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A British industrial success: productivity in the Lancashire and New England cotton spinning industries a century ago


  • Leunig, Tim


This paper uses new product-specific, micro-level US data to show that New England had lower levels of productivity in cotton spinning than Lancashire, c. 1900, contradicting results derived by Broadberry from the Censuses of Production. The discrepancy stems from the Censuses’ poor methods of aggregating heterogeneous yarn output. The finding that Britain – the labour-abundant country – has higher labour productivity contradicts the Rothbarth-Habakkuk model. We suggest Britain’s industrial success stems from more intensive competition, manifested through external economies of scale and longer production runs. We finish with some speculative implications for British performance in the first and second industrial revolutions.

Suggested Citation

  • Leunig, Tim, 2003. "A British industrial success: productivity in the Lancashire and New England cotton spinning industries a century ago," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 494, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:494

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. N. F. R. Crafts & C. K. Harley, 1992. "Output growth and the British industrial revolution: a restatement of the Crafts-Harley view," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 45(4), pages 703-730, November.
    2. John Jewkes, 1951. "The Growth Of World Industry," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 3(1), pages 1-15.
    3. Harley, C. K., 1974. "Skilled labour and the choice of technique in Edwardian industry," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 11(4), pages 391-414.
    4. William Lazonick, 1981. "Factor Costs and the Diffusion of Ring Spinning in Britain Prior to World War I," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 96(1), pages 89-109.
    5. Lars G. Sandberg, 1969. "American Rings and English Mules: The Role of Economic Rationality," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 83(1), pages 25-43.
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    Cited by:

    1. Crafts, Nicholas & Wolf, Nikolaus, 2014. "The Location of the UK Cotton Textiles Industry in 1838: A Quantitative Analysis," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 74(04), pages 1103-1139, December.
    2. Klein, Alexander & Leunig, Tim, 2013. "Gibrat's Law and the British industrial revolution," Economic History Working Papers 58363, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History.
    3. Theo Balderston, 2010. "The economics of abundance: coal and cotton in Lancashire and the world," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 63(3), pages 569-590, August.
    4. Ciliberto, Federico, 2010. "Were British cotton entrepreneurs technologically backward? Firm-level evidence on the adoption of ring spinning," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 47(4), pages 487-504, October.
    5. Leslie Hannah, 2007. "Logistics, Market Size and Giant Plants in the Early 20th Century: A Global View," CIRJE F-Series CIRJE-F-486, CIRJE, Faculty of Economics, University of Tokyo.
    6. Broadberry, Stephen & Burhop, Carsten, 2008. "Resolving the Anglo-German Industrial Productivity Puzzle, 1895–1935: A Response to Professor Ritschl," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 68(03), pages 930-934, September.
    7. Joel Mokyr & Hans-Joachim Voth, 2012. "Understanding Growth in Europe, 1700–1870: Theory and Evidence," Journal of Economic Sociology, National Research University Higher School of Economics, vol. 13(5), pages 57-102.
    8. Crafts, Nicholas, 2011. "British Relative Economic Decline Revisited," CEPR Discussion Papers 8384, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    9. Crafts, Nicholas, 2012. "British relative economic decline revisited: The role of competition," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 49(1), pages 17-29.
    10. Jong, H. de & Woltjer, P., 2009. "A Comparison of Real Output and Productivity for British and American Manufacturing in 1935," GGDC Research Memorandum GD-108, Groningen Growth and Development Centre, University of Groningen.

    More about this item


    cotton; spinning; Lancashire; New England; productivity; Rothbarth-Habakkuk; Chandler; rings; mules; external economies of scale; competition;

    JEL classification:

    • N0 - Economic History - - General
    • R14 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Land Use Patterns
    • J01 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General - - - Labor Economics: General


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