Fostering Innovation: Lessons from the Golden Age

Have you ever wondered about the profile of innovation and inventors between 1880 and 1940 in the US? A new working paper from the Harvard Business School attempts to draw conclusions about such inventors and innovation in that “Golden Age.” The paper is titled “The of American Ingenuity: Innovation and Inventors of the Golden Age.”

The authors propose in their article introducing the paper that “recent data suggests that innovation is getting harder and the pace of growth is slowing down.” They argue that a review of history might shed light on environments that are most conducive to innovation. Below are some of the conclusions drawn in the paper, many of which are intuitive:

1. More inventive states and sectors grew faster on average.
2. Densely-populated states were more inventive.
3. Financially-developed states were more inventive.
4. Geographically-connected states were more inventive.

6. Inventors were more educated on average and were most productive between the
age of 36 and 55.

8. The patents of new inventors received more citations on average, and were
more likely to be in the top decile of the citations distribution.
9. Inventors delayed marriage and had fewer children.
10. Inventors were more likely to have migrated from their state of birth. They
moved to states that were more conducive to innovation.

16. Innovation was strongly positively correlated with social mobility.