"National Patterns in the Adoption of New Technology: Mechanical Mine Ventilation, 1850-1914," is a lecture presented by John E. Murray '81, Joseph R. Hyde III Professor of Political Economy at Rhodes College.
We consider the diffusion of a new coal-mining technology, mechanical mine ventilation. Up to the mid-19th century furnace or “natural” means ventilated mines, providing fresh air to miners and evacuating explosive methane (“firedamp”). From the mid-19th century exploitation of ever deeper Belgian mines encountered high concentrations of firedamp (grisou).
Belgian engineers responded by developing cost-effective centrifugal fans, which soon appeared in Britain and the United States. We use surveys of mines recorded at the pit level (one mine could have several pits) to consider patterns of adoption of centrifugal fans in eastern Scotland and the state of West Virginia. Important influences include scale, the presence of firedamp, and the replacement of furnaces.
In addition to contributing to an active literature on historical diffusion of technology, we conclude that Pomeranz’s assertion that European economic growth depended on the “geographic good luck” of proximity to coal is inadequate. Engineering skill mattered also.
Sponsored by the Department of Economics Danforth-Lewis Speakers Series & ASOC (Alumni in Service to Oberlin College)