Essay Test Hints 

History 122


1. These are my notes on essay writing. They refer to the following question:

Question: What caused engineering to become more professional in late 19th century America? Please define what you mean by more professional. I recommend discussing three different reasons (I can think of at least five if I count changes that we discussed under other topics, but I wouldn't try to cover more than three because if you try to cover too many you won't be able to be specific enough about each one).

How to write an essay:

First: read the question very carefully, and think about how you want to answer it. Make sure you answer the question, rather than writing about a related topic that you thought about while preparing or that you think you know more about. Make a mental note of how the question restricts your choice of examples, and of how the question is designed to structure your answer.

Write an outline, listing points you want to cover and the examples you will use. For example, an outline for the first question would include a definition of a profession and the three causes you want to discuss. Remember that the goal is to integrate material from different parts of the course, so don't try to take everything in your outline from your notes from one lecture.

Write a one or two sentence introductory paragraph, which makes it clear what question you are answering and how you are answering it. For example, for question one, your first paragraph might be: Three factors caused engineering to become more professional in late nineteenth century America: the development of engineering education, the rise of mass production, and the development of science-based engineering. Either in the first or second paragraph you should define professional.

Write a paragraph for each of your points. Each paragraph should have:

Write a concluding paragraph. Try to go beyond repeating your introduction and say something about the issues raised by your examples. For example, your essay on professionalism might say that the professionalization of engineering arose both because engineers were trying to raise the status of their profession and because the development of the American economy resulted in an increased demand for engineers. Or you might say something about the limits of the trend towards greater professionalism--how engineering was never as fully professional as medicine or law.

2. This is a sample of an essay written for a takehome exam that received a grade of A. This is a particularly good essay--I don't expect every A paper to meet this standard. But I hoped it might be useful to you to have an example of what I am looking for.

Question: Cowan writes: "Between 1870 and 1920, the United States changed in ways that its founders could never have dreamed possible." Cowan, p. 149) Explain three reasons why technological change speeded up in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the rate of technological progress increased greatly. Many factors came together to bring about this rapid change. Three such factors are the American patent law, the American system of mass production, and improvements in the transportation system.

The first reason that the rate of technological progress increased greatly between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is a good patent law established in the United States. This patent law made the inventor prove the his invention was "sufficiently useful and important" (Cowan, p. 122) Another provision of the law which was different from other patent laws of the time was that the inventor had to provide precise, publishable specifications of the invention. This provision meant that the inventor would have to give up the secrets of his invention in order to obtain a patent. At first, this provision kept people from getting patents because sharing their secrets would allow others to easily copy the invention. Eli Whitney had problems making money off his patented cotton gin because his invention was very simplistic and because the resources for enforcing patent violations in the courts would be far to costly to sue ever person who copied his invention. Oliver Evans also had this problem when he invented a mechanical tool for milling. Evans had his inventions copied to the point where while his inventions were being adopted in mills across the country, he and his family lived in relative poverty. Once it became clear that the federal government intended to enforce its patent laws, inventors saw a way to profit and gave them the chance to get rich off of their inventions. From 1880 to 1900 the number of patents issued per year increased from three thousand to 26 thousand. This increase in the number of people who tried to make a living by inventing new things greatly helped to start and contributed to a period around the turn of the century where the rate of technological progress greatly increased.

Another reason that the rate of technological change increased is the implementation of the American system of mass production. The very beginnings of this system were in the late 1700's into the 1800's when Eli Whitney developed the idea of producing guns for the military by making all of the guns produced efficiently with machines and each part of the gun would be exactly like its counterparts in all the other guns produced so that the guns would have interchangeable parts. Whitney never was able to achieve his system of manufacturing of guns, others continued to try and achieve Whitney's vision by first trying a division of labor. The next step was to build machines to do each individual task and make the machines produce identical parts. Finally John H. Hall in 1822 had produced a system where he could produce arms exactly alike and produce them economically by only using common workers. This system then extended to the making of clocks. In 1800, clockmakers could make four or five clocks a year. By using machines to make the small parts of a clock and by simplifying the clock, by 1850 an average clock factory was producing 130,000 to 150,000 clocks per year. This new way of manufacturing clocks lowered the cost of clocks from $50 to $1.50 (Cowan, p.81). The same system was also brought to the production of sewing machines by William H. Perry. This system increased production from 800 a year in 1851 to 21,000 a year in 1959 to 174,000 a year in 1872 (Cowan, p.82). With this system being put to wide use by the late nineteenth century, this system of manufacturing and mass production made it possible for very complex machines to be invented and produced at reasonable costs. This system allowed new machines to be produced faster and cheaper. In turn these new machines could produce new machines or products even faster. This makes the system of manufacturing build upon itself and its improvement would increase at an increasing rate. Also, the system of mass production created a "consumer culture". With the rapid production of products, American culture began to buy things for their survival instead of growing and making things themselves. In turn this increased demand for products made the system grow even larger.

A third reason for the rapid increase in the rate of technological progress is the improvements in transportation. The major transportation improvement that affected the late nineteenth and the twentieth centuries was the railroad. Although turnpikes and canals had been built decades before, the railroad provided the fastest and most cost effective way of transporting good between markets. The first fully functional railroad system was the Charleston and Hamburg Railroad in 1830. The railroad had 136 miles and was the largest under single management in the world. By 1840, there were 3326 miles of railroad in the United States. In the decade between 1830 and 1840, railroads competed with canals. Although some railroads were punished with punitive taxes by the state government who had part ownership of most canals, by 1840 most of the nation's products were being transported by rail (Cowan, p.114). By 1860, 30,600 miles of railroad were operating, more than anywhere else in the world. The only problem with railroads was the even in the 1870's there were several hundred railroads competing against each other with different gauges for different tracks. Then very wealthy investors bought competing railroad companies. By 1880, all railroads had voluntarily converted to a standard gauge of 4 feet 8.5 inches. By 1900, all of the railroads were owned by seven, often mutually cooperative, companies (Cowan, p.155). This consolidation made the railroads a network that ran all across the nation. This system allowed products to be transported to anywhere in the nation at a low cost. This allowed businesses to flourish. This system increased the rate of technological growth greatly by placing companies very far apart in competition with each other. Companies found that the best way to compete was to produce new or improved products. Companies now placed their capital into the research and development of new products and technologies.

These three factors of patents, mass production, and transportation, created a climate in the years prior to the late 19th century where a large technological boom would occur. Patents allowed companies to make money off of a product without other companies copying them for a period after its invention. Mass production allowed new products and technologies to be produced at a much faster rate and in a much more cost affective way. The railroads allowed these new products that were being mass produced to be transport all over the country and forced companies to invest into research and development of new technologies to compete with new competitors. And together these factors helped increase the rate of technological change.