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: December 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 industrialization, in the context of Britain's Industrial Revolution. We demonstrate that millwrights, eighteenth century specialists in advanced carpentry and hydraulic machinery, evolved following the diffusion of watermills, and are recorded in the Domesday Book survey (1086). Our results suggest that their availability was a major factor in determining the persistence of English industrial location from the thirteenth century to the eve of the Industrial Revolution. Furthermore, in locations that adopted watermills in the Middle Ages, we show that the availability of physical infrastructure and of highly skilled wrights jointly determined the location of English industry from the end of the thirteenth century to the eve of the Industrial Revolution.