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Engineering and labor specialization during the industrial revolution

Listed author(s):
  • Darrell J. Glaser


    (Department of Economics, United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD, USA)

  • Ahmed S. Rahman


    (Department of Economics, United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD, USA)

This paper explores how technological changes affected labor allocations within the U.S. Navy. During the latter nineteenth century, the officer corps was highly specialized, split between groups of line and staff officers. Developments in general purpose technologies created a dilemma for the organization, as it balanced between the benefits of a specialized workforce implementing increasingly complex technologies with rising communication and coordination costs. We first document the nature and extent of labor specialization in the mid-nineteenth-century Navy—engineers worked more with newer and larger vessels, while line officers worked more with unskilled personnel. The Navy endeavored to destroy this distinction, forcing generalized training and tasks for all officers. We suggest that the Navy’s phased-in approach was an effective strategy, helping the U.S. to become a world-class naval power.

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Article provided by Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC) in its journal Cliometrica, Journal of Historical Economics and Econometric History.

Volume (Year): 8 (2014)
Issue (Month): 2 (May)
Pages: 173-200

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Handle: RePEc:afc:cliome:v:8:y:2014:i:2:p:173-200
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