What accounts for the great outburst of major inventions in early America -- breakthroughs such as the telegraph, the steamboat and the weaving machine?
Among the many shaping factors, I would single out the countrys excellent elementary schools: a labor force that welcomed the new technology; the practice of giving premiums to inventors; and above all the American genius for nonverbal, spatial thinking about things technological.
Why mention the elementary schools? Because thanks to these schools our early mechanics, especially in the New England and Middle Atlantic states, were generally literate and at home in arithmetic and in some aspects of geometry and trigonometry.
Acute foreign observers related American adaptiveness and inventiveness to this educational-advantage. As a member of a British commission visiting here in 1853 reported, With a mind prepared by thorough school discipline, the American boy develops rapidly into the skilled workman.
A further stimulus to invention came from the premium system, which preceded our patent system and for years ran parallel with it. This approach, originated abroad, offered inventors medals, cash prizes and other incentives.
In the United States, multitudes of premiums for new devices were awarded at country fairs and at the industrial fairs in major cities. Americans flocked to these fairs to admire the new machines and thus to renew their faith in the beneficence of technological advance.