The Rise of American Ingenuity: Innovation and Inventors of the Golden Age

86 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2017

See all articles by Ufuk Akcigit

Ufuk Akcigit

University of Chicago - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)

John Grigsby

University of Chicago

Tom Nicholas

Harvard University - Entrepreneurial Management Unit

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: January 2017

Abstract

We examine the golden age of U.S. innovation by undertaking a major data collection exercise linking historical U.S. patents to state and county-level aggregates and matching inventors to Federal Censuses between 1880 and 1940. We identify a causal relationship between patented inventions and long-run economic growth and outline a basic framework for analyzing key macro and micro-level determinants. We find a positive relationship between innovation and drivers of regional performance including population density, financial development and geographic connectedness. We also explore the impact of social structure measured by slavery and religion. We then profile the characteristics of inventors and their life cycle finding that inventors were highly educated, positively selected through exit early in their careers, made time allocation decisions such as delayed marriage, and tended to migrate to places that were conducive to innovation. Father's income was positively correlated with becoming an inventor, though not when controlling for the child's education. We show there were strong financial returns to technological development. Finally, we document an inverted-U shaped relationship between inequality and innovation but also show that innovative places tended to be more socially mobile. Our new data help to address important questions related to innovation and long-run growth dynamics.

Suggested Citation

Akcigit, Ufuk and Grigsby, John and Nicholas, Tom, The Rise of American Ingenuity: Innovation and Inventors of the Golden Age (January 2017). NBER Working Paper No. w23047. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2900052

Ufuk Akcigit (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Department of Economics ( email )

1126 E. 59th St
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.ufukakcigit.com

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) ( email )

London
United Kingdom

John Grigsby

University of Chicago ( email )

Tom Nicholas

Harvard University - Entrepreneurial Management Unit ( email )

Cambridge, MA 02163
United States

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