1st Edition

The American Reaper
Harvesting Networks and Technology, 1830–1910

ISBN 9781138261280
Published November 15, 2016 by Routledge
278 Pages

USD $59.95

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Book Description

The American Reaper adopts a network approach to account for the international diffusion of harvesting technology from North America, from the invention of the reaper through to the formation of a dominant transnational corporation, International Harvester. Much previous historical research into industrial networks focuses on industrial districts within metropolitan centres, but by focusing on harvesting - a typically rural technology - this book is able to analyse the spread of technological knowledge through a series of local networks and across national boundaries. In doing so it argues that the industry developed through a relatively stable stage from the 1850s into the 1890s, during which time many firms shared knowledge within and outside the US through patent licensing, to spread the diffusion of the American style of machines to establishments located around the industrial world. This positive cooperation was further enhanced through sales networks that appear to be early expressions of managerial firms. The book also reinterprets the rise of giant corporations, especially International Harvester Corporation (IHC), arguing that mass production was achieved in Chicago in the 1880s, where unprecedented urban growth made possible a break with the constraints felt elsewhere in the dispersed production system. It unleashed an unchecked competitive market economy with destructive tendencies throughout the transnational 'American reaper' networks; a previously stable and expanding production system. This is significant because the rise of corporate capital in this industry is usually explained as an outworking of national natural advantage, as an ingenious harnessing of science and technology to solve production problems, and as a rational solution to the problems associated with the worst forms of unregulated competition that emerged as independent firms developed from small-scale, artisanal production to large-scale manufacturers, on their own and within the separate and isolated US economy. The first study dedicated to the development and diffusion of American harvesting machine technology, this book will appeal to scholars from a diverse range of fields, including economic history, business history, the history of knowledge transfer, historical geography and economic geography.

Table of Contents

Contents: The American reaper: harvesting networks and technology, 1830-1910; Part 1 Production Network Geographies: The licensing regime: arrangements for producing harvesting machinery 1830-1890; Dispersed production networks: technical constraints, seasonality and subcontracting 1830-1880; Breaking through to mass production: spatial and corporate concentration 1880-1910. Part 2 Competition and Collaboration: A transnational machine on the world stage: representing McCormick's reaper through World's Fairs, 1851-1902; Building trust and managing business over distance: a geography of reaper manufacturer D.S. Morgan's correspondence, 1867; The harvest scene: the American reaper networks and globalization; Bibliography; Index.

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Gordon Winder is Professor of Economic Geography at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Germany.


'The author presents his audience with a grand view of the growth and development of a vital international industry, granting an important new scope to the dual rise of American industrial and agricultural prowess on the world stage.' ICON - Journal of the International Committee for the History of Technology '... specialists will benefit from both [the book’s] important information and its thoughtful analytical insights. This is an important contribution to the economic history of American agriculture and the business history of manufacturing firms, and it offers a clear explanation of how complicated local, national, and transnational networks operated in one of the era’s most important industries.' EH.Net 'A text that deftly blends the methodologies of business history, historical geography, and cultural history, The American Reaper will appeal to a diverse scholarly readership, especially those interested in the history of the modern corporation and agricultural history... Abounding with maps, informative tables, and images, Winder’s meticulous and multifaceted research has produced an excellent volume that will be of value to readers unfamiliar with the subject and specialists alike.' Enterprise and Society