Craft Knowledge

Theme: before specialized technical knowledge developed, new technology came from local ingenuity
The first transition was from local ingenuity to craftspeople with specialized knowledge (learned from apprenticeship, not from schooling)

1846-7 image of San Francisco--just a few houses
image credit

Can you think of any American inventor/engineers before the civil war?
Eli Whitney

Eli Whitney (for more information see Discover Eli Whitney or an 1832 Memoir of Whitney):

patent model of Whitney's cotton gin

1798 Musket--standard US Army model made at Springfield
 U.S. Musket Model 1798 Type III Contract Flintlock .69, Springfield Armory
Whitney turned to gun-making in 1797
image of Eli Whitney's Gun Factory in 1826-28
Whitney never met his goals of mechanization of the gun-making process or of making guns with interchangeable parts (Robert S. Woodbury, "The Legend of Eli Whitney and Interchangeable Parts," Technology and Culture Vol. 1, No. 3 (Summer, 1960), pp. 235-253). Whitney gets made into a boring elementary school hero; his is actually a very complex story
Conclusions: Whitney is an example of the transition between local ingenuity and apprentice-trained engineers.  The local carpenter could build a bridge, but you need specialized knowledge to lay out a canal or manufacture guns.

Quote of the Day: "Only an inventor knows how to borrow, and every man is or should be an inventor. "
- Ralph Waldo Emerson,   Letters and Social Aims--Quotation and Originality (1876)

this page written and copyrighted by Pamela E. Mack
last updated 8/29/2005