March 11, 2008 at 3:23 am | Posted in Economics, Financial, Globalization, Research, Science & Technology | Leave a comment









Product Details

  • Format: Kindle Edition

  • File Size: 896 KB

  • Print Length: 212 pages

  • Publisher: Evergreen Review, Inc. (April 4, 2007)

  • Language: English

  • ASIN: B000R7GB9U

Charles Babbage (1792-1871)

On the Economy of Machinery and


Economics of industrialization by a contemporary observer

Written in 1832, this book is a contemporary observer’s account of how machinery and manufacturing helped create unprecedented prosperity during the Industrial Revolution in England. The book is basically a text on economics as applied to manufacturing. It was intended for a lay audience, particularly ambitious factory workers. Much of the information that’s cited in the book came from the author’s direct observations in factories in Britain and on the Continent.

The first third of the book examines in detail the machines themselves, as examples of how machines increased productivity in various ways: by quickly making many copies of some object, by applying super-human forces to materials, by working faster than humans can, etc. This section will interest mainly historians of technology, although there are some curious tidbits; e.g., caterpillars that can be tricked into making lace (p. 94).
The author then considers factory management, which includes the importance of the division of labor, of minimizing waste, of good labor relations, etc.
The book closes with a discussion of the role of government in the economy; e.g., the effects of taxes, protectionist legislation, patents, setting standards, etc.

The author, Charles Babbage (1792-1871), designed the world’s first true programable computer. His ideas were a century ahead of his time; e.g., he speculates about hydrofoils (p. 41), seismographs (p. 75), the use of computers in generating tables of mathematical data (p. 162), the centralized distribution of motive power (p. 228), and the possibility of extraterrestrial life (p. 301).

He repeatedly argues that labor’s and management’s interests are not inherently opposed. Thus, he argues against both unions and cartels (Ch. 30, 31). In Ch. 26 – citing the example of some mines in Cornwall – he urges profit-sharing in order to motivate workers to help raise the productivity of their companys.

The book will interest historians who seek a contemporary’s account of the Industrial Revolution as it surged around him.


Book Description

From the PREFACE:

“The present volume may be considered as one of the consequences that have resulted from the calculating engine, the construction of which I have been so long superintending. Having been induced, during the last ten years, to visit a considerable number of workshops and factories, both in England and on the Continent, for the purpose of endeavouring to make myself acquainted with the various resources of mechanical art, I was insensibly led to apply to them those principles of generalization to which my other pursuits had naturally given rise.

The increased number of curious processes and interesting facts which thus came under my attention, as well as of the reflections which they suggested, induced me to believe that the publication of some of them might be of use to persons who propose to bestow their attention on those enquiries which I have only incidentally considered. With this view it was my intention to have delivered the present work in the form of a course of lectures at Cambridge; an intention which I was subsequently induced to alter. The substance of a considerable portion of it has, however, appeared among the preliminary chapters of the mechanical part of the Encyclopedia Metropolitana.”


Charles Babbage (1792-1871)

On the Economy of Machinery and


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