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