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Technology and the Era of the Mass Army

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 May 2014

Massimiliano Gaetano Onorato
Assistant Professor, IMT Institute for Advanced Studies Lucca, Piazza San Ponziano 6, 55100 Lucca, Italy. E-mail:
Kenneth Scheve
Professor, Department of Political Science, Stanford University, 616 Serra Street, Encina Hall West, Room 409, Stanford, CA 94305-6044. E-mail:
David Stasavage
Professor, Department of Politics, New York University, 19 W. 4th Street, New York, NY 10012, Canada. E-mail:


We investigate how technology has influenced the size of armies. During the nineteenth century, the development of the railroad made it possible to field and support mass armies, significantly increasing the observed size of military forces. During the late twentieth century, further advances in technology made it possible to deliver explosive force from a distance and with precision, making mass armies less desirable. We find support for our technological account using a new data set covering thirteen great powers between 1600 and 2000. We find little evidence that the French Revolution was a watershed in terms of levels of mobilization.

Copyright © The Economic History Association 2014 

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We thank Bernd Beber, Pablo Beramendi, Oeindrila Dube, Jim Fearon, Peter Gourevitch, Peter Katzenstein, Bob Kaufman, David Lake, Josh Ober, Maggie Peters, Pablo Querubin, Dan Reiter, Jean-Laurent Rosenthal, Jack Snyder, two anonymous reviewers, and seminar participants at Columbia, Stanford, Yale, UCLA, Michigan, Minnesota, Duke, Cornell, the LSE, Namur, the Paris School of Economics, the Juan March Institute, Sciences-Po, NYU Abu Dhabi, Alicante, and EPSA 2012 for comments on a previous draft. We also thank Erdem Aytac, Quintin Beazer, Nikhar Gaikwad, Young Joe Hur, and Yiming Ma for excellent research assistance and Sonke Ehret, John Lynn, Jim Snyder, and Bruce Russett for helpful advice. We are grateful for financial support from the MacMillan Center for International & Area Studies, and the Institution for Social and Policy Studies. David Stasavage thanks the Sciences-Po economics department for inviting him as a visitor. The replication data and programs for the analysis presented in this article are archived at The Online Appendix to this article is available with the replication archive and at



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