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Scientific AmericansInvention, Technology, and National Identity$
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Susan Branson

Print publication date: 2022

Print ISBN-13: 9781501760914

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: May 2022

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501760914.001.0001

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Engines of Change

Engines of Change

Machines Drive American Industry

(p.71) Chapter 3 Engines of Change
Scientific Americans

Susan Branson

Cornell University Press

This chapter explains why machines captured the public's attention in so profound a way by surveying the early nineteenth-century venues in which Americans encountered mechanical technologies. Demonstrations of new machines acquainted men and women with inventions that enhanced daily life. One continually pursued idea was resurrected in an American context when Charles Redheffer's perpetual motion device caught the public's imagination. It sparked a national discussion of how the invention would propel the United States to global preeminence. Redheffer's failure to deliver on his promise dampened, but did not diminish, American hopes that technology was the answer to national development. The steam engine, on the other hand, quickly became useful and ubiquitous. The engines that propelled boats and railcars and powered looms and spindles literally drove the changes that helped the United States strive for economic independence. Americans expressed their enthusiasm for the steam engine's importance to national prosperity in poetry, fiction, and the purchase of steam-themed consumer items.

Keywords:   machines, mechanical technologies, Charles Redheffer, perpetual motion device, United States, national development, steam engine, economic independence

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