Dionysius Lardner, the Denigrated Sage of Early Railways

22 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2019

See all articles by Andrew Odlyzko

Andrew Odlyzko

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - School of Mathematics and Digital Technology Center

Date Written: August 30, 2019

Abstract

Dionysius Lardner has a very poor reputation in the railway history literature. In most other fields he also tends to be remembered either for a few of his occasionally spectacular mistakes or at most as a minor science and technology popularizer. He has not received proper credit for his striking 1846 survey of the railway industry, "Railways at home and abroad." Published at the peak of the Railway Mania, it provided an excellent overview of that rapidly developing industry. Further, although in an inconspicuous way, it punctured several important misconceptions that motivated investors. Had proper heed been paid to Lardner's warnings, much of the investment disaster of the Mania could have been averted. This episode of financial exuberance can be shown to have been doomed to fail, and among contemporary observers Lardner provided the most convincing and comprehensive arguments to demonstrate this. However, little attention was paid to his warnings. This episode provides another illustration of the difficulty in persuading the public as well as policy makers that a dangerous bubble is in progress and bound to fail.

Keywords: Dionysius Lardner, Railway Mania, bubbles

JEL Classification: E44, G10, G24, L92, N23, O16, O33, O38, R42

Suggested Citation

Odlyzko, Andrew, Dionysius Lardner, the Denigrated Sage of Early Railways (August 30, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3445470 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3445470

Andrew Odlyzko (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - School of Mathematics and Digital Technology Center ( email )

127 Vincent Hall
206 Church St. SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States
612-625-6413 (Phone)
612-626-2017 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.dtc.umn.edu/~odlyzko

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