Background and Supplementary Reading

Week 1, Introduction, The Technics of Simple and Compound Machines

The second lecture introduces the basic characteristics of simple and compound machines, taking as examples the machines described by Georgius Agricola in his De re metallica (1556) and the application of machines to the task of moving the Vatican obelisk as recounted by Domenico Fontana in his work of 1585.

Readings and Sources

Frances and Joseph Gies, Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages (NY: HarperCollins, 1994), summarize the current literature on the machine technology of the Middle Ages. Agricola's work as translated by Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover is still available in a Dover reprint. Also available from Dover is The Various and Ingenious Machines of Agostino Ramelli, trans. by Martha Teach Gnudi, with notes by Eugene S. Ferguson, which is a treasury of Renaissance (i.e. medieval) machine technics.  The catalog for the exhibition Mechanical Marvels: Invention in the Age of Leonardo, organized by the Istituto e Museo di Storia delle Scienze in Florence and the Italian firm Finmeccanica in 1997 offers a rich collection of Renaissance illustrations and photographs of reconstructions of Renaissance machines.  It was accompanied by a compact disc that included the animations of the machines at work.

Week 2, Mill and Manor, Cathedral and Town

With the technical system of the mill covered in Lecture 2 and that of the cathedral laid out in Erlande-Brandenburg's book, the lectures for this week turn to the place of the two systems in their respective social settings. Given the nature of the readings, the lectures emphasize the social and economic presence of the mill and the cathedral. A highly schematic description of the traditional agricultural village sets some of the background for understanding the upheaval brought about by the Industrial Revolution, especially among cottagers and marginal labor.


The chapters in Holt's study place the medieval English mill in its manorial setting and bring the miller out from behind the caricature presented by the literature of the period. In both cases, the argument offers insight into the sources and methods of cultural history of technology in pre-modern societies.


The mill is arguably the most sophisticated technical system of the preindustrial world. Certainly it was the most prevalent at the time; Domesday Book recorded almost 6000 watermills in England in 1068, and a century later the windmill began to spread from its apparent origin in East Anglia. Mills dotted the countryside throughout Europe, filled the understructures of the bridge of Paris, and floated in the major rivers. Structurally, the mill seems the evident model for the mechanical clock, devised sometime in the late 12th or early 13th century. Yet, as a technical system and as a social presence the mill has until recently escaped the attention of historians.

Three works now admirably fill the lacuna, the most recent being Richard L. Hills's Power from Wind: A History of Windmill Technology (Cambridge, 1994). Terry S. Reynolds' Stronger Than A Hundred Men: A History of the Vertical Water Wheel (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1983) is a wide-ranging study that moves between technical details and social settings from ancient times down to the nineteenth century and that rests on what seems an exhaustive bibliography. Richard Holt's The Mills of Medieval England (Oxford, 1988) is geographically more focused but socially more detailed. Drawn from extensive archival research, it provides a well illustrated, technically proficient account of the construction and working of water and wind mills, and then sets out the economic, legal, and social structures that tied them to medieval English society. In this latter area, Holt's account significantly revises the long standard interpretation of Marc Bloch in his classic "The Advent and Triumph of the Watermills" (in his Land and Work in Medieval Europe, London 1967; orig. "Avènement et conquête du moulin à eau", Annales d'histoire economique et sociale 36[1935], 583-663), at least for England. John Muendel has written a series of articles on mills in northern Italy, exploring both their technical and their economic structure; see for example "The distribution of mills in the Florentine countryside during the late Middle Ages" in J.A. Raftis, ed., Pathways to Medieval Peasants (Toronto, 1981), 83-115, and "The horizontal mills of Pistoia", Technology and Culture 15(1974), 194-225. Chapter 2 of Lynn White's classic Medieval Technology and Social Change sets the background of the mill in "The Agricultural Revolution of the Middle Ages", and Chapter 3 treats water power, the mill, and machines in general. Marjorie Boyer's "Water mills: a problem for the bridges and boats of medieval France" (History of Technology 7(1982), 1-22), an outgrowth of her study of medieval bridges, calls attention to the urban presence of mills and makes it all the more curious that medieval scholars could talk of the machina mundi without mentioning them.

Two other monographs provide valuable guides to the technical structure of the mill. John Reynolds' Windmills and Watermills (London, 1970) and Rex Wailes's The English Windmill (London, 1954) are both richly illustrated, though Wailes's superb drawings, born of thirty years of visiting mills, often make the operations clearer than do Reynolds' photographs.

Robert Mark's Experiments in Gothic Structures analyses in some detail the technical structure of cathedrals, taking advantage of recent engineering methods such as photoelasticity and finite-element analysis. As the course developed, it became clear that the book is too long and technically detailed. The lecture lays out the main argument, illustrated by slides used in the book and reinforced by Mark's article coauthored with William W. Clark, "Gothic Structural Experimentation", Scientific American 251,5(1984), 176-185. There Mark and Clark document technical communication between builders at Notre Dame in Paris and at the new cathedral in Bourges. Jean Gimpel, The Cathedral Builders (NY, 1961), and Henry Kraus, Gold Was the Mortar: The Economics of Cathedral Building (London, 1978), place the building of cathedrals in the wider social context of the medieval city. In "The Education of the Medieval English Master Masons", Mediaeval Studies 32(1970), 1-26, and "The Geometrical Knowledge of the Medieval Master Masons", Speculum47(1972), 395-421, Lon Shelby dispels the legends of a secret science by describing the measurements the masons actually carried out in building large structures. David Macauley's Cathedral brings medieval construction to life in his inimitable drawings, the basis for an animated TV documentary.

The social drama of the building of a cathedral has attracted the attention of several novelists.  Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth is my favorite, in particular for its technical accuracy and for its focus on the masons whose skill made the buildings possible.

Week 3, Power Machinery, The Steam Engine

The two lectures use slides and models to explain the workings of the new textile machinery and of the steam engine as they were invented and developed in the mid-to-late 18th century. The first focuses on the mechanization of spinning and the different relationship between operator and machine in the jenny and the frame, while the second follows the motives behind Watt's improvements on the Newcomen design and the resulting shift of focus from mines to factories and then to railroads.


The first chapter of Peter Laslett's The World We Have Lost portrays the social structure of pre-Industrial England, while Richard L. Hills's Power in the Industrial Revolution complements the lectures in several directions: Chapter 2 provides a survey of the process of transforming raw fiber into finished cloth, with an emphasis on the increasing difficulty of translating the manual task into mechanical action; 10 analyzes the problem of bringing power to the machines, with stress on the difficulties of measurement; and 11 describes the special difficulties of weaving by power.


For a more extensive and recent look at "the world we have lost", see Part I of Patricia Crone's Pre-Industrial Societies (Oxford/Cambridge, MA, 1989), as well as Carlo M. Cipolla's Before the Industrial Revolution: European Society and Economy, 1000-1700 (3rd. ed. NY, 1994).

In addition to Hills's comprehensive and well documented account, Walter English's The Textile Industry: An Account of the Early Inventions of Spinning, Weaving, and Knitting Machines (NY, 1969) contains detailed descriptions, supported by excellent diagrams and illustrations. Also helpful for illustrations are Maurice Daumas (ed.), A History of Technology and Invention (NY, 1978; orig. Histoire générale des techniques, Paris, 1969), vol. III, Part 7, Chaps. 1-2, and Wallace's Rockdale (see following week).

The steam engine must be the best described machine in the history of technology. Particular good explanations and illustrations can be found in Eugene S. Ferguson's "The Origins of the Steam Engine", Scientific American (Jan. 1964; repr. in Gene I. Rochlin (comp.), Scientific Technology and Social Change: Readings from Scientific American, San Francisco, 1974, Chap. 6); and D.S.L. Cardwell, From Watt to Clausius: The Rise of Thermodynamics in the Early Industrial Age (Ithaca, 1971). The classic account in English remains Henry W. Dickinson, A Short History of the Steam Engine (London, 1938; 2nd. ed. 1963). On Watt in particular, see the documentary history assembled by Eric Robinson and A.E. Musson, James Watt and the Steam Revolution (Lond: Adams and Dart, 1969), which includes at the end color reproductions of engineers' wash drawings pertinent to the various patents.

Week 4, The Factory and The Factory System

The two lectures of this week and the first of the next pick up the agricultural society of the late Middle Ages and follow the transition to the new industrial society of the mid-19th century. The central element of that transition is the factory, viewed first as a system of production by machines, then as an organization of human labor, and finally as a new social and economic presence in British politics.


The readings provide supplementary and contrasting details for the lectures, which perforce are quite general and schematic. Chap. 12 of Hills's book opens the issue of how the machines themselves were produced.  J.T. Ward's The Factory System documents from contemporary sources the transition from domestic to factory production in the textile industry. The readings selected focus on artisans and domestic workers before the introduction of machines and on the initial response to the new system from various perspectives. Ward presents a seemingly bewildering potpourri of details, so it is important to look for the structures that hold them together. The lectures should provide some guidance.

Anthony F.C. Wallace's Rockdale describes the construction (or transformation) of a water-powered mill and reviews the constituent processes of cotton production by machine, supporting his discussion with excellent drawings. He pursues in some detail a question left open by the lectures, namely how manufacturers got hold of the machinery for their factories. Finally, he introduces readers to a group of families who worked in the mills. His verbal descriptions come to life when supplemented by David Macaulay's drawings in Mill (NY, 1983).


Jennifer Tann's The Development of the Factory (London, 1970) provides the most useful guide to the subject. Tann, who is the editor of The Selected Papers of Boulton & Watt (Vol. I, The Engine Partnership, MIT, 1981), builds her account on the B&W archives, from which she reproduces a rich selection of drawings and layouts of early factories. As she characterizes her work, "One of the themes which emerges from the following pages is that it was the same few manufacturers who adopted the costly innovations such as fire-proof buildings, who installed gas lighting, steam or warm air heating and fire extinguishing apparatus; they were the giants, the ones who are most likely to have left some record of their activities behind, yet in many respects, they were uncharacteristic. They appear to have found little difficulty in recruiting capital yet there were many smaller manufacturers who found difficulty in obtaining long-term loans, to whom a fire-proof factory or gas lighting would have seemed an unobtainable luxury. In this respect some of the most valuable letters are from those manufacturers who decided against buying a Boulton & Watt steam engine which was a good deal more expensive than an atmospheric engine or a simple water wheel."(p.2)

Other useful studies include:

William Fairbairn, Treatise on Mills and Millwork (2 vols., London, 1861-63; 2nd ed. 1864-65; 3rd ed. 1871-74; 4th ed. 1878); as the several editions suggest, this was the fundamental manual of mill design, covering the building, the source of power, the transmission power, heating, lighting, etc. Rich in illustrations.

Brian Bracegirdle, et al., The Archaeology of the Industrial Revolution (London, 1973), which contains magnificent black/white and color photos and line drawings of mills and steam engines, together with a brief but choice bibliography.

J.M. Richards, The Functional Tradition in Early Industrial Building (London, 1959); The many illustrations of early factories, water and wind mills, etc. are more helpful than the text.

A variety of sources provide glimpses of the workforce that first entered the new factories. Frank E. Huggett gives a short account built around extensive quotations from original sources in The Past, Present and Future of Factory Life and Work: A Documentary Inquiry (London, 1973). For a shorter account of the difficulties of adjustment to the regimen of the factory in its earliest days, based on a sampling of documentary evidence reflecting the experience of literate participants, see Sidney Pollard,, "Factory Discipline in the Industrial Revolution", Economic History Review 16(1963), 254-271. Humphrey Jennings has compiled a potpourri of original reports in Pandaemonium: The Coming of the Machine as Seen by Contemporary Observers, 1660-1886 (NY 1985).

Week 5, The Formation of Industrial Society, Industrial Ideologies

In 1815 England was ruled by a constitutional monarch, a hereditary nobility, and a landed gentry under a settlement worked out in 1689 after a half-century of turmoil. National policy was limited to matters of trade and diplomacy, with internal matters left to local government as embodied by Justices of the Peace meeting in Quarter Sessions. Land was the basis of political power, even as it was steadily losing in economic power to commerce and industry, the interests of which were largely unrepresented in Parliament. Over the next fifty years, that balance shifted radically, as the Constitution was reshaped to extend political voice to an urban electorate and to respond at the national level to the social and economic problems posed by rapid industrialization. That the transformation occurred without major violence makes it a remarkable chapter in British history. The first lecture traces the main outline of that process. The second examines contemporary efforts to explain the changes occurring at the time and to determine the basic structure of the newly emerging society. The lecture emphasizes the contrast between the political economists, who viewed industrialization as a perturbation in the dynamical system of the market, and Marx, who saw it as a new stage in the evolution of political society.


Charles Babbage's On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures and Karl Marx's "Machinery and Large-Scale Industry" (Capital, Vol.I, Chap.15.) offer strongly contrasting views of the nature and future of the new industrial system. The specific chapters in Babbage show him trying to think out systems of production and looking forward to division of mental labor, i.e. management, which will become a theme later in the course. Few people have actually read Marx, who must rank as one of the greatest historians of technology; this is an opportunity to meet him on his home ground. Finally, E.P. Thompson's classic "Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism", Past and Present 38(1960), 56-97, offers a glimpse into the changing lives of industrial workers.


Histories of the Industrial Revolution in Britain abound. I have drawn mostly on S.G. Checkland, The Rise of Industrial Society in England, 1815-1885 (London, 1971), E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (NY, 1963), and Phyllis Deane, The First Industrial Revolution (Cambridge, 1965). A recent study is Maxine Berg, The Age of Manufactures, 1700-1820: Industry, Innovation, and Work in Britain (Totawa, 1985/Oxford, 1986).

As an introduction to the history of economic thought, Robert L. Heilbronner's The Worldly Philosophers (NY, 1953; repr. in several editions since) is succinct and readable. For a reconsideration of Marx's technological determinism, see Donald Mackenzie, "Marx and the Machine", Technology and Culture 25(1984), 473-502, and John M. Sherwood, "Engels, Marx, Malthus, and the Machine", American Historical Review 90,4(1985),  837-65.

Week 6, The Machine in the Garden, John H. Hall and the Origins of the "American System"

England was the prototype for industrialization. The rest of the world could look to that country as an example of what to emulate and what to avoid. Some saw a land of power and prosperity and wondered aloud whether God might after all be an Englishman; others saw "dark, Satanic mills" and the "specter of Manchester" with its filthy slums and human misery. Americans in particular thought hard about industry and whether it could be reconciled with the republican virtues seemingly rooted in an agrarian order. "Let our workshops remain in Europe," urged Jefferson in his Notes on Virginia in 1785, and he was no happier for being wiser about the feasibility of that policy after the War of 1812. Nor did all his fellow countrymen agree in principle. Some saw vast opportunities for industry in a land rich in natural resources, including seemingly endless supplies of wood and of waterpower. The debate between the two views became a continuing theme of American literature, characterized by Leo Marx as The Machine in the Garden (NY, 1964).

The combination of abundant resources and scarce labor meant that industrialization in America would depend on the use of machinery, and from the outset American inventors strove to translate manual tasks into mechanical action. For reasons that so far elude scholarly consensus, Americans' fascination with machines informed their approach to manufacturing to such an extent that British observers in the mid-19th century characterized machine-based production as the "American System". Precisely what was meant by that at the time is not clear, but by the end of the century it came to mean mass production by means of interchangeable parts. The origins of that system lay in the new nation's armories, in particular at Harpers Ferry, where John H. Hall first devised techniques for serial machining of parts within given tolerances.


New to the course for 2001 is Ruth Schwartz Cowan's A Social History of American Technology, which provides the background for lectures dealing with case studies of the "republican technology" of the Lowell factories and the beginnings of the "American System" of mass production at Harpers Ferry Armory.


Chapter 2 of John F. Kasson's Civilizing the Machine: Technology and Republican Values in America, 1776-1900 relates Lowell's great experiment in combining automatic textile machinery with a transient female workforce to avoid a permanent urban proletariat. As a social experiment to reconcile industry with democratic values, Lowell has intrigued labor historians almost as much as it did contemporary observers. The most comprehensive account, based on payroll records and tax inventories, is Thomas Dublin, Women at Work: The Transformation Of Work and Community in Lowell, Massachusetts, 1826-1860 (NY, 1979). His Farm to Factory: Women's Letters, 1830-1860 (NY, 1981) transmits the workers' own words about their lives, as does Philip S. Foner's The Factory Girls (Urbana, 1977), meant to counteract the rosy picture painted in the factory-sponsored Lowell Offering, which has recently been reprinted. For a collection of original sources, factory views, and maps, see Gary Kulik, Roger Parks, and Theodore Penn (eds.), The New England Mill Village, 1790-1860 (Documents in American Industrial History, II, Cambridge, MA, 1982).

Merritt Roe Smith's Harpers Ferry Armory remains the standard account of John H. Hall's system for producing rifles with interchangeable parts on a scale large enough to be economical.  In addition to the technical details of the machinery and managerial techniques that made an industry of gunsmithing, Smith examines the political and social structure of the master gunmakers and the threats that the new technology posed to their way of life. Elting E. Morison's From Know-How to Nowhere: The Development of American Technology (NY, 1974) is a thoughtful and provocative account of engineering from colonial times to the early 20th century, emphasizing the loss of autonomy and accountability that came with modern industrial research. Two more recent accounts are David Freeman Hawke, Nuts and Bolts of the Past: A History of American Technology (NY, 1988), and Thomas P. Hughes, American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm, 1879-1970 (NY, 1989). Brooke Hindle and Steven Lubar provide a richly illustrated survey of industrialization in America in their Engines of Change: The American Industrial Revolution (Washington, 1986). The book is based on an exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, the pictorial materials for which have been recorded on a videodisc available on request from the Museum. The now standard account of the development of mass production is David A. Hounshell, From the America System to Mass Production: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States (Baltimore, 1984). A shorter version of his main thesis, together with an account of the armory system by Smith, is contained in Otto Mayr and Robert C. Post (eds.), Yankee Enterprise: The Rise of the American System of Manufactures (Washington, 1982).

Week 7, Precision and Production, Ford's Model T: A $500 Car

When Americans first began machine-based production, the United States had no machine-tool industry other than the shops attached to the factories themselves and the shops of traditional artisans such as clockmakers and gunsmiths. Using traditional hand tools, machine builders worked to routine tolerances of 1/100", and precision was achieved by fitting part to part. In 1914, the first full year of assembly-line production at Ford, rough surveys revealed some 500 firms producing over $30,000,000 worth of machine tools ranging from the most general to the most specific. Over the intervening century, routine shop-floor precision increased from 1/100" to 1/10,000", and the finest instruments could measure 1/1,000,000". Such precision does not occur naturally, nor are the means of attaining it self-evident. Indeed, Britain's leading machinist, Joseph Whitworth testified before Parliament that interchangeability and full machine production were not possible in principle. The achievement of the requisite precision over the course of the century is a remarkable story, still not told outside the specialist literature, and the first lecture is an effort to tell it.

Accuracy to 0.0001", achieved automatically by machines, was a prerequisite of Ford's methods of production and hence of the automobile he designed to meet the needs and means of the millions of potential owners. The second lecture backs up to give an account of the invention of the internal combustion engine, which, like the steam engine, was originally conceived as a stationary source of power but was adapted to use in a vehicle. After a quick survey of the earliest automobiles, the lecture "reads" Ford's design of the Model T, first with respect to its intended user and then with respect to the methods by which Ford could produce it at an affordable price. Appendix I is a version of the second part of the lecture used with general audiences.


Cowan's book again provides general background for lectures on the origins of consumer society in the move of machinery from the factory to the home.  Nathan Rosenberg's seminal article, "Technological Change in the Machine Tool Industry, 1840-1910", Journal of Economic History 23(1963), 414-443, reveals the characteristics of machine tools that facilitated, or perhaps even made possible, the rapid diffusion of new techniques and levels of precision. The later lectures on software hark back to Rosenberg's interpretation when exploring the models of production informing current software engineering.


The essays by A.E. Musson, Paul Uselding, and David Hounshell in Mayr and Post's Yankee Enterprise provide accounts, respectively, of the British background, the development of precision instrumentation, and the development of mass production by means of interchangeable parts. In other years, I have used the early chapters of Hounshell's From the American System to Mass Production. Robert S. Woodbury, who first debunked "The Legend of Eli Whitney and Interchangeable Parts" (Technology and Culture 1(1960), 235-254), made a start on a comprehensive history of machine tools in the 19th century, working on a machine-by-machine basis, which he intended as prelude to a history of precision measurement and interchangeable parts. His histories of the gear-cutting machine, grinding machine, lathe, and milling machine, combined in 1972 as Studies in the History of Machine Tools, provide technical details and illustrations. W. Steeds offers a comprehensive, illustrated account in A History of Machine Tools, 1700-1910 (Oxford, 1969); cf. also L.T.C. Rolt, Tools for the Job: A History of Machine Tools (rev. ed. London, 1986), and Chris Evans, Precision Engineering: an Evolutionary View (Bedford: Cranfield Press, 1989). Machine tools caught the particular attention of the 1880 census, for which Charles H. Fitch compiled under the title Report on Power and Machinery Employed in Manufactures (Washington, 1888) an extensive, richly illustrated inventory of the tools then used in American industry. Frederick A. Halsey's classic Methods of Machine Shop Work (NY, 1914) defines the terms and standards of the industry at the turn of the 20th century. The Armington and Syms Machine Shop at Greenfield Village, Henry Ford Museum, in Dearborn is a restoration of a 19th-century production shop, powered by a steam engine through an overhead belt-and-pulley system.

Perhaps the best short account of the internal combustion engine is Lynwood Bryant's "The Origin of the Automobile Engine" (Scientific American, March 1967; repr. in Gene I. Rochlin (comp.), Scientific Technology and Social Change: Readings from Scientific American, San Francisco, 1974, Chap.9), focuses on Otto's development of the four-cycle engine on the basis of a specious notion of "stratified charge". For greater detail, see his two articles, "The Silent Otto", Technology and Culture7(1966), 184-200, and "The Origin of the Four-Stroke Cycle", ibid. 8(1967), 178-198, and for contrast, see his "Rudolf Diesel and His Rational Engine", Scientific American, August 1969 (repr. in Rochlin, Chap.10). On the early development of the automobile, see James J. Flink, America Adopts the Automobile, 1895-1910 (Cambridge, MA, 1970). John B. Rae offers a brief general history in The American Automobile (Chicago, 1965).

Allen Nevins tells the story of the Model T, which realized Ford's vision of a cheap, reliable car for the mass market, in Vol.I of his three-volume Ford: The Times, the Man, the Company (NY, 1954). However, the vehicle tells its own story when viewed through photographs of its multifarious uses, diagrams from the user's manual and parts list, advertisements by suppliers of parts and options, and stories about the "Tin Lizzie". Floyd Clymer's Historical Motor Scrapbook: Ford's Model T (Arleta, CA, 1954) offers an assortment of such materials, along with sections of the Operating Manual and Parts List. Reproductions of the manual and parts list are also available at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. Several companies produced plastic and metal models of the car in varying detail, though nothing beats seeing the car itself, perhaps in the hands of a local antique car buff.

Week 8, Highland Park and the Assembly Line, Ford and the Five-Dollar Day

The first lecture moves from the Model T to the machines Ford designed to produce it and to the organization of those machines in his new assembly-line factory at Highland Park. With the machines in place and the pace of assembly established, Ford faced the problem of keeping increasing numbers of people at work tending the machines and keeping pace with the line. Although most jobs required little or no skill, they did demand sustained attention to repetitive tasks over a continuous period of time. The need to combat a 300% annual turnover among his labor force, combined with $27 million in excess profits in January 1914, induced Ford and his Vice-President James Cousins to introduce the "Bonus Plan", by which the standard wage at Highland Park jumped overnight from $2.30 to $5.00 for an eight-hour day. But the $5 day was only the most striking of Ford's efforts to retain the loyalty of his workers. Through John R. Lee and the Sociological Department, the company had already begun a program of factory outreach, involving itself in the lives of its employees. Although welcomed at first, the essentially paternalistic system led eventually to an oppressive system of control and triggered the union strife of the '30s which erased Ford's earlier benevolence from popular memory.


Henry Ford spoke for himself (through a ghost writer) in the article on "Mass Production" that appeared in the 13th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and it is instructive, especially given the retrospectively critical stance of current historians, to see how the system looked through his eyes.  Among those historians is Stephen Meyer, whose book is the fullest historical account of the labor policy surrounding the $5 day.


Ford's Highland Park Plant, built to produce the Model T by his new methods, caught the attention of industrial engineers when it began full assembly-line operation in 1914. As a result, journals of the day offered extensive descriptions and illustrations of the plant. Perhaps the most informative contemporary source, Horace L. Arnold and Fay L. Faurote, Ford Methods and the Ford Shops, began as a series of articles in Engineering Magazine. Faurote, was a member of the Taylor Society and his account looks at Highland Park from the perspective of Scientific Management, especially in its emphasis on the paperwork involved in management of workers and inventory. David Hounshell's account in Chapters 6 and 7 of From the American System to Mass Production draws liberally from the photo collection of the Ford Archives, and the Smithsonian Institution has a short film loop depicting the assembly line in action. Lindy Bigg's The Rational Factory: Architecture, Technology, and Work in America's Age of Mass Production (Baltimore, 1996) analyzes the Ford plants as buildings in motion.

Allen Nevin's biography of Ford: The Man, the Times, and the Company is a useful counterbalance to Meyer's interpretation of the motives behind the $5 day. Eli Chinoy's Automobile Workers and the American Dream (Garden City, 1955) pursues the long-term effects of Ford's system of production on the workers it employed.

Week 9, Taylorism and Fordism, Mass Distribution: The Consumer Society

Since at the time Ford's methods were often associated with those proposed by Frederick W. Taylor under the name of "task management" or, more popularly, "Scientific Management", the second lecture examines Taylor's career as a consultant on shop-floor organization and the nature and scope of his Principles of Scientific Management, published at just about the time Ford was laying out Highland Park. In the end, the lecture emphasizes the quite different assumptions of the two men concerning the role of the worker in machine production and hence the essential incompatibility of Taylor's principles with Ford's methods of production. Nonetheless, as Taylor's followers found when they visited Highland Park, in matters of supervision and inventory control the two systems had much in common.

The $500 car (which by 1924 cost $290) was the most recent of a host of machines built for and sold to a new middle-class consumer society, which, through the $5 day, came to include the automobile worker. Mass production went hand-in-hand with mass distribution; indeed, the former made no sense without the latter. The second lecture presents a survey of the developments in communication, transportation, and management that made possible the patterns of consumption and the concomitant restructuring of society and politics noted by the Lynds in Middletown (Muncie, IN) in 1924.


Cowan provides an overview of the newly emerging consumer society, and selections from Robert S. and Helen Lynd's classic sociological study of Middletown offers a contemporary glimpse of that society as it was taking shape.


The best source for understanding Frederick W. Taylor is his own tract, The Principles of Scientific Management (NY, 1911; repr. 1939, 1947, 1967). The most recent and complete biography is Robert Kanigel's The One Best Way: Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency (NY, 1997). Daniel Nelson's study of Taylor, Frederick W. Taylor and the Rise of Scientific Management (Madison, 1980) complements his earlier account of factory management, while Samuel Haber's Efficiency and Uplift: Scientific Management in the Progressive Era, 1890-1920 (Chicago, 1964) places Taylor in the context of the conservation and efficiency movements of turn-of-the-century America. Hugh G.J. Aitken's Taylorism at Watertown Arsenal: Scientific Management in Action, 1908-1915 (Cambridge, MA, 1960) remains a classic study of the development and implications of Taylor's ideas. While Ford himself perhaps could honestly claim not to have known about Taylor's methods, Hounshell shows that many of the people who worked with him in designing the assembly line and organizing the Ford workers did have backgrounds in Scientific Management. Alfred D. Chandler's magisterial The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business (Cambridge, 1977) puts Taylor and Ford in the context of the development new managerial practices in American at the turn of the century. Judith A. Merkle's Management and Ideology: The Legacy of the International Scientific Management Movement (Berkeley : University of California Press, 1980), Stephen P. Waring's Taylorism Transformed : Scientific Management Theory Since 1945 (Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, 1991), and Nelson's A Mental Revolution: Scientific Management Since Taylor (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1992) bring the story down to the present.

The second lecture draws heavily from Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business (Cambridge, 1977) and Daniel J. Boorstin, The Americans: The Democratic Experience (NY, 1973).  For a more recent, richly illustrated account, see Susan Strasser, Satisfaction Guaranteed:  The Making of the American Mass Market (Washington DC, 1889).

Week 10, From the Difference Engine to ENIAC; From Boole to EDVAC

The first lecture traces the dual roots of the stored-program digital electronic computer viewed as the combination of a mechanical calculator and a logic machine. Taking the first designs as both flexible and inchoate, the second examines the groups of people who gave it shape by incorporating it into their enterprises. In particular, the lecture looks at the means by which the nascent computer industry sold the computer to business and industry, thus creating the machine by creating demand for it.


Aspray and Campbell-Kelly provide perhaps the best historical account of the computer, emphasizing the environments into which it was introduced when it was new and the role they played in shaping its development.


Another recent history is Paul Ceruzzi's A History of Modern Computing (Cambridge, MA, 1998), which provides considerable detail about the development of the industry. For the development of the machine itself, Stan Augarten's Bit by Bit: An Illustrated History of Computers is a generally reliable, engagingly written, and richly illustrated survey from early methods of counting to the PC and supercomputer. Michael R. Williams's A History of Computing Technology (Prentice-Hall, 1985) takes a more scholarly approach to the same material but emphasizes developments before the computer itself. In 407 pages of text, the slide rule appears at p.111 and ENIAC at p.271; coverage ends with the IBM/360 series. Although once useful as a general account, Herman Goldstine's still oft-cited The Computer from Pascal to Von Neumann (Princeton, 1973) retains its value primarily for its personal account of the ENIAC project and of the author's subsequent work at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

Martin Davis' The Universal Computer:  The Road from Leibniz to Turing (New York, 2000; paperback under the title Engines of Logic, 2001) has recently joined Sybille Krämer's Symbolische Maschinen: die Idee der Formalisierung in geschichtlichem Abriss (Darmstadt, 1988) in relating the origins of the computer in the development of mathematical logic. William Aspray's dissertation, "From Mathematical Constructivity to Computer Science: Alan Turing, John von Neumann, and the Origins of Computer Science" (Wisconsin, 1980), covers the period from Hilbert's Program to the design of EDVAC, as does Martin Davis's "Mathematical Logic and the Origin of Modern Computers", in Esther R. Phillips (ed.), Studies in the History of Mathematics (MAA Studies in Mathematics, Vol.26; NY, 1987). The nineteenth-century background belongs to the history of mathematics and of logic proper, but the scholarly literature in those fields is spotty. Andrew Hodges's biography, Alan Turing: The Enigma (NY, 1983), is a splendid account of Turing's work and served as the basis for a compelling stage play, Breaking the Code. Aspray's John von Neumann and the Origins of Modern Computing (MIT, 1990) explores in some detail von Neumann's work both in the design and the application of computers.

Those who want to get right down into the workings of the computer should turn to Charles Petzold, Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software (Redmond, WA, 1999). Softer introductions may be found in Alan W. Biermann's Great Ideas in Computer Science: A Gentle Introduction (2nd ed., MIT Press, 1997) and Jay David Bolter's Turing's Man: Western Culture in the Computer Age (Chapel Hill, 1984).

Week 11, The Development of the Computer Industry, The Software Paradox

In keeping with the dual origins of the computer, the development of the industry since the early '50s has two distinct, though related aspects. Through transistors, integrated circuits, and VLSI, computers themselves have increased in power by a factor of 100 every five years, while dropping in price at about the same rate. Rapid progress in the development of hardware has made visionary devices commonplace within a span of five or ten years. IBM, DEC, and Apple represent the successive stages by which computers were transformed from specially designed capital investments to mass-produced consumer items over the span of thirty years.

The software paradox is simply stated: programmers have successfully automated everyone's job but their own. With the commercialization of the computer came the need to provide customers with the programs that matched its power to their purposes, either directly through application programs or indirectly through programming languages, operating systems, and related tools. Both industry and customers soon found themselves hiring and trying to manage large numbers of programmers who had no previous training either in computers or in systems analysis but whose programming skills gave them effective control over their work. To address the resulting issues of productivity and quality control, computer engineers and managers turned to earlier models of production, in particular through automatic programming and the software equivalent of interchangeable parts. So far, efforts to Taylorize or Fordize the production of programs have been unsuccessful. Nonetheless, they testify to the abiding impression that Taylor and Ford have made on American engineering and thus give firm historical roots to modern technology.


The choice of Tracy Kidder's The Soul of a New Machine is aimed directly at continuing the theme of technology and the nature of work. In addition to portraying the complex organization on which modern technological development depends, it raises intriguing questions of power and exploitation.


The development of the computer industry is only now coming under the scrutiny of historians, and most of the current literature stems from journalists. The foremost exceptions are the recent books by Paul Ceruzzi and by William Aspray and Martin Campbell-Kelly, both of which offer a much needed and long awaited survey of the history of the industry from its pre-computer roots to the present. For a review of the state of the field several years ago, see my article, "The History of Computing in the History of Technology", Annals of the History of Computing 10(1988), 113-125 [pdf], updated in "Issues in the History of Computing", in Thomas J. Bergin and Rick G. Gibson (eds.), History of Programming Languages II (NY: ACM Press, 1996), 772-81. The Annals themselves constitute one of the most important sources. Among the most useful accounts are Augarten's Bit by Bit; Kenneth Flamm, Creating the Computer: Government, Industry, and High Technology (Washington, 1988); Katharine Davis Fishman, The Computer Establishment (NY, 1981); Howard Rheingold Tools for Thought: The History and Future of Mind-Expanding Technology (NY, 1985), and Pamela McCorduck, Machines Who Think (San Francisco, 1979). David E. Lundstrom's A Few Good Men from Univac (Cambridge, MA, 1987) provides a critical look at the early industry, while the collaborative effort of Charles J. Bashe, Lyle R. Johnson, John H. Palmer, and Emerson W. Pugh on IBM's Early Computers (Cambridge, MA, 1986) provides an exhaustively detailed account, based on company documents, of IBM's entry into the market and the series of machines up to the 360, which is the subject of a second volume now nearing completion. Paul Freiburger and Michael Swaine's Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer (Berkeley, 1984) remains one of the best accounts of the early days of the PC industry.

The history of software remains largely unwritten and must be gleaned from the professional literature.  For overviews see my articles, "The Roots of Software Engineering", CWI Quarterly, 3,4(1990), 325-34 [pdf] and "Software: The Self-Programming Machine", in Atsushi Akera and Frederik Nebeker (eds.), From 0 to 1:  An Authoritative History of Modern Computing (New York: Oxford U.P., 2002), as well as the entry "Software History" in Anthony Ralston et al., Encyclopedia of Computer Science, 4th edition (London, 2000).  For "A Gentle Introduction" to what software is about, see Alan W. Biermann, Great Ideas in Computer Science (Cambridge, MA, 1997).

There is a growing number of personal accounts and reminiscences by computer people.  Among the most thought-provoking and least self-serving are Ellen Ullman, Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents (San Francisco, 1997), Richard P. Gabriel, Patterns of Software:  Tales from the Software Community (New York, 1996), and Robert N. Britcher, The Limits of Software:  People, Projects, and Perspectives (Reading, MA, 1999).

Week 12, Working Toward Choices, Where Are We Now?

The computer is only one of several technologies, which, spawned or encouraged by the demands of World War II, rapidly transformed American society in the twenty-five years after 1945, bringing a general prosperity thought unimaginable even before the Depression. With that prosperity came new problems and a growing sense that technology threatened society as much as, or even more than, it fostered. The first lecture reviews the major elements of modern high technology as it has developed since the war, and the second tries to put the issues it raises into the perspective of the course as a whole. In the end, the course has no answers to offer, but only questions that may prove fruitful in seeking them.


Langdon Winner's "Do Artifacts Have Politics?" argues that indeed they do, that is, that how technologies will be used is part of how they are designed. Although that view does not preclude unintended consequences, it does place responsibility for technologies on the people who create, maintain, and use them. The readings throughout the course offer ample material for putting Winner's thesis to the test.

Perhaps the most famous example discussed by Winner is the story of Robert Moses and the parkway bridges designed too low to allow access by bus to Jones Beach.  The story, taken from Robert Caro's well known biography of Moses, turns out on close examination to be inaccurate in several details.  For a discussion of the story and its use by Winner, see Bernward Joerges, "Do Politics Have Artefacts?" Social Studies of Science 29,3(1999), 411-31 [JSTOR], Steve Woolgar and Geoff Cooper, "Do Artefacts Have Ambivalence? Moses' Bridges, Winner's Bridges, and Other Urban Legends in S&TS", Ibid., 433-49 [JSTOR], and Joerges, "Scams Cannot Be Busted: Reply to Cooper and Woolgar", Ibid., 45-57 [JSTOR]


Fred C. Allvine and Fred A. Tarpley, Jr. provide a brief survey of the major changes in the U.S. economy during the quarter century following World War II in The New State of the Economy (Cambridge, MA, 1977). Peter Drucker, The Age of Discontinuity (NY, 1968, 2nd ed. 1978), and John Kenneth Galbraith, The New Industrial State (NY, 1967, 3rd ed., 1978), lay particular emphasis on new technologies and their effect on our economic institutions, while Seymour Melman, Profits without Production (NY, 1983), and Michael Piore and Charles Sabel, The Second Industrial Divide: Possibilities for Prosperity (NY, 1984), question how positive those effects have been.

Winner's Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought (Cambridge, MA, 1977) is a fully developed statement of the issues discussed in his article. Literature on the political assumptions underlying technology abound; indeed, some of it provoked this course in the first place. Among the more recent and more interesting are David F. Noble, Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation (NY/Oxford, 1986), Walter A. McDougall, ...The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age (NY 1985), Shoshana Zuboff, In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power (NY, 1988),  Paul N. Edwards, The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in the Cold War (Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1996), and Gene I. Rochlin, Trapped in the Net : The Unanticipated Consequences of Computerization (Princeton: PU Press, 1997). For the history of the Internet, see Janet Abbate, Inventing the Internet (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999)

As of 1996, the Internet and the World Wide Web, especially when grouped together under the concept of the National Information Superhighway, have become prime subjects for political and cultural analysis along the lines suggested by this week's readings and by the interpretive themes of the course. An article written twenty five years ago retains its pertinence. In "The Mythos of the Electronic Revolution" (American Scholar 39(1969-70), 219-241, 395-424), James W. Quirk and John J. Carey place the claims of the 1930s for a revolution of electrical power in the framework of Leo Marx's Machine in the Garden and showing how the notions of the "electronic village" or the "technotronic era" fashionable in the last '60s are similarly 20th-century evocations of the middle landscape. Cyberspace would seem to be the latest.

Reading Period

Albert Borgmann's Holding Onto Reality: The Nature of Information at the Turn of the Millennium  is one of a spate of recent books attempting to place the "information revolution" into some sort of historical perspective.  Others include: Michael E. Hobart and Zachary S. Schiffman, Information Ages: Literacy, Numeracy, and the Computer Revolution (Baltimore, 1998); James J. O'Donnell, Avatars of the Word:  From Papyrus to Cyberspace (Cambridge, MA, 1998). Less historical but nonetheless suggestive are John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid, The Social Life of Information (Boston, 2000) and Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media (Cambridge, MA, 1999).  Books on the Internet abound; perhaps the most important is Lawrence Lessig's Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (New York, 1999), followed now by his The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World (New York, 2001).

Sample Examination Questions

The lectures and readings of this course tend to emphasize the ways in which inventors, entrepreneurs, and workers looked upon machines as determinants of their socio-economic life.  At several points, however, we have caught glimpses of inventors and onlookers who have seen in machines expressions, either direct or symbolic, of the ideals and aspirations of their society.  Using specific examples over the range of the course, explore the role of the creative and esthetic imagination in determining the ways societies shape and respond to their technologies.

"Although historians often speak of 'the industrial revolution' and 'the rise of the factory system' in the singular, there have in reality been not one but three such revolutions.  The first was the mechanization of the textile industry in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the second was the mechanization of the consumer durables industry in the middle-to-late 19th century through the 'American System', and the third was the growth of 'rational management' in the early 20th century.  In each of these 'revolutions' the technological basis, the economic objective, and the impact upon labor were completely different, and it is historically false to see the three as phases of a single development, as history texts usually do."  Discuss critically.

"But, as is common knowledge, an invention rarely spreads until it is strongly felt to be a social necessity, if only for the reason that its construction then becomes a matter of routine."  The eminent French historian, Marc Bloch, made this general claim in an article about the watermill in the Middle Ages.  Discuss its validity with reference to the automobile and the computer.

You have read examples of two analyses of the character and effects of industrialization in England in the early nineteenth century, namely selections from Babbage's On the Economy of Machines and Manufactures and a central chapter of Marx's Capital.  How well does each analysis explain the course of the "Lowell Experiment", as described by Kasson, from its initial inspiration to its eventual outcome in the 1840s?

The early textile factories were called "mills".  Given the traditional technical system denoted by the term, what does that usage tell us about initial perceptions of the factory?  In what ways was the usage deceptive from the outset?  Use specific examples to illustrate your analysis.

"One can argue that medieval Europe was a highly sophisticated technological society of a certain sort, involved in a fairly rapid, continuing process of sociotechnical change. One does not have to wait for the industrial revolution ... to see political societies remolded in response to technical innovation." Drawing on specific evidence from the lectures and readings so far, either make that argument or refute it.

"The factory was more than just a larger work unit. It was a system of production, resting on a characteristic definition of the functions and responsibilities of different participants in the productive process." (David Landes) Discuss Landes's assertion with reference to Harpers Ferry Armory, Ford's Highland Park Plant, and Data General's Westborough facility.

Ford's Sociological Department was a formal system of social control in an industrial setting. Compare and contrast this system with the forms of control at work in the Lowell textile mills and in the Eagle project at Data General.

"We do not use technologies so much as live them." Use Meyer's The Five-Dollar Day and the Lynds's Middletown to discuss this claim by Langdon Winner.