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Were British Cotton Entrepreneurs Technologically Backward? Firm-Level Evidence on the Adoption of Ring-Spinning

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  • Ciliberto, Federico

Abstract

I study the slow adoption of ring-spinning in Great Britain's cotton industry at the end of the 19th century, which has been used as evidence of British entrepreneurs' declining efficiency and conservatism (Musson [1959], Aldcroft, [1964], Lazonick [1981, 1981b]). To this purpose I use firm-level data from all of Lancashire's cotton firms over several years. The data are from the Worrall's Cotton Spinners' and Manufacturers' Directories for the years 1885, 1886-1887, 1890, 1894, 1902, and 1910. First, I show that the vertical organization of the industry, with its firms specializing in spinning or weaving, did not act as an impediment to the adoption of the ring-spinning technology, as was argued by Lazonick. In particular, I show the following: i) non-integrated firms were the first to adopt rings in Great Britain; ii) the large majority of firms that adopted rings were incumbents; iii) vertically integrated firms that were spinning only either twist or weft yarn were still in existence in 1910; and iv) only a negligible number of firms changed their organizational structure upon adopting ring spinning. I also show that a large fraction of firms installed very small numbers of ring spindles upon the adoption of ring spinning, suggesting that firms were slowly adopting ring spindles to replace old mule spindles rather than transitioning over to ring spinning at a single point in time. Then, I show that the rate at which vertically integrated firms adopted rings suddenly accelerated after 1902. I interpret this as evidence that British entrepreneurs were fully aware of the technological complementarities between rings and automatic looms. These complementarities could only be fully exploited by vertically integrated firms.

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  • Ciliberto, Federico, 2009. "Were British Cotton Entrepreneurs Technologically Backward? Firm-Level Evidence on the Adoption of Ring-Spinning," MPRA Paper 18533, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:18533
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Mokyr, Joel, 2001. "The rise and fall of the factory system: technology, firms, and households since the industrial revolution," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 55(1), pages 1-45, December.
    2. Saxonhouse, Gary R. & Wright, Gavin, 2010. "National Leadership and Competing Technological Paradigms: The Globalization of Cotton Spinning, 1878–1933," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 70(03), pages 535-566, September.
    3. William Lazonick, 1987. "Stubborn mules: some comments," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 40(1), pages 80-86, February.
    4. Temin, Peter, 1990. "Product Quality and Vertical Integration in the Early Cotton Textile Industry: A Reply," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 50(03), pages 691-692, September.
    5. Lazonick, William H., 1981. "Production Relations, Labor Productivity, and Choice of Technique: British and U.S. Cotton Spinning," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 41(03), pages 491-516, September.
    6. Leunig, Timothy, 2001. "NEW ANSWERS TO OLD QUESTIONS: EXPLAINING THE SLOW ADOPTION OF RING SPINNING IN LANCASHIRE, 1880 l913," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 61(02), pages 439-466, June.
    7. William Lazonick, 1984. "Rings and Mules in Britain: Reply," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 99(2), pages 393-398.
    8. Timothy Leunig, 2003. "A British industrial success: productivity in the Lancashire and New England cotton spinning industries a century ago," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 56(1), pages 90-117, February.
    9. Huberman, Michael, 1990. "Vertical Disintegration in Lancashire: A Comment on Temin," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 50(03), pages 683-690, September.
    10. Gary R. Saxonhouse & Gavin Wright, 1984. "New Evidence on the Stubborn English Mule and the Cotton Industry, 1878-1920," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 37(4), pages 507-519, November.
    11. 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.
    12. McCloskey, Donald N. & Sandberg, Lars G., 1971. "From damnation to redemption: Judgments on the late victorian entrepreneur," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 9(1), pages 89-108.
    13. Musson, A. E., 1959. "The Great Depression in Britain, 1873–1896: a Reappraisal," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 19(02), pages 199-228, June.
    14. 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. Tim Leunig & Joachim Voth, 2011. "Spinning Welfare: the Gains from Process Innovation in Cotton and Car Production," CEP Discussion Papers dp1050, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    2. Crafts, Nicholas, 2012. "British relative economic decline revisited: The role of competition," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 49(1), pages 17-29.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Ring Spinning; Technology Adoption; Cotton Industry; Lancashire; Vertical Integration; Specialization.;

    JEL classification:

    • N63 - Economic History - - Manufacturing and Construction - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • L67 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Manufacturing - - - Other Consumer Nondurables: Clothing, Textiles, Shoes, and Leather Goods; Household Goods; Sports Equipment
    • L22 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Firm Organization and Market Structure

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