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Technology and Learning by Factory Workers: The Stretch-Out at Lowell, 1842

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  • Bessen, James

Abstract

In 1842 Lowell textile firms increased weaving productivity by assigning three looms per worker instead of two. This marked a turning point. Before, weavers at Lowell were temporary and mostly literate Yankee farm girls; afterwards, firms increasingly hired local residents, including illiterate and Irish workers. An important factor was on-the-job learning. Literate workers learned new technology faster, but local workers stayed longer. These changes were unprofitable before 1842, and the advantages of literacy declined over time. Firm policy and social institutions slowly changed to permit deeper human-capital investment and more productive implementation of technology.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Cambridge University Press in its journal The Journal of Economic History.

Volume (Year): 63 (2003)
Issue (Month): 01 (March)
Pages: 33-64

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Handle: RePEc:cup:jechis:v:63:y:2003:i:01:p:33-64_00

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  1. “Technology and Learning by Factory Workers: The Stretch-Out at Lowell, 1842,” J. Bessen (2003)
    by afinetheorem in A Fine Theorem on 2013-08-20 08:49:04
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Cited by:
  1. Becker, Sascha & Hornung, Erik & Woessmann, Ludger, 2009. "Catch Me If You Can: Education and Catch-up in the Industrial Revoluti on," Stirling Economics Discussion Papers 2009-19, University of Stirling, Division of Economics.
  2. Crafts, Nicholas, 2010. "Explaining the First Industrial Revolution: Two Views," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 10, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
  3. Becker, Sascha O. & Hornung, Erik & Wößmann, Ludger, 2011. "Education and catch-up in the industrial revolution," Munich Reprints in Economics 20261, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  4. Peter Thompson, 2012. "The Relationship between Unit Cost and Cumulative Quantity and the Evidence for Organizational Learning-by-Doing," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 26(3), pages 203-24, Summer.
  5. Prados de la Escosura, Leandro & Rosés, Joan R., 2010. "Human capital and economic growth in Spain, 1850-2000," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 47(4), pages 520-532, October.
  6. James Bessen, 2009. "More Machines, Better Machines...Or Better Workers?," Working Papers 0803, Research on Innovation.
  7. Daren, Conrad, 2007. "Education and Economic Growth: Is There a Link?," MPRA Paper 18176, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 2009.
  8. James Bessen, 2008. "Accounting for Productivity Growth When Technical Change is Biased," Working Papers 0802, Research on Innovation.
  9. Erik Hornung, 2012. "Human Capital, Technology Diffusion, and Economic Growth - Evidence from Prussian Census Data," ifo Beiträge zur Wirtschaftsforschung, Ifo Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, number 46.
  10. Tim Leunig, 2003. "Piece rates and learning: understanding work and production in the New England textile industry a century ago," Economic History Working Papers 22360, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History.

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