To find the best locomotive design, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway offered a 500-pound prize and tested the five finalists during the Rainhill Trials of 1829.
As a director of the railway, Thomas Shaw Brandreth was thought to have an advantage, but his Cycloped was the first to fail. It used a horse walking on a treadmill for power, and was withdrawn when the animal fell through the drive belt after reaching a speed of 5 miles per hour.
The winner was Rocket, a steam-powered locomotive built by George and Robert Stephenson, which pulled 20 tons at more than 30 miles an hour. For William Rosen, author of “The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention” (Random House), Rocket symbolizes the coming of the “perpetual innovation machine” that lifted people out of subsistence-level poverty and transformed the way we live.
It is no accident that the Industrial Revolution developed in Britain, where ideas were recognized as intellectual property, and people could own and profit from their inventions.
I spoke with him on the following topics:
1. The Idea of Innovation
2. Patent & Copyright Law
3. The Power of Patent Specs
4. James Watt’s Litigiousness
5. Escaping the Malthusian Trap
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(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)