The distinction between macro- and microinventions is at the core of recent debates on the Industrial Revolution. Yet, the empirical testing of this notion has remained elusive. We address this issue by introducing a new quality indicator for all patents granted in England in the period 1700–1850. The indicator provides the opportunity for a large-scale empirical appraisal of macro- and microinventions. Our findings indicate that macroinventions did not exhibit any specific time-clustering, while microinventions were characterized by clustering behavior. In addition, we also find that macroinventions displayed a labor-saving bias and were mostly introduced by professional engineers. These results suggest that Allen’s and Mokyr’s views of macroinventions, rather than conflicting, should be regarded as complementary.
Bibliographical notePublished online: 23 June 2021.
- Industrial revolution