Skip to main content Accessibility help

Inventors, Patents, and Inventive Activities in the English Brewing Industry, 1634–1850

  • Alessandro Nuvolari and James Sumner

This article examines the relationship between patents, appropriability strategies, and market for technology in the English brewing industry before 1850. Previous research has pointed to the apparent paradox that large-scale brewing in this period showed both a self-aware culture of rapid technological innovation and a remarkably low propensity to patent. Our study records how brewery innovators pursued a wide variety of highly distinct appropriability strategies, including secrecy, selective revealing, open innovation and knowledge-sharing for reputational reasons, and patenting. All these strategies could co-exist, although some brewery insiders maintained a suspicion of the promoters of patent technologies, which faded only in the nineteenth century. Furthermore, we find evidence that sophisticated strategies of selective revealing could support trade in inventions even without the use of the patent system.

Hide All

1 Mathias, Peter, The Brewing Industry in England, 1700–1830 (Cambridge, UK, 1959), 542–43.

2 Ibid., 12–21.

3 MacLeod, Christine, Inventing the Industrial Revolution: The English Patent System, 1660–1800 (Cambridge, UK, 1988), 108–9.

4 Ibid, 147–49; Khan, B. Zorina and Sokoloff, Kenneth, “Patent Institutions, Industrial Organization, and Early Technological Change: Britain and the United States, 1790–1850,” in Technological Revolutions in Europe: Historical Perspectives, ed. Berg, Maxine and Bruland, Kristine (Cheltenham, 1998), 292313.

5 Arora, Ashish, Fosfuri, Andrea, and Gambardella, Alfonso, Markets for Technology: The Economics of Innovation and Corporate Strategy (Cambridge, MA, 2001).

6 Lamoreaux, Naomi and Sokoloff, Kenneth, “Inventors, Firms, and the Market for Technology in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries,” in Learning by Doing in Markets, Firms and Countries, ed. Lamoreaux, Naomi, Raff, Daniel M. G., and Temin, Peter (Chicago, 1999); Lamoreaux, Naomi and Sokoloff, Kenneth, “Market Trade in Patents and the Rise of a Class of Specialized Inventors in the Nineteenth-Century United States,” American Economic Review 91 (2001): 3944; Lamoreaux, Naomi and Sokoloff, Kenneth, “Intermediaries in the US Market for Technology, 1870–1920,” NBER Working Paper no. 9017 (2002), quotation on 5; and see also Khan, B. Zorina, The Democratization of Invention: Patents and Copyrights in American Economic Development, 1790–1920 (Cambridge, UK, 2005); Arora, , Fosfuri, and Gambardella, , Markets for Technology, discuss the contributions of Lamoreaux and Sokoloff on pp. 2327.

7 Khan, and Sokoloff, , “Patent Institutions,” 309–13; Khan, , Democratization, 3739.

8 Dutton, Harold, The Patent System and Inventive Activity during the Industrial Revolution, 1750–1852 (Manchester, 1984), 112–17.

9 Dutton, , Patent System, 122–42. See also Bottomley, Sean, “The British Patent System during the Industrial Revolution, 1700–1852,” PhD diss., University of Cambridge, 2012, 101–54.

10 For a general discussion of “appropriability strategies” for innovations in different business contexts, including weak intellectual property rights, see Teece, David, “Profiting from Technological Innovation: Implications for Integration, Collaboration, Licensing, and Public Policy,” Research Policy 15 (1986): 285305; Anton, James and Yao, Dennis, “Expropriation and Inventions: Appropriable Rents in the Absence of Property Rights,” American Economic Review 84 (1994): 190209, provides a theoretical discussion of effective appropriability strategies in the absence of intellectual property rights. The historical relevance of “appropriability strategies” alternative to patents during the British Industrial Revolution has also been discussed by Landes, David, “What Do Bosses Really Do?Journal of Economic History 46 (1986): 585623. In particular, Landes points to “first mover advantage” as a particularly effective strategy in that historical context. For a discussion of the “first mover advantage” literature, see Suarez, Fernando and Lanzolla, Gianvito, “The Role of Environmental Dynamics in Building a First Mover Advantage Theory,” Academy of Management Review 32 (2007): 377–92.

11 Woodcroft, Bennet, Subject-Matter Index of Patents of Invention, vol. 1 (London, 1854), 8597.

12 Hewish, John, Rooms Near Chancery Lane: The Patent Office under the Commissioners, 1852–1883 (London, 2000), 4144.

13 Lack, H. Reader, Patents of Inventions: Abridgments of Specifications Related to Brewing, Wine-making, and Distilling Alcoholic Liquids (London, 1881).

14 Brewers' Journal 5 (1869): 3334, and subsequent issues.

15 Pearson, Lynn, British Breweries: An Architectural History (London, 1999), 192–94, and see for instance Brewers' Journal 16 (1880): 375–76.

16 Stopes, Henry, Malt and Malting (London, 1885), 568607.

17 In the list constructed by Lack, patent 10973 is mistakenly reported as patent 10963.

18 Mathias, , Brewing Industry, 9495.

19 Ibid., 466–70. An early case of vertical integration at the highest level of production is that of the Calvert family, for whom see Sumner, James, “Status, Scale, and Secret Ingredients: The Retrospective Invention of London Porter,” History and Technology 24 (2008): 289306, on 291.

20 Ford, William, An Historical Account of the Malt Trade and Laws (London, 1849), 6870; Mathias, , Brewing Industry, 420–23. For Wheeler's difficulties see the report of Wheeler v. Malins, Court of Chancery, 1818, reported in the Times, 19 Aug. 1818; and Rex v. Wheeler, Court of King's Bench, 1819, reported in Carpmael, William, Law Reports of Patent Cases, vol. 1 (London, 1843), 394400.

21 Stopes, , Malt and Malting, 409.

22 Woodcroft, , Subject-Matter Index, vol. 1, 31, 85; Shaw, John P., “Meikle, Andrew (1719–1811)Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004),, accessed 3 Feb. 2013.

23 For instance, Stopes includes Walter Taylor's 1786 patent as describing a “Malt-mill.” Woodcroft excludes the same patent from the brewing category, elsewhere deeming it to refer to “Machines for grinding grain” or “grinding starch for hair-powder.”

24 Mathias, Brewing Industry; Pearson, British Breweries; Gourvish, Terry and Wilson, Richard, The British Brewing Industry, 1830–1980 (Cambridge, UK, 1994); Corran, H. S., A History of Brewing (Newton Abbott, 1975); Donnachie, Ian, A History of the Brewing Industry in Scotland (Edinburgh, 1979); Clark, Christine, The British Malting Industry since 1830 (London, 1998); Sumner, James, Brewing Science, Technology, and Print, 1700–1880 (London, forthcoming 2013).

25 Mathias, , Brewing Industry, 6869; Ashworth, William, Customs and Excise (Oxford, 2003), 275.

26 Mathias, , Brewing Industry, 420.

27 Woodcroft, Bennet, Titles of Patents of Invention Chronologically Arranged, 1617–1852 (London, 1854). The 89 brewing patents we have identified in Tables 1 and 2 were taken by 112 patentees.

28 MacLeod, , Inventing, 117.

29 [Boys, Jeffrey], Directions for Brewing Malt Liquors (London, 1700); [Ellis, William], The London and Country Brewer, 1st ed. (London, [1735?]), 3649.

30 Unger, Richard, Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (Philadelphia, 2004), 211; [Ellis, ], London and Country Brewer, 35; A General Description of all Trades, Digested in Alphabetical Order (London, 1747), 3436.

31 The standard account is Mathias, , Brewing Industry, 12–16, 5362; see also the modification proposed in James Sumner, “Status.” Not surveyed in this article is an important primary source on storage vessels: Victualling Commissioners to Philip Stephens, 24 Jan. 1774, in Navy Board Victualling Office out-letters, ADM 110/26 folios 101–15, the National Archives, Kew, Richmond, UK.

32 For instance, Watkins, George, The Compleat English Brewer (London, 1767), 122; Gentleman's, Magazine 60 (1790): 801.

33 Sumner, , “Status,” 297–99; Cornell, Martyn, Beer: The Story of the Pint (London, 2003), 9295.

34 [Reid, Robert], Glasgow: Past and Present, vol. 3 (Glasgow, 1856), 415–19.

35 Morrice, Alexander, A Treatise on Brewing, 1st ed. (London, 1802), appendix; Tuck, John, The Private Brewer's Guide, 2d ed. (London, 1822), 32, 60; Loftus, William, The Brewer: A Familiar Treatise (London, 1863), 143.

36 Brakspear papers, II/i/1, passim, and II/i/3, Oxfordshire History Centre, Oxford, UK. See also Sheppard, Francis, Brakspear's Brewery, Henley on Thames, 1779–1979 (Henley on Thames, 1979).

37 Serocold, Walter Pearce, The Story of Watney's (London, 1949), 19.

38 London Chronicle, 22 Dec. 1760, 603.

39 Humphrey Jackson, “Proposals for Communicating and Explaining the Real Causes of Cloudyness in Malt Liquors,” printed circular, June 1762, papers of James Best of Chatham, U480/B874, Medway Archives, Strood, Kent, UK (hereafter, Best papers).

40 The Distiller of London (London, 1639); The Distiller of London, with the Clavis to Unlock the Deepest Secrets of that Mysterious Art (London, 1652).

41 Humphrey Jackson to James Best, 21 July 1770, Best papers.

42 Worthington, George Lloyd, The Brewer's Guide: A New Work (London, 1812); cf. Morrice, Alexander, A Treatise on Brewing, 2d ed. (London, 1802).

43 Wigney, George Adolphus, A Practical and Theoretical Treatise on Malting and Brewing (Brighton, 1835); circular announcements, EK-U1453/B2/40/588, at Kent History and Library Centre, Maidstone, Kent, UK. The rise of cheap print was no barrier to the recurrence of this strategy: see Amsinck, George Stewart, Practical Brewings: A Series of Fifty Brewings (London, 1868), priced twelve guineas.

44 For a discussion of openness and knowledge sharing among inventors in different historical contexts, see Bessen, James and Nuvolari, Alessandro, “Knowledge Sharing among Inventors: Some Historical Perspectives” in Revolutionizing Innovation: Users, Communities, and Open Innovation, ed. Harhoff, Dietmar and Lakhani, Karim (Cambridge, MA, forthcoming).

45 Michael Combrune to James Best, 17 Aug. 1762, Best papers; Combrune, Michael, Essay on Brewing (London, 1758), [v][vi].

46 Combrune, Essay; Combrune, Michael, The Theory and Practice of Brewing (London, 1762).

47 Combrune to Best, 17 Aug. 1762, Best papers; Council minute book entries for 25 June and 16 July 1772, Royal Dublin Society Archives, Dublin, Ireland.

48 Baverstock, James, Hydrometrical Observations and Experiments in the Brewery (London, 1785); Baverstock, James, Treatises on Brewing (London, 1824), xvi–xix, 299306.

49 Mathias, , Brewing Industry, 8990.

50 For the only notably successful—and yet short-lived—project to breach this capital barrier, see Mathias, , Brewing Industry, 243–51.

51 Richardson, John, Theoretic Hints on an Improved Practice of Brewing Malt-Liquors (London, 1777).

52 Richardson, John, Statical Estimates of the Materials for Brewing, or a Treatise on the Application and Use of the Saccharometer (London, 1784).

53 Clarke, Richard, Notice Is Hereby Given, to all Dealers in Brandy, Rum, Malt, or Melasses-spirits, Arrack, &c. that the Hydrometer, or Brandy-Prover, Being the Production of many Years Study and Experiments, is now Brought to its Utmost Perfection (London, [1746]); Baverstock, James, Hydrometrical Observations and Experiments in the Brewery (London, 1785).

54 Sumner, James, “John Richardson, Saccharometry and the Pounds-per-Barrel Extract: The Construction of a Quantity,” British Journal for the History of Science 34 (2001): 255–73.

55 Richardson, , Statical Estimates, 3, 30; and cf. Mathias, , Brewing Industry, 69, no. 2; Dicas, John. Patent 1259, 27 June 1780. The date given for all patents cited is the date in which the patent was granted (“sealed”).

56 Richardson, , Theoretic Hints, 12.

57 Richardson, , Statical Estimates, 241; [Booth, David], The Art of Brewing (London, 1829), [33].

58 Keith, George Skene, “Observations on the Papers Presented to the House of Commons,” Farmer's Magazine (1807), 476500, on 487–88; Accum, Friedrich, A Treatise on the Art of Brewing (London, 1820), 104.

59 [Booth, ], Art of Brewing, 1115; Black, William, A Practical Treatise on Brewing, 1st ed. (London, 1835), 37; Aldabella, Pat and Barnard, Robert, Hull and East Riding Breweries (Beverley, 1997), 8081.

60 Black, , Practical Treatise, 11–14, 29–31, 9497.

61 Crosse, Andrew. Patent 11604. 2 Mar. 1847; Van Kempen, Peter, communicating an invention of Gerrit Abraham Cramer. Patent 14015. 8 Mar. 1852.

62 Wood, Matthew. Patent 2625. 31 May 1802.

63 Jackson, Humphrey. Patent 749. 26 Mar. 1760.

64 Dossie, Robert, Memoirs of Agriculture, vol. 1 (London, 1768), 275–77. See also Mathias, , Brewing Industry, 5153.

65 Jackson, Humphrey. Patent 910. 9 Dec. 1768; Jackson, Humphrey, New Art of Hardening and Preserving Wood (London, 1770); Appleby, John, “Humphrey Jackson, F.R.S., 1717–1801: A Pioneering Chemist,” Notes and Records of the Royal Society 40 (1986): 147–68, on 152–56; Balderston, Katharine, ed., Thraliana: The Diary of Mrs. Hester Lynch Thrale, 1st ed., vol. 1 (Oxford, 1951), 53 and 312; Hayward, Abraham, ed., Autobiography, Letters and Literary Remains of Mrs. Piozzi, 1st ed., vol. 1 (London, 1861), 257–58; Clifford, James, ed., Dr. Campbell's Diary of a Visit to England in 1775 (Cambridge, UK, 1947), 51.

66 Long, John. Patent 1754. 4 June 1790; Long, John, and Thomas Harris. Patent 1769. 28 July 1790. The second patent, registered jointly with a distiller, consolidates the specification of wort-cooling apparatus described in general terms in the first. For biographical details see Monthly Magazine 24 (1807): 413.

67 Votes of the [Irish] House of Commons (Dublin, [1792]), 365–66, 446–47; Parliamentary Register, or, History of the Proceedings and Debates of the House of Commons of Ireland 12 (1793): 259–60, 299; Long, John, A Treatise on Malting (Dublin, 1800), title page.

68 Shannon, Richard. Patent 2212. 1 Feb. 1798.

69 Shannon, Richard, A Practical Treatise on Brewing, Distilling, and Rectification (London, 1805).

70 Balderston, , Thraliana, 1: 53, 312; Hayward, , Autobiography, 1: 257–58; Piozzi, Hester, ed., Letters to and from the Late Samuel Johnson, vol. 1 (London, 1788), 7879.

71 [Richardson, John], Observations on the Art of Brewing Malt Liquors, in a Series of Strictures on a Secret System (London, 1775).

72 Blake, George, Strictures on a New Mode of Brewing (London, 1791).

73 Blake, George, Theoretical and Practical Remarks on G. Blake's System of Malting and Brewing (London, 1817).

74 Shannon, , Practical Treatise, [xxvii]xxxii.

75 Wood, Sutton Thomas. Patent 1455. 17 Nov. 1784.

76 Wood, Sutton Thomas. Patent 1447. 20 Aug. 1784; Wood, Sutton Thomas. Patent 1492. 27 July 1785; Wood, Sutton Thomas. Patent 1860. 15 Mar. 1792.

77 MacLeod, , Inventing, 178.

78 Richard Hare to Boulton and Watt, 11 Jan. 1785. In “Industrial Revolution: A Documentary History” (microfilm series. Marlborough: Adam Matthew Publications, 1993 onwards), series 1, part 13, reel 243, 3/392, item 16.

79 Ker, William. Patent 1641. 4 Mar. 1788; Sinclair, John, ed., The Statistical Account of Scotland, vol. 12 (Edinburgh, 1794), 8.

80 Bayley, Paul, “An Evaluation of the Number and Distribution of Burton Unions,” Brewery History 129 (2008): 3972; Walker, Peter. Patent 7658. 31 May 1838; Apparatus for Clearing Beer,” Transactions of the Society, Instituted at London, for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce 42 (1823): 2325.

81 Pennant, Thomas, Of London (London, 1790), 279.

82 Repertory of Arts, 2d ser. 3 (1803): 232–35. A subsequent action confirmed Hare's right to the money already paid out: New Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Court of Common Pleas [ from 1804 to 1807] vol. 1 (1826), 260–63.

83 Report from the Select Committee on the Law Relative to Patents, 12 June 1829, 195.

84 Mathias, , Brewing Industry, 95.

85 For the origins of the tied trade in London see Mathias, , Brewing Industry, 117–38; and for its subsequent growth, Gourvish, and Wilson, , British Brewing Industry, 128–46.

86 Dickinson, Henry and Jenkins, Rhys, James Watt and the Steam Engine (Oxford, 1927), 69, 307.

87 Mathias, , Brewing Industry, 9596.

88 Description of an Apparatus for Heating Water by Waste Steam, Invented by Mr. Arthur Woolf,” Journal of Natural Philosophy 1 (1802): 203–4, and see Harris, Thomas, Arthur Woolf: The Cornish Engineer, 1766–1837 (Truro, 1966).

89 On Mr. Arthur Woolf's Improved Apparatus, Applicable to Steam Engines and Other Purposes of Art and Manufacture; Including a Description of Two Boilers Now Erecting at Messrs. Meux's Brewery,” Philosophical Magazine 17 (1803): 4047; Woolf, Arthur. Patent 2726. 29 July 1803.

90 Tizard, William. Patent 8921. 5 Apr. 1841.

91 Tizard, William, The Theory and Practice of Brewing Illustrated, 1st ed. (London, 1843). Further editions followed in 1846, 1850, and 1857.

92 Wesley Cohen, Richard Nelson, and John Walsh, “Protecting Their Intellectual Assets: Appropriability Conditions and Why US Manufacturing Firms Patent (or Not)” NBER Working Paper no. 7552 (2000). For some nineteenth century evidence, see Moser, Petra, “Innovation without Patents: Evidence from World's Fairs,” Journal of Law and Economics 55 (2012): 4374.

93 For an insightful discussion of the persistent heterogeneity of innovation strategies within industrial sectors, see Shrolec, Martin and Verspagen, Bart, “The Voyage of the Beagle into Innovation: Explorations on Heterogeneity, Selection, and Sectors,” Industrial and Corporate Change 21 (2012): 1221–53.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Business History Review
  • ISSN: 0007-6805
  • EISSN: 2044-768X
  • URL: /core/journals/business-history-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed