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Going for Gold. Industrial Fairs and Innovation in the Nineteenth-Century United States


  • B. Zorina Khan


This paper compares the award of prizes to innovation in the patent system. The data set comprises a sample of exhibits and premiums at industrial fairs sponsored by the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association, between 1837 and 1874. The results shed light on the factors that influenced whether specific inventions and inventors attempted to appropriate returns through the protection of intellectual property rights, or through alternative institutions. Prize winners tended to belong to more privileged classes than the general population of patentees, as gauged by the wealth and occupation of inventors at the exhibition. Moreover, the award of prizes was less systematic than that of patents, and unrelated to such proxies for the productivity of the innovation as inventive capital or the commercial success of the invention.

Suggested Citation

  • B. Zorina Khan, 2013. "Going for Gold. Industrial Fairs and Innovation in the Nineteenth-Century United States," Revue économique, Presses de Sciences-Po, vol. 64(1), pages 89-113.
  • Handle: RePEc:cai:recosp:reco_641_0089

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    Cited by:

    1. Bottomley, Sean, 2014. "Patents and the first industrial revolution in the United States, France and Britain, 1700-1850," IAST Working Papers 14-14, Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse (IAST).
    2. Giacomo Domini, 2019. "Patterns of specialisation and economic complexity through the lens of universal exhibitions, 1855-1900," LEM Papers Series 2019/20, Laboratory of Economics and Management (LEM), Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy.
    3. Domini, Giacomo, 2016. "Patents, exhibitions and markets for innovation in the early twentieth century: Evidence from Turin 1911 International Exhibition," MERIT Working Papers 061, United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT).
    4. Billington, Stephen D. & Hanna, Alan J., 2018. "That's classified! Inventing a new patent taxonomy," QUCEH Working Paper Series 2018-06, Queen's University Belfast, Queen's University Centre for Economic History.
    5. Giacomo Domini, 2019. "Exhibitions, patents, and innovation in the early twentieth century: evidence from the Turin 1911 International Exhibition," LEM Papers Series 2019/04, Laboratory of Economics and Management (LEM), Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy.

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