The Rise of Big Businesses : RAILROAD Industry

This post is regarding the exponential value the railroad industry played in the development of the American economy and most importantly, American business practices and ideologies:

The Rise of Big Businesses starts off by describing the emergence of ‘managerial revolution’ after 1841 which resulted from a train clash incident earlier in Massachusetts. This led to the development of “big businesses” which has remained prevalent today.

The railroad industry in 1850s grew each year by 5000 miles. This organized structure of growth was unfathomable to achieve before. Clearly, such feat couldn’t have been possible without some help from other industries. In the mid 19th century, telegraph played a critical role in the railroad industry. Both did benefit symbiotically. The telegraph was crucial in serving managers schedule train schedules and other events. This growing need led to the incremental placement of telephone poles and wires to meet the need for constant communication. Railroads aside, “telegraph quickly spread beyond railroad executives, as businessmen across the United States used it to control their own far-flung business empires and to communicate with businessmen in other firms” (Blackford, 155).  This led to major strides in the telecommunications industry with the advent of the telephone in 1876 whose impact in the modern era can’t be translated into words. Like the railroad industry, the telephone industry gained some valuable companies like the Bell Company, founded by Gardiner Greene Hubbard which had 8.3 million telephones in use 44 years after its inception!

The railroad industry also faced a lot of managerial problems due to the unprecedented growth and expansion of the industry.  Some metrics involve employment, regions served, and capital investments. Moreover,  their operations were far more intricate than other businesses. The author compares the railroads with canal traffic. Canal traffic, unlike railroad traffic is much slower; each boat is individually owned where the unification of multiple boats in not necessary. Moreover, unlike canals, railroad businesses have to account for the vast number of passengers and their trust to keep using the service. Some other problems include the very blueprint of the schematic that ran the structure. Financing railroad with compelling demands from states and counties was a huge problem to solve for managers in the said industry.

All of these problems indicated that businessmen needed a better solution to organize railroads effectively. Some practices include instituting bureaucratic management practices. This led to structuring an organization into a hierarchy and clearly defining rules and practices of the industry.  Moreover, they also employed new accounting methods to analyze the work of their companies. There were three such accounting methods being practices:

  1.  Instead of a black and white profit and loss system, businesses moved to a system of operating ratio where where they would relate their earnings to the volume of their businesses per interval of time.
  2. An approach known as Systematic capital accounting was developed where railroad managers would take into account for deprecation of their products when charging the repair and replacement of parts.
  3. Cost accounting approach was developed where two types of costs were to be created, namely, fixed cost and variable costs. Typically, fixed costs were higher than variable costs. This approach was used in pinpointing in their companies operations “and as an aid in setting profitable railroad rates” (Blackford, 160).

The railroad industry contributed a lot to the development of other industries such as the telecommunications industry or the steel industry. With an ever growing size, it provided economic development for the nation through jobs and formation of other entrepreneurial innovations. It also created new opportunities for businessmen to expand their existing businesses to new heights.  In conclusion, the railroad industry played the role of invisible hand in making startups and other huge industries grow and prove the prospects of an organized business structure. It also proves that the role of business and the lives of people are very much related as the steam engines played a heavy social and political role in the late 19th century through movies and culture. So, all in all, does technology impact society and culture or does society and the need for ease create and impact technology?


Comment your answers below!


Word Count : 680


Blackford, “The Emergence of Big Business” 

Revision on Research Paper about Toilets

  Toilet, and its Humble Beginnings

Key technologies, such as toilets are responsible for much of the progress in health and innovation. But how does such a simple concept alter the view of how a modern society should operate? Settled agriculture is and always will be the basis of a sophisticated civilization is the key argument of this paper. The need for technology like toilets can only be met through the implementation of an organized settlement.

The idea of a drainage system can be dated back to about 5,000 years ago in present-day Scotland to a stone-built Neolithic settlement known as Skara Brae [3]. Each hut in this settlement had an indoor toilet and connected with a central drainage system. The reason the drainage system was installed remains a mystery because the Skara Brae settlement could house up to 50-80 individuals at any given time [1]. As a result, its inhabitants could easily leave their waste on nearby fields. This suggests that the inhabitants prefer a cleaner management of waste, although not a necessity as compared to other civilizations. Another hypothesis could be its location near the bay of Skaill which suggests that the inhabitants used nature as a tool to solve problems [7].

So, how did these ancient toilets function? A designated hole was made in each hut to pass out feces. A central drainage system connected to the hole released waste into the ocean. These sewers were believed to be made of stone and tree bark that were approximately 14-24 inches high [2]. Exact length of the sewers is still unknown. The big question then arises, how did inhabitants ‘flush out’ the waste? Inhabitants made use of ocean nearby by storing water in pots and pouring it down the hole and into the sewers to make feces flow to the ocean [4]. Archeologist Vere Gordon Childe led an excavation from 1928 to 1930 and discovered several pots used by the inhabitants made from shell, whalebone, and stone using grooved ware style, a pottery process used by the British Neolithic [5]. Moreover, the use of the drainage system led to the creation of different form factors of pots to host various amounts of water depending upon the needs; suggesting the use of drains also led to advancement in pottery [6].

Unlike other civilizations, Skara Brae did not directly impact the invention of other forms of sanitation systems found in Mohenjo Daro or Rome because it remained isolated from much of the world until its discovery in the 19th century.  However, it proves that no matter where, once a society makes use of settled agriculture , they can create technologies that reduce human effort. This waste management system remains today as the oldest latrine relic. Previous to this technology, people would leave their waste on plain fields unattended. The use of drainage system shows that people, even as far back as 3500BC, made positive use of extra time gained through the use of settled agriculture which led to the creation of well-planned, organized, and sophisticated societies.

Word Count: 500 words


                                                                 Bibliography (ordered Alphabetically)

  1. Cromwell, Bob. “Neolithic Toilets / Stone-Age Toilets.” Toilets of the World. July 16, 2018. Accessed October 20, 2018.
  2. Dineley, Merryn & Dineley, Gr­­­aham. (2000). From Grain to Ale: Skara Brae a case study. 196-200.­­
  3. Fields, Cheri. “Ancient Technology: Sewers?!!! Skara Brae and Lots More.” Creation Science 4 Kids. April 16, 2015. Accessed October 18, 2018.
  4. Mark, Joshua J. “Skara Brae.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. October 18, 2012. Accessed October 19, 2018.
  5. Towrie, Sigurd. “The Discovery of The Village.” Skara Brae – The Discovery and Excavation of Orkney’s Finest Neolithic Settlement. Accessed October 20, 2018.
  6. “Skara Brae.” Atlas Obscura. July 05, 2012. Accessed October 20, 2018.
  7. Whitaker, Alex. “Skara Brae.” Skara Brae, Scotland. Accessed October 17, 2018.




Qasim Wani: Gimpel, Chapter 7 – The Medieval Machine: The Mechanical Clock

The middle ages,  though sometimes synonymous with dark ages, was a time unlike any other time period in human history: it was a time period of progress and development.  This can be evident through the words of Gimpel, in chapter 7 of his book, The Medieval Machine, “the spirit of inventiveness that accompanied this outlook was only possible because medieval society believed in progress, a concept unknown to the classical world “(147).  Unlike the Greeks and Romans, people believed heavily on progress; they expected the future to be better than present.  This outlook towards progress and development led to rationality within men and women of the middle ages. Moreover, people during this time period weren’t bounded by tradition but rather by practicality of things and ideas; they accepted inventions as something normal and assumed for it to continue into the future.

One invention that displayed the engineering and rationality of men during this time period was the clock.  As Lewis Mumford said, “The clock, not the steam engine, is the key machine of the modern industrial age.” The clock was unique from other inventions of the past; it didn’t do any work but rather, displayed useful information. The earliest clocks were believed to mock the way the solar system operated, hence the astronomical clock was invented. Prior to the invention, time was kept in disproportional ways. A few examples include:

  1. Water Clock: since a water clock uses water, during cold temperatures, the water inside the tubes would expand and freeze which would lead to inefficiency and inaccuracy in timekeeping. To address this problem, Mercury was used as a substitute for water has Mercury has a lower freezer point. Although it solved the water problem, this mechanism was still inefficient.
  2. Sundial: this ancient technique used the Sun and a localized center known as gnomon. The reason this technique was inefficient was because it would be ineffective on cloudy and dark days and nights.
  3. Hourglass: This invention was limited to recording time over short periods.
  4. Churches and town bells: churches relied on celestial signs, where they spread time out into 12 different segments, each representing a tiny portion of the day. This was inaccurate, because days and nights are not equally apart, nor do days last for the same duration during the entire year.

These weren’t the only techniques used to moderate time. Watch the attached video to see different way people measured times chronologically:

Hence, there was a need for the mechanical clock, a timekeeping mechanism not dependent on any celestial body. Unfortunately, there were two problems with the idea of a mechanical clock: weight driven mechanism and mechanical escapement mechanism. This problem was addressed through the works of Robert the Englishman, where he reported that clock makers were continuously trying to solve the mechanical problem for timekeeping.

Giovanni Di Dondi addressed the problem through the creation of astrarium in the 14th century.  He depicted the problem and his solution in his manuscript which was over 130,000 words in length regarding why he designed the clock, how to make it, how to set the dials and read them, how to maintain the mechanism, and how to repair the device. He also produced some drawing of his works. One famous sketch is the seven-sided framework of his astrarium where he gave intricate details of the clock train.  It can be noted from his manuscript that the mechanical clock that is similar to the ones we used nowadays was derived from the idea of the astronomical clock invented in the 15th century.

 Reconstruction of Giovanni’s astrarium


With the fruition and completion of the mechanical clock, time was recorded into ubiquitous and more proportional ways. Further advances in addressing other problems with regards to the mechanical clock led to the invention of the 40 different time zones. Through this meaningful and essential invention, people were now able to analyze and measure their day more accurately. This would increase trades and improve overall human condition in the world.

Through the invention of clocks, a close collaboration between science and engineering was noticed. “Here was a case where academic science and technology worked hand in hand…Not until the second half of nineteenth century were science and technology to be seen consistently working closely together”(159). This shows that science and technology need not be independent; in fact, for the exponential progress of society, both must be in symbiosis to each other.


Word count: 731


  1. The Medieval Machine: The Mechanical Clock -(Gimpel)


Geis: The Triumphs and Failures of Ancient Technology

“We crave for new sensations but soon become indifferent to them. The wonders of yesterday are today common occurrences.” – Nikola Tesla

From the minute you wake up to the moment you fall asleep, you are actively involved in using technologies that ease your busy schedule of work. A lot of the technologies that you commonly use are being taken for granted. Technologies such as public healthcare, sanitation, literature (alphabets), currency, roads, irrigation, architecture, warfare , Pozzolana ,  cranes, pulleys, and pottery are major and long lasting technological contributions of the Greco-Romans (Note: Not all of these technologies were invented by the greco-romans, but instead improved and developed by them). In fact, the very notion of rationality and scientific being can be traced back to ancient Greece.

Greeks, unlike the Romans were very crafty and inventive. This can be evident through the invention of complex machines like the Antikythera, which is still being debunked to this very day [1]. Romans, on the other hand, were very innovative and took advantages of their surroundings and environment.  Roads, for example, can be seen as an ordinary structure. But at the time of its construction, it represented adaptability, strength, and power. Consequently, Roman roads spread out as much as 56000 miles. Moreover, certain Roman technologies served duo-purposes. Roads not only served as a means of commute but also as a means to trade and transfer of military personnel. Similarly, Aqueducts represented both, an artwork and a process to transfer water using Earth’s gravity.


(Show above are some of the Roman Technological contributions)

Out of all these key important technologies, Roman technology can be viewed as more practical than Greek technology. This is because the Greeks weren’t too interested in practicality and utility of things; they were more interested towards art and creativity. Despite this, a lot of Roman Technology was inherited from the Greeks. “… most of its (Roman) technology was inherited from the Stone, Bronze, and early Iron Ages” (Geis, 1).

One such example of inherited technology that Romans extensively used and innovate was agricultural tools. The Aratrum, a plow, was first used in the sandy soils of the Mediterranean region. The Romans innovated on this technology to make it more efficient and durable. Hence, “an iron coulter, a vertical blade fixed in front of the plowshare, and, second, a wooden moldboard behind it to turn the soil ” was built on top of the pre-existing technology to optimize work and decrease effort while plowing.

The Romans inherited iron metallurgy from the Greeks and introduced new processes such as tempering to harden the metal without risking it from breaking.  Moreover, they also inherited the classical tool chest and added their own flare to it by introducing carpenters’ plane (shown below) to the world. Many historians consider this to be a Roman invention than a Roman innovation.

Detail of a combination “adze-plane,”  on a Roman-period funerary stele now in the Louvre. The blade is attached to the bottom of the handle.(

Despite all their contributions to the modern world, Romans ‘failed’ to fully exploited their technologies to further untap its potential. Thus, Romans were ” technologically handicapped by two momentous failures in the exploitation of power” (Geis). The first one is the failure to exploit the Waterwheel. This invention would have served as a technological monopoly for Romans had they exploited it to its limits. Through the Waterwheel and its conversion from kinetic energy into mechanical energy would have increased human efficiency in many ways and decreased time it took to complete mundane tasks. An example can be seen through grinding of flowers. Although, the Romans did build the water wheel which could grind flowers, they failed to mass produce it and gain capital from it. This technology would have ultimately helped the empire gain more control through optimized engineering practices.

Another untapped technology, according to Geis, was horse harness. This technology in particular was not developed enough since the bronze age. Thus, the failure to exploit this technology meant the lack of large scale domestication of horses for military and commercial uses. Had this technology been improved by either the Greeks or Romans, travel times would have decreased and human labor and efficiency would have increased. It is due to the failure of exploitation of such technologies that left the Romans ‘technologically handicapped.’

Besides the two technological failures mentioned above, Romans ‘failed’ in other two realms that played an influential role in technology: theoretical science and economics. Unlike the Greeks, who placed a high importance on knowledge and science, Romans preferred on the practicality of things at the expense of accumulation of new knowledge. Consequently, their little interest with philosophy and science led to the upper classes not being well informed. Moreover, Romans never bothered to  translate the work of  Aristotle, Euclid, Archimedes, and other Greek thinkers into Latin.  This clearly shows the lack of interest and motivation towards gaining new knowledge.

Other realm of science closely linked with technology which Romans failed to untap was economics. This is due to slave trade and the lack of incentive to find optimizable solutions to economic problem due to the sheet abundance of slaves in the empire. Despite having their own coinage system, not much thought was put into saving money and being more efficient with trades. This resulted in the Romans being indirectly technologically handicapped.

All in all, the Greeks and Romans have contributed a lot to the modern times. Without their contributions, life today would be hard to imagine. They have played pivotal roles in the development of mankind. This proves that settled agriculture leads to influential technological inventions. However, not all technologies are exploited to its limits. This holds true to certain Roman technologies such as the Water Wheel and Horse harness which lacked development. Though its successes outweigh its failures, these key technologies, including theoretical science and economics, have not been developed fully which have made the Romans ‘technologically handicapped’ at times.