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“Schemes of Practical Utility”: Entrepreneurship and Innovation Among “Great Inventors” in the United States, 1790–1865

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 March 2009

B. Zorina Khan
Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115.
Kenneth L. Sokoloff
University of California at Los Angeles, CA 90024
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The growth in inventive activity during early American industrialization is explored by examining the careers of 160 inventors credited with important technological discoveries. Analysis of biographical information and complete patent histories through 1865 indicates that these “great inventors” were entrepreneurial and responded systematically to market demand. Their inventions were procyclical and originated disproportionately from localities linked with extensive markets. Although unexceptional in terms of schooling or technical skills, they vigorously pursued the returns to their inventions, redirected their inventive activity to meet emerging needs, and were distinguished by high geographical mobility toward districts conducive to invention and its commercialization.

Papers Presented at the Fifty-Second Annual Meeting of the Economic History Association
Copyright © The Economic History Association 1993



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