DP14138 The Wheels of Change: Technology Adoption, Millwrights, and Persistence in Britain's Industrialization

Author(s): Assaf Sarid, Joel Mokyr, Karine van der Beek
Publication Date: November 2019
Date Revised: April 2020
Keyword(s): economic growth, England, Human Capital, Industrialization, mechanical skills, watermill
JEL(s): N00, N13, N53, N73, N93, O14, O15, O33
Programme Areas: Economic History, Macroeconomics and Growth
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=14138

This paper examines the effect of the early adoption of technology on the evolution of human capital and on industrialization, in the context of Britain's Industrial Revolution. It shows that wrights, a group of highly skilled mechanical craftsmen, who specialized in water-powered machinery in 1710-50, was quite persistent over time and evolved in the early middle ages, in response to the adoption of water-power technology, first widely recorded in 1086 in the Domesday Book survey. Furthermore, our results suggest that in turn, the availability of physical infrastructure and of highly skilled wrights in locations that adopted watermills in the Middle Ages, jointly were a major factor in determining the location of English industry since the end of the thirteenth century, all the way to the eve of the Industrial Revolution.