Department of Economics
University of Delaware
Working Paper #2007-12
Did Steam Engines Fuel Urban Growth in the Late Nineteenth Century? Less Sanguine Results
Burton A. Abrams, Jing Li, and James G. Mulligan
There exists general agreement that the steam engine’s rise in importance occurred at the same time as large increases in firm size and growing urbanization, but no consensus concerning the degree to which the steam engine served as an exogenous force fueling urban growth. We reexamine the hypothesis that a leading brand of steam engine made by the Corliss Company fueled urbanization in the late nineteenth century. Using previously untapped county-level data on steam power in manufacturing, we show that there is little convincing evidence that either the Corliss engine or even steam power in general was the driving force behind urbanization.
Keywords: urbanization, technology, Diffusion
JEL codes: O14, O33