The Third Kondratiev Wave: The Age of Steel, Heavy Engineering, and Electrification

Chris Freeman and Francisco Louçã

in As Time Goes By

Published in print March 2002 | ISBN: 9780199251056
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191596278 | DOI:
 The Third Kondratiev Wave: The Age of Steel, Heavy Engineering, and Electrification

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The electrical industry was more directly affected by new developments in science than the railways or textiles but although scientists such as Faraday contributed a great deal to the understanding of electro‐magnetism in the first half of the nineteenth century, it was not until fairly late in the century that the full‐scale commercial development of electrical generation and transmission systems took place.

When industrialists and inventors, such as Siemens and Edison, developed networks of power and launched the exploration and development of innumerable new applications of electricity, the scale of the investment required was so great that giant new firms rapidly grew in the countries that were leading the new technology, principally the US and Germany.

These new firms, together with the railways, were the source of numerous management innovations, leading to the typical bureaucracies and hierarchies of large firms with separate specialized departments for finance, personnel, marketing, and new technical development (later called R&D).

They were voracious consumers of metals, especially of copper and the cheap steel made available in vast quantities by such new processes as the Bessemer process.

Electrification and the very rapid growth of the steel and related heavy industries enabled Germany as well as the US to overtake Britain and to challenge her supremacy in world trade, colonial possessions, and imperialism, leading ultimately to a naval armaments race between Britain and Germany and to the First World War.

Keywords: Britain; electricity; Germany; imperialism; science; steel; trade; US; war

Chapter.  16339 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Economic History

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