The Economic History Review

The returns to invention during the British industrial revolution

Volume 72 Issue 2
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Pages: 510-530Authors: Sean Bottomley
Published online: May 23, 2018DOI: 10.1111/ehr.12701

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Abstract It was a commonplace among contemporaries, and remains received wisdom today, that inventors were poorly remunerated during the industrial revolution. Adapting a dataset of 759 British inventors, this article presents the first large-scale attempt to examine the issue systematically. Using probate information, the article shows that inventors were extremely wealthy relative to the adult male population. Inventors were also significantly wealthier than another group who would have received a similar inheritance (in terms of both financial and social capital) and entered similar occupations: their brothers. Their additional wealth was derived from inventive activities: invention paid.