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Technology 03/04/13

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McMaster University
Jack Leach

Technology increasingly driven by science What we’re talking about today is the second industrial revolution. As science advances, so does technology. If technology advances so does science. We will talk about technology up to the First World War. The speed of transportation rises substantially. Now the entire world is being knit together by faster travel --- planes, faster car etc. We will never see another time where technology has advanced so fast in so little time. Technology increasingly driven by science ● After 1870, economies of scale become increasingly important, driving down average costs – The economy becomes stale because of high fixed costs. There are huge fixed costs, a lot of very expensive machinery used. As production rises, costs fall. Increasing returns to scale. Economies to scale. – Techniques often involve high fixed costs – Spillover effects across firms – Continuous production becomes increasingly important, particularly in metallurgy and chemicals Production that never stops. Steel is a good example. In the past you would make a limited amount of steel. Today you are continuously making steal (24 hours a day). The same is now true for chemical processes. You want to use machinery as intensively as you could. You have invested so much money into starting up something (like a furnace) that you never want to shut it off because it costs so much money. The wealthiest people around this time, were in the rail road production and steal production. Steel ● Wrought iron is inferior to steel for many purposes: it wears faster and is less elastic Cast iron has a large amount of carbon in it. Hard to work with. You need to process it into wrought iron which was more flexible. Steal has more carbon than wrought iron and less carbon than cast iron. Wrought Iron was attractable material You had to get just the right amount of carbon in the metal. ● The problem was to produce high quality steel cheaply—two solutions found ● Henry Bessemer recognized that the impurities in cast iron are mostly carbon, and that the carbon could become a fuel if air were blown threw it – The burning of the carbon helps heat the iron – Blow air into metal – melt cast iron and blow air into it. It would burn the carbon. It would just eat up all the carbon and you would melt it. Carbon acts as a fuel in melting the metal. DOUBLE WIN. – Stopping the process at the right time yields the right proportion of carbon – Many years of experimentation required – People worked on it for years before getting it right. – By 1880, buildings, ships and railroad tracks are being made from steel 1889 – instead of making buildings of stone and wood, you have bridges made of steel, frames of building made of steel, ships made of steel. It reshaped the world. ● On the continent, producers experiment with the “open hearth process” – Mix correct proportions of wrought iron and cast iron; use waste gases to pre-heat the fuel and air – Able to use scrap iron and low-quality fuel – Ultimately cheaper than the Bessemer process – Problem: the process wouldn't work with high phosphorous iron ● Solution (1878): add limestone to the bricks lining the hearth; the limestone and phosphorous combine to form a sludge that can be removed (and converted into fertilizer) – Adopted by the German steel industry, and by Carnegie, the leading American steel producer Chemicals ● Germans take the lead – Artificial dyes, sulphuric acid, ammonia, nitrate, saltpeter – Early successes involved the use of ca
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