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Knowledge and Technological Change

Paper Session

Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020 12:30 PM - 2:15 PM (PDT)

Marriott Marquis, Malibu City
Hosted By: Cliometric Society
  • Chair: Edward Kosack, Xavier University

Immigrant Communities and Knowledge Spillovers: Danish-Americans and the Development of the Dairy Industry

Paul Sharp
University of Southern Denmark, CAGE, CEPR
Nina Boberg-Fazlic
Southern Denmark University


Despite the growing literature on the impact of immigration, little is known about the role existing migrant settlements can play for knowledge transmission. We present a case which can illustrate this important mechanism and hypothesize that nineteenth century Danish-American communities helped spread knowledge on modern dairying to rural America. From around 1880, Denmark developed rapidly and by 1890 it was a world-leading dairy producer. Using a difference-in-differences strategy, and data taken from the US census and Danish emigration archives, we find that counties with more Danes in 1880 subsequently both specialized in dairying and used more modern practices.

War Mobilization and Its Impact on Patenting in the United States: 1941-48

Alexander J. Field
Santa Clara University


Labor and total factor productivity data indicate that mobilization and demobilization for war between 1941 and 1948 disrupted a strong trajectory of technological advance prevailing during the interwar period, particularly the depression years (1929-41) (Field, 2019a). This paper asks whether patent data can be read as consistent with this narrative. I show that for aviation and shipbuilding, patenting rates were stable compared to the prewar period, but that there were significant declines for chemicals, petroleum, rubber and plastics, instruments, fabricated metals, and other machinery, particularly when comparing 1941-48 with 1932-1940. Similar declines are evident in consumer-oriented sectors where production was eliminated or sharply restricted during the war, including motor vehicles, electrical appliances, and radio and television. Existing explanations for weak wartime patenting focus on “economic conditions” and judicial decisions – particularly compulsory licensing decrees in the late 1930s – along with an intellectual and political environment that allegedly weakened the economic value of patents. The explanation proposed here is that, with a few exceptions, patentable inventive activity declined significantly as a direct consequence of economic mobilization for war.

The Wheels of Change: Human Capital, Millrights, and Industrialization in Eighteenth-Century England

Karine van der Beek
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Joel Mokyr
Northwestern University
Assaf Sarid
University of Haifa


Measures of human capital correlate strongly with technological change and economic growth across areas. In the context of the British industrial revolution recent studies suggest that England's relative advantage in high quality mechanical workmen was the main force behind its leadership (Mokyr, 2009, Meisenzahl & Mokyr, 2011; Feldman & van der Beek, 2017). In this paper we test the endogenous relationship of mechanical skills and mechanization by using the spatial distribution of historical watermills from the Domesday Book (1086) across Britain, as an instrument for their availability more than 600 years later, in 1710-50. We focus on a specific group of workmen who specialized in watermills, and show that its availability created a relative advantage for the mechanization of other industries such as textile and iron-works, which adopted the watermill to their production processes (e.g. fulling-, blowing-, and forging- mills). This connection works primarily through the technological complementarity between the technology of the early watermills, designed for grain grinding, its adoption to industrial uses since the thirteenth century and further technological changes, mainly in textile machinery, in the eighteenth century, on the eve of the Industrial Revolution.
Arthi Vellore
University of California-Irvine
Enrico G. Berkes
Ohio State University
Rowena Gray
University of California-Merced
JEL Classifications
  • N3 - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy
  • O3 - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights