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Did Steam Engines Fuel Urban Growth in the Late Nineteenth Century? Less Sanguine Results


  • Burton A. Abrams

    () (Department of Economics, University of Delaware)

  • Jing Li

    () (Department of Economics, University of Delaware)

  • James G. Mulligan

    () (Department of Economics, University of Delaware)


There exists general agreement that the steam engine’s rise in importance occurred at the same time as large increases in firm size and growing urbanization, but no consensus concerning the degree to which the steam engine served as an exogenous force fueling urban growth. We reexamine the hypothesis that a leading brand of steam engine made by the Corliss Company fueled urbanization in the late nineteenth century. Using previously untapped county-level data on steam power in manufacturing, we show that there is little convincing evidence that either the Corliss engine or even steam power in general was the driving force behind urbanization.

Suggested Citation

  • Burton A. Abrams & Jing Li & James G. Mulligan, 2007. "Did Steam Engines Fuel Urban Growth in the Late Nineteenth Century? Less Sanguine Results," Working Papers 07-12, University of Delaware, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:dlw:wpaper:07-12.

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Nathan Rosenberg & Manuel Trajtenberg, 2009. "A General-Purpose Technology at Work: The Corliss Steam Engine in the Late-Nineteenth-Century United States," World Scientific Book Chapters,in: Studies On Science And The Innovation Process Selected Works of Nathan Rosenberg, chapter 6, pages 97-135 World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd..
    2. Robert J. Barro & Xavier Sala-i-Martin, 1991. "Convergence across States and Regions," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 22(1), pages 107-182.
    3. Barro, Robert J & Sala-i-Martin, Xavier, 1992. "Convergence," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(2), pages 223-251, April.
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    More about this item


    urbanization; technology;

    JEL classification:

    • O14 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Industrialization; Manufacturing and Service Industries; Choice of Technology
    • O33 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes


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