The Need for Control
In their aspiration to apply quantitative methods to technology in the hope of improving its efficiency and economy, the engineers of the 18th century found themselves hampered by their own boun-
daries as individuals. They had the ambition to reproduce the conditions of the laboratory in the field: to carry out systematic experiments under controlled and reproducible conditions. But this demanded a much larger spatial and temporal dimension than the laboratory—with its desktop apparatus and time scale of days or weeks. It was beyond the means of individuals to embrace the technical reality in time and space. In terms of space , their ambition required wooden structures weighing perhaps up to a ton (whether they were treadmills, charcoal piles, or waterwheels). It made even large spatial demands on the immediate surroundings, since it required such assets as large areas of forest, hundreds of men, or a substantial water supply. In terms of time , it required that several people work together on the experiments for several years. In short, considerable resources were needed to build these unwieldy pieces of experimental apparatus and to operate them for a period of years, and these resources were beyond the means of any individual.
This argument can be expressed in another way. To say that the spatial and temporal dimensions of technology demanded considerable resources if the conditions of the laboratory were to be reproduced in the field is the same as to say that one must be able to control the necessary physical and social realm in terms of time and space . This chapter began with the claim that efficiency and economy are the two quantities that characterize modern technology, and it will end by asserting that its qualitative characteristic is control . Technology is an activity that aims at changes of the material world, and this always involves control.
It is therefore not by chance that the first successful attempt to apply quantitative methods to technology discoverable in Swedish history of technology was achieved at the naval dockyard in Karlskrona in the early 1770s. The case of the ninety soldiers, working in shifts at the pumps to dry-dock a frigate while Johan Eric Norberg stood over them with his watch and notebook, symbolizes a turning-point. It marked the beginning of the successful application of quantitative
methods in technology during the late Enlightenment. At that time, only the military possessed the necessary control over the physical and social realm to reproduce laboratory conditions in the field. It would be some time before civilian institutions grew strong enough to be able to exercise the same degree of control, for example, in the federally supported investigation of the Franklin Institute in the 1830s into the causes of steamboat boiler explosions. These institutions were then strong enough in both authority and competence .
Although this study has been limited to a specific aspect of the question of the relationship between science and technology during the 18th century—the application of quantitative methods to technology—it may have some relevance for the more general question. Roger Hahn has argued that one way to grasp the relationship between science and technology during the 18th century would be to examine the institutional development of technology, and in particular the many societies of arts that flourished in Europe on the model of the scientific academies. Science made an impact, Hahn wrote, "not only by lending its ideology, personnel and theories to technology, but also by offering its social organization as a model to be copied." By copying the social organization of the scientific enterprise, these institutions "also accepted the presuppositions of science itself: rationality, objectivity and publicity." Studies of the history of
individual societies, such as Robert E. Schofield's The Lunar Society of Birmingham , have demonstrated and elucidated this institutional development, but the question of their effectiveness in achieving technological change continues to puzzle historians. A. Rupert Hall has, for example, remarked that it requires "a degree of faith" to find a causal relationship between the popularity of science on the one hand and innovation in technology on the other. But if the benefit of a union between science and technology was conceived only on a cultural level during the 18th century, why was it not put into effect on a political and economic level?
This study suggests that we should continue our search for institutional developments, but look for projects that were undertaken by institutions rather than individual efforts. The characteristics to look for in these technological institutions are not only the rationality, objectivity, and publicity of their scientific counterparts but also the power to control the necessary physical and social realm in order to reproduce laboratory conditions in the field.
More specifically, we should look for institutions that exercised authority according to rank in hierarchies based on scientific and technical competence . The quest will lead us to that historical borderland that lies between the inquisitive academies of the 18th century and the efficient industries of the 19th century, to the period between 1790 and 1825, which has been recognized by Cardwell as one of the definite periods of decisive change in the course of technological history. Not only were many of the major technologies of
the 19th and 20th centuries founded then, but "at the same time social changes took place in the organisation of technology and science setting them on the courses that led to modern technological society."
One of the major social changes was the emergence of institutions that could exercise the necessary control for the successful application of quantitative methods to technology; first within the established structure of the military (military academies, arsenals and dockyards) and later in large industries of national-military importance (mining and chemical industry), major civil-engineering projects (canals), and new civilian institutions. These institutions are probably identical with those that Peter Mathias has called "focal points for developing new skills and educational programs" and that were sponsored by the demands of the state for deploying scientific technology for military or official purposes.