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Is Technology A Job Killer? A Few History Lessons

In 1831, Cyrus McCormick invented a reaper that cut wheat stalks as it was pulled by horses and piled them on a platform. Farmers could harvest faster.

In 1837, John Deere stuck the blade of a steel saw onto a plow and invented the steel-edged plow to replace cast-iron ones. Farmers could cut a furrow in the earth more easily and sow faster.

And so began a series of inventions that made farming efficient, and began to drain farms of people. In 1800, two-thirds of Americans worked on farms; today, 2 percent do.

THE SECOND INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION

Life sped up more in this second period of innovation, from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century, an age of steel and electric power, expanding railroads and the automobile.

In 1856, an Englishman discovered a way of making steel fast and cheap, and other inventors soon improved the process. Railroad companies started using steel for their rails instead of wrought iron, which bent easily and needed to be replaced often. Trains could carry heavier loads, which meant businesses could send more products to distant markets. Sales increased, and so did jobs.

In 1861, a telegraph line was strung from coast to coast in the U.S., vastly improving communication. It also wiped out the Pony Express delivery service; it went out of business the same year.

In 1879, Thomas Edison made a light bulb that wouldn't burn out in a few hours. Factories replaced gas lights, reducing the number of fires.

In quick succession came a string of breakthroughs â¿¿ the automobile, an automatic typesetting machine for printing, a tractor propelled by an internal combustion engine instead of pulled by horses and the Wright brothers' airplane.

Henry Ford started his eponymous car company in 1903. He put men and their tools in stationary positions and had a car being assembled roll from one man to the next. The moving assembly line was born, and cars could be made faster and cheaper. As with textiles earlier, car prices plummeted and demand soared, creating new kinds of jobs in a new industry â¿¿ and helping to wipe out 100,000 jobs for carriage and harness makers.

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