Diffusion of general-purpose technologies: understanding patterns in the electrification of US Manufacturing 1880-1930
Brent D. Goldfarb
University of Maryland - Robert H. Smith School of Business
Industrial and Corporate Change, Vol. 14, Issue 5, pp. 745-773, 2005
I examine the diffusion of the electric motor between 1880 and 1930. I find that long lag times are determined by the degree of technical difficulty in application. After solutions became available, electrification generally proceeded rapidly. To make this claim, I explore three industries: urban transit, printing and paper making. I identify points at which viable electric solutions to particular problems were found and examine adoption patterns both before and after these events. The explanation contrasts with common demand-side explanations such as costly user-adaptation or information diffusion, and imposes conditions on the application of standard supply side models. The results are particularly important when examining the diffusion of broadly defined technological categories, such as general-purpose technologies.
In the history of diffusion of many innovations, one cannot help being struck by two characteristics of the diffusion process: its apparent overall slowness on the one hand, and the wide variations in the rates of acceptance of different inventions, on the other. (Rosenberg, 1972: 191)
Keywords: Tobacco, smoking, educational inequalities, mortalityAccepted Paper Series
Date posted: February 29, 2008
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