Collective Invention during the British Industrial Revolution The Case of the Cornish Pumping Engine
In this paper, we argue that together with individual inventors and firms, what Robert C. Allen (1983) has termed as collective invention settings (that is settings in which rival firms freely release each other pertinent technical information), were also a crucial source of innovation in the industrial revolution period. Until now, this has been very little considered in the literature. This paper focuses on one of these cases: the Cornish mining district. In Cornwall, during the early nineteenth century, a notable collective invention setting, gradually emerged. This case is particularly remarkable because it was capable of generating a continuous and sustained flow of improvements in steam pumping technology which in the end greatly contributed to improve the thermodynamic efficiency of the steam engine. In this paper we study in detail the specific economic circumstances that led to the formation of this collective invention setting and we analyses its consequences for the rate of technological innovation
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