Headrick covers, industry by industry, the reasons that technology was not transferred to uncolonized Asia and Africa and colonies; traditional economies of the 19th century became underdeveloped economies of the 20th century. The 19th century conquest of most of the world by the West was 'swift, powerful and cheap,' due to a handful of key technologies: iron-hulled steamships, prophylaxis quinine, telegraphs, railways, and machine guns. Shipping costs were continuing to drop, so to take advantage of this trend, and to lower production costs, and increase profits from valuable commodities such as palm oil, gutta percha, copper, rubber, coffee, tea, and sugar, there was a massive transfer of technology. The transfer was met by increasing local demand for Western products, reversing a centuries-old trend of goods from East to West. As Western technology developed substitutes for tropical goods, world trade dropped, leaving Western infrastructure but no Western markets. Obsolence loomed.
Transfer, says Headrick, proceeded along four lines: the geographic redistribution
of technology by Western experts; the geographic redistribution of technology
by local importers; cultural diffusion by Western technology experts; cultural
diffusion by local technology experts. The level of complexity being high, and
transportation costs being low, wholesale transfer was favored over diffusion.
Thus, the growth benefits of developing technology through several stages were
lost. (They had not been lost in the past when technology was less complex and
easier to transplant.) Headrick looks specifically at local demand and Western
substitutions, focusing on the transportation links (rail, telegraph) and production
sites (mines, plantations, irrigation). He discusses examples of European-led
diffusion through education and scholarships, and local
diffusion efforts. Former colonies had to be freed to understand the desired technologies.
Specific examples include the Suez Canal, ship-building (screw propeller, iron hull, compound engine, surface condenser), railways, telegraphs, cities and sanitation, hydraulic imperialism, botany and tropical crop plantations, mining and metallurgy, technical education, and expert enterprises.
The Telegraph. The development of gutta percha for wrapping wires in 1848, the attempts of eager entrepreneurs, and the determination of the British government had a telegraph network in place by 1870; its expense was phenomenal and only a few companies possessed the ships, technology and funds to build and lay the cables. Around 1900 a line could handle 50 words per minute. In the 1920s, as the telegraph was being challenged by radio, message speed increased to 400-500 words per minute, and took 3 minutes from New York to London. Fear of manipulation and fear of communication loss pushed the British government to develop "all red" redundant lines and sole-ownership, no matter what the cost. Other countries were required to use British lines, and subject to British regulations. France was especially frustrated by its dependence, and so backed wireless and short-wave technologies as soon as they were available. Wireless technology was boosted by WWI, and completed for commercial use by 1926.
Technology used by locals. Rubber and cocoa small holders succeeded because
their agricultural methods were cheaper and more efficient that the big farms.
In the cotton industry, sufficient skills and capital obtained in Bombay to
keep the Europeans at bay. With regard to skilled engineers, they needed to
find a niche or a partner. Success like J. N. Tata's was exceptional, as he
and his heirs managed the transfer of technology via experts, expensive overseas
training, and an important local school.