- Series: The MIT Press
- Paperback: 495 pages
- Publisher: The MIT Press; Reprint edition edition (July 8, 1992)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0262640309
- ISBN-13: 978-0262640305
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #993,093 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology, 1880-1940 Reprint edition Edition
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Nye undertakes the monumental, and previous uncompleted, task of examining the social transformations that a new source of energy initiated. The result is a highly sophisticated and innovative account which crosses over several disciplinary lines.―Dwight W. hoover, Director, Center for Middletown Studies, Ball State University (Endorsement)
David Nye has provided what has so often been lacking in the history of new technologies - a sustained and comprehensive analysis of electricity's social and cultural impact. From factory to household, from trolley line to exposition, and from rural hamlet to Great White Way, Nye explores both how people selectively employed electricity to change their lives and how they constructed and reconstructed its cultural 'meaning.' Through absorbing details and casr studies, Nye affords us an intimate view of the 'public relations' and personal relevance of electricity as it was incorporated into the everyday life of individual families, of mushrooming cities, and of the entire nation.―Rolan Marchand, Professor of History, University of California, Davis. Author of Advertising the American Dream (Endorsement)
David Nye is pioneering a new kind of technological history by showing how social and cultural systems shape technological ones. This is a wide-ranging, provocative study.―Rosalind Williams, Associate Professor, Humanities Dept., MIT (Endorsement)
Nye tells a compelling story of how people react to a new technology when they see the potential for both personal and social transformation. As a Tennessee farmer said in 1930―'The greatest thing on earth is to have the love of God in your heart and the next greatest thing is to have electricity in your home.' This is a delight.―G. Terry Sharrer, Curator of Agriculture, Smithsonian Institution (Endorsement)
David Nye, in Electrifying America, continues to provide leadership in integrating material culture with the traditional focus of American Studies on the realm of symbolic meaning.―David W. Nobble, Professor of American Studies and History, University of Minnesota (Endorsement)
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The book is more about the impact of electricity on everyday life than about the great personalities of the influential innovators like Edison, Tesla, Insull and Ford, who are only given casual mention.
Electrifying America begins at the time of the great expositions, or Worlds Fairs, such as the Pan American, Trans Mississippi, Panama Pacific and the tremendously popular Columbian (Chicago 1892-3) where there were elaborate displays of lighting and exhibits of the latest electrical equipment. It also tells of the early public demonstarations of street lighting.
Being an engineer and a researcher of productivity, I especially appreciated the discussion of the enormous manpower savings made possible by electrifying factories. An example given was a glass jar manufacturing company that replaced manual glass blowers with machinery and used things like an overhead (bridge) crane to move heavy items across the factory. In addition to drastic labor savings total output increased several fold. Electric lighting greatly improved working conditions in factories and also greatly reduced fires, with large reductions in insurance premiums, often enough to pay for the lighting.
Another well described example is the Ford River Rouge plant, which was the world's largest factory, built for maximum efficiency and the first large scale center of mass production. Nye describes how electricity made completely new plant layouts possible and how electric motors revolutionized machine tools. (Eighty years later I was still using techniques like those pioneered at River Rouge to design manufacturing plants).
There is presented little in the way of statistical analysis, science or engineering. Economists should note that the decades of the highest economic growth in US history, 1890 to 1910, coincided with the beginnings of electrification and the street railway system.
While cities were electrified by the end of the 1920's, the vast majority of farms did not have electricity until the late 1940's, largely made possible through the efforts of the Rural Electrification Administration and the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Nye discusses the modern electrified household with new labor saving appliances like electric irons, washing machines, toasters and ranges. He also discusses the changing role of women in the workplace, the decline of domestic servants, the beginning of home economics, and the change from skilled artisans to semi-skilled factory workers.
Electricity's influence on art, literature and language are also discussed.
This is a fine example of a well researched and documented book, with many pages of footnotes, a bibliography and an index. Thoroughly enlightening and a pleasure to read.
A shortcoming of this book is that it keeps to it's name as being a social history. For a more technical book I recommend Hunter & Bryant "A History of Industrial Power in the U.S., 1780-1930: Vol 3: The Transmission of Power" which will be remembered as one of the best history of technology or economic history books on the subject and perhaps one of the great books in this field from the 20th century. Good luck finding it though. I recommend going to your library and getting one through the inter-library loan.
For the impact of efficiency in electrical generation see Ayes, Ayres and Warr's papers "Exergy, Power and Work in the US Economy 1900-1998" and "Accounting for Growth: The Role of Physical Work", which update thinking about economics. For a more technical perspective see: A History of Industrial Power in the U.S., 1780-1930: Vol 3: The Transmission of Power by Louis C. Hunter, one of the best history of technology books on the subject.