IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Negotiating the Rewards of Invention: The Shop-Floor Inventor in Victorian Britain


  • Christine Macleod


We know very little about the production and management of innovation within the nineteenth-century firm. It was a common assumption in Victorian Britain that the principal site of inventive activity was the industrial shop floor, but there was little discussion of how firms might best encourage it or benefit by it. This article uses case studies drawn from a range of company archives to explore the relationship between inventive workers and their employers. Although examples can be found of workers who rose through their inventions to partnerships and even considerable wealth, and of firms which successfully managed their employees' intellectual property, the paper concludes that these were probably exceptional cases. Most firms found it an inherently very difficult relationship to handle and, because of their preconceptions, probably overlooked much of the inventive talent available on their own shop floor.

Suggested Citation

  • Christine Macleod, 1999. "Negotiating the Rewards of Invention: The Shop-Floor Inventor in Victorian Britain," Business History, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 41(2), pages 17-36.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:bushst:v:41:y:1999:i:2:p:17-36 DOI: 10.1080/00076799900000256

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Bakker, Gerben, 2013. "Money for nothing: How firms have financed R&D-projects since the Industrial Revolution," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 42(10), pages 1793-1814.
    2. Burhop, Carsten & LĂĽbbers, Thorsten, 2010. "Incentives and innovation? R&D management in Germany's chemical and electrical engineering industries around 1900," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 47(1), pages 100-111, January.
    3. B. Zorina Khan & Kenneth L. Sokoloff, 2001. "The Early Development of Intellectual Property Institutions in the United States," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 15(3), pages 233-246, Summer.
    4. Ryan Lampe & Petra Moser, 2013. "Patent pools and innovation in substitute technologies—evidence from the 19th-century sewing machine industry," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 44(4), pages 757-778, December.

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:taf:bushst:v:41:y:1999:i:2:p:17-36. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Chris Longhurst). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.