipment at hand in his Orange laboratory, it was not to economise directly on transaction costs but to economise on time and to prevent someone else from realising the benefit of 184 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 185. an invention before he could do it himself. The imperative for such an inventor was not to economise on costs but to be first to patent or to market. Costs and funds act here as constraints, limiting factors for an inventor but they are not his prime purpose. Williamson pursued the work of Coase and studied governance mechanisms, such as the following three collective arrangements: firms, markets, and relational contracting. In ‘The mechanisms of governance’ (1996), he clearly defends what he calls ‘the organisation as a means to economise on transaction cost and not as a means to discriminate on price or to establish entry barriers’. He considers that the study of governance mechanisms is concerned with ‘the identification, explication and mitigation of all forms of contractual hazards’ (Williamson, 1996). The unit of analysis, the departure point he chooses is the transaction and the costs associated to it. He recognises that transaction costs are difficult to measure but that what matters is comparing alternatives. He highlights that transaction costs emerge from contractual hazards, which are subject to three hypotheses: • Economic agents have a bounded rationality, they cannot foresee everything; • Economic agents tend to be opportunists; • The existence of specific assets that cannot be easily redeployed for alternative use without sacrificing their value. Williamson highlights a number of contractual hazards his work is concerned with: ‘(1) the aforementioned hazards of bilateral dependency, (2) hazards that accrue to weak property rights (3), measurement hazards (…) (4), intertemporal hazards, which can take the form of disequilibrium contracting, real-time responsiveness, long latency, and strategic abuse. Also (5) the hazards that accrue to weakness in the institutional environment’ (Williamson, 1996). The notion of hazards brings us back to the concept of uncertainty. However, they are only conceived in relation to a market or contractual situation and uncertainty is reduced to a moral hazard perspective where some asymmetries exist between a seller and a buyer. 185 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 186. Section II. The evolution of the railroad industry throughout the 19th century in America The railroad industry started in England, where George and Robert Stephenson, using steam engines, developed locomotives and established the first railroad line between Liverpool and Manchester. In 1831, Robert L. Stevens for the Camden & Amboy Railroad in America bought a locomotive from Stephenson. Three years after, rail lines had been established in New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Massachusetts and Delaware. In 1840, with 2800 miles of tracks, the U.S. railroad took over the British ones. In 1859, it was 28,800 miles of tracks that connected American cities. The length of tracks is not the only relevant measure to depict the evolution of the railroad industry throughout the 19th century. The power of locomotives grew significantly and the freight capacity of cars more than tripled during that period. Users of railroad had a diversity of needs. Some wanted luxurious cars for passengers. Others were interested in express delivery or refrigerated units. Coaches could carry people, livestock, meat or fruits. Technical problems were diverse and encompassed: heat transfer, breaking system, use of new materials, safety issues. The railroads materialised as a large-scale system capable of carrying a diversity of people and goods. It required complex machines, tracks and fuel but also tunnels and signals. In the 1840’s, locomotives were made of about 4000 parts working together. Ten years later, it was 6000 parts (Meyer, 2006). It also needed a large number of people to coordinate the flows and a significant amount of capital. From the perspective of inventive activities, the challenge was immense, as outlined by Ross Thompson: ‘(t)he engine and boiler had to be redesigned for use as a locomotive, and new means to transmit power to wheels had to be developed. Cars had to be designed along with mechanisms to join them together. Producing the thousands of parts of the locomotive, railroad cars, and weight- bearing wheels required sophisticated metalworking capabilities. Brakes, signals, durable track, and adequate roadbed were required. The engineering tasks of identifying track widths, laying out lines, and building bridges were formidable. To these technological requisites were added the economic 186 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 187. and legal problems of financing roads, identifying markets, and securing rights of way’ (Ross Thomson, 2004). Inventions across the system were needed to respond to the needs and expectations of a young nation eager for transportation and communication systems. During the 19th century, the railroad industry witnessed a wide variety of inventions across the whole system, they often constituted refinement or derivatives of existing devices. New materials were continuously considered, new shapes for rails were tested. As highlighted by Usselman (2002), in such a complex environment, decisions relating to inventive activities or regarding the adoption of an invention were difficult to take: ‘(e)fforts to channel technical changes and reshape railroad innovation, while influenced always by various economic incentives, seldom boiled down simply to making rational choices grounded strictly in hard economic data. By its very nature, innovation involves uncertainty 94.’ Four characteristics of the railroad system are important to understand the characteristic of inventive activities presented underneath: First, there was no real competition between the railroads themselves. Railroads might have competed to a certain extent with other modes of transportation but not directly amongst each other, as they exploited specific connections between cities. It eased the development of collaborative work across the industry. Second, improvements were essentially incremental ones. They often aimed at improving specific parts of the wider system. As a consequence, many inventors could make a contribution to inventive activities. Third, the railroad can be considered as a loose system. The components of the system could be improved to a certain extent independently. However, they also needed to work together as a system. This was the main challenge for the railroad companies. 94 According to Usselman, uncertainty applies to situations where economic data cannot be the sole basis for decision making. 187 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 188. Fourth, one important decision had an important impact of inventive activities, it was the decision to ensure interchangeability of cars across the different railroad lines. This decision imposed, for instance, that an agreement should be found within the industry in order to improve brake systems and other components. A. The early years of inventive activities in the railroad industry: networks of inventors and attentive railroad companies (Regime I) To support the rapid expansion of railways in America, an appropriate approach to inventive activities emerged from the machine shop culture that already existed. It was a collective approach capable of dealing with the uncertainty and the complexity at stake. The railroads emerged from a sort of bottom up learning process where all existing industries tested their capability to support this emerging one. The industry started as a series of local experiments that came together to form the wider system. Inventive activities in the railroad industry depended heavily on inventions or improvements initiated in other sectors. Railroad companies did not build their own locomotives. At the beginning, they relied on suppliers, especially British ones. American ones developed over the years. Such manufacturers had their roots in industries such as steam engines, textile machinery, iron foundries and other machine shops serving the capital goods market. The design of transmissions, boilers and other complex parts emerged from the machining industry and locomotives were added to their existing range of activities. For instance, Baldwin, one of the main producers of locomotives, had experience in tool making, hydraulic press and steam engines. During this period, many inventors who contributed to make an industry rise out of the ground had previously invented for other sectors. Firms hired machinists who built the machines and, often, also used and repaired them. Stevens from the Camden & Amboy Railroad employed, for instance, a mechanic, Isaac Dripps, specialised in steamboat to work with him. Such master machinists maintained, purchased and contributed to the design of the equipment needed by railroad companies. 188 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 189. It was the same for civil engineers: ‘(o)f 81 civil engineers active through 1835, railroads employed 49 by 1840. Given that a dozen early engineers were inactive by 1830, about two-thirds of active engineers were involved in railroads in the 1830s. At least half had been trained in canals; many others had worked on surveying, water supply, and bridge-building’ (Thomson, 2004). Civil engineers often had a college background but it was different for most machinists who went through formal and informal apprenticeship, where they learned from peer practitioners. Later, some of them could move to the position of foreman, supervisor or master mechanic, in more complex activities. They moved from one firm to another, selling their skills to the highest offer, taking with them the knowledge and experience they had gained. Their wages were amongst the highest in the industry. They acted as referrals for new jobs amongst each other. Leading machinists attracted their most talented peers hungry for learning opportunities and technical challenges. Redundancy of skills encouraged them to specialise and invent new things. Machinists visited each other within a same region or across regions to keep up to date with the technical developments. International exchanges also occurred between experts, especially with the British ones 95. Inventive practices were therefore supported by a network of machinists that expanded alongside the railroads and reach across them. Master mechanics knew the strengths and weaknesses of the different machines at work at that time. They communicated freely such information. Job mobility among railroads and locomotive firms also helped to spread knowledge. In 1826, The Journal of the Franklin Institute, started to publish detailed assessments of locomotives. Other publications addressed railroad design and bridges. Books were also published in the 1830’s to share information about tracks and bridges. Inventions were usually attributed to their inventors. As a consequence, machinists received the largest amount of patents within the industry. Railroad companies preferred to take licences from inventors rather than buy patented products on the market. 95 Meyer (2006) described such networks using the theoretical development of weak ties and strong ties proposed by Granovetter (1985) and find them similar to the networks in the Dilicon Valley studied by Saxenian (1994). 189 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 190. ‘A study of locomotive, railroad design, car, brake, and switch patents through 1865 reveals several trends. Patenting accelerated with locomotive usage. Of the 508 total patents, 1 percent were received through 1830, 2-6 percent in the 5-year period through 1850, 13 percent from 1850 through 1855, 37 percent from 1856 through 1860 and 30 percent during the Civil War years. Patenting accelerated around 1850 just after the jump in new track mileage in 1848. The occupation of patentees and the location of patents suggest that patenting was closely linked to the networks that spread railroad knowledge. Machinists working for the railroads or locomotive firms were frequent inventors… Inventors with known occupations received 53 percent of all patents. Machinists led the way, with 48 percent of patents with known inventors. Machinists making or maintaining railroad equipment received half of these patents, which understates their share because many with railroad employment were listed simply as machinists. Scientific and inventive professions, including engineers, physicians, chemists, patent agents, draftsmen, and model-makers, received another 11 percent of patents, though some listed as engineers were machinists who operated locomotives and steam engines’ (Thomson, 2004). With the rapid expansion of the industry and the continuous inventive development, the market for locomotives remained very fluid, until the 1860’s, when the three dominant firms started to monopolise the market (Meyer, 2006). Before, entry barriers remained low. The relationship between railroad companies and their suppliers was often based on strong informal relationships, discussions on the shop floor and intense exchanges. The style of management was personalised. Directors on the board of the railroad companies used their technical acumen and their personal relationship with suppliers to discuss needs, inventions and contracts. Trials of new equipment were erratic and consisted of discrete try-outs. In railroad companies, during the 1850’s and 1860’s, the master mechanics and chief engineers had a significant freedom in the selection of new technologies. It was their responsibility and, often, a pleasing piece of work for them, to monitor and pick those technologies. Their personality and style impacted their work significantly. Advertising for new inventions was accumulating on their desks and the ones of their collaborators and contacts. Many people were consulted and through correspondence, inventions were 190 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 191. extensively discussed. When experiments were considered, it was usually comparative trials between two devices conducted in fairly simplistic ways. This was closer to the tinkering habits of mechanics than to the systematic experiments. During the 1860’s and the early 1870’s, Harris was the chief operating officer of the ‘Chicago, Burlington and Quincy’, a railroad company. He liked new technologies and networked extensively with inventors. He regularly promoted new designs and ideas coming from outside the company to his subordinate. He advised inventors on how to best promote their inventions. He also encouraged them to patent and sometimes incubated their work in the Burlington facilities. During this formative period, new technologies and devices were not systematically used, Steel rails for instance, were used on the lines where the traffic was very intense. There was a lack of consistency across the industry but that fitted the constraints of a rapidly expanding capital intensive industry. The functioning of this regime I of invention within the railroad industry can be interpreted, in line with Knight’s ideas, as an information consolidation strategy to address uncertainty. There was a constant and rather free exchange of information, as observed with the flow of information between the companies and their suppliers. Master mechanics moved from one company to another, carrying with them their knowledge. The network of individuals who went across the firms, as a collective arrangement, encouraged the consolidation of information and knowledge. Across and amongst markets, railroad companies and suppliers talked to each other, exchanged views on what to do and how to do it. This could appear as a costly approach. However, they chose the best approach to improve their individual and collective chances of success by sharing knowledge freely. During this period, such collective arrangements facilitated the sharing of knowledge in order to continuously prevent ‘re- inventing the wheel’ and to optimise resource allocation in inventive activities. It was described by Usselman: ‘(s)ensing that in this experimental stage, they had more to gain by openness than secrecy, railroads generally exchanged technical information quite freely. Even key 191 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 192. consulting experts to the railroad (…) often let their improvised solutions to the challenges of railroading in North America slip into a common pool of techniques’ (Usselman, 2002). This functioning of the industry, and more specifically of its inventive activities, shaped the industry until the 1870’s. At that time, four threads can be identified for having encouraged railroad executives to start thinking differently and to bring a new regime of invention that can be described as ‘inventive hierarchies’. The increasing number of patents had made the work of railroad companies difficult. They were facing mounting complexity on legal cases, assigning rights to the right inventors was becoming difficult as technical issues were more and more complex. At the same time, the rising power of some suppliers was becoming a challenge to railroad companies. For instance, Carnegie in the steel business had increased its bargaining power by building massive production capacity in a growing market. Westinghouse did not want to license his brake systems to railroad companies, as he was determined to exploit and fully benefit from his invention. As materials became more sophisticated, purchasing them required more structured approaches. Railroad companies needed to specify and verify what they were buying. Moreover, it was time for an industry that had grown in an ad hoc way, to rationalise its functioning and adopt a different approach to inventive activities. The network was a collection of peculiar situations. It was ripe for a large scale cost reduction that could be conducted using the logic of standardisation. Before describing the regime II of invention, the presentation of a transition figure, Charles Dudley, will help to understand the nature of the changes that took places. B. Charles Dudley, a transition figure from invention regime I to II Charles Dudley can be seen as an archetypical transition figure between the railroad companies attentive to the technical developments made by a wide network of inventors going across industries (regime I) and Inventive hierarchies (regime II). He gained a PhD in 192 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 193. Chemistry from Yale and was, according to Usselman (2002), the first full-time employed PhD by the industry. He was employed by the Pennsylvania Railroad company starting in 1875. He acted as President of the American Society for Testing and Materials 96 (ASTM). At the start of this engagement he wrote: ‘(s)o little was the possible use of a chemist appreciated and so little work was known that he could do on a railroad that permission to have a chemist was granted more as a concession and as an experiment than with any faith or belief that the scheme would prove to be permanent or valuable’ (ASTM, 1910). Dudley headed an engineering laboratory, where he did a lot to standardise methods used for conducting chemical analysis. The laboratory was staffed with 34 chemists at its apogee. Dudley also played a critical role in the development of industry bodies. He was president of the American Chemical Society and of the American Society for Testing Materials. Overall, he held membership in 50 societies. His work revolved around conducting chemical analysis of materials. His first important investigation was a long experiment on steel rails. Dudley collected 25 samples of worn steel rails and recorded their position in the track. This helped him to relate the chemical nature of the rail to the wear it had to sustain. It allowed him to develop a formula for the best steel rail. Even though his conclusion happened to be erroneous, his approach became a landmark in the inventive hierarchies’ regime of inventive activities. He devoted a large amount of his attention to the development of technical specifications. He discovered that burning oil varied extensively in their composition. Indeed, before this transition period, many products such as soap, oil or paints were bought under their generic name. ‘The problems by which Dr Dudley found himself confronted were practically fourfold. First, to ascertain what material was best for a given purpose, second, to prepare specifications 96 ASTM, the American Society for Testing and Materials, is now an international standards organisation that develops and publishes voluntary consensus technical standards for a wide range of materials, products, systems and services. 193 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 194. under which such materials might be purchased in the widest markets under conditions of the freest competition, but with the certainty of getting what was wanted; third to devise the best methods and the most efficient organisation for carrying on routine acceptance tests on an extensive scale; and, fourth, both to conduct independent research work and to keep in touch with the latest scientific and practical developments in a vast field, with a view of profiting by whatever might be safely utilised to secure increased efficiency or reduced costs’ (ASTM, 1910). Dudley encouraged suppliers and buyers to cooperate to establish such specifications. The customer had to conduct material analysis in actual service but he also needed to involve manufacturers in the final establishment of the specifications. Dudley wrote: ’(t)he specification should be the embodiment of the best that is known on the subject’ (ASTM, 1910), it resonates as a precursor of the ‘one best way’ of Taylor. This work on technical specifications 97 led to the establishment of industry wide standards, which was a key activity performed as part of the American Society for Testing Materials. Dudley did not come up with specific breakthrough inventions per se. He has patented throughout his career 15 inventions but his main achievement was the establishment of new methods to conduct chemical analysis, to establish technical specifications and to develop standards for the regime II of inventive practices. C. The later years of inventive activities in the railroad industry during the late 19th century: Inventive hierarchies (regime II) In response to the challenges they were facing, railroads changed their approach regarding patents, they urged the Congress to revise patent laws. They tightened their control of patents taken by their own employees. They established cross-industry bodies to collectively 97 The work of Dudley is a great reminder to economists that establishing contracts is not solely a legal matter but also a technical one where sometimes buyers and suppliers need to agree or even conceive the object of the transaction. 194 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 195. handle patent issues. But it was only one side of a much more fundamental change that occurred throughout the industry. During the later years of the 19th century, railroad companies adopted a different approach to inventive activities. They established centralised, corporate departments staffed with professional engineers. The personal authority of the technical experts was diminished and replaced by an inventive hierarchy where salaried engineers took decisions based on defined rules. Such engineers had a knack for uniformity. They pursued a policy of standardisation, as the industry had developed haphazardly during its formative period. They conducted systematic experiments to select solution amongst existing technologies. They established methods to analyse materials and developed sound technical specifications that were integrated in suppliers’ contracts. They used managerial innovation, as much as technical ones, to optimise the performance of the traffic on the railroads and to improve the efficiency of the system. They based their decisions on financial information, not on expert opinion. The inventors, in this second regime of inventive activities, were the archetype of modern engineers. They held Ph.D.’s in chemistry or were college-trained mechanics. Those academically trained engineers brought with them scientific methods of investigating the order of things, they used statistics and were keen on performing systematic analysis in order to understand what was really happening. The performance of those inventive hierarchies and bureaucrats was not measured by the amount of new business generated but by the reduction in operational costs used to run the system. They did not promote change, designs were stabilised and mechanics were not encouraged any more to come up with new ideas. Cost became the sole judge of what should be and should not be done. 195 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 196. They did not pay much attention to the needs of the customers of railroad companies, they looked solely at the system, at its problems and limitations to find improvement opportunities. They standardised what they inherited from the master mechanics but did not bring fundamentally different approaches to it. Instead of departing from existing practices they assessed what they had at hand and established standard out of it. They routinised what they had. This was a gigantic task, a response to years of ad hoc inventive activities. Taussig (1900), an Harvard economist summarised this transformation in 1900: ‘(t)he increasing application of machinery has made it possible to reduce operations more and more to routine and system, and to lessen the need of independent judgments for every step. Technological education has supplied an array of trained, intelligent, and trustworthy assistants – engineers, chemists, mineralogists, electricians to whom can be delegated a multitude of steps and processes that formerly needed the watchful eyes of the master himself.’ He also added some remarks about the impact of scientific schools and institutes of technology: ‘(t)heir efficacy in permeating all industry with the leaven of scientific training has been strengthened by the social conditions which have enabled them to attract from all classes of the plentiful supply of mechanical talent. Hence American industry has shown not only the inventiveness and elasticity characteristic of the Yankee from early days, but that orderly and systematic utili(s)ation of applied science in which the Germans have hitherto been –perhaps still are – most successful.’ Interestingly, Frederick Taylor, who later promoted the principles of scientific management, started his career as one of those engineers working for Midvale Steel Works. Together with Yale graduates, he worked on studies on steel rails and tyres (Usselman, 2002). Such efforts were not limited by the widening boundaries of the railroad companies. Interchangeability of cars encouraged railroad companies to contribute to the development of trade associations in charge of reaching agreements based on systematic experiments and data collection. Engineers worked together to establish industry wide standards. Representatives from railroad companies and steel business conducted collaborative investigations. Those associations included the Master Car Builder Association, the 196 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 197. American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Society for Testing Materials. The Master Car Builder Association was, for instance, at the origin of a series of tests on behaviour of brakes during emergency stops that occurred in 1886 and 1887. It involved 55 trains and many representatives of the industry. It led to the establishment of technical standards on brakes published in 1888. It contributed to create a much needed uniformity and inter-operability across the industry. However, by relying on such inward looking inventive hierarchies, railroad companies lost sight of the changing needs of the customers and of the opportunities offered by the technologies available outside of their inner circles. It was the case of automatic train control technologies, turning the benefits of technology such as air brakes into profit was difficult (Usselman, 2002). Increase of train speed was demanded by customers, but, it was difficult to take this into account in calculations. Similar problems occurred with automatic signals and electric traction. Usselman (2002) concluded: ‘(o)perators of large systems, like all people engaged in management have struggled to recogni(s)e when their business or industry faced moments of transition, in which established technological trajectories and organisational paradigms produced diminishing returns, or novel breakthroughs presented new threats or opened potentially rewarding opportunities. The task of avoiding obsolescence and responding to changing circumstances can prove especially difficult in large, system based industries, which acquired substantial momentum in the form of fixed assets and perhaps more important, expectations on the part of operators and consumers.’ The advent of the regime II of invention within the railroad industry during the late 19th century in America can be interpreted thanks to Coase and Williamson. The importance given to costs, drafting contracts and the attention given to technical specification appears very much in line with their ideas. Some of the contractual hazards identified by Williamson were at the source of this transformation. The emerging regime of invention attempted to address hazards due to weak property rights. Before patents were attributed to individuals who systematically granted licences to the railroad companies. As technical complexity grew, the allocation of property rights 197 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 198. became more and more problematic and led to opportunistic behaviours. It resulted in an increase in the number of litigations between inventors and railroad companies. Inventors started to claim rights in a very opportunistic manner. The minutes of a case in the early 1880’s is quite explicit about the opportunistic behaviours: ‘(i)t was never the object of (the patent) laws to grant a monopoly for every trifling device, every shadow of a shade of an idea, which would naturally and spontaneously occur to any skilled mechanic or operator of the ordinary progress of manufacturers. Such an indiscriminate creation of exclusive privileges tends rather to obstruct than stimulate invention (…). It creates a class of speculative schemers, who make it their business to watch the advancing wave of improvement and gather its foam in the form of patented monopolies which enable them to lay a heavy tax upon the industry of the country’ (Usselman, 2002). Also connected to the regime of property rights, railroads felt threatened by what they saw as a ‘strategic abuse type of hazard’. They were challenged by Westinghouse who was opposed to licensing his brake system, as he wanted to exploit his invention himself. There was also the case of Carnegie who had built some entry barriers by developing enormous production capacity for steel production. Some measurement hazards were extensively addressed by the work on technical specification and the development of industry-wide standard. The transaction costs theory, therefore, contributes to explain why the regime II was preferred to regime I at some point in the history of the railroad industry. It, nevertheless, fails to explain the network structure as part of the regime I. However, Williamson does not have a hegemonic attitude and the pretention to explain every kind of situation: ’(t)iming can be crucial if a party expects to be a ‘player’ when events are fast moving or if learning by doing is essential. Although transaction cost economics can relate to some of the pertinent issues, such as those posed by tacit knowledge (Polanyi, 1962) and the limits of imitation (…) added apparatus is needed to deal with the full set of issues that arise when responsiveness in real time rather than equilibrium contracting, is the central concern’ (Williamson, 1996). These comments characterize very well inventive activities, where costs may act as a constraint and time as a discriminator between winners and losers. The A-E-P triptych of abilities might complement 198 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 199. the transaction cost theory to address the situation where uncertainty cannot be solely reduced to contractual hazards. Section III. Comparative analysis between regime I and II of invention In order to understand the added value offered by the A-E-P triptych to describe an industry structure and its evolution, a comparison between the two regimes of invention studied above will be undertaken using the three abilities as discriminating criterion. It will be done in two steps. The first offers a generic comparative analysis while the second one uses the A-E-P triptych. A. Comparative analysis of the regime I and II of inventive activities in the American railroad industry The following table (Table 4) aims at comparing and contrasting the two regimes of inventive activities using a number of criterions from the above analysis. It highlights some striking differences for the two regimes of invention. 199 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 200. Table 4: Comparison between the regime I and regime II of inventive activities in the American railroad industry Criterion Regime I Regime II Period Before the 1870’s After the 1870’s Nature of technical Incremental plus some local Incremental with a focus on change breakthrough standardisation and the use of managerial innovation to complement technical change Source of invention Essentially suppliers Railroad companies and to some extent suppliers as part of the definition of specifications Inventors Mainly machinists or trained Engineers engineers acting as machinists Basis for decision making Opinion of multiple experts Financial information and technical analysis Collective arrangements Networks of machinists Inventive hierarchies managed as supporting inventive supporting mobility and corporate functions favouring activities knowledge exchange structured and discipline decision making Magazines and journals Inter-firms cooperation through diverse technical organisation addressing issues related to buyer supplier contact (technical specifications) and issues related to the interchangeability of cars across the industry Properties of invention Machinists Railroad companies 200 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 201. B. The two regimes analysed through the triptych Attentiveness – Experimentation – Persuasion The following table (Table 5) re-interprets the two regimes from the perspective of the triptych Attentiveness – Experimentation- Persuasion. Table 5: Comparison between the regime I and regime II of inventive activities based on the three abilities of inventors Regime I Regime II Attentiveness Outward looking, opportunities Inward looking, identification of internal come from technical problems and opportunities for development outside the standardisation railroad company This is the role of chief engineers to monitor external developments Experimentation Tinkering, occasional test and Systematic campaign of trials of new devices using ad Experimentations conducted with the hoc approaches method used in science Persuasion Internal dissemination of Systematic costing and financial analysis advertising materials for of solutions invention coming from outside Discussions and debates Data collection and agreement of amongst specialists technical experts in trade associations The previous table shows that moving from the regime I to the regime II of invention can be interpreted as moving from a degree of uncertainty to another. Uncertainty, as a concept escapes widely normative taxonomic work. However, looking at specific instances, it is possible to compare and contrast different situations. It is the case with the evolution of the railroad industry. In the regime II, decisions were based on a cost and financial basis; decision-making was closer to a situation of perfect information than in the regime I, which was closer to a situation of ignorance. During the formative period of the industry the degree of uncertainty in inventive activities was high, inventions were incremental but numerous and assembled as part of a complex but loosely coupled system. The machinists, the inventors of the regime I of in this industry, 201 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 202. had a specific approach to Attentiveness, Experimentation and Persuasion. They formed a network of inventors who fed the attentive railroad companies. Together they could take the industry through its early developments. During the late 19th century, inventive hierarchies came into action. The engineers formed a different type of inventor capable of address lower degree of uncertainty where cost optimisation was the sole focus. Their approach to Attentiveness – Experimentation – Persuasion was routed in systematic methods and fact based analysis. They were part of inventive hierarchies associated with each of the railroad companies. They collaborated within trade associations as the interchangeability of cars required agreements across the industry. Transaction cost economics with its focus on contractual hazards help to understand why at a given moment in time why a hierarchy might be preferred to a market. The transformation from the regime I of invention to the regime II of invention within the railroad industry during the late 19th century can be explained thanks to this approach. However, the A-E-P triptych complements it by providing a richer picture of the organisational structures and changes related to inventive activities that occurred within the industry. It helps to characterize and understand non-contractual or informal mode of organisations, such as the network of inventors encountered in the regime II of invention. Finally, it helps to understand the transformation of an industry structure by looking at different periods in its history, the nature of the uncertainty faced by inventors during each of them and the collective arrangements used by agents to address this uncertainty. Transaction cost economics provides a useful foundational framework for a theory of organisations but it needs to be complemented by studies, using, for instance, the A-E-P triptych in order to look at informal form of organisations or complex industry structures where inventive activities play an important role. This approach on the organisation of economic activities fits very well with the insights provided by Knight and the notion of uncertainty he proposed. Further investigation in other industries could complement the present one. 202 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 203. Part 3. Inventing during the early 20th century in America Preliminary chapter - Overview of the early 20th century The 19th century saw the emergence and development of large scale systems, such as the railroad, the telegraph, electricity and the telephone. Different regimes of invention have emerged with (1) inventors in machine shops contributing collectively, as part of networks for the development of loosely coupled systems such as the railroad or the telegraph, (2) independent inventors in their laboratories, creating more integrated systems, such as the electric light and the telephone and (3) engineers within inventive hierarchies optimising and standardising the railroad system, at the end of the century. The A-E-P triptych provided an overview of the nature of inventive activities in these different regimes to understand why and how they evolved over time. The third historical period studied investigates the rise of industrial laboratories during the early 20th century in the United States of America. In its final pages, the third part looks beyond this initial period to map out the history of transistor and semi-conductor technology and examines how different collective arrangements contributed to the discovery, mainstreaming and exploitation of technologies. During the first quarter of the 20th century, science started to play an important role in inventive activities undertaken by firms, at least in specific sectors such as the electric, the communication or the chemical ones. Scientific developments, during this period, held more predictive power than before, a predictive power that could readily help to shape practical applications. Industrial laboratories, an emerging collective arrangement able to perform expensive Experimentations, are at the centre stage of the present analysis. The first part studies three career inventors working for established firms and provides an analysis of the A-E-P triptych in the context of a principal-agent relationship : Thomas Midgley who was employed by General Motors (Chapter I, Section I), William Coolidge 203 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 204. who worked for General Electric Research laboratory (Chapter I, Section II) and Wallace Carothers from DuPont (Chapter I, Section III). This new breed of inventors, who can be called ‘corporate scientists’, had to be attentive to what mattered to their principal while remaining open to scientific and technical developments occurring outside of their firm. Science and theory contributed to Experimentation without replacing serendipity or trial and error. Inventors and their principals exploited the positive image of science to persuade decision makers in firms and government of the value of science and consumers of the value of their invention. At the same time, such inventors became more and more capable of building on an increasing specialisation of knowledge and to exploit their scientific authority in order to contribute to the creation of potentially dangerous information asymmetries that benefited the monopolistic ambitions of the firms that employed them. Midgley was a career inventor operating in the automotive industry. He was chosen as he is a transition figure from the 19th century independent inventor to the 20th century scientist working in an industrial laboratory. His two major inventions, leaded fuel and Freon, created controversies that no other career inventors could illustrate better. Coolidge was chosen because he worked for the first industrial laboratory established in America: the General Electric research laboratory. It was renowned as the ‘House of magic’ and known for performing advanced science when in reality it was mainly concentrating on practical inventive activities that contributed to the business needs of General Electric. Carothers was a career inventor who illustrates, for many, the successful investment by large firms in basic 98 research, as a source of future revenue. However, this success was partly due to some lucky circumstances, unexpected experimental outcomes and controversies over the value of ‘Pure Science’. He was chosen for this reason and to offer an example from the chemical industry. 98 The expression ‘basic research’ is used throughout this part. In some citations the expression ‘fundamental research’ is used and should be understood as a synonym of ‘basic research’. The expression ‘pure research’ was specific to DuPont and is used accordingly in the present document. 204 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 205. The second chapter (Chapter II), dedicated to collective arrangement in inventive activities, studies how two metaphors, the one of Smith, the ‘invisible hand’, and the one of Chandler, ‘the visible hand’, could be complemented, when looking at inventive activities, characterised by uncertainty. We will propose the metaphor of the ‘Soft Hand’, building on one of the abilities of the triptych, Attentiveness. The ‘Soft Hand’ operates in a context of a principal-agent relationship. The principal encourages information exchanges within the laboratory, within the firm, and with the outside world. Such exchanges can be characterised as a particular market where information is freely exchanged by inventors and other agents in which the future value of information is ignored. Therefore, at the same time, a hierarchy guides and controls the work of inventors and a market of free information nourishes them with new ideas and knowledge. The ‘Soft Hand’ appears as a response to an organisational failure caused by the principal-agent relationship: secrecy. The study uses the example of General Electric research laboratory, and the work of Willis Whitney, its director. The third part (Chapter III) covers a period that goes from the early years of the 20th century to the 1970’s. It investigates the history of inventive activities within A.T.T. 99 and what happened in terms of discovery, diffusion and exploitation of one of its major inventions, the transistor. The analysis outlines the rise of industrial laboratories but, also, the limits they met, and the important historical transformations within the evolution of inventive practices. The concept of regime of invention 100 will be used to characterise a series of situations and inventive practices throughout the century. The promoters of industrial laboratories created the erroneous belief that independent inventors were definitely outperformed. The passion for science strengthened by the American victory in the second World War led to the isolation, or, at least, to a lack of Attentiveness, of the scientists involved in inventive activities. The transistor needed different regimes of invention than the one offered by A.T.T. research laboratory to realise its full economic potential. It needed specialised firms, such as Texas Instruments, attentive to its immediate new applications and production issues. 99 American Telephone & Telegraph Company. 100 A regime of invention is a coherent set of inventive practices used by a group of individuals at a particular point in time and in a given situation. When there are evidences that a regime of invention can be more than a special case, it will be considered as a collective arrangement. 205 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 206. It also required inventive networks, such as the ones that emerged in the Silicon Valley to explore its future applications. The rise of industrial laboratories led some people to believe that a hegemonic regime of invention had emerged: the ‘industrial laboratory’. It was certainly a misconception as the different regimes of inventions complemented each other, they were appropriate to specific situations that will be characterised using a taxonomy of uncertainty. This third part shows that the A-E-P triptych can help to explain some of the historical transformations that occurred within the economy, throughout the 20th century, by investigating the role and nature of a diversity of collective arrangements. However, before moving to the study of the three career inventors, some elements of context that impacted inventive activities throughout the 20th century in America should be presented. Four salient facts are encountered throughout this study: (1) the investment in science by large firms to maintain their competitiveness; (2) the developments in physics that offered predictive power that could be harnessed for practical applications; (3) the role of war in stimulating investment in science and technology and, finally, (4) the evolution of the needs of a rising wealthier class. The focus here is on the early years of the 20th century, but, on some occasions, it looks beyond this period. (1) First, America was the country where large firms started to invest in applied and basic scientific research in order to respond to competitive pressures and answer governmental actions motivated by their monopolistic behaviours (Mowery, 1990). This change is fundamental, as some firms moved away from buying inventions and started to coordinate uncertain inventive activities by themselves. It motivates the choice of America for the present study, the country in which this phenomenon occurred for the first time. Such investments in scientific activities allowed the performance of expensive experiments and complex inventive activities by firms, in the context of increased specialisation of inventive practices and advancement of science. (2) Second, the understanding of our physical world went through some far-reaching re- interpretation during the first 20 years of the 20thcentury. At the end of the 19thcentury, physicists believed that their understanding of matter was complete, thanks to the progress 206 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 207. conducted by Maxwell in electrodynamics. Nothing new of significance was expected (Eckert & Schubert, 1986). However, a series of observations brought doubts within the scientific community. In 1895, X-rays were discovered by Rontgen, then Planck worked on radiant heat at the turn of the century, Einstein started to develop quantum hypothesis that had to wait until 1916 to be confirmed. The internal structure of the atom was understood thanks to the work of Rutherford, Bohr and Sommerfeld. During the late 19th century, inventors were able to test the properties of materials, such the hardness and ductility of steel measured in the railroad industry. With the new physics and its predictive power, inventors were able, using the periodic table of elements, to select a small set of materials and compounds with specific properties before moving to the experimental stage. Different examples of this predictive power will be developed during the course of the analysis. (3) Third, the two World Wars had a profound impact on inventive activities. Going to war called for new equipment, machines and operational procedures. Science and technology did not impact the outcome of the First World War, but the reverse is true. With the war, the American government started to intensively promote and fund research activities in the military field (Mendelsohn, in Krige & Pestre, 2003). In between the two wars, German scientists left their home country, sometimes to seek employment in America, and brought their methods and practices with them. The Second World War mobilised thousands of researchers in America. Science was perceived as a decisive factor in the ally victory. A passion for science submerged American decision makers and opened an avenue for basic research performed by business. (4) Fourth, industrialisation and consumption worked hand in hand during the early years of the 20th century to offer new opportunities for inventive activities to prove their worth. Industrialisation led America on a path of rapid economic development. The automobile market grew rapidly, the number of engineers, doctors, lawyers increased over the years. Even with difficult times in agriculture and with the financial crisis in 1907 and, later, in 1929 which demonstrated that prosperity was not secured, American citizens enjoyed increasing wealth. 207 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 208. Chapter I- Inventors at the age of predictive science Section I. Thomas Midgley Thomas Midgley (1889-1944) is a transition figure between the Edison-type of inventor of the late 19th century and the scientist-inventor fond of basic research of the 20th century. He made two significant inventions throughout his career. First, the leaded fuel that prevented cars from knocking and improved their performance at a time when the automotive market was booming, and, secondly, the Freon (or CFC), a gas used for refrigeration and air- conditioning. Midgley was born in 1889 into a family of inventors and, according to Kettering (1947), he descended from James Watt. He graduated from Cornell University, in 1911, as a mechanical engineer. He lived most of his life in Columbus, Ohio. He started as a draftsman and designer for the National Cash Register Company (NCR), a company specialised in retail and accounting equipment. Charles Kettering headed the industrial laboratory, before he left to found his own firm specialised in automotive equipment, the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (Delco). After a year at NCR, Midgley then spent four years in charge of the research department of his father’s tyre company. In 1916, when the family business collapsed, Midgley went to work for Kettering in Delco’s research laboratory 101. The research laboratory was established as a standalone firm and named ‘Dayton Research Laboratories’ in 1916. It was taken over by General Motors in 1920 with the other Dayton interests of Kettering (Midgley, 2001). Midgley spent the remainder of his career working for the automotive company. Right from the start of his employment with Kettering, he searched for an antiknock compound that would prevent unpleasant explosions and 101 Midgley described his decision as follows: ‘I suddenly found myself out of work with a wife and two children to support and very little money in the bank. I made a quick trip around the country contacting a variety of people in various industries but without finding a job to my liking. Upon my return home I arrived at the most important decision of my life. I decided to get a job working for Mr. Kettering, irrespective of the size of the salary and let nature takes its course’ (McGrayne, 2001). 208 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 209. inefficiencies within engines; it led him to invent leaded fuel using a compound called TEL: Tetraethyl lead. Leaded fuel was regarded by Americans as a great invention 102. As the population was becoming rapidly hungry for efficient and powerful cars, leaded fuel appeared as a magic cure. At the same time, the poisonous character of leaded fuel was feared and debated by specialists, but the rising middle class of America did not pay much attention to this threat. After inventing leaded fuel, Midgley became Vice-president of the Ethyl Corporation and Vice president of the Ethyl-Dow Chemical Company, a joint venture which produced bromine. When General Motors’ research activities were consolidated in Detroit, Midgley refused a Vice-President position in the automotive manufacturer. He was wealthy and remained as a consultant to the company. At the age of 41, after the invention of Freon, he became Vice-President of Kinetic Chemicals Inc. which was in charge of its production. Freon, Midgley’s other major invention helped to spread the use of air-conditioning, prevented food poisoning and enabled efficient vaccination on a large scale. It had a major impact on the life of many people before threatening the following generations103. After discovering the antiknock properties of leaded fuel, Midgley wanted to understand why it had such properties and Boyd, who worked with Midgley, spent some time exploring the issue in the early 1930’s. It was the first piece of basic research conducted by General Motors. Later in his career, Midgley lost his interest for commercial inventive activities and, General Motors had difficulty in motivating him focus on them. His final years of work were devoted to pure research with rubber. He studied the composition of natural and synthetic rubber 102 Midgley was also considered as a hero after the Second World War By using TEL, ‘American and British planes had one third more power than German and Japanese planes, Allied pilots took off in one fifth the space; climbed 40 percent faster out of antiaircraft fire; flew higher; and could carry 20 to 30 percent more bombs or fly 20 to 30 percent farther’ (McGrayne, 2001). Together with CFC, which helped to prevent malaria by acting as an insect repellant, it can also be said that Midgley’ leaded fuel played a significant role in turning the planet into a global battlefield. 103 Indeed, the dramatic impact of Freon on the ozone layer was only discovered in 1973. 209 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 210. and the chemistry of vulcanisation but without seeking any direct application. He published a series of papers on these topics and considered this work as ‘most scientific of all his endeavour’ (Kettering, 1947). At the Ohio State University, he established a laboratory at his own expense and supported the salary of his co-workers. Overall, Midgley patented more than 100 inventions. Although he started his career as a mechanical engineer with a hands-on approach to invention, throughout time, he moved towards basic research in chemistry. Midgley can be labelled as a ‘transition figure’, he was employed by a company but continued to act as an independent inventor as leaded fuel made him rich Midgley expressed his views about the future of industrial research in a collection of speech published by Standard Oil Development Co: ‘I am of the opinion that as time goes on, more and more research of the fundamental type will be necessary’ (Standard Oil Development Co, 1945). He defined science as a ‘reproducible experiment’. Amongst the challenges of conducting basic research, he highlighted two main ones: (1) overseeing research activities appropriately: ‘(t)he obviously controlling factor in the capacity of the research director to maintain an efficient understanding of the various problems for which he is responsible. In a way, this capacity is similar to that of a chess master playing simultaneous chess. Up to a certain number of games, he is able to maintain a high playing standard. But, with few more games added, the result is little more than a semi-automatic moving of pieces’ (Standard Oil Development Co, 1945); and (2) locating the research activities: ‘(t)here is no ideal location. There are advantages in being near the production centre, there are advantages being away from it. There is no advantage that I am aware of in complete isolation’ (Standard Oil Development Co, 1945). In fact, he sometimes recommended having two laboratories, one close to and one far from the plant. He died at the age of 55 after four years of paralysis, allegedly caused by polio. He was found strangled by the harness he had invented to get him out of bed, almost certainly a suicide. Throughout his career of inventor, he demonstrated his inventive abilities. He was optimistic, curious and imaginative. One of his friends said that he had ‘(t)en ideas a minute, 210 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 211. nine of them screwy but the tenth a Lulu’ (McGrayne, 2001). He had a gift for making sense of data and more generally observation [Attentiveness]. He invented instruments and measurement devices: a hydrometer for cars, a bouncing-pin indicator, visual observation and spectroscopic analysis of engine combustion, measurement of radiant energy [Experimentation]. On one occasion, he was even keen to experiment on himself: after particles of metal had spattered into the cornea of his eyes, the doctor was unable to remove them; Midgley bathed his eye with mercury which formed an alloy with the metal pieces and extracted them [Experimentation]. Midgley was also part of many societies where he could meet his counterparts; 104 he held the position of President of the American Chemical society. He served as Vice Chairman of the National Inventor Council during the war and participated in the National Defence Research Committee [Attentiveness- Persuasion]. He was a natural showman and gave entertaining after-dinner lectures on science [Persuasion]. He also applied his inventive skills outside of his work, the young Midgley and his baseball teammate tested substances to improve the curve of a spitball, etc. He experimented with different techniques to grow grass on his property and was widely admired by his neighbours for his achievement in this field. He built metal castings of ant tunnels to study their social organisation. At the start of his career, Midgley did not choose the problems he worked on. They were brought to him by representatives from the company for which he worked. Later in his career, it became more and more difficult for the management of General Motors to get him to work on practical problems of interest to the company. This chapter will start by investigating how Midgley’ Attentiveness was channelled by General Motors’ top management, and, particularly, its research director Charles Kettering, and the DuPont family who owned a majority of shares in the automotive company (A. Attentiveness: the firm as a guide). Then, we will see how he first adopted a trial and error approach to Experimentation and, then, used the periodic table of elements as a guide for his quest. The periodic table of 104 It included: the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the Society of Automotive Engineers and the American Society for Testing Materials and some other clubs (Kettering, 1947). 211 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 212. elements was a useful piece of scientific knowledge for inventors like Midgley, who searched for materials with specific characteristics (B. Experimentation: under the guidance of the periodic table). Finally, we will investigate Midgley’s role in the debate around the poisonous character of TEL. and at how the systematic Persuasion effort organised by General Motors led to the creation of deadly information asymmetries (C. Persuasion: creating information asymmetries). A. Attentiveness: the firm as a guide Midgley’s Attentiveness has been guided and influenced by Kettering, whom he called ‘Boss’, by General Motors, the company he worked for, and by the DuPont family, who owned General Motors at that time. The invention of an antiknock fuel was not the result of Midgley’s personal interest for this technical puzzle; it was the consequence of the firm’s interest. Midgley was not an engineer trying to optimise an existing system or an independent inventor on his own trail. He was a scientist who was expected to come up with significant inventions that would serve the business. Kettering started as an independent inventor and came up with the electric self-starter, a major automotive invention that gave the final advantage to the internal combustion engine over the electric or the steam engine 105. In 1912, his business, DELCO, equipped the Cadillac of General Motors 106, the rising competitor of Ford Motor Cars. Cars powered by the internal combustion engine were subject to a strange and disturbing noise called ‘the knock’ 107, which was sometimes blamed on Kettering’s electric system. Kettering understood 105 Hand cranking was not necessary any more with the self-starter. Most Americans, including women, could now drive thanks to this invention. 106 Kettering had established the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (DELCO) to manufacture engines. 107 Bernstein (2002) described the knock as follows: ‘an annoying ‘putt-putt’ or ‘ping’ sound, overheating, jerky motion, and sluggish response. The problem gets worse when a strain is put upon the engine, such as when accelerating or climbing a hill. Besides making noise and increasing pollution, knock damages engines and saps their efficiency. And the higher the engine’s compression, the worse the problem gets’. 212 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 213. that the fuel was causing the knock, and not his ignition system 108. His company also produced the Delco-Light engine, to generate household electricity and he faced a similar knock (Bernstein, 2002). Midgley joined Kettering in 1916 the same year DELCO was bought by General Motors 109. According to Kettering (1947), during a conversation about the knock, he suggested to Midgley: ‘(W)hy don't you get the old apparatus out of my closet and see what you can find out?’. The ‘old apparatus’ mainly referred to a monograph. After some work, Midgley discovered by luck, in late 1916, that iodine stopped the knock. Iodine had what was going to be called later a high octane level. However, iodine was not an economically viable fuel. Kettering and Midgley also explored the use of ethanol as a fuel or as an addititive to gasoline. Following a joint war effort with the Army Air Corps, in 1917, Kettering and Midgley believed that ethanol 110 was a convenient solution 111. They also discovered that stopping the knock was not the only benefit; it also enabled higher compression, therefore promising power increase and fuel savings for the now booming car industry. In 1919, General Motors bought Kettering's Dayton research laboratory and appointed him as Vice President of research for the renamed General Motors Research Corporation (Kitma, 2000). With the temporary fear, around 1920, that oil could be running out 112, ethanol appeared more and more as a viable alternative or a good complement, including to General Motors Executives (Kitma, 2000). Thomas Midgley filed a patent in February 1920 for a particular blend of alcohol and gasoline and K.W. Zimmerschied of General Motors headquarters wrote to Kettering that the use of alcohol fuel ‘is getting more serious every day in connection with export cars, and anything we can do towards building our carburettors so they can be easily adapted to alcohol will be appreciated by all.’ (Kitma, 2000). In October 1921, Thomas Midgley highlighted, at a meeting of the Society of Automotive Engineers, the 108 The first antiknock fuel was produced in 1913 using a process called thermal cracking, however, its production required comprehensive investments. 109 General Motors, the car manufacturer, was established in 1909. 110 Ethanol had been used as a fuel since 1826. 111 In 1918, Kettering asserted in Scientific American ‘(I)t is now definitely established that alcohol can be blended with gasoline to produce a suitable motor fuel’ (Kitma, 2000). 112 An internal General Motors report warned in 1920: ‘(T)his year will see the maximum production of petroleum that this country will ever know’ (Kitma, 2000). As the production of automobiles was increasing rapidly there was a fear that the natural reserve of oil would last no more than 20 years but new fields were soon discovered (Bernstein, 2002). 213 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 214. benefits of ethanol: ‘clean burning and freedom from any carbon deposit (...) tremendously high compression under which alcohol will operate without knocking (...). Because of the possible high compression, the available horsepower is much greater with alcohol than with gasoline’ (Kitma, 2000). In the meantime, the DuPont family had increased its share in General Motors since 1914. By 1920, it controlled more than 35% of the shares 113. With sufficient power in its hand, the family started to establish a new style of management. Alfred Sloan, Executive Vice President, made things clear to Kettering in September of 1920: ‘(a)lthough [the Research Corporation] is not a productive unit and a unit that is supposed to make a profit, nevertheless the more tangible result we get from it the stronger its position will be (...). It may be inferred at some future time(...).that we are spending too much money down there [in Dayton] and being in a position to show what benefits had accrued to the corporation would strengthen our position materially’ (Kitma, 2000). Hence, General Motors threatened a few times to withdraw the funding from the antiknock research and inventive activities. Once, Kettering and Midgley were even given one week to demonstrate progress (McGrayne, 2001). This shift of ownership appears to coincide with a change in the direction of the research conducted by Kettering and Midgley. According to Kettering (1947), ‘(a)fter the war, we again took up in a serious way the search for a practical antiknock agent. Although neither the discovery of iodine as a knock suppressor nor the synthesis of cyclohexane for airplane fuel was put to practical use, they did have this important effect. They changed Midgley’s principle interest and activity from the field of engineering to that of chemistry’. With the discovery of the antiknock properties of TetraEthyl Lead (TEL) in December 1921, the interest for ethanol immediately vanished. According to Kitma (2000), General Motors ‘couldn't dictate an infrastructure that could supply ethanol in the volumes that might be required. Equally troubling, any idiot with a still could make it at home, and in those days, many did. And ethanol, unlike TEL, couldn't be patented; it offered no profits for GM. Moreover, the oil companies hated it, a powerful disincentive for the fledgling GM, which was loath to jeopardize relations with these mighty power brokers. Surely the 113 The DuPont Company was founded by Éleuthère Irénée du Pont (1771–1834) in Delaware in 1802 to produce black powder and later other explosives, which remained the company’s main products until the 20th century, when it began to make many other chemicals as well. The DuPont family grew rich during the First World War thanks to the sales of explosives (Hounshell & Smith, 1988). 214 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 215. DuPont family's growing interest in oil and oil fields, as it branched out from its gunpowder roots into the oil-dependent chemical business, weighed on many GM directors' minds.’ It would be, however, misleading to believe that the Attentiveness and decisions of someone like Midgley were fully constrained by the interest of the corporation for which he worked. It appears that Midgley continued to believe that ethanol was ‘the fuel of the future’, as he wrote in a memo in 1922 about alcohol production in Mexico (Kitma, 2000). Another episode shows Kettering and Midgley resisting some suggestions from Stine who headed the DuPont Research Department in the early 1920’s. Stine had tried to persuade the General Motors’ management that his department should perform chemical research activities for General Motors 114. Stine 115 advocated conducting basic research into fuels as opposed to, what he called, the ‘cut and try’ approach of Kettering and Midgley (Hounshell & Smith, 1988). Midgley and, even more, Kettering resisted this proposal and continued their efforts by themselves. At the start of the 20th century, more inventors started to be directly employed by firms. In many ways, it enabled their work by providing them access to resources they would have had difficulty to mobilise otherwise. At the same time, it constrained their efforts: they had to work on the problems that the management of the company wanted them to tackle, they were expected to deliver results by managers who did not always understand the practical difficulties they encountered in their inventive activities, and, sometimes, as it appears to be the case for ethanol, they had to abandon specific options and pursue others prescribed by the top management of the organisation. The visible hand of management was pointing its fingers in specific directions and inventors like Midgley had to follow them. However, we have seen that Midgley and Kettering could ignore suggestions that were not directly made by their top management, as the episode with Stine, from DuPont, illustrates. Later in his career, Midgley also acquired enough bargaining power, such as his reputation and wealth, to resist the requests from top management to exercise his abilities to solve practical 114 Fairly early in the discussion, Stine recognised the existence of research capabilities in General Motors. He therefore focused on reaching an agreement on the conduct of joint research. 115 The role of Stine in the Du Pont research organisation will be further investigated with the study of another career inventor: Carothers. 215 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 216. problems. All this tends to confirm that the ‘agency theory’ 116 can be a relevant framework when studying inventive activities conducted within a firm. B. Experimentation: under the guidance of the periodic table In this section, we will look at how the periodic table of elements, a piece of scientific information that helped Midgley to discard many options when planning experiments in order to rapidly reach a satisfying solution. Midgley’s first steps towards the discovery of an antiknock fuel were very much a combination of luck and systematism. He discovered by luck the antiknock effect of iodine and, then, started to experiment with thousands of different compounds. Midgley attributed the discovery of TEL's antiknock properties to ‘luck and religion, as well as the application of science’ (Kitma, 2000). When Midgley started to enquire about the knock, he found that he needed to confirm that the fuel was at the origin of the problem. He used a Delco-Light engine and developed an instrument 117 capable of photographing the combustion. His observations showed that the knock was caused by an abrupt rise in pressure after ignition118 . Kettering and Midgley developed an erroneous belief that sent them fortuitously on the right tracks. Indeed, they suspected that the knock was caused by premature combustion due to high vapour pressure. They hoped that dyeing the fuel with a dark colour, such as 116 The ‘Agency theory’ is presented by Eisenhardt (1989) as follows: ‘specifically, agency theory is directed at the ubiquitous agency relationship, in which one party (the principal) delegates work to another (the agent), who perform that work. Agency theory attempts to describe this relationship using the metaphor of a contract’. 117 The instrument was ingenious but fairly rudimentary. It used for instance a tomato as a film drum (McGrayne, 2001). It was described by Kettering as follows, in a book written by a descendant of Midgley: ‘(w)e took two little pieces of Lath, two shingle nails, and a tomato can. Out of those parts we made a film drum that could be rotated by hand in the path of the beam of light from the indicator. We wrapped a piece of photographic paper around the tomato can drum and secured it with rubber bands. Then with the engine running, I spun the tomato can on its shingle nail pivot and Midgley operated the shutter of the indicator’ (Midgley, 2001). These efforts to understand what happens inside a combustion engine highlight the ability of Midgley to observe a phenomenon and create appropriate instruments. 118 Midgley described what happened as follows: ‘(w)hen a spark occurs in a cylinder, a wall of flame spreads out from this point… (However) when any gas is heated either it must expand or its pressure must rise. The layer of gas just in front of the flame is so intensely heated that it rises to a very high pressure, and in some cases (…) the gas in front of the flame wall is subjected to such high pressure that it goes off with a bang that is detonation’ (McGrayne, 2001). 216 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 217. red, would eliminate the problem. Their reasoning was based on an analogy. Kettering explained: ‘we both happened to know that the leaves of the trailing arbutus are red on the back and that they grow and bloom under the snow’ (Kettering, 1947). They expected that the coloured fuel would absorb the radiant heat, as the red-backed leaves do from the sun. The analogy was flawed, the use of most red additives would have proven useless. However, Midgley could not find red dye in the laboratory 119 and an assistant suggested using iodine as it dissolves in oil. The effect was certainly rewarding for Kettering and Midgley: the knock stopped. However, iodine was corrosive and too expensive to be used on an industrial scale. Midgley soon discovered that other red dyes did not work but that colourless iodine did the trick. An important lesson had emerged: it was not necessary to redesign the engine, changing the fuel composition would certainly offer a solution (Bernstein, 2002). Midgley, therefore, embarked on a ‘hit and miss’ strategy with no guidance from science or common knowledge. He started to test every substance he could find 120, hoping to replicate the antiknock property of the iodine, ‘from melted butter and camphor to Ethyl acetate and aluminium chloride.’ Unfortunately, ‘most of them had no more effect than spitting in the Great Lakes’ (Bernstein, 2002). As part of this systematic search, Midgley and his team found out that aniline had a stronger antiknock effect than iodine 121. Unfortunately, its smell was horrible, and adding aroma did not help 122. While he was travelling, Kettering heard about selenium which demonstrated positive results but it was corrosive. It was also abandoned. From selenium, Midgley and his team moved to tellurium, and, finally, to diethyl telluride, which, in April 1921, proved 24 times as effective as aniline. Tellurium was unfortunately not abundant and smelt horribly 119 The laboratory they used was fairly basic. It was situated on the second floor of an old tobacco warehouse and was spartanly equipped (Kettering, 1947). It dit not have running water (McGrayne, 2001). 120 It is unclear how many compounds were tested, ‘(A)s Professor William Kovarik of Radford University has observed, confusion reigns in part because the lab's day-to-day test diaries have never been released to the public by the General Motors Institute (GMI) archive. In the words of one archivist there, GM's lead archives have been ‘sanitized.’ One 1925 article in the Literary Digest put the number at 2,500 compounds tested, while The Story of Ethyl Gasoline, a 1927 pamphlet released by a company Midgley would help found, states that 33,000 were studied. Another time, he claimed 14,991 elements were examined, while a 1980 Ethyl corporation statement set the number at 144’ (Kitma, 2000). 121 Even though aniline was finally abandoned, Kettering tried to convince Du Pont for some time to invest in its production (Hounshell & Smith, 1988). 122 Midgley acknowledged: ‘I do not think that humanity would put up with this smell, even if it meant twice as much gasoline mileage’ (McGrayne, 2001). 217 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 218. like garlic 123. Kettering recalled this search for the antiknock fuel with lyricism: ‘(n)ew chemical compounds were imported from overseas and many other new ones were made in our own laboratories. Meals were forgotten, sleep was lost and the happy families of the researchers ceased to be ‘happy’. And just as everyone was becoming absolutely discouraged, an experiment produced a bare teaspoonful of a rare compound called - tetra-ethyl lead’ (Kettering, 1947). Midgley was now using the periodic table of elements as a guide for his search. He recalled: ‘(w)hat had seemed at time a hopeless quest, covering many years and costing a considerable amount of money, rapidly turned into a ‘fox hunt’. Predictions began fulfilling themselves instead of fizzling out’ (McGrayne, 2001). It was in fact a new version of the periodic table of the elements that helped Midgley. It had been prepared by a boyhood friend of Midgley who was now working for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It was organised around Niels Bohr’s theory of the atom and it organised elements according to their valence, their ability to combine with each other. Elements that had displayed antiknock properties were all in the lower right hand corner of the table and the heaviest elements appeared to be the most efficient antiknock substance. Midgley had realised that it was not the physical characteristics, such as density or volatility, of the antiknock that made it antiknock but its molecular structure (Midgley, 2001). Then, 23 compounds were created and tested within 15 weeks. Midgley began with tin. The antiknock effect of its Ethyl derivative was very satisfying. The periodic tables suggested that lead could be even more effective. On 9 December, 1921, Midgley’s assistant, Carroll Hochwalt, prepared and tested a small quantity of tetraethyl lead (TEL). TEL offered complete knock resistance with only one part in 1,360. The hunt for an antiknock fuel had reached a happy end. TEL was cheap, efficient and without any disturbing odour. The power, fuel consumption of engines using leaded fuel, was also significantly improved. However, some problems remained, and it took two years to Midgley to get rid of them and to industrialise the production process. As TEL was leaving a deposit of oxide in the engine cylinder, Midgley and his team looked for a chemical that would react with the oxide and 123 17 years after the experiments with tellurium, the records of the experiments still stank (Bernstein, 2002). This did not however prevent the army from using some of Midgley’s stinking fuels (McGrayne, 2001). 218 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 219. transform it. Bromine was the answer to the problem and Midgley had to invent a process to extract bromine from sea water (Midgley, 2001). It took Midgley only three days to make his second important invention, a telling illustration of the predictive power science can sometimes offer to inventive activities. In the 1920’s, refrigeration units used dangerous chemicals like sulphur dioxide and ammonia. People were very much afraid of refrigerators because of the dangers publicised by some horrific accidents and deaths. Even hospitals feared their use. Kettering was asked by a representative from Frigidaire 124 to look for a new solution that could help to bring air- conditioning to public space. Once more, when Midgley got involved, he relied on the periodic table as a guide for his search. He searched for a stable, cheap non-toxic, non- inflammable, non-corrosive compound with a boiling point between 0 and -40°C 125 (McGrayne, 2001). He discovered dichloroflouromethane, or CFC, later trademarked ‘Freon’ by DuPont 126127. Scientific information helped him to discard many useless experiments and to progress rapidly towards a solution. When Midgley started his inventive effort on TEL, he had in front of him a multitude of compounds, all potential solutions that required to testing. The periodic table of elements changed this situation. It helped him to focus on the few elements that were likely to bring the results for which he was looking for. The periodic table of elements was a scientific piece of knowledge that proved to be of great help to find relevant materials or compound. Scientific knowledge, as illustrated here, does not provide an immediate answer or solution but can help to discard many useless options and allow testing of the most promising ones. 124 Frigidaire was founded as the Guardian Frigerator Company in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and developed the first self-contained refrigerator. 125 Refrigerant were clustered on the right hand side of the periodic table, with the least inflammable on the far right and the least toxic (light) element at the top. Fluorine immediately appeared as the potential non-toxic non- inflammable candidate that had not been used before. In fact, fluorine is toxic but not all of its compounds are (McGrayne, 2001). 126 The name Freon covers several chemical compounds, which contain a combination of carbon, chlorine and fluorine also known as CFC. 127 Henne, who worked with Midgley recalled on testing the toxicity of the product: ‘(t)he first thing that we did, we did ourselves. We sniffed it and we survived’ and further commenting on testing it on a guinea pig: ‘(i)t was the stuff we had sniffed ourselves so that it was safe to give to the guinea pig, since we survived’ (Migley, 2001). Out of the first four batches produced, three were toxic and killed animals exposed to the vapours. It was however due to impurity in the compound (Kettering, 1947). Frigidaire executives did not want Midgley in their factory and Kettering had to build for him a separate laboratory next to the plant (McGrayne, 2001). 219 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 220. However, all inventive activities do not benefit from such valuable scientific information and all scientific knowledge does not provide a predictive power similar to the one of the periodic table of elements. C. Persuasion: creating information asymmetries This section explores the controversy that surrounded TEL after it was launched. Midgley was enrolled by Kettering, the top management of General Motors and DuPont to create a deadly information asymmetry. If the impact of CFC on the ozone layer was discovered four decades after its invention, the poisonous effects of TEL were known when its antiknock properties were discovered. Indeed, TEL was first discovered by a German chemist in 1854 and was immediately recognised as a deadly substance. Lead is a neurotoxin with sickening and, potentially, deadly effects. It can cause blindness, brain damage, kidney diseases, convulsions and cancer. It can only be detected through chemical analysis and does not disappear over time128. In the 1920’s, the deadly effects of lead on factory workers heavily exposed to it were known 129. The long term effects on the population of a low intensity exposition were still considered uncertain 130. At that time, lead was already used in paint, water pipe, food cans, etc. Before the launch of leaded fuel under the trademark Ethyl, specialists started to raise concerns and worries about the toxic nature of the product. General Motors, having decided to make the most out of what looked like a hit product, downplayed the risk. Midgley played an important role in this organised Persuasion effort that presented leaded fuel as harmless and as a ‘gift of god’ for the American people. 128 ‘A 1985 EPA study estimated that as many as 5,000 Americans died annually from lead-related heart disease prior to the country's lead phaseout’ (Kitma, 2000). 129 In March 1922, Pierre du Pont, President of General Motors wrote to his brother Irénée du Pont, Chairman of Du Pont that TEL is ‘a colourless liquid of sweetish odour, very poisonous if absorbed through the skin, resulting in lead poisoning almost immediately’ (Kitma, 2000). 130 Kettering said ‘(i)n putting out new things, troubles are not the exception. They are the rule. That is why I have said on so many occasions that the price of progress is trouble’ (Midgley, 2001). 220 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 221. Midgley was a real showman who put his talent at the service of his invention and of his employer 131. When visitors came to the Dayton Laboratory, Midgley enjoyed playing ‘abracadabra’ tricks with antiknock compounds to impress them. Some years later, salesmen used the same tricks to demonstrate the power of TEL 132. They, for instance, poured a few drops of it on a piece of cloth and waved it in front of a knocking engine. The knock instantly stopped (Bernstein, 2002). When Midgley started to work with TEL, the doctors he consulted tended to be alarmist. Midgley considered commissioning studies from two universities: Harvard Medical School and Columbia University. However, the two university studies were never commissioned (McGrayne, 2001). Midgley, who was not a toxicologist, conducted his own analysis and found no lead in exhaust fumes. He concluded that there was no risk. Instruments at that time were not able to detect tiny traces of metal in the air. Midgley tended to ignore the subsequent warnings (McGrayne, 2001). The public health authorities started to worry, following some serious cases of lead poisoning during the pilot productions of TEL. The potential accumulation of lead along roads with heavy traffic and tunnels also raised their concerns, which were conveyed to General Motors. In December 1922, the U.S. Surgeon General, H.S. Cumming, wrote to Pierre DuPont: ‘(i)nasmuch as it is understood that when employed in gasoline engines, this substance will add a finely divided and no diffusible form of lead to exhaust gases, and furthermore, since lead poisoning in human beings is of the cumulative type resulting frequently from the daily intake of minute quantities, it seems pertinent to inquire whether there might not be a decided health hazard associated with the extensive use of lead tetraethyl in engines’ (Kitma, 2000). At that time, early 1923, Thomas Midgley was amongst the first victim of leaded fuel: ‘(a)fter about a year's work in organic lead,’ he wrote, ‘I find that my lungs have been affected and that it is necessary to drop all work and get a large supply of fresh air’ (Kitma, 2000). Before leaving to 131 For instance, Midgley demonstrated the non-toxicity and the non-inflammability of Freon to the American Chemical Society by inhalating its vapour and exhaling it over a lit candle (Kettering, 1947). 221 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 222. Miami, where he hoped he could quickly recover 133, Midgley wrote a reply to Cumming's letter. Although the question ‘had been given very serious consideration,’ he wrote, ‘(...) no actual experimental data has been taken.’ Midgley nevertheless was trying to be reassuring: ‘the average street will probably be so free from lead that it will be impossible to detect it or its absorption’ (McGrayne, 2001). Following the death of workers at the TEL plant in New Jersey, the U.S. Bureau of Mines was contacted by General Motors in September 1923 to conduct a study paid by the company (McGrayne, 2001). The Bureau was requested by contract not to render public progress reports and press releases. Later, it was stipulated that only the brand name ‘Ethyl’ could be used in the work done by the Bureau as the term ‘lead’ could frighten the public 134. Moreover, it was requested that ‘all manuscripts, before publication, w(ould) be submitted to the Company for comment and criticism’ (Kitma, 2000). Following the death of two workers that he knew personally 135 at the TEL plant in Dayton (McGrayne, 2001), Thomas Midgley became upset and considered giving up the whole Tetraethyl Lead programme (Kitma, 2000), but Kettering was opposed to it. General Motors established a medical committee which, supposedly, expressed a cautionary report 136. Irénée DuPont, wrote to Sloan on 29 August, 1924, and told him not to worry: ‘I have read the doctors' report and am not disturbed by the severity of the findings.’ He considered Nitro-glycerine much more hazardous to make than TEL and erosion from lead paint potentially more dangerous than lead dust from exhausts (Kitma, 2000). In 1924, Kehoes, a young pathologist, was recruited by Kettering. After a few months of work, he considered the rate of 18% poisoning amongst the Dayton factory staff to be a sign 133 Midgley believed that four to five weeks of golf in Florida would bring him a ‘new covering’ for his lungs and would raise his temperature back to normal. Unfortunately, it did not work as well as expected (McGrayne, 2001). 134 Kettering had already suggested using the term ‘Ethyl’ as a brand name and to ban any reference to the word ‘lead’ in advertising. 135 60 other workers also became ill. No reports were published in the press (McGrayne, 2001). 136 The report, like other original documents, is not available in the company archives (Kitma, 2000). 222 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 223. of ‘almost complete disappearance’. He also claimed that there was no risk from car exhausts using Ethyl. Kehoes protected TEL over the next 40 years 137 (McGrayne, 2001). In October 1924, workers from a TEL plant operated by Standard Oil started to go insane and to suffer from hallucinations. Five of them died and 80% of the staff became ill. The press wrote stories about the ’loony gas’ which created puzzlement and raised fear 138. Kettering was upset that Standard Oil could not prevent the bad publicity (McGrayne, 2001). Few days after, Midgley was asked by a journalist if it was dangerous to spill TEL on one’s hands. Midgley knew that it was, however, he poured TEL on his hand and washed them in front of him. He claimed: ‘I am not taking any chances whatever (…). Nor would I take any chance doing that every day‘ (McGrayne, 2001). By doing this, he sent the message that a small amount of TEL on one’s hand was harmless while he was already affected by the chemical. He also declared to a newspaper: ‘(t)he essential thing necessary to safely handle TEL was careful discipline of our men (…). The minute a man shows signs of exhilaration, he is laid off. If he spills the stuff on himself, he is fired. Because he does not want to lose his job, he does not spill it’ (McGrayne, 2001). In November 1924, The U.S. Bureau of Mines announced that TEL was not dangerous the day after, five workers died. The report was challenged by experts. General Motors and DuPont requested that the Public Health Service hold public hearings on TEL. On 4 May, 1925, Ethyl withdrew its product from the market. On 20 May 1925, 87 participants convened for the public hearings. Frank Howard from Standard's Oil, and soon to be an Ethyl director, defended eloquently Ethyl that was presented as a ‘Gift of God’ 139. It was 137 Years later, Kehoe told the Congress that he and his team ‘had been looking for 30 years for evidence of bad effects from leaded gasoline in the general population and had found none.’ (Kitma, 2000) In fact, Kehoe used as control samples patients already contaminated by lead. Some experts challenged his methodology right from 1925 (Kitma, 2000). 138 Standard Oil challenged the appellation and commented about their liabilities: ‘the rejection of many men as physically unfit to engage in the work of the Bayway plant, daily physical examinations, constant admonitions as to wearing rubber gloves and using gas masks and not wearing away from the plant clothing worn during work hours should have been sufficient indication to every man in the plant that he was engaged 'in a man's undertaking’ (Kitma, 2000). 139 ‘Our problem is not that simple. We cannot quite act on a remote probability. We are engaged in the General Motors Corporation in the manufacture of automobiles, and in the Standard Oil Company in the manufacture and refining of oil. On these things our present industrial civilization is supposed to depend. I might refer to the comment made at the end of the war--that the Allies floated to victory on a sea of oil--which is probably true.... Now as a result of some 10 years' [sic] research on the part of The General Motors Corporation and 5 223 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 224. decided that a committee of experts was going to be appointed and asked to report back by 1 January 1926. Ethyl was to be withdrawn until conclusions could be reached. In the end, the committee noticed ‘a greater storage of lead in the bodies of those exposed to Ethyl gasoline’ (Kitma, 2000) and lead in the dust of garages dispensing Ethyl. The committee concluded: ‘(i)t remains possible that if the use of leaded gasoline becomes widespread, conditions may arise very different from those studied by us which would render its use more of a hazard than would appear to be the case from this investigation. Longer experience may show that even such slight storage of lead...may lead eventually in susceptible individuals to recognisable or to chronic degenerative diseases of a less obvious character (...). In view of such possibilities the committee feels that the investigation begun under their direction must not be allowed to lapse (...). The vast increase in the number of automobiles throughout the country makes the study of all such questions a matter of real importance from the standpoint of public health, and the committee urges strongly that a suitable appropriation be requested from Congress for the continuance of these investigations under the supervision of the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service’ (Kitma, 2000). Newspapers concluded that it meant that there was no risk. The New York Times, announced: ‘Report: No Danger in Ethyl Gasoline’. Follow up studies were planned but never conducted. In May 1926, customers could read on signs in gas stations: ‘Ethyl is back.’ Lead was outlawed as an automotive gasoline additive in the American 1986 and the use of catalytic converters was encouraged in cars. Over the years, Midgley, the optimistic and proud inventor, the talented salesman, had been enrolled by Kettering, his boss, and General Motors, his employer, to defend his invention. In this case, Midgley was no more a lonely individual who had to enrol supporters and promote his invention. He was one amongst a group of managers, lawyers, public relation specialists, determined to defend the interests of the company. The company built and years' research by the Standard Oil Co., or a little bit more, we have this apparent gift of God--of 3 cubic centimetres of tetraethylethyl lead--which will permit that gallon of gasoline...to go perhaps 50 percent further... What is our duty under the circumstances? Should we throw this thing aside? Should we say, 'No, we will not use it,' in spite of the efforts of the government and the General Motors Corporation and the Standard Oil Co. towards developing this very thing, which is a certain means of saving petroleum? Because some animals die and some do not die in some experiments, shall we give this thing up entirely? Frankly, it is a problem that we do not know how to meet. We cannot justify ourselves in our consciences if we abandon the thing. I think it would be an unheard of blunder if we should abandon a thing of this kind merely because of our fears. Possibilities cannot be allowed to influence us to such an extent as that in this matter’ (Kitma, 2000). 224 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 225. benefited from a significant asymmetry of information. And when uncertainty prevails and obscures reality, such asymmetry of information can prove to be deadly. As illustrated here, information asymmetries can be constructed and maintained using the ability of agents to persuade others and their potential impact should not be under-estimated. Section II. William Coolidge Midgley discovered, throughout his work, the value of conducting scientific investigations in order to understand the principles that govern specific technical phenomena and, possibly, to bring some new ones to life. However, the first firm that established, in America, an industrial laboratory that dealt with science was General Electric. The present part analyses the work of William Coolidge (1873-1975) at the General Electric research laboratory. Coolidge led the development of the tungsten incandescent lamp 140 and X-ray tubes141. More than 80 patents bearing his name were secured by General Electric, mainly on those two technologies. Coolidge was raised on a farm and studied, thanks to a State scholarship, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.). He pursued his studies in Leipzig, as many other scientists of his generation who had to go to Germany to develop their scientific skills. When he returned from Germany, in 1899, he started to teach at M.I.T. He joined General Electric in 1905, five years after the research laboratory was founded. He was attracted by a salary twice as much as the one he got from the university, and also by the promise of being able to pursue scientific work of his own choice. At that time, the first director of the General Electric research laboratory, Willis Whitney, was still working half of his time at M.I.T. and had an office at the university adjacent to the one of Coolidge. General Electric had benefited from the inventions of Thomas A. Edison, Elihu Thomson, Charles Steinmetz and others over the years. Nevertheless, the company tended to wait for 140 The patent secured by the research laboratory on tungsten filament allowed General Electric to establish a unique market position in the incandescent lamp business by means of licensing and patent-pooling arrangements. 141 X-ray tubes are a typical contribution of the General Electric research laboratory to the diversification of the business of the mother company. 225 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 226. external parties to spearhead new technical developments. Management at General Electric believed that inventors were not suited for corporate life and that through the acquisition of patents or through mergers, specific sectors could be controlled. However, with the expiration of some key patents and the threat of new technological developments, Edwin Rice, the Vice-president of engineering and manufacturing at General Electric 142, agreed to establish a research laboratory in 1900 upon the suggestion of the company’s electrical engineer, Charles Steinmetz. The main intent was to respond to the competitive pressures. Later the research director Whitney declared: ‘(O)ur research laboratory was a development of the idea that large industrial organi(s)ations have both an opportunity and a responsibility for their own life insurance. New discovery can provide it’ (Reich, 1985). Upon joining the research laboratory, Coolidge started to work on the tungsten filament on which he was going to work during the next eight years. At that time, the carbon filament lamp was failing to respond to the needs of the early 20th century. It was portrayed as ‘too small, too red, too hot’ (Miller, 1963). In Europe, scientists in universities and firms were experimenting with other materials: osmium, tantalium and tungsten. The work on the tungsten filament led by Coolidge required developing an in depth understanding of ‘what took place within and between the crystals of the extremely hard, brittle metal’ (Reich, 1985). The intent of Coolidge was practical but, to progress, he had to develop a basic scientific understanding of the material. He was a skilled experimenter and was able to spot critical problems. The main discoveries were made in 1909, but many months were still needed to bring a product to market. Incandescent lamps with ductile tungsten filament were launched on the American market in 1911. The market share of General Electric in the lamp business went from 25% in 1911 to 71% by 1914. According to Reich in 1985: ‘(u)p until the second World War, incandescent lamps, brought the company one-third to two-thirds of its annual profit, although they represented only one-sixth of its sales’. Ductile tungsten 143enabled improvement in lamp efficacy and remained a leading technology throughout the entire 20th century. 142 General Electric was the result of a merger in 1892 between Edison General Electric and the Thomson- Houston Company. It was managed centrally from Schenectady (NY) in America. 143 Tungsten is a metal with a high melting point, a high tensile strength and a low coefficient of extension. Together with its wide avalability, this made it an important metal in the history of technology since the beginning of the 20th century (Liebhafsky 1974). 226 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 227. Coolidge was not the only first class scientist at General Electric. Langmuir, for instance, was a Nobel Prize winner responsible for some breakthroughs in radio and vacuum tubes. In 1915, 250 people were working for the research laboratory. Coolidge continued to work on tungsten and looked for new applications. He used it, for instance, to develop electrical contact points which were widely adopted in the nascent automobile industry. He also looked at the possibility of replacing platinum in X-ray tubes, a technology that had caught his interest when he was at M.I.T. This led him to develop an X- ray portable unit for the army on the eve of the First World War Wartime also led him to work on underwater sound detection systems, which opened a new commercial field for General Electric. X-ray tubes occupied Coolidge over the years, he increased their voltage from 200,000 volts, in 1921, to 900,000 volts, in 1930. Such work had important applications in the medical field and, also, in the industry for non destructive tests. Coolidge became an informal group leader in the laboratory after the First World War He became associate director of the laboratory in 1928 and replaced Whitney at the head of the laboratory in 1932. It was the time of the business depression, a difficult period for the research laboratory. However, during the late 30’s, the business situation had significantly improved. He headed more than 300 people in the laboratory. He also sat on President Roosevelt’s Advisory Committee on Uranium. Coolidge had passed retirement age when the Second World War broke out. He remained in position until 1944. During the war, tungsten was part of more than 15,000 devices used by the army (Miller, 1963). General Electric research laboratory became extensively involved in radar work during that period. Coolidge remained a prominent scientific figure and, later, advised Japan, at the request of the American government, on science and technology policy issues. On the one hand, Coolidge contributed to establish the tradition of performing scientific research in private companies, and, on the other hand, he contributed to development of the enduring wealth of General Electric. 227 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 228. First, we will see how competitive pressure forced General Electric to be attentive to technological developments. The development of ductile tungsten for incandescent lamps could not have been successful without a continuous access to information and skills outside of the firm. It was a formidable case of ‘open innovation’ which required Coolidge and his colleagues to remain attentive to what was available outside of the firm (A/ Attentiveness: open innovation at the start of the 20th century). Then, we will look at the different strategies employed by Coolidge as part of the inventive activities that allowed him to develop both practical products and new knowledge. Serendipity and luck, the pursuit of multiple routes in parallel, and the systematic analysis of all design parameters will appear as conscious strategies used by Coolidge and his colleagues. At the same time, General Electric was able to progress on its work on the incandescent lamp and Coolidge was capable of developing a systematic investigation of the design parameters that could influence an invention (B/ Experimentation: both serendipity and systematism). Coolidge was capable of explaining his work and its outcome with great clarity. However, the last section of this chapter will investigate how General Electric research laboratory benefited from an attractive image in the press. The laboratory was indeed referred to as the ‘House of magic’, a useful nickname to persuade others of the value of your work (C/ Persuasion: the House of magic). 228 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 229. A/ Attentiveness: open innovation at the start of the 20th century According to Liebhafsky (1974), ‘(f)rom the first, the research laboratory recogni(s)ed the advantage of extensive contacts at home and abroad; for this liberal policy, the critical incandescent- lamp situation before the invention of ductile tungsten was partly responsible.’ In other words, General Electric research laboratory had adopted an ‘open innovation 144’ culture, thanks to the competitive pressure the company was facing at the start of the century. In this section, we will look at how competitive pressures led General Electric to become attentive to tungsten, and how its open innovation approach helped Coolidge to achieve his success 145. Walther Nernst, a professor from Gottingen University, in Germany, invented and patented a new kind of lamp that required no vacuum to operate and had a longer life than the best carbon-filament lamps. He sold his patent to AEG, in Germany, and to Westinghouse, in America, in 1894. Westinghouse also supported Peter Cooper Hewitt, a talented inventor working on mercury lamps. It brought to the attention of the management of General Electric that the company could be deprived of its technical edge and unable to access the latest developments, which convinced Steinmetz, the company’s chief consulting engineer, to propose the establishment of a research laboratory at General Electric. The management accepted the idea at the turn of the century (Reich, 1985). Over eight years, developments conducted by potential competitors in the field of incandescent lamps showed General Electric that tungsten was the most promising direction for the future. In 1898, Dr Welsbach applied for the first patent in America for a metal filament lamp using osmium. It was fragile and the limited supply of osmium impeded further developments. In 1902, it was a tantalum filament that had been patented by a Russian chemist working for a German firm, Von Bolton. However, it had a sort lifecycle when used with alternative current. One of Coolidge’s first piece of work was to study this process, for which General Electric had secured a licence. Then, in 1904, Just and Hanaman, from a 144 ‘Open innovation’ is a concept that has attracted much interest over the past years. According to Chesbrough (2006), managers accept more and more ‘that useful knowledge is widely distributed, and that even the most capable R&D organi(s)ations must identify, connect to, and leverage external knowledge sources as a core process in innovation’. 145 Coolidge did not just benefit from the ‘open innovation’ culture of General Electric research laboratory. In fact, he played a role in shaping such a culture in this organisation. 229 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 230. technical high school in Vienna, applied for a patent in France and in Great Britain for a tungsten filament. The same year, the Russian chemist Von Bolton also applied for a patent on a tungsten filament lamp. In 1905, a German named Kuzel applied for an American patent on a different process for the production of tungsten filament (Miller, 1963). As a result, Coolidge started to investigate tungsten. It was competition that had showed General Electric the direction. Sent by Rice, who headed engineering activities, the research director, Whitney, accompanied by Howell, a scientist, toured Europe. They ended up recommending the purchase of the rights of the German process, which was carried out by the company. Eventually, it proved to be an expensive dead end. Such a tour, nevertheless, allowed them to understand that they were lagging behind Europeans. Later, General Electric European agents informed their mother company in America of the developments taking place in Europe (Reich, 1985). In 1908 and 1909, it was Coolidge who travelled to Europe. The first trip was apparently not very profitable, according to Miller (1963). However, during the second one, Coolidge took a sample of the tungsten filament he had developed to show it to Dr. Blau, who headed AEG laboratory. Dr. Blau was very surprised by the work of Coolidge 146. It indicates that Coolidge was now ahead of the European lamp industry (Miller, 1963). This visit also pointed Coolidge in the direction of metal working techniques, as opposed to chemical treatment, especially after the visit to AEG (Reich, 1985). Throughout the development of ductile tungsten, Coolidge relied on people from outside the laboratory and took a number of trips to search for relevant ideas. Following the lead of metal working, he invited a blacksmith from the works to help him, he also visited wire and needle making factories. It was at the Eddy Machine Company, in Rhode Island, and at the Excelsior Needle Company, in Connecticut, that he discovered a technique called swaging 147. He bought a swaging machine immediately (Wise, 1985). Looking back on the development of ductile tungsten filament, Coolidge once declared: ‘(t)he research and development work leading finally to the commercial production of ductile 146 This anecdote is mentioned by Miller (1963), but is not mentioned by more recent pieces of research, such as Reich (1985) and Wise (1985). 147 Swaging consists of hitting a piece of metal with repeated rapid blows to reduce its thickness. 230 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 231. tungsten for various purpose was made possible through the close cooperation of many General Electric scientists and engineers—So many in fact that it would be impossible for me to name them all and properly assign credit. There was also help from others outside the Company. As an example of this, take the case of the diamond dies for the filament squirting and tungsten wire drawing. It early became clear that we must, ourselves learn to make diamond dies, shaped and mounted specifically for our tungsten work. Through the Waltham Watch Company, we learned of an expert lapidary, who came to us and stayed a month, teaching us something of the lapidary art. As another example, in this same field, we learned from Mr. C. A. Cowles, of the Ansonia Brass and Copper Company, about their use of diamond dies in copper wire drawing. We were at the time, eager to know what was the largest size of diamond die that we could afford to use in drawing tungsten, as this would determine the smallest size to which we must swage or roll‘ (Miller, 1963) 148. In his recollection of what happened, Coolidge appears more eager to recognise outside contributions than the one of his colleagues. In fact, more than 40 people within the laboratory contributed to the development of ductile tungsten filament. However, Fink, one of the close collaborators of Coolidge, later asserted that he was the real inventor of ductile tungsten filament (Wise, 1985). It is also important to note that Coolidge worked very closely with the engineers of the lamp factories before transferring to them the production activities, which also allowed a significant reduction in cost over the years (Reich, 1985). The same pattern of open innovation applied to later applications of tungsten. For instance, Coolidge took a sample of tungsten electrical contact to Charles Kettering, inventor in the automotive field and Charles Midgley’s director. Kettering immediately tested the sample and showed Coolidge that oil was less of a problem for tungsten contacts than for platinum ones. Later Kettering came to General Electric research laboratory to help with an engine for X-ray equipment for the army (Miller, 1963). Coolidge, throughout his career, made numerous visits throughout America and abroad. He also received many visitors. ‘In the long run,’ he claimed, ‘we, in the laboratory have benefited as much from our visitors as they have by what they saw and learned from us’ (Miller, 1963). 231 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 232. ‘Open innovation’ is nowadays attracting interest from many established firms. However, one hundred years before, the early years of General Electric research laboratory, and more specifically the development of ductile tungsten and its application to incandescent lamps, shows that ‘open innovation’ is not something new. Competitive pressure can provoke uncertainty for the sustainability of a firm. General Electric reacted to this threat by adopting an ‘open innovation’ approach. There was no time to invent everything in-house; all potentially useful sources of knowledge had to be mobilised. B/ Experimentation: serendipity and systematism Away from the laboratory, science tends to appear as an exercise where theory drives practical realisations. But Wise (1985), the biographer of Willis Whitney, unveils a different reality: ‘(a)n industrial researcher can rarely use a scientific theory to make precise quantitative predictions that will permit the design of a new device or process from first principles. Instead, the theory usually provides hints or narrows the field of search by ruling out some possibilities. Theory provides the inventor with helpful analogy, model, or viewpoint, not with a recipe’. At the General Electric research laboratory, both Coolidge and Langmuir were skilled experimenters who sometimes took theoretical paths in order to come back to practical issues. The first would always come back to practical applications and tended to publish articles in technical magazines. The latter enjoyed crafting theories and also published in scientific journals. The following section argues that, for the General Electric research laboratory, serendipity was more than just a providential gift. It was regarded as a fruitful possibility to which everyone had to pay attention. After this, on many occasions, pursuing inventive activities required following alternative routes simultaneously and systematically testing multiple combinations of design parameters. The development of incandescent lamps, for example, benefited from luck. Liebhafsky provided an account of what was called the ‘Battersea incident’: ‘let me recapitulate as best as I can: (1) the research laboratory buys fire-clay crucibles made at Battersea, among others. (2) During the heating of tungsten oxide, these Battersea crucibles transfer something that inhibits grain growth in finished tungsten when no other crucible had previously done so. That the transfer can be effective is itself a miracle, for the finished tungsten is a long way down the road from tungsten oxide. (3) The oxide of thorium is added to tungsten powder as a replacement for this something. 232 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 233. (4) Thorium just happens to be the best of all elements for increasing the usefulness of tungsten as an electron emitter. (5) By proper heat treatment, the thoria in the lamp filament can be made to yield the persistent monolayer of thorium needed to achieve increased emission. Could anyone have predicted this chain of events? Remember the chain could have been broken at any link. I think Dr Coolidge would point out politely but firmly, that significant research results are not yet predictable by computer or otherwise, and that experiments have not yet had their day!’ It was not the first time the development of incandescent lamps at General Electric research laboratory had benefited from a little push from providence. Whitney, a few years before, had bumped into a heat treatment process that had changed the nature of the carbon filament and offered means to improve its efficiency as he was trying to prevent the blackening of the lamp by getting rid of impurities under high temperatures. Luck was more than just luck at General Electric, it was something that should be favoured. Reich (1985) described it as a sort of ideology: ‘(o)f course, theory and experiment went hand in hand, but Whitney very strongly suggested that the latter precede any attempt at detailed theoretical analysis. He believed that chance prepared the prepared mind, and he wanted to maximize the chances while keeping the minds open to new interpretations. Unanticipated discovery and understanding of new phenomena, often coming from one or more researchers piecing together seemingly unrelated results was called ‘serendipity’. By the 1920’s, it had become part of the laboratory ideology’. The laboratory was interested in scientific knowledge but it did not mean that serendipity would not be welcome in the process. Langmuir, the future Nobel Prize winner and colleague of Coolidge, sometimes imposed unusual conditions to his experimental equipment to simply see how it would react. Another harsh reality for the scientists working at General Electric was that, unsurprisingly, not all attempts to progress brought success. As a consequence, more than one route was often explored in parallel to increase the chance of success of the whole team. For instance, at the start of the work on metal filament, Whitney assigned to a different researcher each of the promising elements position around tantalum on the periodic table of elements: molybdenum, uranium, thorium and tungsten. Rapidly, tantalum and tungsten remained in competition and, later, tungsten appeared as the only promising route. For tungsten, to remove brittleness, once again, multiple routes were explored: squirted filaments, impurity elimination and a general study of the cause of brittleness which led to the recruitment of 233 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 234. Langmuir (Wise, 1985). Later again, Whitney himself pursued the improvement of the process purchased in Germany while Coolidge was attacking his own line of work after he observed that tungsten could absorb cadmium or bismuth to form a flexible amalgam. Collaboration but also competition was encouraged in the laboratory. In fact, the ‘multiple routes’ approach became a common one in the laboratory. Whitney illustrated this in 1928 with a metaphor: ‘(w)e may grow a peach and sell it with the grooper feathers on it, but sometimes we grow a green lemon that we ’sour’ fully and quietly digest (…). I can get exact figures to match my estimates, but they are entirely misleading unless they include ten lemons to each peach’ (Wise, 1985). Developing ductile tungsten proved to be a long and difficult quest. Many parameters could influence the results of the work of Coolidge and his colleagues. Different metal working operations (hot hammering, rolling, swaging, etc.) could be used with different operational process. Temperatures could be varied and subtle changes could bring opposite outcomes. Consistent production required controlled parameters. Many painstaking experiments and a large team of scientists were required to achieve success. Even in 1909, after the hot swaging process was proven satisfactory and patentable, roadblocks remained. More specifically, crystals were preventing Coolidge from making long filaments. He found some hope and an idea thanks to an analogy: ice cream in which adding glycerine prevented grain growth. Coolidge needed to find his own glycerine (Wise, 1985), it took him another year before he selected thoria. Coolidge described his ductile tungsten as follow: ‘(i)magine then a man wishing to open a door locked with a combination lock and bolted on the inside. Assume that he does not know a single number of the combination and has not a chance to open the door until he finds the whole combination and not a chance to do so even then unless the bolt is open on the inside. Also bear in mind that he cannot tell whether a single number of the combination is right until he knows the combination complete. When we started to make tungsten ductile, our situation was like that’ (Miller, 1963) 149. 234 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 235. Another piece of inventive activities provides a telling story on the way Coolidge approached some of his experiments. In 1917, he worked on an underwater sound detection device. He created a stethoscope where all design parameters could be modified readily. With this clever design, he could tune it to optimise its sensitivity. Looking at the relations between basic research and Experimentation in the case of Coolidge, it is apparent that theory and existing knowledge helped him throughout his work on ductile tungsten filament and on other inventive activities in which he was engaged. However, the pursuit of basic research activities must be distinguished from the direct use of theory. Basic research can be a means to produce scientific knowledge that can guide subsequent inventive activities. It does not, in any way, mean that uncertainty has disappeared and that serendipity, trial and error, analogies and systematic Experimentations are of no use when science comes into play. On the contrary, the front lines of sciences are, by definition, very uncertain territories where all those tactics and strategies are useful to experiment and progress. General Electric research laboratory, at least during the period studied here, is a proof of this. C/ Persuasion: ‘The House of magic’ Coolidge, Whitney and Langmuir developed and nourished a reputation for the General Electric research laboratory at a time when science started to appear as an object of fascination for people. Its reputation was diverging from reality, emphasising basic research when, within the walls of the laboratory, practical applications remained a cornerstone of the research laboratory policy. This section will move beyond the sole focus on Coolidge and will also mention Whitney, who created and headed the laboratory before Coolidge took over. Coolidge excelled at making his explanations understandable by others. His work also spoke for itself as, thanks to the tungsten bulb, General Electric went from being under severe competitive pressure, to reigning again in the lamp industry. In the 1910’s, the value of the research laboratory for General Electric was unquestionable. 235 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 236. The General Electric incandescent lamps were named Mazda 150. The advertising campaign in 1915 made reference to the research laboratory and the people that had developed them: ‘(t)he mark of Mazda on the bulb indicates that the services of the extensive research laboratory of the General Electric Company of Schenectady have been available to the maker of that lamp. Great corps of physicists, chemists, metallurgists and other scientists, besides electrical engineers and lighting experts, test, select, compare and systematize all available knowledge which may assist in improving incandescent lamps’ (Reich, 1985). Science was a sales argument. Before the First World War, Whitney joined the Naval Consulting Board headed by Edison. According to Wise (1985), his actions were more dedicated to promoting science through the establishment of governmental institutions to support basic research and the education of scientists in universities than practical war efforts. Nevertheless, with the start of the war, General Electric research laboratory worked on submarine detection, X-ray tubes for the military, vacuum tubes for radio and other projects. All of those were profitable for the company (Reich, 1985). The war brought financial support from the government for practical research activities and it provided a springboard to reinforce the reputation of the laboratory. Science was now more and more regarded as a cure to many problems. Physics and electricity were in fashion. It was now science that was capturing the imagination of journalists and the country at large. After the war, Whitney promoted the use of science by companies and lobbied the government to ensure it would continue to support such ideas. At the same time, Coolidge and Langmuir received honours and medals culminating with Langmuir’s Nobel Prize in 1932. Such recognition is both a proof and a catalyst for reputation. Magazines reported on the work of scientists in General Electric emphasising what could be regarded as surprising, or even sensational. During the 1920’s, Floyd Gibbons, a newsman and radio broadcaster, called the General Electric research laboratory ‘The House of magic’. A journalist wrote in 1931: ‘(T)here is something slightly mad at the research laboratory at Schenectady,’ and he added, ‘(a)t one end of the first floor corridor, William David Coolidge is experimenting to see what will happen when cathode rays animated by 900,000 volts are hurled against a diamond lent by Tiffany’s. He may be determining their effect on spores 150 Reference to the name of the ancient Persian God of light. 236 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 237. of deadly bacteria, or, perhaps on a group of bewildered cockroaches about to perish in the interest of science’ (Miller, 1963). Coolidge had organised, in the 1920’s, a replica of famous scientific experiments 151 to educate the employees of the company. External visitors showed interest and experiments that had been first conducted at the General Electric research laboratory were added to the collection. Portable apparatus needed for these experiments were constructed, in order to make demonstrations and scientific lectures available outside the company. In 1933, an exhibition in Chicago named ‘A Century of Progress’ attracted many visitors 152; it made the public interest for science visible. The pavillon of General Electric was named ‘The House of magic’, after the article of the journalist mentioned previously. It provoked agitation amongst the scientists of the laboratory but the public loved it so much that the demonstration organised by General Electric was later taken to Philadelphia and, then, to New York. It led to the creation, in General Electric, of a special unit in charge of organising ‘House of magic’ road shows and tours, within and sometimes beyond America. The laboratory was now raising the value of the company in the eyes of the investors. Now that he had been research director since 1932, Coolidge spent a significant amount of his time showing people around the laboratory, at least the ones that were considered important. Every year, 15,000 thousand people visited the place (Miller, 1963). A weekly programme called ‘The science forum’ was also broadcast every week over the General Electric radio station, W.G.I. Research served to advertise the company and the company, therefore, supported research. Whitney, Coolidge and Langmuir had nourished a reputation for the research laboratory that went well beyond the walls of General Electric. They had benefited from the conjecture: economic development, the war as well as the public interest for science and 151 For example, Millikan’s experiment used to measure the electric charge of an electron, the experiment that made alpha and beta rays visible using a fog-chamber, amongst others (Miller, 1963). 152 It was estimated that one million and a half people visited the exhibition (Miller, 1963). 237 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 238. they had contributed to make the laboratory a place recognised for its ability to ‘create magic’. Whitney had promoted science and encouraged governmental support since the end of the First World War. A disconnect between his discourse and his actions started to develop. The ways of doing research he was promoting publicly were quite far away from the practices he encouraged at the General Electric research laboratory. On the one hand, he was advocating that, as long as you invest in science, its seeds would turn by themselves into practical applications; on the other hand, in the research laboratory, together with Langmuir and Coolidge, he was still putting much emphasis on practical applications and on building lasting and fruitful collaboration with the rest of General Electric and the outside world. Whitney declared ‘(m)an usually does not know what he wants until he has it (…). He has seldom realised the want first and then gone directly to produce the thing wanted’ and he pursued ‘encouraged curiosity is the safest criterion of an improving civili(s)ation (…) the principle of random research, call it the blind principle if you will is evident everywhere’ (Wise, 1985). Research laboratories were depicted as a place where scientists could freely develop their ideas in isolation from the realities of the world, when, in fact, the success of General Electric research laboratories had been and continued to be ensured by the opposite approach. In 1937, Coolidge estimated that only twenty percent of what was done within the laboratory could be called ‘fundamental research’ (Liebhafsky, 1974). He described the laboratory as a ‘service department’ that existed to advise and serve the other departments of the company. The emphasis on the ‘House of magic’ to promote the company and Whitney’s personal attention on the promotion of science in the public arena had led to a distorted picture of reality in order to support his beliefs. In the early 1930’s, he wrote in preparation for a speech ‘I don’t believe in magic’. Whitney, Coolidge and their colleagues created an image of basic research undertaken by private companies that helped to persuade the management of other firms to invest in science, and more specifically ‘Pure Science’ 153. This misleading emphasis on basic research 153 See infra. 238 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 239. announced the linear model promoted by Vannevar Bush 154 after the Second World War although this image was very different from the reality, it helped to sell. General Electric used the aura of science to signal the value of the goods it was selling on the market and to persuade people to buy them. The company also encouraged an association between magic and science that embarrassed the scientists: science and magic are rarely seen as equal for them. We saw how Edison fashioned himself and enjoyed being presented as the ‘Wizard of Menlo Park’ 155. In this case, it was the laboratory as a whole that was turned into a fashion icon: the ‘House of magic’. To persuade others, inventors can use discourses they might not like nor agree with in the end. Such discourses can also confuse decision-makers who might want to emulate their success. Between the discourse and the reality, gaps can be quite significant. 154 See infra. 155 See supra, part 2. 239 The abilities of inventors - Les facultés de l’Inventeur, Hervé Legenvre 2008
  • 240. Section III- Wallace Carothers If General Electric was the first company to open an industrial laboratory in America, DuPont was the first to launch a ‘Pure Science’ programme within the chemical sector. The present chapter studies the work of Wallace Carothers (1896-1937) at DuPont. Carothers spearheaded the development of synthetic polymers 156 and, more, specifically led the team that invented neoprene and nylon. In 1915, Wallace Carothers started to study chemistry 157 with great interest at Tarkio College, Missouri. He joined the University of Illinois in 1920 to gain his Master of Arts. He became an instructor in analytical and physical chemistry at the University of South Dakota in 1921. At the same time, he started to work on some research problems (Adams, 1939). After one year, he came back to the University of Illinois to complete his PhD. He received it in 1924 for his work in the field of organic chemistry. He became an instructor at Harvard in 1926. Eventually, DuPont, offered to recruit him as part of its ‘Pure Science’ effort, which was aimed at discovering scientific knowledge regardless of immediate commercial value. Carothers hesitated but finally agreed to do so, and moved in a new laboratory in February 1928 at the DuPont research centre on the outskirts of Wilmington, Delaware. He oversaw research activities in organic chemistry; a team of chemists was recruited and placed under his supervision. At DuPont, Carothers pioneered the development of synthetic polymers: first, polyester and, then, polyamide. He believed that polymers were long molecules held together by covalent bonds at a time, when most chemists still doubted the existence of 156 Polymers are giant molecules formed by uniting simple molecules or monomers by covalent bonds. The word comes from Greek and it means ‘many parts’. Polymers have high molecular weights, which gives them useful physical characteristics, su