« Comments on DeLong | Main | Comments on White »

August 23, 2007


Lara Palanjian

Devine’s article shows how American manufacturers in late 19th and early 20th century realized how technology could greatly improve efficiency and production. While reading the article, I was reminded of the beauty of technological development: it improves standards of living by allowing the production of greater output per unit of capital and labor input. The electric power technology is a fabulous example of this phenomenon, and Devine does a thorough job of explaining the development and use of electric power in American industry. The article demonstrates two qualities of technology. The first is that technological improvements often have ripple effects. For example, the shift from steam power to electric power not only reduced the energy needed to drive machinery, but also led to improvements in factory organization. The electric unit drive not only increased efficiency, but also increased the flow of production, improved working environment and machine control, and eased the process of plant expansion. Second, the article shows how technology often times comes with a lag, meaning that it takes a while for new developments to really take effect. For example, many factories still used the same method of distributing power within factories until the end of World War One, when different power systems within factories were finally implemented. The electric unit drive was also not widespread until the 1920s because the electric group drive was still recommended in literature and also because electric power was not widely available until electric utilities were formed.

Lucy McKenzie

Devine's analysis of the growth of electricity as an input to manufacturing reminds us of the importance of innovation to the production process and to economic growth. It also reminds us that the value of these innovations often lies in their application to grounds level operations and the spill-over and initially unrealised benefits they can provide. In Devine's example of electricity, the majority of these benefits come not from the direct savings made as a result of switching to the new technology, but instead from the 'indirect savings' and flexibility in operations that switching provides. After moving to unit drive, factories could better and more flexibly design their spaces, utilise more of the floor area, breath easier and see better thanks to the removal of overhead shafts, and rely better on the speed of the machines. Perhaps the lesson for today's innovators and manufacturers is that in order to reap the full benefits of a new technology, one must consider all its applications and think through the full impact of its introduction, rather than forming assessments based on initial and monetary outcomes. If innovators can work towards multi-functional technologies with indirect as well as direct benefits and wide application, higher market penetration and economic growth will presumably result.

Lucy McKenzie

Devine's analysis of the growth of electricity as an input to manufacturing reminds us of the importance of innovation to the production process and to economic growth. It also reminds us that the value of these innovations often lies in their application to grounds level operations and the spill-over and initially unrealised benefits they can provide. In Devine's example of electricity, the majority of these benefits come not from the direct savings made as a result of switching to the new technology, but instead from the 'indirect savings' and flexibility in operations that switching provides. After moving to unit drive, factories could better and more flexibly design their spaces, utilise more of the floor area, breath easier and see better thanks to the removal of overhead shafts, and rely better on the speed of the machines. Perhaps the lesson for today's innovators and manufacturers is that in order to reap the full benefits of a new technology, one must consider all its applications and think through the full impact of its introduction, rather than forming assessments based on initial and monetary outcomes. If innovators can work towards multi-functional technologies with indirect as well as direct benefits and wide application, higher market penetration and economic growth will presumably result.

Lucy McKenzie

Devine's analysis of the growth of electricity as an input to manufacturing reminds us of the importance of innovation to the production process and to economic growth. It also reminds us that the value of these innovations often lies in their application to grounds level operations and the spill-over and initially unrealised benefits they can provide. In Devine's example of electricity, the majority of these benefits come not from the direct savings made as a result of switching to the new technology, but instead from the 'indirect savings' and flexibility in operations that switching provides. After moving to unit drive, factories could better and more flexibly design their spaces, utilise more of the floor area, breath easier and see better thanks to the removal of overhead shafts, and rely better on the speed of the machines. Perhaps the lesson for today's innovators and manufacturers is that in order to reap the full benefits of a new technology, one must consider all its applications and think through the full impact of its introduction, rather than forming assessments based on initial and monetary outcomes. If innovators can work towards multi-functional technologies with indirect as well as direct benefits and wide application, higher market penetration and economic growth will presumably result.

Breana Pennington

Devine’s thorough explanation of the shift to electric power shows the complexity in adopting new technologies. When electricity was first being introduced in 1883 factories were distributing power through line shafts and pulleys, which took a lot of time to maintain while continuing to run the risk of catching fire. The companies who did see the advantages of switching from steam to electric power had to wait until machines were developed for the production of their products that were compatible with the new technology. This was a very long process, for electricity was not in widespread use until the 1920’s. This is surprising today since new technologies are developed and implemented at an incredible speed, allowing companies to gain a competitive advantage over their competitors, even if only for a short time. It is very important to note that not only direct advantages are gained from a new technology, but also numerous indirect advantages. Such advantages are seen in the shift to electric power, with the most important being the indirect benefits of increased output and production efficiency, as well as improved working conditions.

Tiffany Tam

Devine's analysis was very straight to the point, thus making it very easy to read and understand. It reminded me of how simple technology used to be (when the term ipod, mp3, dvd, cd didn't even exist)and how even though something so simple as changing gas run machines to electric run machines changes the world significantly. I am reminded that life wasn't always as easy as it is today, communication through cell phones, television broadcasting and the internet is what makes mine and I'm sure many other peoples lives go round. This article was very simple, and almost common sense in that a student in high school would have chosen the topic to write a paper on. The high school student obviously wouldn't have been as articulate nor would they have analyzed it as well as Devine has, but there was no complexity in the thesis of this paper which left me a bit disappointed. On the other hand Devine did bring up good points about the speed and efficiency of certain machines and how specifically it changed and altered the way our economy runs today. All in all, it was more of an informative essay rather than one that enlightened the reader with a new philosophical way of looking at the world.

Huinan Zhang

Devine's article is very easy to understand but at the same time very knowledgeable. He portrayed the manufacturing method and process change since 1880. It is very interesting to find out the relationship between the invention of electricity and machinery change. Only after electricity is invented, can manufactures start to replace the steam and be slightly more efficient. However, even though they start to use electricity as the main power, the output efficiency cannot improve dramatically until they stop using line shaft and avoid the friction lost through out the process. So this is a two way improvement, only after the invention of electricity and improvement of manufacturing method can the output increased to the peak.

Minna Howell

Devine outlines the shift from steam power to electric power from 1880 to 1930 in the United States and argues that the cost savings associated with that shift were not as important other benefits, which he refers to as "indirect savings." He takes a step-by-step approach in illustrating the shift to electric power which I found both helpful and organizationally efficient. For example, he first describes the shift from electricity as a means of power transmission to electricity as a means of power within factories. He then decribes the shift to the "electric group drive" and goes on to illstrate the consequences and benefits of the "individual drive" wherein the motor is mouted directly on the machine being driven. Devine lists the wide array of benefits associated with the "individual drive," such as the elimination of power losses due to friction, the increase in flexibility associated with the design of the building, and the improvements in illumination and ventilation within a building. Although these benefits provide for a convincing argument in terms of the weight placed on "indirect savings" instead of cost savings, many of the benefits he describes had already been captured after the installation of the electric group drive and I feel he did not differentiate the benefits associated with individual drives as opposed to electric group drives to a sufficient degree.

Tiffany G T Tam

Devine’s article is intriguing and very informative. He does a really good job of explaining the transition of technology. He also provides diagrams and illustrations to go along with the reading so that it makes it a lot easier to understand and visualize. It is interesting to read about how the start of these electrical factories came about. The transformation of technology is not a topic that is often taught in class so it is fascinating to learn about it. He analyzes different methods of manufacturing and process changes since 1880. It is not hard to believe that electricity became the preferred method of power distribution within manufacturing plants. Electricity plays an important role in our society today; without it, it would be very difficult to operate the simplest things. It is always captivating to learn the origins of some of the things we take for granted today.

Richard Park

Devine’s article discusses the changes in energy technology that resulted during the Industrial Revolution, and development of factories which resulted from such changes. The first factories used fast-moving streams to translate moving water into mechanical motion, and the power was transmitted by systems of belts and gears. Eventually, the refinement of the steam engine during the late 1800’s made energy a transportable input. The steam engine could be operated anywhere, with only the availability of coal as its only constraint, and therefore, the steam engine widened the location options for factories. However, the development of electricity significantly changed the location patterns of factories. The steam engine powered gear systems were replaced by small electric motors and rapid improvements in the electrification allowed factories to be hundreds of miles from generating plants. In general, the development of electricity decreased the importance of energy considerations in location decisions, which allowed for firms to increase productivity greatly.

Lauren Tombari

Before reading this article, I had never thought about how important different energy sources can be. Previously, I knew that nineteenth-century factories used energy sources such as waterwheels to power their machines, but I had only a vague impression of how waterwheels actually worked and provided power. Devine provided a very clear and thorough explanation of how line shafts, or systems of belts and pulleys, distributed power throughout the factory. It made sense the way Devine explained it that the line shafts were inefficient due to the energy losses from friction. I also hadn’t thought about how all of the machines in a factory, or at least a certain section of a factory, would have to be operating under this system, even if they weren’t needed. It had never occurred to me that the switch to electricity, especially electric unit drive, could have had such a profound effect on the way these manufacturing processes were organized. Because of electricity, machines could be arranged in a line for smooth production, an optimum speed for each machine could be maintained, floor space could be optimized, and the factory environment itself became more salubrious for the workers. My only criticism of this article is that I would have liked a more detailed explanation of AC versus DC electricity.

As Tiffany commented previously, I too found it interesting to consider how slowly technology changed during the nineteenth century, as opposed to the rapid rate of technological change today. It took approximately forty years from motors first being used in manufacturing in 1883 to when electricity was the predominant energy source in the 1920s! It was this slow even though people could see exactly where the technology was headed, such as the engineer who was quoted: “Not very long ago many hesitated to assert definitely that the motor drive had come to stay, while today it is only a question of what kind of motor drive” (362). It is amazing compared to today.

Chris Schoeneborn

The rapidity at which electric unit drive motors replaced direct line drive methods of powering machinery is extraordinary. Within a few decades, line shafts driven by water or steam became obsolete and the transition to individual motors powering machines was in full effect. What I found to be most interesting about this transition was that the savings on indirect costs were far superior to the direct costs of power, labor, and capital. Direct costs of electricity only represented about one to three percent of total production cost for a firm. The indirect savings were associated with increased productivity and increased output capacity. Many firms using unit drive realized great expansions in output relative to unit of input. Within a few decades near the turn of the 20th century, Nikola Tesla's alternating current polyphase induction motor, marketed by Westinghouse, became the most efficient and productive method to operating individual machines. In combination with other innovations, such as the steam turbine, factories realized economies of scale.

Ji Y Lee

Devine’s article shows how the transition of the production of energy from steam to electricity was not as a smooth transition as it was from water to steam. The transition from water to steam was rather smooth because the two forms of energy could be applied without too much technical change. But applying electrical power to manufacturing plants was totally different. So it took many years for people to study and understand electrical power before putting it to use. They then realized how efficient and flexible electrical power was compared to steam. Devine also shows how productivity and gnp were correlated with the coming of electricity.

Ian Ebert

Devine discusses the shift from steam power to electrical power in his article “From Shafts to Wires: Historical Perceptive on Electrification.” I was not surprised to see that the shift was driven by manufacturers in order to save money in production. Natural gas and electricity was important in the manufacturing process in that it allowed producers to efficiently produce more goods. This is one of the main reasons that the United States’ production flourished in the 1900s and set the table for our economy to continue to grow for an entire century. Devine points out that this is exactly what happened as the United States GDP continued to rise as our energy use decreased.

Aseem Padukone

I enjoyed the way Devine delved into the motivations behind the decision made by manufacturers to switch to electricity as a form of powering their factories. Breana mentions the indirect benefits received by manufacturers, and I think this says a lot about the entrepreneurial spirit that developed during that time period and continues to live on today. These businesses were thinking about the long term benefits in productivity, such as minimizing risk of disasters (such as fires) and convenience and efficiency in laying out the factories. Such planning and deliberation exists in today's business world as well, as investments are made in hopes of garnering long term returns.

However, it is important to point out that switching to electricity was beneficial cost-wise as well (albeit it was a negligible benefit). Therefore these early 20th century businesses didn't face huge trade-offs in making the transition from steam power to electric power. It would be interesting to take a counterfactual approach and see how things would have turned out if the short term cost of electric power was much greater than the cost of using steam power. Would such a significant transition have occurred within a span of about half a century had there been a greater risk involved in the investment?

Raymond Kei

In this article, Devine explained the transition of energy generation from water to steam to electricity. Between 1880 and 1930, there are rapid changes in the forms of energy that were produced and used in the U.S., which included the switch from coal to oil and natural gas, the switch from direct use of energy to the use of processed energy. I believe the reason to change from raw energy to processed energy is compelling. By switching to electricity, natural gas, and internal combustion fuel, factories could use energy with greater productive efficiency than coal and water power, which in turn produce more goods and services per unit of capital, labor, energy and materials employed. Furthermore, Devine stated out that the most rapid and complete transition in energy use was the shift from steam power to electric power to drive machineries. I'm surprised by the fact that electricity became popular because factories didn't have to locate near to water sources to derive water power. However, the main driver behind the adoption of electricity was technical and entrepreneurial innovation. Devine also illustrated the difference between group drive and direct drive, which I found interesting. However, the author also pointed out that even though the means of providing power to production machinery had changed significantly, the machines themselves had changed very little. In 1890's most manufacturers viewed electricity in a limited sense; however, during the late 1910s, electric unit drive became the most common method of driving machineries. I believe the use of electricity had played a large part in shaping the American Economy today.

Alice Kousoum

The transition from using steam power to electric power and the implementation of the electric unit proved to be a great technological phenomenon for factories. It allowed for factories to focus less on the repairs made on power and more on the larger, overall structure of their operations. Turning their attention away from the technicalities of power and more towards efficiency innovation allowed factories to become more productive through indirect cost. This served as a milestone for factories as it eliminated overhead cranes, long shafts, and crowded floor space – all contributing factors to the Industrial Revolution, which placed the United States as one of the leaders in technological innovation.

Dawn Oberlin

Devine’s article was extremely informative and thoroughly detailed in the discussion of technological evolution within the United States. I was not aware of how inefficient and costly steam-powered technology was before 1883 and how far we have advanced before I read this article. I was very interested to learn that the switch from steam-powered machines to electric motors was beneficial due to lower costs and higher efficiency, but that the distribution of power within the plants barely changed from the use of belts and pulleys. I also thought that the reasons behind the belief that electric unit drives would replace other drives for large machinery were logical and understandable. This article basically laid out the history of technology in the United States and explained the economic benefits and reasons behind each technological advance. I now understand key economic aspects associated with technological innovation in our country because of Devine’s article.

Yufei Li

Devine’s article on the profound effect of technological changes and advancements in energy is intriguing. The switch from steam to electric power was much more essential to the development of the overall economy than the transition from water to steam power. This was not necessary due to more effective machinery that the advancement to electricity permitted. Rather, electricity created the demand and necessitated infrastructural development in the factories. Surplus is thus derived through indirect rather than direct savings in infrastructure, accounting for the increasing relationship between energy consumption and gross national product that is perceived today.

Elizabeth Talbot

Devine effectively made his argument in this paper - that the shift to electricity was in fact the cause of the growth in the US post WWI. His argument and explanations for why it was that electricity took so long to integrate itself into American manufacturing is compelling. It perhaps says something about time between technological development and technological integration to a level that makes a country or society more efficient and productive. It is interesting to contemplate the fact that industries, companies, and even societies as a whole become entrenched in a certain way of doing things. In addition, the debate that some new technology may or may not be helpful further widens the time it takes to integrate a new technology. For manufacturing at the turn of the century, completely revamping already functioning factories for electric units was probably seen as (and was) a huge expense and a risk -at least in the earlier years of its development. Of course, eventually many firms found refitting their factories to employ electric units was hugely beneficial in its indirect benefits.
Another interesting point of Devine's paper is how one technology (electricity to run machines) can inspire and set in motion other innovations - such as the rearrangement of machines for efficient assembly and the use of electric cranes for work around the factory.

Xia Hua

The article depicts the advancement of technology in the 20th century. Technology becomes more efficient in terms of production and cost. Innovations come about when things seem inefficient. Therefore, the society would be improving from an economic point of view because innovations constantly bring out more efficiency. Electricity for example, replaced coal and steam and generates greater thermal efficiency and productive efficiency. Many technological advances are taken for granted today but they represent technical and organizational innovations from earlier ages. Without innovations, we would be living at a pre-modern world. Even though electricity is an improvement from coal and steam, there’s also room for new innovations. Solar power energy is now a new way of getting energy without using electricity. Perhaps we will be moving from shafts to wires to wireless solar energy.

Jerry Hong

Devine's article basically talked about the technological progress of electric power. At first, it was all human labor. Then there were more advance methods such as the steam-powered machines, which made a lot of people's lives easier and less dangerous. Afterwards, electricity replaced coal and steam to become the widely use source of power due to its high efficiency.

An important message from the article is that because we started to use electricity at a wide scale first, it helped set the US up to be one of the highly innovative countries in the world. Technologies snowball from other technologies. For instance, without an easy way to make and transfer power, we probably wouldn't have computers. Now, without computers, we probably would not have the internet, databases, nor television. Now, imagine that credit cards do not exist and banks have to use human labor to keep track of the treasury. The world would be so different than it is now.

Hence, we should not take it for granted that we have what we do today. Our ancestors put huge investments into researching technology, such as power, in order to give us what we have now. Electricity was the big step of the past. Now we need to create a big step into the future.

Shannon Lee

Devine writes about how electricity has changed technology for the better. We have become more efficient in producing goods and developing technologically because of it. However, this did not happen overnight. It took quite a bit of time for electricity to actually be significantly productive because it took awhile to find a method that would use electricity to its full extent. Factories were then able to become more productive due to the feasibility electricity eventually allowed. America then became one of the leading nations due to their wealth and development. Devine compares this with the development of the steam engine which proved to be efficient right away because it was a simpler idea. However, if the complexity of electricity were never discovered, we would not be where we are today.

Christina Chen

This article is centered mainly on the impact of increased efficiency on the American economy. Essentially, the general trend of technology was towards greater thermal efficiency, which in turn led to greater productivity because output per man-hour increased. I thought Devine did an excellent job of elucidating the progression of technology for the reader; his pictorial diagram of the “Evolution of Power Distribution in Manufacturing” was interested and helped break it down to clear mechanics. Devine’s article really brought back memories of Macroeconomics and reminded me of the impact of technology on the Solow Growth Model and how that “A” factor permanently impacts long-run equilibrium output. Like many other students mentioned, it was interesting to see how Devine outlined the progression of technology development, which illustrated the slow technology development in the 1800s. This slow development highlighted the comparison to our current high speed rate of technology turnover, in which a computer model is outdated only a few months after its release.

Andrew Grosshans

In “From Shafts to Wires,” Warren Devine explains how the shift from steam to electric power in manufacturing effected increases in output per unit of capital and unit of labor over the course of the first part of the twentieth century. Undoubtedly, technological change is important to economic growth as Devine’s argument illustrates, but even great technological developments would mean little or nothing to an economy without the decision of management to utilize the new technologies. As Devine describes, the transition to electric unit drive was a slow one but one that ultimately occurred as management realized that in addition to the lower cost of driving machinery, incorporating electric unit drive would result in indirect effects in increasing the flow of production, improvements in working conditions, improvements in machine control, and easier plant expansion. Devine’s description of the implications that the transition to electric unit drive would have in influencing innovations in factor design and methods of production illustrates the far-reaching impact of even a single technological change in improving economic efficiency. However, because of the interrelated nature of concurrent developments in factory design and methods of production that occurred alongside the transition to electric power, estimating the quantitative impact of utilizing electric power on increases in productivity remains difficult.

Lauren Frasch

Devine analyzes the economic benefits of the transition from steam to electric power in the late 19th and early 20th century. Originally, I wouldn’t have thought that the form of energy that fuels an economy would also be able to shape that economy, but the introduction of electric power dramatically affected productivity and organization of factories, and therefore GNP. Increased thermal efficiency (electric power is more thermally efficient than steam) allowed the manufacturing sector to produce more while using less energy. The primary effect of electric power was that it cost less to produce more. The secondary effect involves organizational efficiency. With newly increased production capacity, factories needed to adapt. The increase in output that electric power allowed induced the manufacturing sector to improve factory organization, which compounded the rise in GNP. Reading this article made me consider our current energy crisis. I feel that we will soon be forced to find more efficient ways to supply energy for our economy, and once we do, our economy will experience a similar increase in productivity as during the beginning of the 20th century.

Kevin Nakahara

The development of electrical applications from being a luxury to a modern necessity is one of the defining advances in modern civilization. Although the production and transmission of electricity certainly inputs more energy than it outputs, it has allowed for efficient, centralized power generation from very large turbines at power plants as opposed to smaller scale, less efficient power generation. In doing so, as opposed to having to transport energy in large tubes, as was the case with steam, all that is required now are smaller, more flexible wires. This revolutionized modern production as we know it. Specialized machines were developed to produce narrowly specified parts in production lines, leading to more efficient production. Also, in the modern economy of knowledge, the importance of an individual worker to have access to his own computer and essential electronics creates more opportunities to harness individual efficiency and creativity. With the coming advent of wireless electricity, a new such revolution may yet take place.

Alex Zhong

Devine’s article was exceptionally interesting in raising the issue that the technological innovation due to the utility of electricity in manufacturing is not fully realized without accounting for the mass of indirect benefits that factories could have taken advantage of. Not only was the cost effective benefit of using electricity important for manufacturers, the positive externalities created by the opening up of more space, having better air quality and lighting, and improving the safety of the work environment increased productivity by large amounts that were just as important as being able to separately power different groups or single machines at low costs throughout a given amount of time.
This issue is relevant in today’s world, especially in industries that see large amounts of innovation everyday. Communications technology is one of very important relevance. When the Internet was first introduced, very few companies took advantage of its ability to market, advertise, buy/sell products and now it is used by nearly every business in the world, with exponential growth occurring in the late 90s early 2000s. One piece of innovation I can recall off the top of my head is the innovation of Skype and its potential ability to make phones obsolete. Although many businesses do in fact use this semi-new technology, without more businesses realizing the potential benefits and cost reducing abilities of this technology, it may be a while before we see large scale use by not only the commercial sector of our society, but by the rest of the population as well.

Andrew Fong

Devine’s article discusses the evolution and advent of electricity and its gradual departure from steam power. In the late 1800’s engineers and architects generally designed and built their factories based on their power supply. That is, a factory would need to be located close to a power source such as steam or a running water pulley. In the same case, even with early electric power, buildings needed to be specifically designed to house the “line shaft power systems”. These line shaft power systems were big single electric powered motors which powered an entire factory; a complex system of belts, shafts, pulleys and lines ran through an entire factory which in turn, were used to distribute the motor’s mechanical power. These electric powered factories were efficient as compared to steam powered factories, however they very problematic and prone to failure. As time progressed, the “group drive” method of distributing electricity was adopted. In this system, a motor would power several machines in a specific group. This method eliminated a lot belts and pulleys and factories were generally less cluttered. Soon, a new method of electric distribution was discovered; the unit drive system. In this system, identical to one used today, each individual machine had its own motor. This method greatly improved efficiency and eliminated all the complicated systems of pulleys, shafts, and lines. Also with the advent of the alternating current, electricity could now be delivered great distances from a power plant. No longer did engineers and architects build their factories according to the location or type of the power source. The indirect costs of using this final, unit drive, method, greatly increased our industrial growth. Not only did this system save energy and space, it also improved efficient of all electric machines enormously.

Wei Shao

We, the human race, have constantly sought for means of higher productivity. From the initial hunter-gatherers who would spend all their time foraging for food, we've evolved through the innovation of agriculture and new technology. Electricity is simply another milestone in our quest for a higher standard of living. It strikes me as odd how it took so long for electricity to be fully utilized. Devine explains this delay as a result of the complicated transition in the methods of harnessing such an energy. He explained how the transition from water power to steam engine is relatively simple because both used the same energy source: water. However, the transition from steam to electricity required the reconstruction of the entire facility. Nonetheless, I still find this argument unsatisfying. Electricity was discovered as early as the 18th century, and was in fact being used in the late 19th century, but was not fully commercialized until the 20th century. The commercialization of electricity as a reliable and convenient source of power was in fact facilitated by WWI when factory mass production required a better power source. Thus, it would seem that it was only by good timing and fortune that electricity was put to use to its full potential. And of course, this new source of energy did not merely boost the existing economy, it in fact created numerous opportunities for new economies by means of new forms of production. It revolutionized the world in the 20th century and initiated a new era of technological advancement, and only time will tell what will be the next great breakthrough in the 21st century.

Timothy Wong

Devine’s article was very easy to understand and his argument about electricity makes a lot of sense. The reason why America has gone through so many technological innovations is because of electricity. It has made everything, including manufacturing, more cost efficient and productive. It’s interesting to read how he talks about the other effects of electricity not relating to manufacturers that could’ve contributed to the growth of the US. Better air and lighting, safety of work environment, and more space. I cannot imagine the US or even the world without the invention of electricity.

Jenna Lee

Devine's article on technology was very enlightening despite the fact that we constantly talk about the technologies of today and of all the new inventions and technology of the modern age, such as the internet. Reading this article and seeing how much technology improved everyday living in the past makes me think about how much we take for granted and how much we don't even really think about electricity or how far we've come since the very first usage of electricity. There have been so many advancements made and efficiency has increased so much over the past few years even, and we barely notice. It's amazing to think how quick, cheap, and efficient some technology has become today. For example, simple electricity. I hope that in the future we'll be able to make more of the US motor vehicles more energy and gas efficient as well. I think that this will be the next big technological project and achievement.

Sumana Maitra

It seems that nowadays technology gets updated at lightening quick pace. Since innovation of the nineteenth century seems so outdated, we forget that people at the turn of the twentieth century experienced the exact same sensations related to technology as we do today. According, to the article, in the span of thirty years the nation went from using steam power to electricity. Nowadays, people feel technologically behind because of the constant stream of new innovations, so to imagine the what the public felt in the end the of the nineteenth century.

Min Park

Living in a society where technology has become such a staple in everyday life, it was interesting to go back through history to a transition point from pre-electric society to the beginnings of modern technology. Devine writes of how technology was able to vastly improve society by using a specific example of the increased efficiency of the factory systems from the line-shifting system to the innovative electric system. He truly emphasizes the importance of technology and how it benefited society, a lesson that is still prevalent in contemporary issues. Items such as the Ipod, the laptop, and the Internet have transformed the way that we conduct information, which is the new “factory” today. This is a good lesson to note for all current innovators to continue to innovate and invest, as life can only further benefit from these additions.

Sarah Lim

It was very interesting to read this article and to read about all of the technological advances that have happened in the past centuries. Like many of the other people have been saying before, it is amazing to see how we take many of the technological advances for granted that many people in the past were grateful to have. When many of these advances were being made, there were many people who were not able to afford these things and were not able to use them so it is interesting to see how far we have come. Reading about these technological advances gives hope that we will be able to make as many technological advances now with other means of energy and to become more efficient with our energy use.

Jenny Kwon

Devine’s article on electricity and the benefits on unit drives over line shafts was quite interesting and easy to read. He compared line shafts, electric group drives and unit drives and the differences that each had on production and efficiency. Line shafts were not efficient for production because it provided power to the entire factory; therefore, if the line shaft was malfunctioning, the whole factory would be out of order until it was fixed. Whereas, unit drives didn’t have to experience these types of inconveniences. Unit drives used less energy than line shafts because only a certain machine that needed to be used can be turned on while the rest are off. Unit drives also provided ventilation, illumination and cleanliness to the factory which improved the quality and quantity of work. Throughout several years and innovation, engineers were able to come up with a more efficient source of energy that would lower a fraction of the cost of production.

Delara Bastani

I enjoyed this article very much because I am currently enrolled in the Physics 8B course here at Cal, whose focus is on electricity. In fact, we are currently studying direct current circuits. I always find it exciting and interesting when material from two classes overlap, especially when the overlap is between seemingly distant subjects like physics and economics. This article gave me a much needed appreciation for the poignancy and power (both physical and social) of the properties studied in my physics class. In solving physics problem sets, I tend to focus solely on the mathematical identities that will lead me to the answer, without taking time to realize that the answer has been and continues to be to the development of society.

I found the article’s assessment of how the electric unit drive helped increase output and efficiency very clear and enlightening. Too add to the article, Devine might include his perspective on “electrification” in light of computer technology, which also requires energy to work and has increased the efficiency of society.

Michelle Chung

Devine’s article talks about how technology and innovation are not only related to improving the standards of living but also importantly, economic development. Devine uses many quotes, reports and statistics as an evidence to show that the changes in the form of energy have affected our lives greatly. The use of electric driving increased the output of manufacturing establishments, and the shift to natural gas, electricity from coal and water power also produced “more goods and services per unit of capital, labor, energy, and materials employed.” I was amazed that the electricity that we use now in everywhere so easily and conveniently has impacted our lives economically, saving producing time, an increase in production efficiency and great reduction in energy consumption due to the adoption of group drive. I hope that we develop in technology more in the future, so we could have more efficient ways of production and more convenient life styles. After reading this article, I think I have become more appreciative about the technology that we use everyday in our lives.

Angela Le

I found that the Devine article drew interesting parallels between the GNP growth of two major eras in history due to the shifts in energy use. It seems logical that with every switch to a different energy form, there would be an increase in GNP. The economic history seems to be driven towards finding the most efficient means of production, and finding cheaper and better ways of distributing energy to fuel factories are going to be incredibly important. I feel that going forward; our energy sources are not only going to be about cost savings and efficiency, but also keeping in mind cleaner burning alternatives. That would be interesting to track since in the past, businesses are less concerned with environmental consequence and more concerned about increasing the bottom-line. However, it will be interesting to see if shifting to cleaner fuel methods like ethanol will have a dramatic effect on the economy.

Kyle Jeffery

I found this article to be quite interesting because I have seen many photographs and films of factories and mills of the late 19th century, but mostly as a background to a labor theme involving the people in those factories. The focus on technology has taught me some new things and verified some curiosities I’ve had about the factory systems. I had never considered the indirect costs of steam-driven factories, such as construction of stronger buildings to support the weight of ceiling-mounted shafts or the dirtiness of the belt systems in textile manufacturing. These costs are not directly associated such as those of fuel, but quickly add up. Devine also covers aspects such as ventilation and lighting improvements brought about by the change to electric drives, and how this also contributed to increased worker productivity. He does not mention it, but it seems likely that improved lighting led to a reduction in accidents.
I find the c.1904 view of engineer C.S. Dunn to be interesting in that it predicted adaptation of the individual drive to even the smallest machines. This idea was taken to the limit in the following century. Now we have innumerable devices of every size that incorporate multiple individual drives. We take these devices for granted, but it was a long time coming. The Black & Decker table saw in my garage can be switched on and off with as little as a finger’s touch, whereas in the late 19th century, it would have required running a steam engine and an entire factory’s mechanical distribution system of shafts and belts to accomplish the same task.

Hanwen Chang

Devine’s article has been an interesting read. The author talked about the transition of mechanical power from water and steam of the shaft and belt drive systems to individual electric motor machine. It’s important to note that development and the spread of technology greatly affect the people’s standard of living. According to Devine, the use of electricity permitted the industry to attain greater outputs and the shifts were important because electricity is proven to be more thermal efficient, at the same time, factories could obtain greater productive efficiency than older methods. The rapid transition from steam power to electricity contributed to the spur in productions in the early 1900s. I think Devine’s paper is well structured with plentiful use of statistical data and figures/graphs to support his research and argument. Technology inventions are essential to our everyday lives. To think about it, without electricity or advance technologies, professor DeLong’s web assignments wouldn’t be possible.

Min Ru Jiang

This article talks about the historic technological developments from the late 1800s to mid 1900s. Devine is very thorough in providing detailed evidence such as tables and statistical data to analyze the effects on technology innovations and advancements. The author talks about how the transformation from steam and water power to electric motor power is efficient on producing more goods and services per unit of capital and labor applied.

I feel that the change from steam power to electricity is one of the most important progressions in US history. From previous readings, we can address technology to be an important ingredient in making countries such as US and Canada to advance quicker than those of other developing countries. Therefore, it is vital to understand the importance of technology influence on the economic growths and developments of a country in order to help developing countries such as Africa to achieve a better well being.

Phat (Richard) Nguyen

Devine analyzes the transition from steam to electric power from the late 1800s to early 1900s. Electricity transformed machines and restructured the demand for labor and capital. Industries were being more productive than they’ve ever been due to the fact that fewer resources were being used to power the machinery. Devine also notes that America’s GDP grew tremendously due to the better efficiency. It is mind-opening to read about the rapid transition from steam to electricity. I can’t help but to think of how we too are also slowly beginning to change the way we use energy. In today’s world, there are talks of nuclear energy, photovoltaic energy, wind energy, and even wave energy from the ocean. Although there haven’t been any huge discoveries at the moment regarding alternative energies, energy and resource researchers seem to be making tremendous progress on where potential future sources of energy may come from.

Angela Vullo

Devine's article concerning the benefits of using electricity as opposed to water or steam power was particularly interesting to me because of the ability of plants to move away from water bodies as a source of water power. I have family in the Buffalo, NY area and I have seen many of the old factories that are right on the water that used to use Lake Erie as a source of water power. This makes the article easier for me to identify with because I have seen what some of these factories actually look like. Many of these buildings are still vacant today because of the fact that factories no longer relied on the water body as a source of power.

Yaoyao Wang

Devine discusses the transition between steam power to electric power from the late 19th century until the mid-20th century. This transition shows how people in the late 19th and early 20th century were able to accept technological change at a fairly quickly pace, which was somewhat surprising to me. Initially, factory production machines were powered by a central power source such as water wheels and steam engines. Machines were all connected by a network of line shafts and countershafts. When electronic motors were first introduced in 1885, clothing, textile and printing manufactures quickly adopted electric motors, though these motors were only utilized to turn line shafts that were already in place. In 1891, cost-analysis indicated that large amounts of power were still cheaper with steam engines than electric engines, though people already realized that electronic powers provided many benefits, for it was no longer required for large factories to be located near water source and. The idea that electricity could be produced at a distant power site added flexibility to the manufacturing industry. The establishment of General Electric and the introduction of electric group drive also showed how much people were seeking to take advantage of technologies instead of worrying about potential obstacles that may arise. Although the process took a few decades to be fully implemented, I feel that this dramatic change in manufacturing took place rather quickly. When we think about technological change today, we are talking about invention and adaptation of new technology every minute of the day. It may sound less impressive for people to truly accept the benefits of technology after decades, but those people touched on some completely new and were able to appreciate electricity’s benefits in as little as five years indicates the open-mindedness of the 19th and 20th century entrepreneurs.

Matthew Cohen

In his article, Devine notices something that is seemingly a given to people of our era—once the ball gets rolling on technology people are more than happy to adapt to an ‘easier’ way of life. While the production of electricity was not as thermally efficient as that of steam or coal, it represented something far more important to a people undergoing such rapid industrialization; convenience. With electricity, factories no longer had to be located adjacent to a means of generating power, a factory could now be placed anywhere that power lines could be placed, making the possibilities seemingly endless. Although electricity was not as thermally efficient, it was far more efficient in production since entire factories were not dependent upon a single network of line shafts and countershafts.

Christina Kiang

I appreciated this article because it took an unconventional approach by dissecting the technology sector of the Production Function. In my past experiences with economic articles, most stressed the importance of the other two inputs, labor and captial. Devine takes us away from our very technology reliant world to the just blooming Industrialized America. He meticulously walks us through the transition from stream to electric based power in manufacturing. Changes and transitions between different sources of power up until electric power only affected the manufacturing businesses in much smaller realms. Electric power allowed companies to operate under fewer restrictions. Flexibility, space, and precision were given to the businesses to work with. Electric power allowed them to operate in whatever working space they wished without worrying about providing areas for huge sources of power and safety issues. Flexibility and precision was evidently displayed in the conversion between electric and mechanical power. Even though these benefits were out in the open for companies to indulge in by late 19th century, it took a few years until companies became more comfortable with electric power and its many wonders. By 1920's unit drive, one of the most common means of power, led the development of the energy-GNP ratio due to immense energy savings and production efficiencies.

Yu (Ray) Zhao

Devine’s article regarding the technological benefits of steam water and electricity emphasizes an important aspect of economics. In order for societies to progress and yield greater output, it is essential that technological and production methods be enhanced. In relations to economic graphs, this is evident in PPF charts in which technological advances are able to shift the PPF slopes outward. Furthermore, Devine describes the difficulty it is to implement certain technological advances (in this case electricity). The example Devine uses in this particular case involves the fact that certain method of power distribution was not fully implemented until the end of World War One. In other words, even though technological utilization may be of aid to a society’s economy, it may or may not be quickly accepted by individuals.

Richard Paek

Although rarely thought about, electricity has changed the way the world functions. The article provides insight into how electricity was adopted and its initial uses. The author concludes by noting that the shift from steam power to electricity was different from the transition from water power to steam power. I think the difference lies in how electricity allowed factories to be farther away from streams or a running water source. The electricity could be made via coal or steam from an alternate source and through the use of power lines, delivered to the factory. Additionally, electricity allowed more floor space because there were no cables or pulleys that needed to be constantly looked after for them to work.

Brandon Leong

Devine's article on the changing landscape of energy usage in the manufacturing sectors during the late 19th and early 20th century provides another example of American ingenuity and innovation. His description of a factory before electrification makes me wonder how America produced anything during the time. It seems like they had to spend a lot of time just creating and laying out a factory in a way just to make sure that all the machinery had power. Additionally, the article mentions how inefficient steam was because of the maintenance of the shafts and machines. The switch to electric unit was brought about not just because of the direct savings cost but more so for the increases in output and productive efficiency. Devine mentions a multiple of reasons of why things improved, but I think the most important ones were the increased flow of production and ease of plant expansion. With electricity, machinces could be now arranged according to natural sequence of operations. Thus, the handling of materials was greatly reduced. Additionally, during the first quarter of the 20th century, there was rapid growth in manufacturing. Without electricity, the manufacturing sector would probably not have been able to expand as fast as it did and thus, the growth of the economy and the health of the nation would not have been as great.

Guadalupe F. Garcia

Devine’s article describes the process of electrification within manufacturing. It compares this process of manufacturing plants’ switch to electric power to the previous processes of switching from other forms of power. What strikes me most about this article is how the manufacturers saw a different power source as only a different tools and still continued to try and use the same process of powering their machines, with shafts, belts and in group formation (they could not power only one machine at a time, they had to power them all). It took a while for manufacturers to understand electricity, aside from savings on energy costs, also had other indirect savings costs that were worth the switch, but these savings could only be done if the plants employed a different formation that would optimize the new technology. As a result, plants switched form powering all of their machines through one large engine, to the use of a greater number of engines connected to a smaller group of machines. The efficient transformation into electric power also included switching to more direct ways of connecting the machines to the energy source to prevent excess leaking of power. Ultimately, the electrification of the manufacturing process succeeded with greater savings, increased output and GNP. However, for this transformation to be successful it was necessary for a new system of plant operations to be implemented along with the new technology.

Erin Trimble

In his detailed analysis of the electrification of American manufacturing between 1880 and 1920, Devine explains how individual developments in energy production and use ultimately allowed for a complete shift to electricity as the main source of power for factories. Being so accustomed to advanced levels of technology, our generation rarely considers what life would be like had such progress not been made. Things that are often taken for granted today, such as the ability to turn a particular machine on or off, represented major technical innovation in the early 20th century. Electricity was more than a new, more efficient source of power; the “indirect savings,” including improved machine control, improved working environment, and increased productivity, were just as important to manufacturers as the energy and cost savings that unit drive provided. It is only by studying the history of electrical innovation that we can really come to appreciate the advances in technology that were made well before our time.

james kim

Devine's article was very interesting because it was a concrete example of things we have been learning in more theoretical manner. Specifically, it highlights the ways in which the implementation of a new technology, which may be better, is very difficult due to the widespread use of an inferior technology, or network effect. It also was interesting to see the quantitative difference between production before and after electricity was introduced in factories. It would be interesting to see in a few years if it is possible for alternative fuels for cars would be able to overcome the widespread use of gasoline and to see a quantitative analysis of the difference it makes.

Chris Guarini

Devine’s article on technological evolution explained the transition of energy generation from water power to steam to electrical power. Between 1880 and 1930, the US changed from the use of coal to oil and natural gas and switch to processed energy as well. However, despite the fact that the U.S. changed the method to providing energy to the machinery, the machines themselves had changed very little. Devine also analyzes the economic benefits from steam to electric power because the factories were able to focus on efficiency rather than raw power. The introduction of electric power dramatically affected productivity and the organization of factories and increased GNP as well. The technological advances also benefited the U.S. outside the factory setting because it allowed the U.S. economy as a whole to grow and also allowed factories to save energy and space. What really forced the U.S. to commercialize electricity as a source of power was WWI when factories needed to mass produce and required a better power source.

Ronald Yokubaitis

Devine's article provides an interesting view of technological development and innovation. Not only does innovation raise the standard or living for individuals but also improves economic development. This article discusses the transition between steam power to electric power from the late 19th century until the mid-20th century. This transition to electricity is a great example to discuss economic development. Factories could now become more efficient because of electric power. They no longer needed to be adjacent to each other in order to be powered but now could be soley independent as long as power lines could run to the newly located plant. This really illustrates the rapid industrialization that was happening during this time in the United States. As well, the article really explains how once a new facet of technology gets going, people really begin to adopt this new way of life.

Rosemary Lu

The transition from steam power to electric power was a milestone in the history of industrialization. Divine’s article explains the technological changes from the late 1800’s to mid 1900’s and reminds the reader of the baby steps that technology first took in events such as the production line. A more unique aspect to Divine’s article was his attention on the growing pains of these technological advances even with some minor set backs like the simple wear and tear of the factory machines that had to be improved over time.
Many people commented on the juxtaposition of having the electricity that we do now in comparison to before the late 1800’s. This pause that Divine creates for the reader today does a good job in reminding the average “speed of light” worker to sit back and remember that that historically life has only been this way for a very short period of time. It is humbling to be reminded of the not so distant past for just a moment not only to be aware of what we have now, but also to continue thinking about the future.

Carson Le

I always knew that the introduction of electricity as an energy source for production was important but never realized how big of a transition it was compared with older ones. By illustrating how line shaft drives work first, Devine gives the reader something to compare newer electric-powered systems to. This makes the indirect benefits of electrification (the increased flow of production, improved working environment, ease of plant expansion, etc.) much easier to visualize.

Realizing these indirect benefits may have been a big step towards further innovation and streamlining of the production process because it may have opened managers' eyes to the potential growth that could be obtained from operational/managerial improvements. While direct cost savings are good, the benefits from efficiency gains are can be huge.

Alice Lin:19078943

In Devine’s article, he discusses the transition of steam power to electric power since the 19th century. This shows that technology enhances the production machines and the people were able to adapt an easier way of life. Since the introduction of electronic motors, textile and printing manufactures quickly adopted this technology although cost-analysis indicates that large amounts of power generated by steam engines were still cheaper. However, the benefits of the electronic motors are that factories are longer required to be near a water source granted mobility and expansion to the manufacturing industry. The use of electronic motors is thus more efficient and easily adapted because it also provides more spaces and more laborers since there is no need to constantly check on the cables or pulleys that were necessary for the old method of production. The use of this more efficient method allowed the manufacturing sector to grow rapidly which illustrates the fast-paced industrialization in the United States.

Grace Park

In this journal, Devine describes the switch to using electricity in the late 1800s. Electricity was first introduced in 1883, and it was used very simply through items such as pulleys. There were differences in opinions of whether or not electricity would come to great use in the future. It says in the journal that "Until the 1890s, most manufacturers viewed electricity in a limited sense: it was simply a good way to transmit mechanical power to factories." This is a very interesting statement because as seen today, obviously electricity has become so much more than just a simple way to transmit mechanical power to factories. Now, electricity is what makes the world continue to function, and become such a necessity in everyday life. Electricity allows production factories to be efficient, and it is necesary for many factories and work places to function. Thus, General Electric has been seen as the one of the most successful companies in the country.

Anthony Samkian

In his article Devine analyzes the implications that the introduction of electricity had on the manufacturing industry in the United States between 1880 and 1920. He goes into great detail describing advantages the electric unit drive had over previous technologies and energy sources used in factories. Not only did the electric unit drive save more energy and reduce the cost of driving machinery, it also proved to be more production efficient and increase output. But the unit drive is just one innovation based on electricity that benefited economic development in the United States. Over the past century, electricity has helped to produce countless novelties that shaped the world we live in today. Almost every device or technology we rely on everyday depends on electricity. This makes electricity one of the most revolutionizing and significant innovations of mankind.

Kenneth Salas

Devine writes an interesting article that walks the reader through the transition of using steam energy to electrical energy in factory manufacturing. Intuitively, one would believe factory owners would transition to electrical powered machines in order to save costs on energy consumption. Although savings in energy consumption were a factor, Devine argues the main cause for the adoption of electrical energy was due to "indirect" costs savings tied to the substitution of steam-powered machines. For example, the adoption of individual electric motors provided producers more flexibility to organize and coordinate their machines in order to maximize productivity in manufacturing. Despite the clear benefits of electrical energy, it took over three decades for electrical power to be widely accepted over steam power since it required factory manufacturers to completely revamp their factory design and machine organization. Thanks to many innovators, the long run advantages of electrical powered machines became evident to producers and is one of the main causes of the exponential economic growth and industrialization the world has been experiencing over the past century.

Chandresh Patel

Devine discusses the transition of power from steam to electricity and thoroughly discusses the economic impact by the switch in power supply. It is interesting to note the severe change in machine productivity due to a use of electrical power, rather than other steam and other sources. Electricity offered low-cost and long-distant power, which allows companies to become flexible and not rely on a water-based location to work each factory. It also led to companies, such as General Electric, to come into existence, allowing for more jobs and higher productivity overall in the economy. According to Devine it is primarily due to electricity that industrialization was able to evolve and further create economic success.

Andrea Roland

I was fascinated by this article (also read it a little late). The development of changing the power source was interesting, not because of the small savings, but because of the ancillary advantages. In Vikram's model of growth, this would be the A for other or technology. The ability to site a factory not next to a water power source, to have more space, to to increase efficiency through, to change building design all are part of that "A." Improved working conditions were also cited by "observers" (page 366) but it wasn't clear if the workers were in agreement.

The comments to this entry are closed.

From Brad DeLong

Search Brad DeLong's Website

Brad DeLong's Schedule

About Brad DeLong

Grasping Reality with Both Hands: Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal