April 28, 1989
No activity more characterizes the American spirit than invention. Practical ingenuity has enabled Americans of every generation to transform this nation’s wilderness into a building site. In no period of our history were the spirit and the impact of invention greater than in the century from 1870 to 1970, years that witnessed the invention not only of the incandescent light, the radio, the airplane, the gyro-compass, the gasoline-powered automobile but also of sophisticated technological systems for producing and using automobiles, for generating and distributing electric power, for establishing telephone and wireless networks – systems that would in turn lead to greater, more ambitious projects: the TVA, and the Manhattan project, and NASA’s space program.
In American Genesis, Thomas P. Hughes offers a history of the American genius for invention and technology, and argues that inventors, industrial scientists, engineers, and designers have been the makers of modern America – the creators of the first technological nation. Hughes traces the evolution of invention, how its practice changed as its locale shifted – from inventor’s workshop to industrial research laboratory, business corporation, and the military-industrial complex. Hughes explores as well the culture of technology: how order, system, and control – embedded in machines, devices, and processes – have become values whose influence now extends far beyond technology to business and politics, architecture and art.
At once a powerful and dramatic story of how American society was transformed by technology, American Genesis is as well a portrait of a world in which technological forces shape our lives more intimately and more lastingly than even political and economic forces.
Thomas P. Hughes is the Mellon Professor of the History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania, holds the Tortsten Althin Chair at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His publications include two books about the nature of technological and social change: Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society (1880-1930) and Elmer Sperry: Inventor and Engineer, each of which was awarded the Dexter Prize for the outstanding book in the history of technology. He lives with his wife in Philadelphia.