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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.

Suggested Citation

  • Brent Goldfarb, 2005. "Diffusion of general-purpose technologies: understanding patterns in the electrification of US Manufacturing 1880--1930," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 14(5), pages 745-773, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:indcch:v:14:y:2005:i:5:p:745-773
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    Cited by:

    1. Jung, Yonghun & Lee, Seong-Hoon, 2014. "Electrification and productivity growth in Korean manufacturing plants," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 45(C), pages 333-339.
    2. Andergassen, Rainer & Nardini, Franco & Ricottilli, Massimo, 2017. "Innovation diffusion, general purpose technologies and economic growth," Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 72-80.
    3. Edquist, Harald & Henrekson, Magnus, 2004. "Technological Breakthroughs and Productivity Growth," SSE/EFI Working Paper Series in Economics and Finance 0562, Stockholm School of Economics, revised 23 Jan 2006.
    4. Clifford Bekar & Kenneth Carlaw & Richard Lipsey, 2016. "General Purpose Technologies in Theory, Applications and Controversy: A Review," Discussion Papers dp16-15, Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University.
    5. Mario Coccia, 2017. "General purpose technologies in dynamic systems: visual representation and analyses of complex drivers," IRCrES Working Paper 201705, Research Institute on Sustainable Economic Growth - Moncalieri (TO) ITALY - former Institute for Economic Research on Firms and Growth - Moncalieri (TO) ITALY.
    6. repec:eee:tefoso:v:128:y:2018:i:c:p:287-295 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Taalbi, Josef, 2017. "Origins and Pathways of Innovation in the Third Industrial Revolution: Sweden, 1950-2013," Lund Papers in Economic History 159, Lund University, Department of Economic History.
    8. Dolata, Ulrich, 2008. "The transformative capacity of new technologies. How innovations affect sectoral change: Conceptual considerations," MPIfG Discussion Paper 08/2, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
    9. R. Andergassen & F. Nardini & M. Ricottilli, 2013. "Innovation diffusion, technological convergence and economic growth," Working Papers wp912, Dipartimento Scienze Economiche, Universita' di Bologna.

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