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Bursting Boilers and the Federal Power Redux: The Evolution of Safety on the Western Rivers


  • Richard N. Langlois

    (The University of Connecticut)

  • amd David J. Denault

    (Johnson and Wales University)

  • Samson M. Kimenyi

    (The University of Connecticut)


Using new data on explosions, deaths, and steamboat traffic, we examine econometrically the causes of increased safety in steamboats on the Western Rivers of the United States in the nineteenth century. Our conclusion is that, although the safety act of 1852 did have a dramatic initial effect in reducing explosions, that reduction came against the background of a system that was already steadily increasing boiler safety per person-mile. In the end, the role of the federal government in conducting and disseminating basic research on boiler technology may have been more significant for increased safety than its explicit regulatory efforts.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard N. Langlois & amd David J. Denault & Samson M. Kimenyi, 1995. "Bursting Boilers and the Federal Power Redux: The Evolution of Safety on the Western Rivers," Economic History 9503002, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpeh:9503002
    Note: 28 pages.

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    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Intellectual Steam
      by Dick Langlois in Organizations and Markets on 2010-05-19 23:38:49


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    Cited by:

    1. George Selgin & John L. Turner, 2011. "Strong Steam, Weak Patents, or the Myth of Watt's Innovation-Blocking Monopoly, Exploded," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 54(4), pages 841-861.

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    JEL classification:

    • N - Economic History


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