chapter  2
18 Pages

The Diffusion of Technology in Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution

The following extracts are taken from chapter II of A. E. Musson and E. Robinson, Science and Technology, in the Industrial Revolution, Manchester University Press, 1969.]

Was it [the Industrial Revolution], as Professor Landes has said, achieved through the efforts of 'practical tinkerers',1 or did it have some scientific basis? There is no doubt that native empiricism was of immense and probably predominant importance. It was strongly evident, for instance, in the development of engineering and industrial motive power - the bases of modern mechanized mass-production. Mr Robinson and I have investigated the origins of engineering in Lancashire, where the early factory system had its most striking developments.2 We have traced how early engineering workers were recruited from a wide range of traditional skilled craftsmen; smiths, wheelwrights, millwrights, carpenters, turners, cIockmakers, etc., in fact from all kinds of workers in metal and wood. The millwright - the jack-of-all-trades described by Fairbairn 3 - was especially important. So, too, as we have demonstrated, was the clock-maker, whose skills and tools

Science, Technology, were turned to cutting gear-wheels, etc. for the 'clockwork' of early textile machinery. A similar transition is uniquely illustrated in Pyne's Nlicrocosm of 1808,1 where we see how the making of wooden cart wheels metamorphosed into the construction of wooden 'wheel machinery' (spur wheels, crown wheels, pinions, etc.) for the early mills. Brindley was such a wheelwright and millwright. Similarly, craftsmen from other trades - notably Smeaton (instrument-maker) and Rennie (millwright) - developed the use of cast-iron gears and other mechanical improvements; Rennie, for example, appears to have brought the centrifugal governor for steam engines - the invention of which is often attributed to James Watt - from his millwright practice in windmills.2 In the same way, turners in wood changed easily into turners in metaL ... Ironfounders, of course, were especially important in this development of engineering....