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Engineering and labor specialization during the industrial revolution


  • 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.

Suggested Citation

  • Darrell J. Glaser & Ahmed S. Rahman, 2014. "Engineering and labor specialization during the industrial revolution," Cliometrica, Journal of Historical Economics and Econometric History, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC), vol. 8(2), pages 173-200, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:afc:cliome:v:8:y:2014:i:2:p:173-200
    DOI: 10.1007/s11698-013-0098-y

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    Cited by:

    1. Darrell J. Glaser & Ahmed S. Rahman, 2017. "Development and Retention of Human Capital in Large Bureaucracies," Departmental Working Papers 60, United States Naval Academy Department of Economics.
    2. Ahmed S. Rahman, 2020. "Officer retention and military spending: the rise of the military‐industrial complex during the Second World War," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 73(4), pages 1074-1096, November.
    3. Jeffrey Ding & Allan Dafoe, 2021. "Engines of Power: Electricity, AI, and General-Purpose Military Transformations," Papers 2106.04338,
    4. Glaser, Darrell & Rahman, Ahmed, 2015. "Human Capital on the High Seas - Job Mobility and Returns to Technical Skill During Industrialization," MPRA Paper 68351, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. Glaser, Darrell J. & Rahman, Ahmed S., 2016. "Ex Tridenti Mercatus? Sea-power and maritime trade in the age of globalization," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 100(C), pages 95-111.
    6. Glaser, Darrell J. & Rahman, Ahmed S., 2021. "Between the Dockyard and the Deep Blue Sea: Retention and Personnel Economics in the Royal Navy," IZA Discussion Papers 14037, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).

    More about this item


    Skilled labor complementarity; Skill-replacing and skill-using technology; Labor allocation;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J2 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor
    • J7 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination
    • N3 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy
    • N7 - Economic History - - Economic History: Transport, International and Domestic Trade, Energy, and Other Services
    • O3 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights


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