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A re-examination of the origins of American industrial success

  • David Prentice


    (School of Economics, La Trobe University)

Wright (1990) argues the origins of American industrial success are in the institutions that enabled exploitation of natural resources. These institutions, argue David and Wright (1997), included the state and US geological surveys and universities that worked closely with industry. However, their work does not directly analyse how US re- source intensive manufacturers directly competed with their European predecessors. In this paper we analyse the rise of the US cement industry, the features of which closely resembles the pattern described by David and Wright. This was in part due to the US successfully adapting a more resource intensive production technology from England, and a rise in demand due to the gradual diffusion of reinforced concrete. Consistent with David and Wright, there is some direct evidence of university-industry links and econometric evidence of geological surveys creating a first mover advantage. However, it is argued the rise in the US industry would not have occurred without adapting German methods of quality control and standardised product and test specifications, and to credibly signal this. This is supported by the failure of the US industry to become a large scale exporter (while European firms continued to do so). This result is also suggestive of factors that may have influenced which US industries rose to domestic dominance and which rose to dominate world markets.

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Paper provided by School of Economics, La Trobe University in its series Working Papers with number 2006.02.

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Length: 62 pages
Date of creation: Mar 2006
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:trb:wpaper:2006.02
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  1. Harry F. Campbell, 1980. "The Effect of Capital Intensity on the Optimal Rate of Extraction of a Mineral Deposit," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 13(2), pages 349-56, May.
  2. Anderson, Philip & Tushman, Michael L, 2001. "Organizational Environments and Industry Exit: The Effects of Uncertainty, Munificence and Complexity," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 10(3), pages 675-711, September.
  3. Ciarns, Robert D & Lasserre, Pierre, 1986. " Sectoral Supply of Minerals of Varying Quality," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 88(4), pages 605-26.
  4. Harley, C. Knick, 1988. "Ocean Freight Rates and Productivity, 1740–1913: The Primacy of Mechanical Invention Reaffirmed," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 48(04), pages 851-876, December.
  5. repec:ltr:wpaper:2006.02 is not listed on IDEAS
  6. Gavin Wright, 1999. "Can a Nation Learn? American Technology as a Network Phenomenon," NBER Chapters, in: Learning by Doing in Markets, Firms, and Countries, pages 295-332 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Bresnahan, T.F & Reiss, P.C., 1989. "Entry And Competition In Concentrated Markets," Papers 151, Stanford - Studies in Industry Economics.
  8. Douglas A. Irwin, 2003. "Explaining America's Surge in Manufactured Exports, 1880-1913," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 85(2), pages 364-376, May.
  9. Meyer, David R., 1989. "Midwestern Industrialization and the American Manufacturing Belt in the Nineteenth Century," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 49(04), pages 921-937, December.
  10. David Prentice, 2006. "A re-examination of the origins of American industrial success," Working Papers 2006.02, School of Economics, La Trobe University.
  11. David, Paul A & Wright, Gavin, 1997. "Increasing Returns and the Genesis of American Resource Abundance," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 6(2), pages 203-45, March.
  12. Slade, Margaret E., 1988. "Grade selection under uncertainty: Least cost last and other anomalies," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 15(2), pages 189-205, June.
  13. Thomas, Duncan & Strauss, John & Henriques, Maria-Helena, 1990. "Child survival, height for age and household characteristics in Brazil," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(2), pages 197-234, October.
  14. Michael L. Tushman & Lori Rosenkopf, 1996. "Executive Succession, Strategic Reorientation and Performance Growth: A Longitudinal Study in the U.S. Cement Industry," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 42(7), pages 939-953, July.
  15. Rosenbaum, David I. & Sukharomana, Supachat, 2001. "Oligopolistic pricing over the deterministic market demand cycle: some evidence from the US Portland cement industry," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 19(6), pages 863-884, May.
  16. David Dranove & Anne Gron & Michael J. Mazzeo, 2003. "Differentiation and Competition in HMO Markets," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 51(4), pages 433-454, December.
  17. Puffert, Douglas J., 2000. "The Standardization of Track Gauge on North American Railways, 1830–1890," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 60(04), pages 933-960, December.
  18. David, Paul A, 1990. "The Dynamo and the Computer: An Historical Perspective on the Modern Productivity Paradox," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(2), pages 355-61, May.
  19. Wright, Gavin, 1990. "The Origins of American Industrial Success, 1879-1940," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(4), pages 651-68, September.
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