Science & Technology

Scientific Invention & Innovation

The 19th century was an era largely characterized by industrialization and innovation. As America progressed with major inventions such as the steam engine and the implementation of transcontinental railroads, a spirit of innovation and invention permeated through the nation.

At the precipice of the century, the Patent Act of 1790 encouraged people to invent new technologies by granting inventors the rights to their own inventions for 14 years before they became available to the public. In return, the creator had to write and publish a detailed description and explanation of the invention so that it might be used and understood in the future. The Patent Act inspired all kinds of inventions from people from all walks of life. It also presented marginalized groups who had no political rights an opportunity to own intellectual property and benefit from their hard work. For example, an African American man named Elijah McCoy invented a system to automatically lubricate locomotives, a system that earned him a patent and was eventually widely used on railroads across the country.

With this spirit of invention was an enthusiasm for knowledge and skill that was welcomed and encouraged by the relatively young American government. Having been founded by scientists such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, America expressly welcomed foreign scientists who immigrated to participate in this season of growth, seeing it as an opportunity to grow and develop toward the level of its European counterparts.

Foreign scientists such as Alexander Graham Bell, the Scottish scientist who patented the telephone, and Nikola Tesla, the Serbian engineer who developed the first alternating current electricity motor, had migrated to the United States to participate in the rapid scientific and technological growth taking place in the country.

 Links to Sources:

Innovation in America in the 1800’s

1870-1900 Industrial Development

Early American Science