The Economic History Review

Explaining the ‘take‐off’ of the Catalan cotton industry1

Volume 58 Issue 4
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Pages: 701-735Authors: J. K. J. THOMSON
Published online: October 14, 2005DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0289.2005.00319.x

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Cotton was central to Catalan industrialization and, within cotton, progress in spinning and weaving, originating in the late eighteenth century, provided the cutting edge in the industry’s modernization. This article tests the current orthodoxy concerning the timing and causes of this breakthrough. It does so by first evaluating what were external influences on the success-government policy, the elasticity of supply of spun yarn (a potential disincentive) and of raw cotton-and then providing an analytical narrative of the advance first in hand and then mechanical spinning. On this basis a conclusion is reached that government policy was more advantageous to the development than posited in the current orthodoxy, that elasticity in the supply of spun yarn slowed the transition and that, though growing availability of American cotton eased the transition, the key to the development is to be found within the Catalan economy, experiencing a ‘Smithian’-type growth process in the eighteenth century, within which industrialization of cotton was nearly the last achievement before Spain’s severe ‘old regime crisis’ curtailed economic opportunity.