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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.

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Paper provided by University of Delaware, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 07-12.

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Length: 15 pages
Date of creation: Aug 2007
Date of revision:
Publication status: Published in Journal of Economic History, December, 2008.
Handle: RePEc:dlw:wpaper:07-12.
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  1. Barro, Robert J & Sala-i-Martin, Xavier, 1992. "Convergence," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(2), pages 223-51, April.
  2. Rosenberg, Nathan & Trajtenberg, Manuel, 2004. "A General-Purpose Technology at Work: The Corliss Steam Engine in the Late-Nineteenth-Century United States," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 64(01), pages 61-99, March.
  3. 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.
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