A. R. J. P. UBBELOHDE, Imperial College of Science and Technology
(in A History Of Technology, Chapter 23, Clarendon Press, 1958)


UNTIL the advent of the scientific age, technological advances were based on craft experience, and the personal element in transmitting such experience from one generation to another, and from one place to another, was exceptionally strong. In these volumes several instances have already been recorded of the transportation of a technology even involving the physical movement of the craftsmen from one centre to another-as in the importation into Britain of Flemish brick-makers and of French glass-makers.

Such imported craftsmen would naturally be particularly secretive in handing on essential details of their craft, but craft skill and experience were at all times valuable personal possessions that needed to be protected by secrecy. This can be conveniently summarized by stating that ancient technologies were based on craft mysteries learnt and handed on privately, a circumstance that makes any comprehensive survey of craft technologies difficult. Other factors, discussed below, contribute to the incompleteness of our knowledge of craft mysteries, some of which involved a remarkable degree of practical knowledge.

As modern science grew in stature, roughly from the scientific renaissance of the mid-seventeenth century onwards, a basic change in the foundations of technology gradually took place. The object of this final chapter of the present volume is to describe and to discuss various aspects of the beginning of the change from craft mystery to science as the basis of modern technology. The subject will be further developed in the concluding chapters of volume V.

The permeation of craft mysteries before 1750

Different sections of this and earlier volumes have surveyed the growth and decay of various crafts in different parts of the world. Though our present knowledge is far from complete, these surveys make it clear that, in the past, copying from other communities - often by the importation of more advanced craftsmen - and local innovation have gone hand in hand, whenever the conditions of material welfare have been sufficiently stable in a community to allow wealth to accumulate.


History records many instances of the rise and fall of nations. Each such consolidation of power, stability , and wealth fostered to high levels of refinement and skill the growth of a diversity of crafts; each might serve to illustrate the permeation of craft mysteries. When the nation declined, a concomitant decline in its technology was inevitable and was often severe. Considered in space and time, world history thus exhibits zones of high-level skills separated by transition regions in which the permeation, and even the survival, of such skills was much more uncertain and obscure.

It is possible to draw contours around centres of culture in the world in successive ages to illustrate the appearance and disappearance of zones of high-level craft skills, but no complete tracing of the permeation of craft mysteries in past ages will be attempted here, fascinating though the story is. For the present survey it is sufficient to refer to the technological consequences of the rise of the Roman Empire, and of the establishment of a firmly administered Pax Romana over considerable portions of the world. This encouraged the permeation of craft mysteries on a quite extensive scale. Examples quoted previously (vol II) include the practices of metallurgy (ch 2), of military engineering (ch 20), of building and civil engineering (ch 12), of glass-making (ch 9), and of the production of ceramics (ch 8).

The decline of the Roman Empire led to a general dissipation of the accumulated wealth and craft experience of the ancient world. Zones of high craft-skills of the Roman Empire are, as it were, separated from the technology of medieval and modern times by a deep valley with marshy bottom not yet fully explored. The submergence of Roman civilization took place earlier in the west European fringe than in the east. As a result, when the upheavals due to barbarian invasions in the west were subsiding, east to west permeation of technological improvements, though variable in intensity, persisted in this direction at least until the Renaissance. This contrasts with technological improvements based on science, which have mainly flowed from west to east.

Craft mysteries and a managerial class

One of the unsolved problems about the handing on of craft mysteries is how supervisors and managers were trained in such of the ancient technologies as called for managerial supervision. The methods used for such training are important for the present survey, since they could provide one of the most systematic approaches to the technological foundations of ancient crafts.


By way of example, in at least two instances capital accumulation in ancient technologies reached a level which called for a class of supervisors; these were mining and metal-working. There is evidence (vol II, ch 4) that well paid mining managers were employed in Roman times to supervise slave labour, but it is not fully known in what form technical secrets were handed on within this managing class. Notwithstanding their relative prosperity , such technites did not enjoy full civic rights (vol II, ch 4); and for this reason only incomplete descriptions of their functions are given in ancient records.

In Renaissance mining, the Fuggers of Augsburg had founded a Bergschule, for instructing overseers of mines and analysts of metals and ores, at Villach in Carinthia. The father of Paracelsus, who was also town physician, taught chemical theory and practice at this school shortly after 1500 [I]. Apart from such fragmentary information, it is difficult to arrive at an understanding of the managerial foundations of ancient crafts, because of the very way in which they were practised. More is known about the various levels of recognized proficiency in medieval trade-guilds. These regularized the teaching and handing on of craft mysteries, which still remained, however, on a basis of personal skills.

Some handicaps to applied science in ancient civilizations

One essential factor in the gradual introduction of a scientific outlook and scientific procedures into modern technology was the increasingly active leadership in this direction given by men in relatively prominent social positions, especially from the seventeenth century onwards. This arose from the widespread growth of interest in natural science amongst this class, who were also concerned in exploiting new economic opportunities. Roman capitalism, and ancient capitalism generally, were greatly handicapped in this respect by the old contempt for applied science, which resulted in the supervisors of ancient craft-processes having apparently been quite out of touch with any scientific thinking.

Various authoritative statements show the general attitude of the actual leaders of ancient civilized communities towards technology. For example, Plutarch (A.D. 46?-120) [2], in his life of the Roman general Marcellus (270?-208 B.C.), has recorded various details about the life and opinions of the greatest of the Greek applied mathematicians, Archimedes (287-212 B.C.). The latter is famous amongst other things for having invented, or having had attributed to him, many highly original mechanical inventions connected with warfare. The pressing demands for


increasingly effective means of attack and defence led to quite distinctive applications of science to military technology even in ancient times. Plutarch states that Archimedes:

did not think the inventing of [ military engines] an object worthy of his serious studies, but only reckoned them among the amusements of geometry. Nor had he gone so far, but at the pressing instances of Hiero of Syracuse, who entreated him to turn his art from abstracted motions to matters of sense, and to make his reasonings more intelligible to the generality of mankind, applying them to the uses of common life.

The first to turn their thoughts to mechanics, a branch of knowledge which came afterwards to be so much admired, were Eudoxus [fl 366 B.C.] and Archytas [428 ?-347 B.C.], who confirmed certain problems, not then soluble on theoretical grounds, by sensible experiments and the use of instruments. But Plato inveighed against them, with great indignation, as corrupting and debasing the excellence of geometry, by making her descend from incorporeal and intellectual, to corporeal and sensible things, and obliging her to make use of matter, which requires much manual labour, and is the object of servile trades. Mechanics were in consequence separated from geometry, and were for a long time despised by philosophers [2].

Geometry, astronomy, and similar pure sciences were relatively advanced even in Greek and Roman times, but among the intellectual leaders there was little interest in the scientific foundations of technology. The social submergence of technology in the ancient civilizations, and the social inferiority of craftsmen, can be illustrated from many old records. Ecclesiasticus [3] admirably summarizes an attitude of mind that persisted for many centuries:

. . . every workman and master workman, that must turn night into day. Here is one that cuts graven seals; how he busies himself with devising some new pattern! How the model he works from claims his attention, while he sits late over his craft! Here is blacksmith sitting by his anvil, intent upon his iron-work, cheeks shrivelled with smoke, as he battles with the heat of the furnace, ears ringing again with the hammer's clattering, eyes fixed on the design he imitates. All his heart is in the finishing of his task, all his waking thoughts go to the perfect achieving of it. Here is potter at work, treadles flying, anxious continually over the play of his hands, over the rhythm of his craftsmanship; arms straining at stiff clay, feet matching its strength with theirs. To finish off the glaze is his nearest concern, and long must he wake to keep his furnace clean. All these look to their own hands for a living, skilful each in his own craft; and without them, there is no building up a commonwealth. For them no travels abroad, no journeyings from home; they will not pass beyond their bounds to swell the assembly, or to sit in the judgement seat. Not theirs to sift evidence and give verdict, not theirs to impart learning or to make award; they will not be known for uttering wise sayings.

Resurgence of craft technologies and the impact of science: some precursors

With the decay of Roman administration and Roman rule throughout the world, many of the more refined crafts gradually lost impetus. It is not the purpose here to describe the decay in the west of crafts derived from Greek and Roman times. The resurgence of craft mysteries under the more stable social and economic conditions of medieval times likewise does not concern us directly. Historical research is paying increasing attention to the upsurge of medieval science, but these activities of the human intellect could not properly be described as having any profound scientific influence on technology. What must be considered in some detail is the strengthened interest in natural science and in the experimental method which spread to a marked extent in the sixteenth, and particularly in the seventeenth, centuries among the very class of social leaders who had for so long held aloof from it.

By far the most complete and well documented record of this new growth of the influence of science on technology can be found in the history of the foundation of the Royal Society under the patronage of Charles II. Before discussing this it must, however, be emphasized that all strong movements in history show precursors; this can certainly be said of the precursors of the seventeenth-century revolution in pure and applied science.

Two brief biographical examples must suffice to throw light on some of these precursors. One was a Renaissance artist whose genius for applied science was at least comparable with that of Archimedes. Leonardo da Vinci (452-1519) has left a long list of projects and inventions, which showed at least an intuitive grasp of the many technological possibilities of applied science. However, there appears to be no evidence that these inventions were based on theoretical scientific studies of anything like the same degree of advancement. The continued and urgent practical demands of the arts of war for new applications of science stimulated Leonardo to devise a number of war machines, including a breech-loading cannon, fire-arms rifled to impart a spin to the bullets, a wheel-lock pistol, and a steam-cannon, the architronito [4]. Leonardo is also reputed to have invented a submarine ship, details of which he never divulged because he was apprehensive of its wrongful use by tyrants.

A second precursor of those who founded the Royal Society was Sir Walter Ralegh (1552?-1618) [5]. This prominent Elizabethan followed many projects of high adventure, but when imprisoned in the Tower (c 1604) he spent his time in writing a 'History of the World' and in chemical experiments, probably chiefly concerned with distillation.


Foundation of the Royal Society

The history of the early years of the Royal Society is particularly important for the present chapter because it records three factors that became important in the mid-seventeenth century in promoting the shift from craft mysteries to science as a basis for technology. First, the Royal Society united a new class of men interested in natural philosophy and its applications. Secondly, it sponsored 'Histories of Nature, Arts or Works', which provided, often for the first time, scientific descriptions of craft technologies as they were practised in the seventeenth century . Thirdly, it stimulated the publication, so that all might know of them, of important new scientific and technological discoveries.

(i) The new class of men. A somewhat biased but historically interesting description of the 'new men', and of the shift of interest brought about by the new developments of natural philosophy, is due to Joseph Addison, writing in the 'Spectator' (No. 262, 1711): 'It draws men's minds off from the bitterness of party, and furnishes them with subjects of discourse that may be treated without warmth or passion. . . . The air pump, the barometer, the quadrant, and like inventions were thrown out to those busy spirits, as tubs and barrels are to a whale, that he might let the ship sail on without disturbance', while he diverts himself with these innocent amusements. ,

An even more closely contemporary, and less patronizing, view of the new men can be obtained from a history of the Royal Society published in 1667 soon after the grant of the Royal Charter (1663) [6]. Thomas Sprat's (1635-1713) description of the wide range of interests in pure and applied science of one of the early members, Christopher Wren, refers to 'so much excellence covered with so much modesty'. According to Sprat, Christopher Wren's works included:

A doctrine of Motion. . . an Instrument to represent the effect of all sorts of Impulses, made between two hard globous Bodies, either of equal, or different bigness, and swiftness, following or meeting each other, or the one moving, the other at rest. . . of all which he demonstrated the true Theories. . . . A History of the Seasons. . . because the difficulty of a constant observation of the Air by Night and Day seemed invincible, he therefore devised a Clock to be annexed to a Weather-cock, which moved a rundle, covered with paper, upon which the Clock moved a black lead pencil so that the observer by the Traces of the Pencil on the paper might certainly conclude, what Winds had blown in his absence, for twelve hours space. After a like manner he contrived a Thermometer to be its own Register. . . . He contrived an Instrument to measure the quantities of Rain that falls. . . many subtile wayes for the easier finding the gravity of the Atmosphere, the degrees of drought and moysture . . . new Discoveries of the Pendulum. . . many ways to make Astronomical Observations more accurate and easie. . . .
He has attempted to make Glasses of other forms than Spherical. Other works include the Theory of Refraction and Dioptrics, Observations on Saturn, Selenography, Magnetical Experiments, Studies of the Geometrical mechanics of rowing, of the dry way of Etching, of the Emendation of Water works, the devising of Instruments of respiration for straining the breath from fuliginous vapours, to try whether the same breath so purifyd will serve again, long lived lamps and registers of furnaces for keeping a perpetual temper, in order to various uses; as hatching of eggs, insects, producing Fossils and Minerals, keeping the motion of Watches equal, in order to longitudinal and astronomical uses, and infinite other advantages; and injecting liquors in the veins of Animals. . . transfusing blood.

Sprat makes it clear that some of Wren's inventions 'he did only start and design and they have since been carried on to perfection, by the Industry of other hands'. But even with this reservation, it is clear that the breadth of ideas and originality of inventions cited are in the same class as those of Leonardo da Vinci.

(ii) Scientific surveys of craft technologies. The 'Histories of Nature, Arts or Works' sponsored by the Royal Society included the following:

Histories of English Mines and Oars. . . of Iron making, of Lignum Fossile: of Saffron: of Alkermes; of Verdigreace: of Whiting of Wax, of Cold, of colours, of fluidity, and firmness. The Histories of Refining: of making Copperas: of making Allum: of Saltpeter: of refining Gold: of making Pot-Ashes: of making Ceruse: of making Brass: of Painting, and Limning: of Chalcography: of Enamelling: of Varnishing: of Dying:

The Histories of making Cloth: of Worsted-Combers: of Fullers: of Tanners, and Leather making: of Glovers, and Leather dressing: of Parchment, and Vellum making, and the way of making transparent Parchment: of Paper making: of Hatters: of making Marble Paper: of the Rowling Press.

The Histories of making Bread: of Malt: of brewing Beer and Ale in several places: of Whale-fishing: of the weather for several years: of Wind-mills and other Mills in Holland: of Masonry: of Pitch and Tar: of Maiz: of Vintners: of Shot: of making Gun powder: and of making some, that is twenty times as strong as the common Pistol powder.

These openly accessible surveys of contemporary craft technologies were an essential first step towards applying scientific principles to technology generally.


(iii) The new inventions. An impressive list of instruments is attributed by Sprat to the activities of the new Society. His list includes:

Astronomical instruments.
Clocks and watches.
Instruments for compressing and rarefying the Air.
Gravity scales.
Magnetic scales.
Surveying instruments.
Geological augers.
Instruments to measure the velocity of movement of objects in water.
Diving apparatus, a Diving Bell, means of supplying air to divers.
Apparatus to measure wind velocity .
Rotary-vane water pump.
Corn planters.
Water analysers.
Engines to determine the force of gunpowder by weights, springs, etc.
Do. to measure the recoiling and other properties of guns.
Several instruments to improve hearing.
Several chariots for progressive motion.
A chariot way-wiser measuring exactly the length of the way of a chariot or coach to which it is applyd.
An instrument for making Screws with great dispatch.
A way of preserving the most exact impression of a Seal, medal or Sculpture.
An instrument for grinding optick glasses.
Several excellent telescopes of divers lengths including one sixty foot long, with a convenient apparatus for the managing of them.
Seventeenth-century views about applied science

Sprat records interesting contemporary views about how far new discoveries in science could benefit the advancement of technology . He criticizes - on grounds similar to those we have already discussed-the complete failure of the Greeks and the Romans to apply science. Sprat takes a balanced view about contemporary applications. He refers to 'corruptions of Learning, which have been long complained of but never removed: The one, that Knowledge still degenerates to consult present profit too soon; the other, that Philosophers have bin always Masters, and Scholars; some imposing and all the others submitting; and not as equal observers without dependence.' He quotes as a significant defect of learning 'the rendering of Causes barren: that when they have been found out, they have been suffered to lie idle; and have been onely used, to increase thoughts, and not works. . . . To this the Royal Society has applyd a double prevention; both by endeavouring to strike out new Arts, as they go along; and also, by still improving all to new experiments.' These views about the interaction between pure and applied science remain apposite today.


In the rest of seventeenth-century Europe, this growth was paralleled under the leadership of scientists such as Descartes (1596-1650), Huygens (1629-94), Leibniz (1646-1716), and many others who openly published their scientific discoveries. Open publication, even when limited to discoveries in pure science, is in marked contrast to the concealment traditional and necessary in the writings of early alchemists and inventors. Such publication of discoveries in applied science was undoubtedly helped by the granting of limited but effective patent protection. The change in attitude to knowledge is clearly marked, for example, in the diary of John Evelyn, a Fellow of the Royal Society, covering the period 1640-1706. He records both attendances at the public experiments sponsored by the Royal Society, and the claims of contemporary alchemists who kept their methods secret from him.


The stimulating effect of scientific ideas and methods on long-established crafts is easy to grasp. In addition, from the seventeenth century onwards entirely new technologies, without any craft precursors, were developed to meet new demands created by the reorganization of manufactures and of town and country life generally described as the industrial revolution. But often, until the economic and social pressure of these new demands became really strong, entirely new technological applications of the new scientific principles met with only limited success. In contrast with present times, money to support adequate research and development was not then readily mobilized. Methods of actually creating new demands did not appear with any prominence until the twentieth century. In the development of the earliest new technologies demand had to spring from the general economic development of a community.

For example, in the seventeenth century one pressing demand was for new sources of power to run pumping-engines for mining operations. When mines got deeper, as shallow veins of ore were exhausted, the need to pump out water and to provide ventilation systems became progressively more urgent (ch 3). Quite elaborate pumping arrangements had to be driven by humans - or horses, or even goats and lesser animals - in a treadmill. In his De re metallica (1556) Agricola gives rather pathetic illustrations of some mechanical contrivances recommended for harnessing the driving-power of animals of various sizes.

Even before the seventeenth century, scientists had considered various ways of harnessing the power of fire [7], but no useful application of steam-power was made in the ancient world, partly because there was no effective demand in a society organized to use the driving-power provided by men and animals.


Some mining enterprises in the seventeenth century had both the urgent need for new sources of driving-power and the money to pay for rather costly contrivances to meet this need. The incentive is clearly described in a report written in 1688 by Sir Samuel Morland (1625-95), Master Mechanic to Charles II, for the king's information: 'Water being evaporated by fire, the vapours require a greater space, about 2000 times that occupied by the Water. And rather than submit to imprisonment it will burst a piece of ordnance. But being controlled according to the laws of statics, and by science reduced to the measure of weight and balance, it bears its burden peaceably, like good horses, and thus may be of great use to mankind, especially for the raising of water.'

Many inventors in the seventeenth century were attempting to harness the power of fire and steam (ch 6). Hero's book on 'Pneumatics' had been translated from the Greek at Bologna in 1547. At least two suggestions derived from this book were to use his aeolipyle - a small steam-jet rotor-instead of dogs to turn a roasting-spit, and to use the jet of steam from a bronze kettle to drive an impulse-wheel (Branca). Another inventor with many ideas was the Marquis of Worcester (16o1-67); his close collaboration with his mechanic, Caspar Kaltoff, illustrates both the increasingly active part in the development of applied science taken by socially prominent men and their dependence on collaboration with craftsmen practising traditional methods. No clear description of the Marquis's 'water-commanding engine', constructed around 1663, appears to be available; the details were no doubt kept secret deliberately.

Other scientists, such as Denis Papin (1647-1712 ?) and Huygens, are known to have experimented with the expansive force of gunpowder and of steam in cylinders fitted with pistons. Thomas Savery's (165-1715) first pumping-engine for raising water was a pistonless vacuum-producing device; when exhibited to William III in 1698 it raised water to a height of about 16 fathoms. Savery was a versatile military engineer much interested in profitable inventions. He collaborated with Thomas Newcomen to produce, about 1712, the first successful piston steam-engine for pumping water from the mines at Dudley Castle. The working of this stationary engine has been described by Smiles: 'the working of a Newcomen engine was a clumsy and apparently a very painful process, accompanied by an extraordinary amount of wheezing, sighing, creaking and bumping. When the pump descended, there was heard a plunge, a heavy sigh, and a loud bump. Then as it rose, and the sucker began to act, there was heard a creak, a wheeze, another bump, and then a rush of water as it was lifted and poured out.'


The Savery-Newcomen venture, though evidently economic for certain pumping stations in mines, had only limited appeal in other applications of inanimate power, because of its inefficiency and low ratio of power to weight. Its development illustrates the effectiveness of collaboration between the craftsman Newcomen and the more theoretical inventor Savery. However, really scientific principles concerning heat and mechanical power were not applied to the steam-engine before the work of James Watt (1736-1819). Watt's development of a condenser for the steam, separated from the cylinder in which the piston moved, was closely linked up with and inspired by the scientific researches of Joseph Black (1728-99), then professor of chemistry at Glasgow University. As will appear more fully below, Black was the first to measure heat-energy quantitatively, and this led to his discovery of latent heat. James Watt began his technical work as mathematical instrument-maker to Glasgow University . His many discussions with Black, and his own scientific experiments, undoubtedly contributed to the much closer dependence of his steam-engine on scientific principles and on the theory of heat, compared with the Savery and Newcomen engine.

Application of Watt's designs of piston steam-engines was at first hampered by the difficulty of financing the necessary research and development, although Black assisted further by lending Watt 1500 pounds. This difficulty was finally overcome when Watt made a partnership agreement with Boulton: the first commercially successful Boulton & Watt engine was ordered in 1776. Subsequent applications of steam-power to requirements other than pumping water from mines developed slowly but steadily. They do not concern us in this section, which aims to trace the shift from craft to science in the foundations of power-technology, but it is worth noting that Watt's early collaboration with the scientists in Glasgow University was followed by a continued friendship and collaboration with scientists in later years. Both Boulton and Watt were members of the 'Lunar Society' at Birmingham, which included active scientists such as Erasmus Darwin, Samuel Galton, James Keir, and Joseph Priestley.


The life of James Watt provides an important illustration of the personal influence during the eighteenth century of scientific leaders like Joseph Black. Similar instances may be found in the lives of other leading scientists of the period under review. It would be particularly valuable to have records of the kind of consulting work undertaken, since this has the most direct bearing on applied science, but unfortunately such records are often very incomplete. However, four examples relating to the period from about 1750 to about 1850 may be quoted.


In addition to advising Watt, Black was also the first to recommend the use of hydrogen for filling balloons, on the basis of the specific gravity of the gas as determined by Henry Cavendish. Many instances are on record of his contributions as a scientific consultant to the bleaching industry, to the ceramic industry, to Lord Hopetoun's project for working Scottish ores, to the coal-tar industry, to distilleries, and to the malleable and cast iron industry [8]. The French chemist Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743-94) acted as consultant on the Paris water-supply, on the production of gunpowder in the French arsenal, on prisons, on balloons, and on the hospitals of Paris. He was also particularly active in advising on applications of science to agriculture, which was then a matter of great importance in France. In England, Michael Faraday (1791-1867) was a member of the scientific advisory committee of the Admiralty, scientific adviser to Trinity House, and a member of the committee for the improvement of glass for optical purposes [9]. The Ulster-Scottish physicist William Thomson, later Lord Kelvin (1824-1907), played an extremely active part in the development and laying of the first transatlantic cables (1856-66), and was responsible for many improvements to navigation instruments.

In addition to the instances recorded above, many other examples might be found to illustrate the permeation of technology by a scientific outlook through the personal influence of eminent scientific consultants. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries other more broadly based modes of permeation can be plausibly attributed to the influence of messianic or philanthropic concepts of the social functions of applied science. Four examples, of differing degrees of importance, illustrate the kinds of influence referred to :

(i) The work of the French encyclopaedists.

(ii) Count Rumford's philanthropic plans at the Royal Institution to promote new applications of science for the relief of poverty.

(iii) Contemporary enthusiasm for the messianic power of applied science as a liberator from the servitude of hard labour.

(iv) The formation in 1831 of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

(i) The French encyclopaedists. The famous Dictionnaire raisonne' des sciences, des arts et des metiers under the editorship of Denis Diderot (1713-84) and Jean d' Alembert (1717-83) first appeared, in 39 volumes, during the period 1751-72. Its general form is obviously inspired by earlier encyclopaedias, such as that produced by Ephraim Chambers (d 174O) in 1728. But by reason of its amplitude the French encyclopaedia, like the 'Histories of Nature, Arts or Works)


sponsored by the Royal Society in the preceding century , had an important systematizing influence on contemporary technology in France, which was then in a state of transition from a craft to a scientific basis. As is well known, Diderot's encyclopaedia is also widely considered to have made an important contribution to the ferment of controversies that led to the French Revolution, but this aspect of the work does not directly concern us here.

(ii) Count Rumford (1753-1814), was an American born in Massachusetts of English stock, and had been concerned with a number of philanthropic schemes in Munich during his services to the Elector of Bavaria: the history of his ideas for developing applied science is of considerable interest for the present survey. In 1796 Rumford put forward proposals for an establishment in London for 'feeding the poor and giving them assistance. . . connected with an Institution for introducing and bringing forward into general use new inventions and improvements, particularly such as relate to the management of heat and the saving of fuel, and to various other mechanical contrivances by which domestic comfort and economy may be promoted. . .'.

Originally the plan was to collect 'perfect and full sized models of all such mechanical inventions and improvements as would serve these ends. . . . cottage fireplaces and kitchen utensils for cottages, a farm house kitchen with its furnishings, and a complete kitchen with all utensils for the house of a gentleman of fortune, a laundry, including boilers, washing, ironing and drying rooms for a gentleman's house or for a public hospital. . . models of newly invented machines and implements of husbandry, models of bridges of various constructions.'

Rumford also made interesting comments about the applications of science to technology in his day. In his 'project' he refers to the causes of the slowness, indifference, and jealousy under which improvements made their way - the influence of habit, ignorance, prejudice, suspicion, dislike of change, and the narrowing effect of the subdivision of work into many petty occupations. According to him,

between workmen and merchants comes in a class of men who have devoted themselves to the labor of observing, analysing, inventing. The movements of the Universe, the relations and habitudes of men and things, causes and effects, motives and consequences, are the powers on which they meditate for the development of truth. . . . It is the business of these Philosophers to examine every operation of Nature or of Art, and to establish general theories for the direction and conducting of future processes. Invention seems to be particularly the province of the men of science.

The immediate outcome of the founding of the Royal Institution turned out rather differently from Rumford's project. This was partly due to the fact that its members, who commissioned lectures and discourses in its early days, stemmed from a social class not at that time widely interested in technological progress or philanthropy, but keenly stimulated by the brilliant scientific discoveries made by such men as Humphry Davy and Michael Faraday in the laboratories of their Institution.

(iii) Applied science as a liberator from servitude. The enthusiasm that possessed some of the early technologists sprang from an almost supernatural confidence in the power of applied science to lighten the burdens that weigh down mankind. This thesis could be established in a number of ways; one of the most direct is to record two extracts from contemporary praise of the new benefits brought by applied science.

The first of them comes from 'The Philosophy of Manufactures. The Scientific Moral and Commercial Economy of the Factory System of Great Britain.' This rather pompous-sounding book by A. Ure (1778-1856) was first published in 1835: the quotation that follows is from the third edition of 1861.

. . . tens of thousands of old, young and middle aged of both sexes, many of them too feeble to get their daily bread by any of the former modes of industry, earning abundant food, raiment, and domestic accommodation, without perspiring at a single pore, screened meanwhile from the summer's sun and the winter's frost, in apartments more airy and salubrious than those of the metropolis in which our legislative and fashionable aristocracies assemble. In those spacious halls the benignant power of steam summons around him his myriads of willing menials, and assigns to each the regulated task, substituting for painful muscular effort on their part, the energies of his own gigantic arm, and demanding in return only attention and dexterity to correct such little aberrations as casually occur in his workmanship. Magnificent edifices, surpassing far in number, value, usefulness, and ingenuity of construction, the boasted monuments of Asiatic, Egyptian and Roman despotism, have, within the short period of fifty years, risen up in this kingdom. . . .

The second extract is taken from a practically contemporary French book by Marc Seguin, Traite sur l'influence des chemins de fer (1839) [10].

To increase the well-being and the enjoyment of material life is today the dominant idea of civilised nations. All their efforts are turned to industry because it is from that alone that one can expect progress. It is industry that gives birth to and develops in mankind new needs and gives them at the same time the means to satisfy them. . . . A thousand inventions are simultaneously born and lead to other discoveries and these in turn will become the starting point for new progress; all these changes concur to the profit of the whole public and tend to make well-being common property. . . . So look, everything is changed around us - the towns, the face of the countryside, the course of the rivers, the work of the peoples, the production of the soil and industry, the distribution of property. . . .
Finally, in our own valleys and across our hills wind and spread long ribbons of iron, along which rush, rapid as thought, those formidable machines which seem to eat up space with spontaneous impatience and which seem almost alive in their breathing and their movement. . . when one remembers that these results are the work of an industry which is only very imperfect, and an art which is in its infancy, one asks what will be the last prodigies to be realised by the perfecting of this art, and one feels a noble desire to contribute to the realisation of these incalculable blessings. . . .

(iv) Founding of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1831. In civilized countries, the pursuit of science and of its applications seems almost inevitably to undergo cycles of activity that are difficult to explain. The foundation of the British Association in 1831 marks one deliberate attempt to counter, by co-ordinating the powers and enthusiasm of a band of experts, what was felt to be a contemporary decline of science in Britain. Its proclaimed objects were 'to give a stronger impulse and a more systematic direction to scientific inquiry, to obtain a greater degree of national attention to the objects of science, and a removal of those disadvantages which impede its progress, and to promote the intercourse of the cultivators of science with one another and with foreign philosophers'.

Subsequent history has recorded only fluctuating preoccupation of the British Association with applications of science to technology. Nevertheless, during the period of its existence the Association has often provided a platform for important debates, and the publicity of such debates has from time to time promoted new applications of science.


One of the ways in which the scientific approach to practical problems permeated age-old craft-technology was through accounts of various crafts compiled by scientists - for example, those sponsored by the Royal Society in the seventeenth century, and those by the French encyclopaedists in the eighteenth. Besides transforming long-established branches of technology, new scientific discoveries in some cases formed the basis of quite novel ones, which never had a craft ancestry, though the full efflorescence of this trend occurred after the period we are now considering. During that period, the most important fundamental advances of science that ultimately led to new kinds of technology were mainly those concerned with the study of various forms of energy.


There were also many new advances in applied science. In a short space it is difficult to list all the applied discoveries without distorting the historical perspective. Two obvious, and often quoted, examples refer to the use of coal-gas for providing artificial light, and to the controlled removal of carbon from molten iron to produce steel in bulk.

The development of the gas industry (ch 9) for the first time made it reasonably inexpensive to supply artificial light for large rooms, as in factories. Work was no longer regulated by the length of daylight, and the practicability of working several shifts made possible the use of machinery too expensive to be left idle for long.

The partial decarburation of molten iron to form steel was another extremely important new discovery, though its practical application was completed just after the period now under review. It provided cheap steel for constructional uses. The first Bessemer converter for blowing air through molten iron, to remove combustible impurities such as excess carbon, was in operation about 1856. The first Siemens-Martin open-hearth furnace, for melting iron under oxidizing conditions to produce steel in large quantities, was erected at about the same time.

As has been noted, the scientific discoveries productive of new technologies were in the main those concerned with energy changes: among these, discoveries in the field of electricity were of exceptional importance.

(i) Electricity from chemical sources. Up to the time of the invention of the now historic pile by Volta (1745 - 1827), electricity had been chiefly known and studied as produced by friction, but the quantity of electrical energy involved is extremely small in most electrostatic manifestations. Somewhat larger quantities of electricity could be studied after the invention of electric condensers or Leyden jars in the middle of the eighteenth century. Researches on electricity by Benjamin Franklin during the period 1746-52 led to his highly practical invention of the lightning-conductor for the safe discharge of low thunderclouds without danger to buildings.

The voltaic pile consisted of alternate disks of copper or silver separated from disks of zinc or tin by disks of absorbent paper soaked in brine. By building up long columns of such sequences of disks high voltages were obtained between the topmost and lowest disks, and large currents could be obtained. The voltaic pile formed a crude electric battery, and more efficient ones were later produced. They all have in common the production of electricity as a result of internal chemical changes. Electric batteries were highly important to the development of the science of electricity. By their means Davy in 1807 isolated sodium and potassium by electrolysis of the corresponding fused caustic alkalis. In this discovery were the seeds of great modern electrochemical industries, such as the aluminium industry , though they were long in germinating.


(ii) Electromagnetism. Studies of magnetic effects around a wire carrying a current obtained from a battery led to the discovery of a number of the basic phenomena of electromagnetism. From these stem the whole of the great electric power-generating and power-using industries of today, though again the rate of progress was very slow. In 1820 the Danish physicist, H. C. Oersted (1777-1851), first observed the magnetic field present around a copper wire carrying a current. Various laws concerning this electromagnetic force-field surrounding a conductor carrying a current were established by scientists such as A. M. Ampere (1775-1836).

The complementary discovery to that of Oersted was made by Faraday in 1831: an electric current is generated in a conductor when this is moved in a magnetic field. Faraday's observation of electromagnetic induction completed the scientific knowledge of interdependent electromagnetic phenomena associated with currents and conductors, and led to dynamos that can generate large electric currents when their coils are rotated in a magnetic field. The industrial significance of this development needs no emphasis.

In an inverted use of the dynamo, electric current is made to pass through coils of wire mounted on a movable frame in a magnetic field, so producing a force on the coils that leads to the rotation of the movable frame. This is the basic principle of electric motors, now of outstanding importance, though the development of the electric motor is again a little beyond the period now under consideration.

(iii) Precision measurements of energy: discovery of the laws of thermodynamics. During the first half of the nineteenth century discoveries less tangible, but quite as fundamental, as those in electromagnetism were made through precise measurements of energy. Such measurements led to a clear understanding of the laws of thermodynamics, which today permeate the whole of power-production on the one hand, and are a determining factor for large sections of chemical industry on the other. For the reasons that follow, however, these very important scientific discoveries affected technology only slowly.

It is comparatively easy to grasp how certain scientific discoveries could be applied to whole groups of craft technologies based on cognate natural phenomena. For example, the discovery of how to harden copper by adding tin affected all users of metal in the Bronze Age: the discovery of how to control the carbon content of iron accurately and cheaply on a large scale affected all users of steel in the Iron Age. But more abstract discoveries, such as those about the electrochemical production of electricity , required a considerable lapse of time before they acquired extensive technological influence. Even more abstract are the laws of thermodynamics, which were finally established during the period 1800-50.


Measurements of heat-energy and of other forms of energy are conceptually difficult compared with, say, measurements of length, because suitable standards of comparison are by no means obvious. Nevertheless, it is technologically very significant that the first steam-engine built on scientific principles was closely associated with Black's discovery of how to measure quantities of heat-energy (p 673). Black used the rise in temperature of a given mass of water as a measure of the quantity of heat it had taken up. This mode of measurement permitted fairly exact assessment of the quantity of heat-energy taken up in unit time by a steam-engine. By means of it, Black discovered that on being converted to steam at the same temperature water takes up large quantities of heat which become 'latent' in the steam. Latent heat-energy can be partly transformed into useful mechanical energy by means of a steam-engine. James Watt, working closely with Black, discovered how to measure mechanical energy, or mechanical work, in terms of the force exerted by a pulling horse lifting weights over a pulley. Combining these measurements of heat-energy and mechanical energy, Watt was the first power-engineer who could in principle determine the efficiency of his engine, that is, the ratio of the quantity of heat-energy taken up to the mechanical energy obtained; though not all these concepts were as yet clearly understood.

At this stage there was still an awkward gap in the group of basic energy-measurements relating to steam-power. Black's method for measuring heat-energy, though quantitative, was based on a standard of comparison different in kind from Watt's method for measuring mechanical energy. This gap was bridged through the experimental researches of J. P. Joule (1818-89) over the period 1840-50. Using a system of churning paddles, Joule determined the mechanical equivalent of heat by finding the rise in temperature of a known mass of water when a definite quantity of mechanical energy was transformed into heat within the water. From that time, power-production could be based on extremely accurate energy balance-sheets. Exact balance-sheets recording interchange of different forms of energy are based on the first law of thermodynamics, which states that, in any physical process, energy is neither created nor destroyed. Energy may appear in new forms but these are quantitatively equivalent to the other forms of energy that disappear.


The second law of thermodynamics, as enunciated in 1851 by R. J. E. Clausius (1822-88) and by Lord Kelvin, makes a statement which in appearance is even milder: that there is a theoretical maximum to the efficiency of any engine which converts heat-energy into useful work. Its enormous importance derives from the discovery by Lord Kelvin that the vast majority of observable transformations, if these involve heat-energy in any way, can be proved to be governed by the second law of thermodynamics. The technologies of power-production and the technologies of chemical industry both involve heat-energy in a very basic way, and so are governed by the second law of thermodynamics. This law imposes natural limits to the efficiency of any energy-transformation that can be devised, and so provides fully reliable standards whereby practical operations can be controlled.

As with many other scientific discoveries, the technological significance of the second law of thermodynamics was only slowly appreciated, despite its vast practical importance. Its formal enunciation, however, was an important event in the changing relationship between science and technology, and with it this chapter can most appropriately end.


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[9] THORPE, SIR EDWARD. 'Essays in Historical Chemistry', ch. : "Michael Faraday". London. 1894.

[10] BERNAL, J. D. 'Science and Industry in the Nineteenth Century.' Routledge & Kegan Paul, London. 1953.