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The Early Diffusion of Steam Power

  • Eric H. Robinson (a1)

If the Town of Birmingham or Sheffield etc. have reason to apprehend that Manufactories are set up from time to time in any foreign Countries, thro' the means or by the assistance of English workmen from hence, who not finding the advantages such as they expected etc. may be desirous of returning—and if any set of Traders chuse to enter into an agreement to encourage the return of such men by promising them Employment the same as before and to contribute to the expence of their Journey home in such Terms as they shall Judge best, the King's Minister at the respective Courts shall have orders to make it a particular object to enquire about such Manufactories and Men, to make them acquainted of such an Agreement, and to give them every Assistance and Encouragement possible for their Return…. Lord Dartmouth to Matthew Boulton, n.d., Assay Office Library, Birmingham

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I wish to thank Herman Freudenberger of Tulane University and Kenneth Carpenter of the Kress Collection, Baker Business Library, Cambridge, Massachusetts for helpful advice and comment. Had time permitted I should have liked to revise the paper in the light of constructive commentary from Richard DuBoff and Thomas Hughes. The latter's willingness to accept, for the moment, a lack of explicitness in what Hughes calls “the strong undercurrent running through his paper is particularly welcome.

1 Samuel Garbett to Matthew Boulton, 4 September 1789, Samuel Garbett Box 2, Assay Office Library, Birmingham (hereafter referred to as A.O.L.B.). The particular occasion of this outburst was the activity of Jøns Matthias Ljungberg, an industrial spy on behalf of the Swedes and Danes, who had been caught in the act of exporting drawings, plans and objects of industrial interest. See Charleston R., “Lundberg and Ljungberg: Give and Take in the Ceramic Industry of the 18th Century,” Opuscula in honorem C. Hernmarck (Stockholm, 1967), pp. 3954. An irony of the situation was that at an earlier date Boulton himself had considered removing his whole manufactory to Sweden. See “The International Exchange of Men and Machines, 1750–1800” in Musson A. E. and Robinson Eric, Science and Technology in the Industrial Revolution (Manchester and Toronto, 1969), pp. 216230.

2 Usher A. P., “Technical Change and Capital Formation,” Capital Formation and Economic Growth, National Bureau of Economic Research, 1955, pp. 523–50, included in Rosenberg N. (ed.), The Economics of Technological Change (London: Penguin, 1971), pp. 4372.

3 Rosenberg, Economics, p. 46.

4 See Flinn M., “The Travel Diaries of Swedish Engineers of the Eighteenth Century as Sources of Technological History,” Transactions of the Newcomen Society, vol. XXXI (19571959), pp. 95109; Kroker W., Wege zur Verbreitung technologischer Kenntnisse zwischen England und Deutschland in der zweiten Hälfte des 18 Jahrhunderts (Berlin, 1971); Treue W., “Eine preussische ‘technologische’ Reise in die besetzten Gebiete im Jahre 1814,” Vierteljahrschrift fur Sozial-und Wirtschaftsgeschichte, Bd. 28 (1953), S. 15–40 and “Zum Thema der Auslandsreisen im 17. Jahrhundert,” Archiv fur Kulturgeschichte, Bd. 35 (1953), S. 199–211.

5 W. Parker, “Economic Development in Historical Perspective,” Rosenberg (ed.),Economics, p. 137.

6 Payen J., “Bétancourt et l'introduction en France de la machine à vapeur à double effet (1789),” Revue d'Histoire des Sciences, XX (1967), pp. 187198.

7 Payen J., Capital et machine à vapeur au XVIIIe siècle: Les frères Perier et l'introduction en France de la machine à vapeur de Watt (Paris, 1969), p. 157 n. 1 and p. 159.

8 Henderson W. O., Industrial Britain under the Regency: the diaries of Escher, Bodmer, May and de Gallois (London, 1968), p. 159. See also Svedenstierna E. T., Tour of Great Britain 1802–3 (Newton Abbot, 1973), trans. E. L. Dellow, introduction by M. W. Flinn, p. 93.

9 Mayr Otto, The Origins of Feedback Control (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970); also “Adam Smith and the Concept of the Feedback System: Economic Thought and Technology in 18th-Century Britain,” Technology ana Culture, XII, pp. 1–22.

10 See Musson A. E. and Robinson Eric, Science and Technology in the Industrial Revolution (Manchester and Toronto, 1969), passim. Also Robinson Eric and Musson A. E., James Watt and the Steam Revolution (London, 1969) for patents, correspondence and machine-drawings.

11 Boulton and Watt Collection, Birmingham Reference Library (hereafter abbreviated to B.R.L.).

12 See Chaloner W. H., People and Industries (London, 1963), pp. 820.

13 Joshua Gilpin, Journals and Notebooks 1790–1801, 1830–33, Division of Public Records, Harrisburg, Pa.

14 Eric Robinson, “The International Exchange of Men and Machines 1750–1800,” in Science and Technology, jap. 216–230.

15 See Eric Robinson, “The Transfer of British Technology to Russia 1760–1820,” to be published in a Festshift for W. O. Henderson under the editorship of Barrie Ratclifle.

16 M. Triewald, “A Short Description of the Atmospheric Steam Engine,” Newcomen Society Extra Publication, No. 1, 1928 cit. Rolt L. T. C., Thomas Newcomen: the Prehistory of the Steam Engine (London, 1963), p. 61.

17 W. Kroker, Wege, p. 92.

18 Young Arthur, A Six Months' Tour through the North, of England (London, 2nd ed. 1771), vol. 3, p. 279.

19 E.g., Svedenstierna E. T., Tour of Great Britain, 1802–3 (Newton Abbot, 1973), trans. E. L. Dellow, ed. Flinn M. W., pp. 75, 79 and 87–88.

20 Matthew Boulton to James Watt, 6 January 1779, “Miscellaneous Letters from Matthew Boulton” (Parcel), Box 20, B.R.L.

21 Redlich F., “The Leaders of the German Steam-Engine Industry during the first Hundred Years,” Journal Of Economic History, IV (November 1944), 121–48.

22 Kroker, Wege, pp. 154–55; Redlich, “Leaders,” p. 122; Henderson W. O., Britain and Industrial Europe (Leicester, 1965), p. 149.

23 Matthew Boulton to James Watt, 25 March 1785, Parcel D, B.R.L.

24 Rolt, Newcomen, p. 86.

26 Ibid., pp. 85–87.

26 Landes D. S., The Unbound Prometheus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), pp. 141–42.

27 Rolt, Newcomen, pp. 85–86.

28 Landes, Prometheus, p. 142.

29 Payen, Capital et Machine, pp. 54–55.

30 Ibid., p. 63.

31 Brooke Hindle, “The Transfer of Power and Metallurgical Technologies to the United States 1800–1880,” prepared for ICOHTEC Conference. See Pursell Carroll W. JrEarly Stationary Steam Engines in America (Washington, 1969), p. 54.

32 Brooke Hindle, “Transfer,” p. 6.

33 van Liender J. D. Huichelbos (Rotterdam) to James Watt (at Glasgow), 10 August 1775, enquiring about an engine of Watt's design to provide double the power of the one that they are now building and adding: “Our Engineer Mr. Jabez Carter Hornblower speaks no dutch at all, so that he gives his directions by an interpreter, when I am not upon the spott.” This letter is in the private collection of Major David Gibson Watt, M.C., M.P. at Doldowlod (hereafter referred to as Dol.). Boulton speaks in 1779 of the City of Amsterdam having paid William Blakey 2000 guilders for an engine (presumably upon Savery's principles) which would not work and Blakey was allowed to take it away (Matthew Boulton Notebook 18 “Holland,” A.O.L.B.).

34 Campbell R. H., Carron Company (Edinburgh and London: Oliver and Boyd, 1961), pp. 7475.

35 Motala Mekaniska Verkstad (Jonkoping, 1844), pp. 67. I wish to thank Mr. K. Carpenter, Kress Collection, Baker Business Library, Harvard for drawing my attention to this pamphlet.

36 Pursell, Engines, p. 28.

37 Redlich, “Leaders,” p. 123.

38 Purs J., “Použiti parních stroju v průmysku v cěskych zerních v obdobi do nastupi imperalismu,” Ceskoslovenský casopis historický, II (1954), no. 3, pp. 442509 and III (1955) no. 2 and e, pp. 254–90, 427–85. For Potter see especially pp. 459–60. I am grateful to Dr. Herman Freudenberger for this reference.

39 Brooke Hindle, “Transfer,” p. 4.

40 See J. D. Huichelbos van Liender's account in New Transactions of the Batavian Society of Experimental Philosophy, Pt. 1, 1800. Reference kindly supplied by Mr. K. van der Pols. See also James Watt, Jr. to Mrs. C. Matthews, 10 September and 15 October 1794, and James Watt, Jr. to James Watt, 30 April 1795, Boulton and Watt Letter Book (Office), Sept. 93-Sept. 95, B.R.L.

41 Redlich, “Leaders,” pp. 129–30.

42 Ibid., p. 138.

43 James Lawson to M. Boulton, 28 May 1786, and 2 June 1786, Lawson Box, A.O.L.B.

44 See Ford G. S., “The Lost Year in Stein's Life,” On and Off the Campus (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1938), pp. 161203.

45 James Watt, Jr. to James Watt, 5 September 1789, Dol.

46 See excerpt from Reichenbach's englisches Tagebuche, 1791, M. S. Deutsche Museum, Munich, cited Klemm F., A History of Western Technology (Cambridge, Mass., 1964), pp. 259–61.

47 Rosenberg N., Technology and American Economic Growth (New York: Harper and Row, 1972), pp. 6465.

48 Chandler A., “Anthracite Coal and the Beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in the United States,” Business History Review, XLVI (Summer 1972), 166.

49 Danilevskii V. V., History of Hydroengineering in Russia before the Nineteenth Century (Israel Program for Scientific Translations, Jerusalem 1968). Original Russian edition, Moscow and Leningrad, 1940.

50 Chandler, Coal, p. 151.

51 Toilliez A., “Mémoire sur l'introduction et l'établissement des machines à vapeur dans le Hainaut,” Société des Sciences, des Arts, et des Lettres du Hainaut, 3e anniversaire de la fondation de la Société (Mons, 1836), pp. 57–8, cit. D. S. Landes, p. 130, makes the point that the Newcomen engine was preferred on this coalfield to the Watt engine until late in the nineteenth century. Lange-Kothe Irmgard, “Johann Dinnendahl,” Tradition, VII (February 1962), 3247; (August 1962), 175–196, describes how atmospheric engines continued to be built in Germany into the nineteenth century because, though they were more expensive in coal-consumption, they were cheaper and easier to keep in repair.

52 W. H. Chaloner, “John Wilkinson, Ironmaster (1728–1808),” People, p. 24: “The cannon on board French naval vessels were at this time still made of charcoal-smelted iron, liable, when fired, to sliver ‘into a thousand pieces, killing the gunners and spreading terror among the survivors,’ with adverse results on the course of naval actions.”

53 D. S. Landes, Prometheus, p. 126.

54 Hartwell R. M., The Industrial Revolution and Economic Growth (London, 1971), p. 146, footnote 2. Hartwell's italics.

55 F. N. Zagorskii, L. F. Sabakin, A Russian Mechanic of the 18th Century: His Life and Work. Published for the Smithsonian Institution and the National Science Foundation, Washington, D.C. by the Israel Program for Scientific Publications, p. 18. Original Russian edition, Moscow and Leningrad, 1963.

56 Ibid., p. 29.

57 Ibid., p. 7.

58 Robinson E., “Birmingham Capitalists and Russian Workers,” History Today, VI (October 1956), 673–79.

59 Boulton and Watt to Thomas Handley, 14 July 1788, Boulton and Watt Letter Book (Office), November 1786-October 1791, B.R.L. I intend to publish a fuller account of these negotiations elsewhere..

60 Boulton and Fothergill Letter Book “O,” 1783–88, fol. 239–40, A.O.L.B. Draft in Boulton's hand. It is not clear whether Boulton was sending a copy of this letter to Watt or was merely transcribing Benjamin Vaughan's letter as a memorandum for himself.

61 Matthew Boulton to James Rumsey, 29 August 1788, Boulton and Watt Letter Book (office), February 1788-December 1790, B.R.L. Though this letter is signed by Boulton, it is in Watt's handwriting.

62 Ibid., Matthew Boulton to James Rumsey, 14 August 1788.

63 Ibid. See also James Watt to Thomas Handley, 11 September 1788.

64 Ibid. and Boulton to Rumsey, 29 August 1788.

65 Ibid., James Watt to Sir John Dalrymple, 6 September 1788.

66 See, however, correspondence between W. von Kempelen and Boulton, 29 April 1784, and Watt and von Kempelen, n.d., January, 1791, A.O.L.B. concerning von Kempelen's invention.

67 Musson A. E. and Robinson E., “The Early Growth of Steam Power,” Economic History Review, 2nd series, XI (1959), 418–39. Reprinted in Science and Technology in the Industrial Revolution, pp. 393–427.

68 Rowe J., Cornwall in the Age of the Industrial Revolution (Liverpool, 1953), p. 101.

69 A. T. Jenkins, “The West Riding Wool Textile Industry 1780–1835: A Study of Fixed Capital Formation,” Ph.D. Thesis, University of York, 1969. Dr. Jenkins adds that by 1800 about 60 out of 160 mills in Yorkshire were using steam power.

70 History, LII (1967), pp. 133–148.

71 As yet unpublished and made available to me by Mrs. Polly Anne Earl, Winterthur Museum, Wilmington, Delaware.

72 Ibid., p. 7.

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