I f one claim of the United States for the world’s attention has beenrooted in its political systems and ideologies, its weight as a technological leader and industrial power has been equally prominent. Any

account of the broad sweep of American history has to address the sheer

power, scope, and wealth of the United States economy and the means by

which the United States achieved its world-leading position. The United States

had started out as an overwhelmingly rural and agrarian society, and some

of its founders – notably Thomas Jefferson – probably hoped that it could

stay that way. But within a century of gaining its political independence

the new nation was becoming a leading industrial power. By 1894 United

States manufactures almost matched in value those of Britain, Germany and

France combined. Industry, and the technological developments that lay

behind it, had become central both to American power and to the world’s

image of the United States as a dynamic, inventive culture. Throughout the

twentieth century, too, industry and technology remained hallmarks of

American accomplishment and influence, critical not only in substantive

economic terms but in symbolising America’s role as the archetypal

‘modern’ society.