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Diffusion of general-purpose technologies: understanding patterns in the electrification of US Manufacturing 1880--1930

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  • Brent Goldfarb

Abstract

I examine the diffusion of the electric motor between 1880 and 1930. I find that long lag times are determined by the degree of technical difficulty in application. After solutions became available, electrification generally proceeded rapidly. To make this claim, I explore three industries: urban transit, printing and paper making. I identify points at which viable electric solutions to particular problems were found and examine adoption patterns both before and after these events. The explanation contrasts with common demand-side explanations such as costly user-adaptation or information diffusion, and imposes conditions on the application of standard supply side models. The results are particularly important when examining the diffusion of broadly defined technological categories, such as general-purpose technologies. In the history of diffusion of many innovations, one cannot help being struck by two characteristics of the diffusion process: its apparent overall slowness on the one hand, and the wide variations in the rates of acceptance of different inventions, on the other. (Rosenberg, 1972: 191) Copyright 2005, Oxford University Press.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Oxford University Press in its journal Industrial and Corporate Change.

Volume (Year): 14 (2005)
Issue (Month): 5 (October)
Pages: 745-773

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Handle: RePEc:oup:indcch:v:14:y:2005:i:5:p:745-773

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Cited by:
  1. Dolata, Ulrich, 2008. "The transformative capacity of new technologies. How innovations affect sectoral change: Conceptual considerations," MPIfG Discussion Paper, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies 08/2, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
  2. Edquist, Harald & Henrekson, Magnus, 2004. "Technological Breakthroughs and Productivity Growth," Working Paper Series in Economics and Finance, Stockholm School of Economics 0562, Stockholm School of Economics, revised 04 Apr 2005.
  3. R. Andergassen & F. Nardini & M. Ricottilli, 2013. "Innovation diffusion, technological convergence and economic growth," Working Papers, Dipartimento Scienze Economiche, Universita' di Bologna wp912, Dipartimento Scienze Economiche, Universita' di Bologna.

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