Patrick Geddes (Cities in Evolution, 1915), Lewis Mumford (Technics and Civilization, 1934), and Robert Furneaux Jordan (Victorian Architecture, 1966) describe three ages of technology. I belief we have to remember that before these three periods another characterized by two others, the first human power (with or without the use of the wheel), and the second humanpower combined with that of animals, such as horses and oxen. These two earlier periods of technology saw the building of enormous medieval cathedrals, Roman acquaducts, and the Great Wall of China. One must emphasize, moreover, that looking at human history, we find both (a) a considerable overlap of periods and technologies and (b) older sources of energy continue to find uses, often major ones, long after new ones appear and even dominate. After all, as images of life on the River Thames reveal, the nineteenth century may have been the age of steam power, but people still cross rivers by poling a punt or pulling on the ropes of a small boat used as a ferry.

Anthrotechnic (2000 BC): Human beings as prime movers; wood and stone as a basic materials; sledges, pulleys, and wheels as tools; typical power unit — one human being occasionally working in very large teams, as in the construction of the Egyptian pyramids.

Anthrotechnic++ (c. 1000 AD): Human beings and large animals as prime movers; wood, metal, stone as a basic materials; sledges, pulleys, and wheels as tools. typical power unit — 1 horse (or ox) power occasionally multiplied by use of several animals.

The Eotechnic (c.1660): wind and water as prime movers; wood as a basic material; merchants as controllers; windmills, wagons and galleons as tools; typical power unit — a turret windmill of 14 horse power.

The Paleotechnic (c.1860): coal and steam as prime movers; iron as a basic material; laissez-faire capitalists as controllers; mobile and static steam engines as tools; typical power unit — Newcomen steam engine of 75 horse power.

The Neotechnic (c.1960): electricity as prime mover; specialized alloys as basic material; governments as controllers; turbines and computers as tools; typical power unit — a turbo-generator of 75,000 horse power (Jordan, 25).

According to Jordan, "The eotechnical epoch — the [eighteenth-century] industrial revolution of wood and wind — was concentrated upon the newly drained fens and fertile East Anglian flats, while the big, slow, smug rivers, like the Trent and the Ouse, were busy with sailing barges.

"Victorian England was yet one more shift in the . . . pattern — a sure sign that it really was a new technical epoch and not merely the story of a few inventions — an industrial revolution being social as well as mechanical, also geological. It was a shift from the oolite, the lias and the sand to the coal measures. What had been the wooded hills of Yorkshire or Wales became, almost overnight, a land of squalid villages and black, roaring, crowded cities. Villages and small country markets became the Birminghams and Glasgows that we know. The railways and factories needed the coal, and the railways linked the factories to the new ports. . . the model of the Liverpool docks was the showpiece to the Great Exhibition of 1851. [Jordan, 30-31]

Related Material


Victorian Web Victorian Technology

Last modified 6 May 2012