Was the Transition from the Artisanal Shop to the Non-Mechanized Fctry Assoc. w/Gains in Effcny?: Evdnc. from the U.S. Mnfctr. Censuses of 1820 & 1850

Kenneth L. Sokoloff

NBER Working Paper No. 1386
Issued in June 1984
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy

There are few more dramatic episodes in economic history than the displacement of the artisanal shop by the factory during the early stages of the Industrial Revolution as the predominant form of manufacturing organization. Despite the attention this development has received, however, the issues of why and how it occurred remain in dispute. This paper employs recently-collected samples of data on northeastern firms from the 1820 and 1850 Federal Census of Manufactures to investigate this transition in the U.S. context. It argues that the evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that even the early non-mechanized factories enjoyed an efficiency advantage over the traditional artisanal shop organization. The growth of average firm size in nearly all manufacturing industries between 1820 and 1850 indicates a systematic movement toward the factory organizational form. Some shops did survive, but they accounted for only modest shares of industry value added and become increasingly concentrated in areas where the extent of the market was less likely to justify firm expansion. Moreover, the estimation of production functions suggests that the non-mechanized industries were generally characterized by scale economies up to a threshold size similar to that of a small factory.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w1386

Published: Sokoloff, Kenneth L. "Was the Transition from the Artisanal Shop to the Non-Mechanized Factory Associated with Gains in Efficiency?: Evidence from the Manufacturing Censuses of 1820 and 1850." Expl-orations in Economic History, Vol. 21, No. 4, (October 1984), pp. 351-382.

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