Science and the ‘Second’ Industrial Revolution


By Pat Lewis

“In the first part of the Industrial Revolution,” writes David Landes, “the knowledge was mostly the result of practical experience and informal empiricism. With time, however, beginning in such industries as chemical manufacture, applications were derived from pure science …” After listing “a clustering of innovations” which characterized this later period (“electrical power, the internal-combustion engine, petroleum fuel, the automobile, and science-based chemical manufacture”), Landes writes that “some have called this array of changes a second Industrial Revolution.” (Encyclopedia Britannica: Macropaedia, vol. 18.) Although the term “second Industrial Revolution” is rejected by many historians (usually the one who object to any “industrial revolution” terminology at all), few would argue that the nineteenth century witnessed a new kind of industrialization, a “revolution” effected in large part by the partnership of science and technology.

By using phrases such as “with time” and “the late 19th century,” Landes hints at one of the problems with the concept, for the second industrial revolution is difficult to date. Scholar S. Lilly gives 1815-1914 as the dates of “the Industrial Revolution to Maturity” (1966), while A. E. Musson suggests that the “second industrial revolution” was most evident in the years 1914 to 1939. (The Growth of British Industry, 1978.) Many historians seem arbitrary in their dating–Lilly’s reasons for choosing 1815 as a starting dates, for example, are never given.

The rise of Germany as an industrial giant is a distinguishing feature of the “second” Industrial Revolution. Many historians relate this development to Germany’s scientific superiority. Charles Boyle writes in People, Science, and Technology (1984), “as the nineteenth century progressed, Germany became the foremost scientific nation, and England’s overwhelming dominance of technology and manufacturing industry gradually declined …” (p. 20). Historians contrast the “amateur” scientists (or “natural philosophers”) of the first industrial revolution with the professionals of the later period, men who made their livings as scientists in universities or industry-funded research groups. When discussing Germany’s rise as an industrial power, historians often note that Germany was the first nation to establish specific scientific disciplines in industry and the universities. D.S.L. Cardwell points to Liebig’s establishment of a laboratory at Giessen in 1825 as “the start of organized scientific research as well as the emancipation of chemistry from medicine” (“The Development of Scientific Research in Modern Universities”).

The connection between scientific excellence and technological advance is made often by historians of the “second” industrial revolution, in large part because the manor industries of the later period were science-based. As stated in the Cambridge Economic History of Europe, “the nature of the newer fields of industrial activity–organic chemistry and electrical engineering in particular–tended to diminish reliance on … empiricism and common sense and impose a more scientific approach …” (p. 551). The key science of industrialization was chemistry, which by the later period had become highly specialized (e.g., as biochemistry and physical chemistry). In Science in History, J. D. Bernal writes that “the chemist … of the latter period of the 19th century, was effectively a new kind of scientist, one much more closely tied up to industry” (p. 632). Historians often note the significance of William Perkin’s discovery of coal tar in 1856, which had dramatic consequences in the dye industry and led to an explosion of research in synthetics. I. Bernard Cohen (in Revolution in Science, 1980) notes how chemists began “to direct their research toward specified technological goals.” Cohen underscores industry’s courtship of 19th century chemists in his example of the production synthetic indigo, which involved $5,000,000 and “seventeen years of directed research” (p. 326.).

Electricity is often cited as one of “the first examples in history of the transformation of a purely scientific body of experiments and theories into a large-scale industry” (Science in History, p. 616). Some historians imply that the second phase of the industrial revolution began with the electric telegraph, which “revolutionized” communications “throughout the world” (Checkland, The Rise of Industrial Society in England). Checkland hints at the far-reaching consequences of the telegraph when he writes of “the pioneer phase of [telegraph] cable laying in the 1850’s and 60’s,” which “provided a unique example of cooperation between projector, manufacturer, government, and scientist …” (p. 100). Checkland adds that “out of the electric telegraph came the electrical industry,” an example of the growing intimacy of science with industry.

In The Visible Hand (1979), Alfred Chandler demonstrates how science-based corporations (such as Dupont and General Electric) helped to institutionalize science in the universities and industry. Chandler discusses the business innovations of many science-based industries; Dupont, for example, “developed accounting methods which became standard procedure for 20th century enterprise” (p. 445). Science became more “business-like,” and business more scientific, as early “industrial engineers” such as Frederick Taylor brought “the methodology of the modern scientific investigator” to “the large bureaucratic organization” (Frederick Taylor and the Rise of Scientific Management, 1980). Hounshell (From the American System to Mass Production, 1984) shows how the “scientific management” ideology contributed to innovations like the assembly line. And W. David Lewis writes that “scientific testing and analysis” played “a major role in the cooperative efforts of manufacturers and private professional organizations to adopt industrywide standards” (“Industrial Research and Development,” p. 622). The innovative work by Beniger, The Control Revolution (1986), reanalyzes much of this material by conceptualizing the organizational revolution in terms of information processing.

The “second” industrial revolution profoundly affected the role of science and the scientists. “In the 20th century,” writes Peter Drucker, “the inventor has become an ‘engineer,’ the craftsman a ‘professional'” (“Technological Trends in the 20th Century.”) The “amateur” inventor not only became professionalized, but also assumed new roles as a manager or entrepreneur, as Thomas Hughes shows in his study of Edison as a “system builder” (“The Electrification of America: The System Builders”). Hughes regards Edison as the prototype of the “entrepreneur who … synthesized the technological, economic, and scientific.” Lastly, the direct social impact of science became more obvious during the late industrial period, as science became “a source of innovation and a component of economic growth” (Lewis, p. 627).

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Kranzberg, Melvin, and Carroll Pursell, Jr., Editors. Technology in Western Civilization. 2 Vs. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Kranzberg and Pursell provide the best introduction to the link between science and technology in the later industrial revolution. The editors set out to produce a work that stresses “the cultural, economic, and social implications of technology and society.” (p. v.) It breaks from earlier works on technological milestones, which overemphasized the internal (or “hardware”) history of technology. Volume I features over twenty-five articles dealing with some aspect of the second industrial revolution–for example, “the Beginning of Electricity,” “Mass Production for Mass Consumption,” “The Beginnings of the Internal-Combustion Engine.” Volume II covers the modern period from 1900 to the present, and includes articles on the increasing rationalization of industry, as well as discussion of science’s effect upon various technologies.

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Cameron, Rondo. “The Industrial Revolution: A Misnomer,” The History Teacher 15 (May 1982): 377-384.

Cannadine, David. “The Present and the Past in the English Industrial Revolution, 1880-1980,” Past and Present 103 (1984): 114-131.

Cannadine persuasively argues that economic historiography on the industrial revolution has been heavily influenced by contemporary concerns. He identifies four views of the industrial revolution, all of them corresponding to contemporary problems.

Hughes, Thomas. “Emerging Themes in the History of Technology,” Technology and Culture 20 (1979): 697-711.

Kranzberg, Melvin. “Technology and History: ‘Kranzberg’s Laws,'” Technology and Culture 27 (1986): 544-560.

Mayr, Otto. “The Scientific-Technology Relationship as a Historiographic Problem,” Technology and Culture 17 (1976): 663-673.

Hughes, Kranzberg, and Mayr address a crucial difficulty of historians in discussing technology and science: the problem of imprecise (often overlapping) definitions of those terms.

Pacey, Arnold. “Beliefs about Progress,” pp. 13-34 in Arnold Pacey, The Culture of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1983.

Pacey espouses a historical analysis of industrialization postulated by Christopher Freedman, Simon Kuznets, and N. Kondratieff: the last 200 years of technological progress should be viewed “as a succession of waves of innovation” (p. 31). Four historical waves are identified from the 1760s to the 1940s.

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Reference Works

“The Industrial Revolution.” In Great Soviet Encyclopedia. A translation of the third edition, vol. 21. New York: Macmillan, 1975.

The Industrial Revolution viewed from a Marxist-Leninist perspective. There is much emphasis on the “triumph” of “the capitalist mode of production.” Later industrialization is characterized by “the production of machines by machines, that is, in the development of machine production based on the extensive use of machine technology” (p. 135).

The Industrial Revolution and After. Vol. 6 of The Cambridge Economic History of Europe. H. J. Habakkuk and M. Postan, Editors. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965.

Landes, D. “The Industrial Revolution.” In the general article, “Europe,” Encyclopedia Britannica: Macropaedia. 1987. Vol. 18, pp. 777-785.

Science, Technology, and Industrialization in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries.

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General Sources

Bernal, J. D. Science and Industry in the 20th Century. London: Routledge and Kegal Paul Ltd., 1953.

Bernal, J. D. The Scientific and Industrial Revolutions. Vol. II of Science in History. 4 vols. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1971.

Boyle, Charles, People, Science, and Technology. Brighton: Wheatsheaf Books, 1984. Calder, Ritchie. The Evolution of the Machine. New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1968.

Chapters on the early and later industrial revolutions, and the relationship between science and technology.

Cohen, I. Bernard. “The Revolution in Applied Science.” Pp.324-327 in Revolution in Science. Cambridge, Mass.:Harvard University Press, 1980.

Drucker, Peter. “Technological Trends in the Twentieth Century.” Pp. 10-22 in Technology in Western Civilization, Vol. II. Melvin Kranzberg and Carroll Pursell, Jr., Editors. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Goodman, D. C. and C. A. Russell. Science and the Rise of Technology Since 1800. Bristol [England]: The Open University Press, 1972.

An anthology of primary source materials on science and technology. Includes sections on the Industrial Revolution, engineering, and communications. Among the primary sources is Perkin’s paper on “The Origin of the Coal-Tar Industry,” first published in 1896.

Lilly S. “The Industrial Revolution in Maturity (1815-1918).” Pp. 113-141 in S. Lilly, Men, Machines and History. New York: International Publishers, Inc., 1966.

Thackray, Arnold. “The Industrial Revolution and the Image of Science.” Pp. 3-20 in Arnold Thackray, Science and Values. New York: Humanities Press, 1974.

Valuable for its discussion and criticism of the “later Victorian, Marxist, and Idealist” interpretations of the relationship between science and the Industrial Revolution.

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Industrialization in Specific Countries

Checkland, S. G. The Rise of Industrial Society in England, 1815-1885. London: Longmans, Green and Co., Ltd., 1964.

Cipolla, Carlo M. The Emergence of Industrial Societies. Vol. 4 of The Fontana Economic History of Europe. Sussex, England: The Harvester Press, 1976.

The “first” and “second” industrial revolutions in various European countries.

Henderson, W. O. The Industrial Revolution on the Continent: Germany, France, Russia, 1800-1914. London: Frank Cass and Co., 1961.

Layton, Edwin. “Mirror-Image Twins: The Communities of Science and Technology in 19th Century America,” Technology and Culture 12 (1971): 562-580.

Musson, A. E. The Growth of British Industry. London: B. T. Batsford Ltd., 1978.

Musson focuses on later industrialism’s new sources of power (e.g., oil and electricity), new forms of transportation, and new materials. For Britain, the most important years of the second Industrial Revolution were 1914-1939.

Wrigley, E. A. Continuity, Chance and Change: The Character of the Industrial Revolution in England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Distinguishes between the first and second industrial revolutions economically. Organic fuel sources are the major innovation of the first, and attention to minerals are the driving feature of the second.

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“Revolution” in Communication, Chemistry, and Electricity

Dibner, Bern. “Communications,” pp. 452-468 in Technology in Western Civilization, Vol. I, M. Kranzberg and Carroll Pursell, Jr., Editors. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Haber, L. F. The Chemical Industry During the 19th Century. London: Oxford University Press, 1958.

Describes how chemistry “freed itself from the connection with medicine and metallurgy and became a distinct subject and a profession” (p. 25).

Multhauf, Robert. “Industrial Chemistry in the 19th Century,” pp. 468-489 in Technology in Western Civilization, Vol. I, M. Kranzberg and C. Pursell, Jr., Editors. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Sharlin, Harold. “Applications of Electricity,” pp. 563-578, in Technology in Western Civilization, Vol. I, M. Kranzberg and C. Pursell, Jr., Editors. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.

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Smith and Wesson factory

Rationalization of Production and Management

Beniger, James R. The Control Revolution: Technological and Economic Origins of the Information Society. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.

Beniger attempts to apply lessons about communication and control from the United States’ recent experience with computers in business to to the precomputer era. Read Beniger after reading Chandler, Visible Hand.

Guest, Robert. “The Rationalization of Management,” pp. 52-64 in Technology in Western Civilization, Vol. I, M. Kranzberg and C. Pursell, Jr., Editors. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Hounshell, David. From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984.

Nelson, Daniel. Frederick W. TaylorTaylor, F. W. and the Rise of Scientific Management. Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1980.

Rae, John. “The Rationalization of Production,” pp. 37-52 in Technology in Western Civilization, Vol. II, M. Kranzberg and C. Pursell, Jr., Editors. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.

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Science in Industry and the Universities

Cardwell, D. S. L. “The Development of Scientific Research in Modern Universities: A Comparative Study of Motives and Opportunities, ” pp. 661-677 in D. S. Cardwell, Scientific Change. London: Heinmann Books, 1963.

Chandler, Alfred. The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1977.

Lewis, W. David. “Industrial Research and Development,” pp. 615-634 in Technology in Western Civilization, Vol. II, M. Kranzberg and C. Pursell, Jr., Editors. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Mendelsohn, E. “The Emergence of Science as a Profession in 19th Century Europe,” pp. 3-48 in The Management of Scientists, Karl Hill, Editor. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964.

Reich, Leonard. The Making of American Industrial Research: Science and Business at GE and Bell, 1876-1926. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

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New Roles for Scientists

Hughes, Thomas. “The Electrification of America: The System Builders,” Technology and Culture 20 (1979): 1224-161.

For a more detailed look at Hughes’ theories of “system building,” see his Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880-1930 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983).

Silverberg, Robert. Light for the World: EdisonEdison, T. A. and the Power Industry. Princeton, N.J.: D. Vann Nostrand Co., 1967.

Wise, George. “A New Role for Professional Scientists in Industry: Industrial Research at General Electric, 1900-1916,” Technology and Culture 21 (1980): 408-429.

Wise claims that the GE Laboratory created a new role for scientists: “‘industrial researchers’ rather than inventors, engineers, testers, or calculators.” Wise implies that GE’s successful combination of “research freedom and practical usefulness” was the innovation of Willis Whitney, an MIT chemistry professor who headed GE’s research laboratory.

Wise, George. Willis R. Whitney, General Electric, and the Origins of U.S. Industrial Research. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

A longer study of Whitney’s leadership at GE. This work deals with Whitney’s attempt to retain scientific “freedom,” despite much pressure to produce only technology with clear potential for commercial success.