“Automation” of manufacturing in the late nineteenth century: the hand and machine labor study
Margo, Robert A.
Rhode, Paul W.
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Citation (published version)Jeremy Atack, Robert A. Margo, Paul W. Rhode. 2019. "“Automation” of Manufacturing in the Late Nineteenth Century: The Hand and Machine Labor Study." Journal of Economic Perspectives, Volume 33, Issue 2, pp. 51 - 70. https://doi.org/10.1257/jep.33.2.51
Recent advances in artificial intelligence and robotics have generated a robust debate about the future of work. An analogous debate occurred in the late nineteenth century when mechanization first transformed manufacturing. We analyze an extraordinary dataset from the late nineteenth century, the Hand and Machine Labor study carried out by the US Department of Labor in the mid-1890s. We focus on transitions at the task level from hand to machine production, and on the impact of inanimate power, especially of steam power, on labor productivity. Our analysis sheds light on the ability of modern task-based models to account for the effects of historical mechanization.
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