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19 18 embodied in some form of infrastructural capital. A good example is gaslighting, one of the less cele- brated industries that came on line in the 1790s dur- ing the Industrial Revolution; it required a network of pipes and conduits that distributed the gas and fairly large plants to generate the new fuel from coal. Transportation infrastructure was a major part of the Industrial Revolution, and the better-known techno- logical advances in textiles, steam, and iron were accompanied by major improvements in road-build- ing and canal construction. Infrastructural engineers included the famous “trio” of great road engineers: John Metcalfe (1717-1810), most famous for his technique for draining rainwater on both sides of the road in ditches; Thomas Telford (1757-1834), who used uniformly sized stones for the foundation of his roads and small broken stones on the top, which got harder as horses’ hooves and carriage wheels compacted them solid; and John Loudon MacAdam (1756-1836), whose idea of building slightly convex roads earned him immortality as “Macadamization” (covering roads with layers of broken stones) spread far beyond Britain. Britain and much of the rest of Europe and North America built networks of much improved roads in this era. At the same time, canal-building took off for a few decades, until the competition of railroads made ca- nals less profitable. But in their time, canals were at the center of a rapidly expanding infrastructure. The Grand Trunk (Trent and Mersey) canal, completed in 1777 at the initiative of the innovative potter Josiah Wedgwood, connected the east and west coasts of England and was designed and planned, like many of the eighteenth-century canals, by the great civil engineer James Brindley (1716-72). In the United States, the Erie Canal (completed in 1825) became one of the defining engineering achievements of the nineteenth century. But technological change played a role in these projects. For example, advances in the iron industry facilitated the great iron bridge over the Severn River in Shropshire, England, completed in 1781, which was made from cast iron produced at Coalbrookdale. At the same time, the biggest breakthrough in the importance of infrastructure in the modern economy came in 1830, with the beginning of the railroad age. The railroad was the unmistakable child of the Industrial Revolution. Its two central technological components were the high-pressure steam engine and the iron rail. The railroad also posed entirely new technical problems, none larger than the need to communicate rapidly over large distances to co- ordinate the movement of trains. The telegraph, the first large-scale technique to rely on electrical phe- nomena and thus just as radical and momentous an innovation as the trains it announced, emerged about a decade after the railroad. If ever there was a case of technological symbiosis, this was it. The railroad posed enormous challenges to the econ- omies that built it, precisely for the classic economic problems that infrastructural capital poses. For one thing, the construction of the network was by far the most costly and ambitious overhead investment pro- ject since the Pyramids. The questions of who could and would finance and manage it were raised in every nation that contemplated constructing a rail- road network. Much like any other investment that has social overhead characteristics, there was an ambiguity about the role of the state. By the 1830s, Britain’s commitment to liberalism made its govern- ment hesitant to follow the model of continental nations like Belgium and Prussia, where the gov- ernment participated actively in the financing and construction of the new project. To provide some context about the magnitude of the railroad project, consider this: in the 1820s, transport investment — roads, harbors, and canals — absorbed about 15 percent of British Gross Capital Formation, whereas in the late 1840s, the peak of the railroad boom, this figure jumped to a level of 40-45 percent, an order of magnitude above the already considerable costs of maintaining the existing infrastructure. The telegraph similarly demanded a substantial infra- structural effort. Rapid long-distance communication had long been an unfulfilled dream of humanity. In 1797, many decades before it would be achieved, a contributor to the Encyclopedia Britannica ex- pressed the hope that one day the capitals of dis- tant lands might be united by a network that would permit communication in a matter of hours rather than months. In 1846 William Cooke founded the Electric Telegraph Company, and installed 4,000 miles of cable in its first six years. The first successful submarine cable was laid by Thomas Crampton’s Company between Dover and Calais in 1851, and became a technological triumph that lasted thir- ty-seven years. By 1857, most British cities were linked to the network, and an operating line to the Continent had been established. It has been called “a Victorian Internet.” Much as the communications revolution of our age depends on an infrastructure of satellites, optical cables, cell towers, and large banks of powerful computers, the telegraph required a large investment, above all in cables and relay stations. The technology, moreover, was continu- ously evolving. Before the telegraph could become truly functional, the physics of transmission of elec- tric impulses had to be understood. The techniques of insulating and armoring the cables properly had to be perfected, and the problem of capacitance (increasing distortion on long-distance cables) had to be overcome. Physicists, and above all William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin), made fundamental con- tributions to the telegraph technology. The Second Industrial Revolution, dated roughly between 1870 and 1914, took the need for in- frastructural investment to another level. Indeed, had the technological leaders of the age — mostly Western Europe and North America — not been able to come up with the means to mobilize the massive amounts of capital needed for these proj- ects, the Great Enrichment might have been slow in coming or never have happened. Many of the great breakthroughs of the age depended crucially on in- frastructual investments. This is not just true almost by definition for such inventions as the telephone, which like the telegraph needed a network for its distribution if it was to function at all. It was equally true for the internal combustion engine, itself hard- ly an infrastructural technology (automobile manu- facturing remained mostly in the private sector). But cars needed good roads, wide enough to be safe, and built with a smooth surface (asphalt concrete) to make the ride comfortable. The highways system needed for the automobile was of a different order of magnitude than what had been built by civil engi- neers before, and often required direct intervention by the authorities, such as the German Autobahne and the American Federal Highways system. The rapid pace of technological progress and indus- trialization in the nineteenth century led to growing urbanization. Urbanization had profound implica- tions for infrastructural needs. For one thing, the ear- ly industrial towns created very serious public health problems, illustrated in Edwin Chadwick’s famous 1842 report on the Sanitary Condition of Britain’s laboring classes. Clean water and sewage disposal in rapidly growing towns required a combination Picture from the book Old and New London. A Narrative of Its History, Its People, and Its Places (1873) byW.Thornbury