Monday, March 17, 2008

The Mother of Invention - Scientific American Magazine and the Civil War - Part II - Learning More

Regarding my earlier post on the role of Scientific American magazine in the Civil War, here are some avenues for learning more:

A) Read my forthcoming book, Lincoln's Labels: America's Best Known Brands and the Civil War (Edinborough Press, 2008) - there is a full chapter on Scientific American magazine!

B) Read my article from the January 2006 (Vol. 8, No. 7) issue of North & South magazine.

C) Below is an extended excerpt from the "Bibliographic Essay" on Scientific American magazine from Lincoln's Labels...I hope it will accomplish two things: 1) give readers a "flavor" of the full bibliographic essay that appears in the book and 2) give readers clues to pursue their own lines of inquiry regarding invention and the Civil War:

There are four “official” histories of the Scientific American, all published in the pages of the magazine: “Fifty Years of the Scientific American,” July 25, 1896; “Seventy Years of the Scientific American,” June 5, 1915; “The Diamond Jubilee of the Scientific American,” October 2, 1920; and Albert G. Ingalls, “A Century of Scientific American,” December, 1945.

A “coffee table-style” book, Free Enterprise Forever! Scientific American in the 19th Century (James Shenton, ed., New York: Images Graphiques, 1977), includes a historical sketch of the magazine but in the main consists of reproductions of selected covers and pages from the inaugural issue through the end of the nineteenth century, including some from the Civil War years.

The best scholarly history of the magazine is Michael Borut’s unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, “The Scientific American in Nineteenth Century America” (New York University, 1977). The study charts the history of the periodical from its inception through Beach’s death in 1896. In writing the dissertation, Borut drew extensively on the unpublished diaries of Orson D. Munn, which remain privately held by the Munn family.

On a more general level, Frank Luther Mott’s History of American Magazines, 1850-1865 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1938) and David Forsyth’s The Business Press in America: 1750-1875 (Philadelphia: Clinton Book Company, 1964), in addition to their historical sketches of the Scientific American, are helpful in presenting an overview of journalistic practices of the era.

Likewise, Kenneth W. Dobyns’s The Patent Office Pony: A History of the Early Patent Office (Fredericksburg, VA: Sgt. Kirkland’s, 1994) is a highly readable account of the state of patent law and the Patent Office in nineteenth-century America. Robert V. Bruce’s Lincoln and the Tools of War (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1956) draws heavily on the Scientific American in describing Lincoln’s role in arming the Union forces, and his Pulitzer Prize-winning social history, The Launching of Modern American Science, 1846-1876 (New York: Knopf, 1987), encompasses the Civil War years in describing the maturation of American science and technology.

The real story of the Scientific American during the American Civil War is to be found in the wartime pages of the magazine itself. The index, published at the end of each 26-issue volume during the war years, organizes the material by illustration, “miscellany,” and patent claims. Researchers should not ignore antebellum issues as many technologies used effectively for the first time during the Civil War were actually prewar innovations.

Many large libraries have period issues on microfilm. In addition, Cornell University Library's “Making of America” collection, a digital library of primary sources in American social history from the antebellum period through reconstruction, includes electronic access to digitized pages of the Scientific American from 1846-1869. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) has been performed on the images to enhance searching the texts by keyword.

The economic and social impacts of invention and the public policy of intellectual property in American history, including the nineteenth century, continue to receive scholarly attention. Among the most recent and best of these studies is Zorina Khan’s The Democratization of Invention: Patents and Copyrights in American Economic Development, 1790-1920 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

Even more relevant is Khan’s unpublished white paper, “Creative Destruction: Technological Change and Resource Reallocation during the American Civil War,” in which she analyzes patents filed between 1855 and 1870 to closely examine the relationship between war and technology. She pays particular attention to socioeconomic factors of the inventors themselves, including their education, wealth, occupation, and location. In her article, “‘Not for Ornament’: Patenting Activity by Women Inventors” (Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Fall 2000), Khan demonstrates that women also exhibited their “inventive faculty” with a significant increase in patent activity during the war.

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