'Schemes of Practical Utility': Entrepreneurship and Innovation Among 'Great Inventors' in the United States, 1790-1865
NBER Historical Working Paper No. 42
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 not exceptional 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 towards districts conducive to invention.
Published: Journal of Economic History, vo. 53, no. 2, pp. 289-307