The establishment of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences contributed, as mentioned above, to a theoretical and instrumental development. But there was also an institutionalization of technology within the largest and most important of Swedish industries, the iron industry: the establishment of the Swedish Ironmasters' Association, which reflected increased interest in general technological problems during the late 18th century. The general importance of this change in the social organization of technology can be described as a shift in responsibility from individuals to institutions . Technological projects were now being undertaken by and with the competence and authority of the institution.
The competence of an institution, with its hierarchical structure based on academic merit, is apparent in the case of Pehr Lagerhjelm, the leader of the project of 1811–5. He had studied at the University of Uppsala, where he passed the mining examination (Bergsexamen ) in 1807. This university degree, established in 1750, had become a prerequisite for officials in the service of the Board of Mines, the governmental department that exercised ultimate authority over the mining industry. The degree required examinations in physics, mechanics, geometry, chemistry, and law. After graduation from the University of Uppsala, Lagerhjelm was duly appointed to the Board of Mines in Stockholm. He became a pupil of the chemist Jöns Jacob Berzelius, and assisted him in calculating the percentage composition of nearly 2,000 chemical compounds. This work was published as a supplement to the third volume of Berzelius' textbook, Lärbok i kemien . In 1808, Lagerhjelm was appointed under-secretary of the
Swedish Ironmasters' Association. He thus reached his position in 1812 as leader of the hydrodynamic experiments by making a career within the formally organized educational system of the Swedish mining bureaucracy. The merit of the system is proven by his many other contributions to Swedish technology during the early years of the 19th century.
By contrast, Christopher Polhem had gained his position as a favorite of Karl XII in the time of the Absolute Monarchy. Polhem had been appointed director of the Laboratorium mechanicum , the section of the Board of Mines with designated responsibility for research and education in mechanical technology. It was here that Polhem's hydrodynamic experiments were undertaken from 1701 to 1705. Although a mechanical genius by any standard, Polhem lacked the broad formal university education Lagerhjelm enjoyed. His investigations were therefore carried out within the context of a more narrow theoretical perspective and were influenced by important personal idiosyncrasies—including his disdain for mathematical analysis.
Comparing these two examples also illustrates the importance of institutional authority . The project in 1811–5 involved several persons, all highly qualified. Although they did not cooperate throughout the many years of the project without personal friction, the authority of the Swedish Ironmasters' Association led to the completion of the project and to the publication of the results in two volumes in 1818 and 1822.
On the other hand, Christopher Polhem submitted to the Board in 1705 what he called an interim report; in fact, it was the only report he ever prepared concerning his hydrodynamic experiments. When he resumed work with the experimental apparatus in 1710, he made the distressing discovery that two crucial quantities had been measured inaccurately throughout the whole series of measurements.
This rendered the results incommensurable and the whole series of experiments nonreproducible. But Polhem, whose individual reputation exceeded his relatively subordinate position as an official in the Board of Mines, had no difficulty in forbidding his assistant to mention to anyone that the data in the report were useless. An institution stronger in terms of hierarchical authority would have insisted that he submit a final report on the experiments for which he had already received his fees, and, on discovering that the data were useless, demanded that he repeat the experiments.