I think this may well be the biggest flaw in the book-as-printed. And the very sharp Arthur Goldhammer agrees, and sends a withering, accurate critique
As a veteran of 25 years at IBM Research, I felt the same disappointment. And not only is there more to the story of the Industrial research lab than Edison vs. Tesla, it's worth (and has been) the subject of a full book by itself. Some that material may have been left on the editing room floor along with the 400 pages cut from the earlier draft. Edison vs Tesla is indeed an interesting story. There was an interesting prior, private lab in Tuxedo Park that contributes some flavor to the eventual Los Alamos effort and Manhattan Project, but Los Alamos was only a part of the story. Major wartime labs were created at Hanford, Washington and Oak Ridge, Tenn. Supporting efforts at Berkeley, Livermore, and Sandia continued into the Cold War era. A parallel effort in radar and control spawned Labs in the MIT/Harvard area which survive as Draper Lab and Lincoln Labs. The launch of the computer era took place in not only Bell Labs for the transistor, (followed quickly by IBM and Texas Instruments' contributions). But computers were built at IAS, Penn, IBM, and MIT before settling into something like their current forms and architectures. Operating systems arose both in IBM and in the Boston-Berkeley axes that led to Unix and finally, through a global effort, to Linux. (Sorry, left out UK contributions, which were quite significant.) There were some major shifts in style and focus from defense emphasis to commercial ("tabulating machines") to ever smaller and more distributed computing "fabrics" of today. While these started out in industrial labs of the conventional sort, the rise of a startup economy shifted the center to firms like Apple and Google, whose dynamics are completely different from those of GE, ATT, IBM, and Microsoft..
It's a long story, not the one you started out to tell, but the change in the tech industry is an important part of your final questions about what comes next, post 2010.
I am just rereading Hobsbawm and that, together with Scott's comment below, bring up the whole issue of how much the wartime labs contributed to the take-off in technology that is so much of Brad's story of the twentieth century. The huge gaping hole in the right wing version of economic history is the role of government (and not just the modern corporation or Hayekian visions of markets) in economic takeoff. It also raises the question of how much the subcontracting of research to private corporations (as described by Scott) contributes to the takeoff of both.
It wasn't just the industrial research lab. It was also the rise of the university. One couldn't just move to the frontier by studying tea kettles. There was a lot more to learn, and it was stuff that needed to be formally taught. Innovation was increasingly driven by theory. The era of the gifted and devoted amateur was ending and a new era of collective innovation had started. It is no surprise that the modern corporation came into its own as a means of collective endeavor.
This means that you have another book to write. (You might consider looking into what mathematicians call the "coalition model of growth".)
It's a fruitful criticism if it gets us another book. Well-handled!
I'm still mulling Helen Thompson's thesis (in last winter's "Disorder" and many short pieces since) that all our technological progress gave us a new piper to pay - a never-ending energy bill, along with the never-ending problem of sourcing it. It would be interesting if you read the book, because not many economists have - yet her argument needs to make economic as well as geopolitical sense, and I'm still trying to figure out if it does. The contrast couldn't be greater though: her compressed vs your expansive style; your grand but disruptive growth story, her account of the balancing act required by multiple disruptions.
Probably so. But I'd put it in the more general context of what was (NOT) driving employment of technology in every epoch. But if you do, you set yourself up for having to ask why it seemed to stop in 1973 (?)
No problem - I'd LOVE to have you point us readers to more on that topic......Even a 5-10 page essay would be fantastic......
I also found the small coverage of IRLs to be frustrating - it is such a tantalizing aspect of the 1870-onwards grand narrative arc that you set out with. The same goes for the modern corporation. As a sociology and market research professional I'm really intrigued by both of these grand themes you laid out in the first chapters of the book. Regarding the link between the industrial research labs and modern corporation, I think you are pointing to the role modern corporates played in moving high-level abstract innovation/discoveries through to "product-market fit": seeing market applications for these abstract discoveries by scientists/psychologists/etc. THAT would be a very interesting follow-up paper I would like to read in Substack when you publish it. In contrast, I absolutely engrossed in your exposition of the Hayek vs Polanyi discussion - and your points about Social Democracy vs Neoliberalism. It's very refreshing to see a critique of "the market" from someone who also sees its unique ability to generate the 1870-2010 increase in standards of living. The whole book is a masterpiece!
1. Is there a definitive work on the history of the industrial research lab? An analogue to Chandler (Visible Hand) or maybe Drucker?
2. Separately, I thought the contents of this tweet thread by Kamil Galeev deserved to be more widely known. Stalin, who recognized the possibilities of running HR in the Soviet Union, didn't read memos. He spent most of his time eavesdropping on telephone conversations of other party chiefs. From Bazhanov: "I was Stalin's secretary": https://twitter.com/kamilkazani/status/1516825897982214145